Monday, August 31, 2015

Leaving On a Jet Plane


Today was the last day of my best friend Skip's visit. We haven't had a chance to spend any time together since last October, so we were WAY overdue.

Skip posing in front of Union Pacific "Big Boy" No. 4023 at Kenefick Park.

It was a wonderful visit, including great food (Skip gets to eat "naughty" stuff like bacon when he comes to visit me!), an Omaha Storm Chasers baseball game, a visit to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, watching my Kansas City Chiefs and his Philadelphia Eagles play exhibition games (plus watching my beloved Kansas City Royals lose the finale of their 3-game series in Tampa Bay 3-2), horsing around with my electric trains (which now have a demonstration track I can show them off with thanks to Skip's expertise), sipping excellent single malt Scotch, and having the sort of conversations that can only occur between best friends. A lot has happened since that last visit...

The "going home" part is always the most difficult part of these visits for me (and for him, too). But I'm gradually getting used to it...

Southwest Airlines Flight 1071 bound for Philadelphia by way of Chicago.

Needless to say, when Skip is around I'm not especially interested in whatever outrageous things Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump have said or done. Politics (and everything else about this world) can wait until tomorrow...

My Newest Toy

Although Skip doesn't share my Starbucks obsession, he was thoughtful enough to pick this as a birthday gift. My birthday was February 18, but I actually waited until he was able to come for a visit before taking it out of the box.

The Mr. Coffee Café Barista is a 15-bar pump espresso maker. Fortunately for me, it is almost fully automatic, including the awesome milk-frothing function.

We celebrated the last day of Skip's visit by setting up the machine and giving it a test drive. Using some Starbucks Italian Roast that I had ground especially for this machine, I made Skip a cappuccino, and a latte for myself. Both drinks came out quickly and tasted great! Highly recommended.

Word Play

From the classic comic strip B.C., now produced by creator Johnny Hart's grandson Mason Mastroianni, which you should read every day, as I do.

[Note: For those of you not in show business, a "plant" is someone paid to sit in the audience to laugh at and applaud a comedian's jokes. See definition 3a here.]

Until Next Time...

As I sat in the lounge at Eppley Airfield in Omaha this afternoon waiting for Skip's plane to depart, I couldn't get this song out of my head. The most famous version of "Leaving On a Jet Plane" was recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.

A little over 43 years ago (August 19, 1972, in fact), John Denver (who wrote the song) appeared on The Midnight Special TV show, and sang the song as a duet with Cass Elliot of The Mamas and The Papas. Their rendition is today's send-off. Enjoy....

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Potpourri No. 14

Today's post comes with the Standard Sunday Disclaimer: "The post title is using the term 'potpourri' in the second of the two senses listed here. The post may also be rather short, although not necessarily so."

Things That Make Me Happy: Indoor Edition

My beloved Kansas City Royals clinched a series win against the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday evening, winning Game 2 comfortably 6-3. It wasn't an outstanding start for Kris Medlen, but he pitched into the 6th inning, and improved his record to 3-0, 3.51 ERA. All-Star 3B Mike Moustakas continued his torrid streak, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and driving in three runs. All-Star Wade Davis got his 13th save in the 9th, and needed just 7 pitches to do it.

"Hang on, this'll just take a sec..."
The Royals go for three-game sweep this afternoon, with Danny Duffy (7-6, 4.11 ERA) matched up with the Rays' Nathan Karns (7-5, 3.69).

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

My best friend is visiting from Pennsylvania this weekend, and one of the things we decided to do during his visit was to go see an Omaha Storm Chasers game, because Alex Gordon is still on his rehab assignment with the Chasers (he'll probably rejoin the Royals in time for the homestand that begins on Tuesday.

I bought seats far down the left field line and close to the field itself, to get as close to Alex as possible for photographic purposes. Unfortunately, the Storm Chasers manager decided that Alex would DH last night, so we never got to see him in left field.

My friend has a really good digital camera, though, so he was able to get some good pics of Alex even from far away...

Pre-game stretching

When you are rehabbing an injured hamstring, stretching exercises are particularly important.

The Fresno pitchers were very cautious with Alex, walking him twice. He scored after both walks, so maybe that wasn't the best strategy...

Alex also hit a double, but his teammates weren't able to drive him in.

There's just nothing quite like seeing a ballgame in person with a friend who also loves the game...

"How come you never take me to a game with you?"

Most ballparks have a "No Quadrupeds" policy. I know that's discriminatory, but I don't make the rules...

Things That Make Me Happy: Dead Cow Edition

One of the cool things about having someone come for a visit is getting to go to restaurants I wouldn't go to by myself. Before the Storm Chasers game, Skip and I had dinner at a Texas Roadhouse near the ballpark.

Skip had a 10-ounce ribeye and baked potato...

...while I enjoyed the 10-ounce prime rib with loaded mashed potatoes.

Skip is spreading a story that I consumed an inordinate amount of dinner rolls, but that is a baseless canard.

"I'd believe it. I've seen you lay waste to a basket of warm bread before."

Was I talking to you?

Until Next Time...

Today's send-off is another of my dear friend's favorite pieces (and mine also), the "Spring" movement from Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. This performance was recorded at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, and features Julia Fischer on violin, accompanied by The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Enjoy...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Words With Friend


As I mentioned yesterday, a dear friend is in town for a visit, so the blog entry for today will be brief. My friend and I have a lot of catching up to do, some very unhealthy food to eat (bacon will figure prominently), and a ballgame to go to tonight (we're going to see the Omaha Storm Chasers game at Werner Park, and watch Alex Gordon on his rehab assignment--he's been tearing it up so far).

"He'll be back playing for the Royals soon, won't he?"

Yes. I'm guessing they'll bring him back for the start of the homestand that begins next Tuesday...

Things That Make Me Happy: Road Trip Edition

My beloved Kansas City Royals are in St. Petersburg, Florida for a quick three-game series at Tropicana Field with the Tampa Bay Rays. Last night the Royals took Game 1, prevailing 3-2 in a generally well-pitched game.

The big blow for the Royals was a two-run home run by DH Kendrys Morales. The ball actually stuck off the catwalk (click the link above for a look), and the stadium's ground rules came into play.

Edinson Volquez pitched effectively into the 7th inning and is now 12-7 with a 3.27 ERA. The bullpen only allowed one baserunner over the final two and a third innings, and Greg Holland recorded his 29th save.

Game 2 of the series is tonight, with Kris Medlen (2-0, 3.10) getting his second start of the season. He'll be matched up against former Royal Jake Odorizzi (6-6, 3.02) for the Rays.

Engineer Syllogism

From the delightful webcomic xkcd, drawn by Randall Munroe, which you should read every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as I do.

Until Next Time...

One of the great joys of my relationship with my visiting friend is our conversations about baseball (even though he roots for the Philadelphia Phillies, a National League team). We see eye-to-eye on most issues relative to the game, and I think he might be even more excited about the Royals' success these past couple of seasons than I am. I am delighted beyond measure to be able to actually go to a game with him, even if it is minor league ball.

Today's send-off is pianist Jacqueline Schwab's instrumental rendition of the baseball favorite "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The song was written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (neither of whom had ever actually been to see a baseball game). It was featured in the Ken Burns miniseries Baseball in 1994. Enjoy...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Well, It IS August...

Thank Illyria It's Friday!

"Bleat at me no longer, human! Fetch me a craft beer!"


You may safely assume that this section's heading is not suggesting the "polite" version of the acronym. I mean this version. Honestly, there are times when I'm convinced that the entire online community is a vast progressive conspiracy to make my head explode.

"Wow. Who would have figured that one?"
 Shut your pipe, quadruped...

Anyway, I was just minding my own business yesterday, not bothering anybody (much), when...

My serious answer: No, we shouldn't stop using a perfectly ordinary and widely-used term just because some of your delicate flower friends "associate" it with something. You (and any like-minded friends you might have) need to grow right the fuck up, and realize that trying to purge language of words and phrases that bother YOU is anti-intellectual, and contrary to the very idea of "language" to begin with. It makes some people feel powerful to be able to chivvy and harass other people this way, but essentially it is just a manifestation of the totalitarian impulse. It should be vigorously resisted. Does that answer your question?

Sometimes, I swear...

"The stupid, it burns!"

Feast Day

"Thanks for the shout-out!"

Today is the Feast Day of St. Augustine of Hippo, Doctor of the Church and one of my intellectual heroes.

His best-known work is Confessions, but
in these times when the very notion of citizenship is under attack from multiple compass points, I think reading his  
City of God would be more helpful to most people.

After receiving the relics of St. Augustine at the Vatican in November 2004, Pope Saint John Paul II found viewing them so powerful he composed a special prayer to mark the occasion.

Things That Make Me Happy: Domination Edition

Yesterday afternoon my beloved Kansas City Royals wrapped up a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles with a 5-3 victory at Kauffman Stadium that wasn't so close as the final score indicated. The victory gave the Royals the series win 3-1.

Yordano Ventura was utterly dominant for the Royals, holding the Orioles scoreless for his six innings, allowing only two hits and striking out 11. The score was 4-0 when he departed, and even though the bullpen wobbled in the 7th and the 9th, Ventura's record improved to 9-7, 4.41 ERA. This was the Yordano the Royals will need when the post-season begins.

"Bye bye, birdies!"

The Royals finish up August with a three-game series in Tampa Bay over the weekend and an off day on Monday before beginning a 9-game homestand to start September. These games will all be against Central Division opponents: the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins.

"Careful, people might start mistaking you for an optimist."

That seems highly unlikely, but I will keep my eye on it...

Wild Kingdom Bed & Breakfast Update

Have I mentioned how difficult it is to get pictures of the guests at the B&B?

"Damned paparazzo!"

Thanks, Scott...and Good Luck!

Yesterday afternoon I learned that one of my favorite comic strips, Basic Instructions, has ended. The strip was produced by the delightfully off-kilter mind of Scott Meyer. I'll let him tell you what comes next...

Until Next Time...

The process by which I select the music for these send-offs is pretty wide open. Some days, there's a connection to something I wrote about earlier in a post. Other days, there's an anniversary of some sort that gives me an idea. More often than you might imagine, it's nothing more complicated than my hearing a piece of music for the first time in awhile as I'm watching a TV show or movie.

And then there's my sentimental side. Someone very dear to me is visiting this weekend, and to honor his arrival I have selected one of his favorite pieces of music. Today's send-off is a performance of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 (3rd Movement--Allegro assai) by the Münchener Bach-Orchester. I'm partial to this piece myself because it was used as theme music for my hero William F. Buckley, Jr.'s public affairs debate/interview program Firing Line, which ran for 33 years, 28 of them on PBS.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hi, C

High-Tech War Paint

When something horrific like the shooting yesterday in Roanoke, Virginia happens, the ubiquity of technology allows a veritable tsunami of personal expression about the event. And, as with anything else involving human beings, that flood of expression is not likely to be uniformly edifying. I don't have a problem with that, of course. Both here in the blog and elsewhere, I am a champion of people being able to speak their minds.

A lot of what appears online in the wake of such events is merely the donning of rhetorical "war paint," a kind of "virtue signaling" (which I have written about here and here). A typical example, from Sports Illustrated writer Peter King:

Get it? Peter is against murder. And if you are against murder, too (note the hundreds of favorable responses to his message), then you should strike the war post with him and...well, he's not too clear about what he wants to happen, but by God he's PISSED! It is deliciously ironic that his Twitter message is basically nothing but hand-waving indignation. That sort of thing doesn't really bother me much.

My only real problem is with the people who spout falsehoods and try to pass them off as the truth. I don't favor preventing them from expressing themselves, I just feel an irresistible impulse to smite them hip and thigh.

Thus, I have a message for everyone who feels compelled to ignore the facts and trot out The Narrative, the absurd (and false) notion of a gun-crazy America drowning in an ever-rising tide of firearm violence...

"Magua suggests you try Google Translate."

For future reference, here are some actual facts to keep close at hand, just to be on the safe side:
  • Yesterday's shooter was a deeply disturbed individual; there is little to be "done" about such people, since they are uninterested in laws, or in the consequences to themselves of their criminal actions
  • Incidents of gun-related crime are NOT increasing, they are in fact decreasing, and not by a trivial amount; what has increased over that period of time is the technology with which such crimes can be publicized--the belief that events like yesterday's are increasing in frequency is merely an artifact of the Information Age
  • None of the "common sense gun regulation" you hear people advocating for would have had the slightest effect on most of the shooters whose heinous acts capture our attention--President Obama's most recent attempt in this area, for instance, wouldn't have made a difference even if it had passed
Just because something bad happens doesn't mean we need government to "do something" to prove our concern; in fact, that sort of thinking is VERY dangerous
(it led, among other things, to Executive Order 9066, and the internment of roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans--people who were citizens, mind you--during WWII). It is especially dangerous when the impulse to "do something" is grounded in a false narrative.

 Let's ask Fred Korematsu...

Speaking of Dishonest, Untrustworthy Liars...

Guess who has a perception problem these days?
"Ouch! But no one can say she didn't come by the problem honestly."

She did it the old-fashioned way, absolutely...

Do I Sometimes React Strangely to Sequences of Digits?

I don't know what you mean...


Hi-C Grape Drink can, circa 1962

The title of today's post is both a play on the Latin numbering system (today's post is No. 100, and "C" = "Centum" = "100" in Latin) and a nostalgic shout-out to a favorite beverage of my childhood. For me, it was always a tough choice between Hi-C Orange Drink and the Grape Drink pictured at right, but if I can only have one, I'd have to go with the purple.

One of the things that always made home "home" was the presence in the refrigerator of those familiar cans...

I also wanted to take the opportunity to mention that Comments are always most welcome. Agree or disagree, or if you just want to share some thoughts of your own, I'd love to hear from you!

Until Next Time...

My earliest memories of recorded music were not of LP albums at all. For quite awhile as a youngster, I thought all recorded music came in the form of 7-inch 45-rpm singles, because that's what my older cousins all listened to on their portable record players. (One of the peak experiences of my life was getting my very own such player as a Christmas gift after my family moved to Kansas City in 1967. It was a General Electric Wildcat, and I loved it.)

Sometimes, when the cousins weren't around, I would pull out their stacks of vinyl 45s and look through them. I couldn't make much sense out of what was written on them (I could read, but of course I didn't know who any of those artists were, or what the legalese meant), but I enjoyed comparing the various labels. My favorite was the Sun Records design, followed closely by the design from their satellite label Phillips.

Today's send-off was released on the Phillips label in 1957, and I remember my cousins listening to this one (and dancing to it) quite a bit. It was also one of my mom's favorites, which won it a special place in my memory.

"Raunchy" was co-written by saxophonist Bill Justis and guitarist Sid Manker. The original version included here and two subsequent cover versions each eventually peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, and the song was selected for the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. Some sources claim this record was the inspiration for the "twangy" guitar style made famous by the legendary Duane Eddy (whom both my parents liked quite a bit). I'm not sure I believe that, but I certainly did get a kick out of hearing this song again yesterday for the first time in many, many years. Enjoy...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fat Pitch

Stopped Clocks and Blind Squirrels

One of the sublime pleasures of a life spent engaging in rhetorical combat toe-to-toe with the forces of ignorance and irrationality is the endless supply of asininity and preposterousness with which to amuse oneself. It's like going to the local batting range and feasting on Peggy Lee fastballs. Big fun, if you enjoy that sort of thing. Which I do.

"Who says I don't act presidential?"

So asshat Donald Trump (a major emitter of asininity and preposterousness) was in my state yesterday, making a campaign appearance in Dubuque. When you live in Iowa, you have to accept the infestation of national politicians every four years the way people learn to live with periodical cicadas. It's just a fact of life, more of an annoyance than it is anything else. That he was in Dubuque was reason for me to be glad I live in Council Bluffs, more than 300 miles to the west.

Anyway, there was a kerfuffle at Trump's press conference when pro-immigration activist Jorge Ramos (it is inaccurate to describe him as a "reporter," since reporters don't routinely do things like this), rather than wait to be called upon (like the rest of the, you know, reporters), simply stood up again began assailing Trump for his stance on immigration. He was escorted from the premises by security, then brought back and given a second chance, which he also mostly wasted. His agenda was plainly to heckle the candidate and polish his own pro-immigration street cred. It was an embarrassing display, but Univision has never been bothered by his partisanship up to now, so I doubt there will be any consequences for him.

My point is that, although Trump obviously did the right thing by ejecting Ramos from the press conference, doing so does not automatically make everything Trump says or does, whether on immigration or on other issues, equally correct. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile. Thinking otherwise (which Trump's supporters clearly do) is a variant of the genetic fallacy. Unfortunately, Trump supporters are by no means alone in committing this error; it is one of the most common fallacies in political and social controversies. It is also, for me, a fat, juicy Peggy Lee fastball.

In Dubuque yesterday, Trump was just a blind squirrel finding a nut. That's all. He's still a blithering idiot, as he demonstrated just the other day...

Things That Make Me Happy: Bullpen Love Edition

Last night my beloved Kansas City Royals held on for a tense 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium. It was their fourth straight win, and the sixth straight defeat for the slumping Orioles. The Royals are 12-2 in their last 14 home games.

As the score suggests, this was mostly a night for the pitchers. Danny Duffy (7-6, 4.13 ERA) couldn't quite finish the 6th inning, but Luke Hochevar and All-Star Kelvin Herrera protected the 3-2 lead until the 9th inning. All-Star Wade Davis earned his 12th save with just 13 pitches.

DH Kendrys Morales gave the Royals the lead, which they never relinquished, with a massive 472-foot solo home run (his 14th of the season) to lead off the 2nd inning...

Game 3 of the four-game series is tonight, with Johnny Cueto (9-8, 2.70 ERA) starting for the Royals opposite Wei-Yin Chen (7-6, 3.13) for the Orioles.

Switching to Front-Wheel Drive

When I moved to Casper, Wyoming in July 1983 to begin a teaching gig, I was still driving the 1976 Pontiac Catalina I wrote about here. Unfortunately, she did not do well in the higher elevation (Casper is around 5,200 feet above sea level), and periodically she would simply refuse to start. I learned that there was a fix for this known issue with carbureted engines at high elevations, but that the cost would be prohibitive for such an old vehicle.

As Christmas vacation approached in December, I finally sold the Catalina and went shopping for her replacement. In addition to the fuel delivery issue, the Catalina's rear-wheel-drive layout had been a problem occasionally when the weather turned dicey, so I decided to give front-wheel drive vehicles some attention. I wound up settling on a brand new 1984 Buick Skylark Limited Sedan...

1984 Buick Skylark Limited Sedan

Mine was a light blue/dark blue two-tone that reminded me of my high school alma mater's color scheme. It did have the fake wire wheel covers and the "opera lights" mounted on the "C" pillar just like the one pictured.

The Skylark was Buick's iteration of the X Platform, which only had one more model year of life left when I bought mine. The Oldsmobile and Pontiac iterations of the platform ended after the 1984 model year, while the Buick and Chevrolet iterations ended with 1985 models.

My Skylark served me well and faithfully, through beastly Wyoming winters and 800-mile drives between Casper and Kansas City, for many years. I have never gone back to rear-wheel drive vehicles.

Unassailable Truth

From the witty--and truthful--comic strip Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, which you should read every day, as I do.

Until Next Time...

One of the innumerable pleasures of music is savoring collaborations by talented musicians who blend their individual gifts into a pleasing musical whole, without regard for ego or reputation. I enjoy listening to players who serve the music, rather than themselves.

Today's send-off is one such collaboration. It is a performance of Beethoven's Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 70 No. 1 (the famous "Ghost" trio) by Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax, virtuosos all. Enjoy...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

School Daze

Count Me Out

School has started up again in my area, as it has in most parts of the country, which means we're in the midst of the usual back-to-school deluge of "what's wrong with our schools" analysis from people who mostly don't have the slightest idea what they're talking about. It also means teachers all over the country will be burdened with trying to implement (or continue implementing) some faddish "initiative" promoted by "education experts" that will enable the school's administrators to make a great show of fostering "school improvement," even though there isn't any evidence that such fads do anything at all to make a child's education any better. If those "experts" knew as much about educating children as they do about marketing (at which they most certainly are expert), they might actually be worth listening to.

Created on the wonderful Pulp-O-Mizer website.

So, to whom do I turn when I need a reminder of what education (and the teaching profession) should be?

Jacques Barzun
I find that whenever I'm feeling especially pessimistic about the future of the teaching profession, I can always find inspiration to Jacques Barzun's classic Teacher in America.

Our schools and teachers are at their best when they adhere most closely to the principles Barzun lays out in this book. The best "reform" for what ails our schools and our teachers would be to re-embrace those principles.

I'll never live to see it, of course. The nitwits and numbskulls who think they have it all figured out are in charge, and they are likely to stay in charge for the foreseeable future.

Alfie Kohn
A big part of what is ailing our K-12 education system these days is the pervasive belief that an "education" must primarily be something that can be counted, measured, quantified, and graded.

No one is a more tireless warrior against our mania for viewing standardized test results as the alpha and omega of education than my hero Alfie Kohn.

Reading anything at all by Dr. Kohn is well worth your time, but here's a brief article that everyone who cares about literacy should take to heart.

Thomas Sowell
 One of the traits I most admire in writers and thinkers is bluntness. The best minds don't feel any need to cloak their thoughts in bland, equivocal language designed to avoid agitating the reader.

Thomas Sowell is a beacon for this sort of rhetorical honesty. His book Inside American Education pulls no punches, and is even more true now (sadly) than when it first appeared over a decade ago.

You can read a short sample of Dr. Sowell's bracing analysis here.

"Don't sugar-coat it, Shu, tell us how you really feel."

This is obviously a subject near and dear to me, and I shall return to it often. In the meantime, I pray for every kid in every school in this country, public or private, and for their teachers. I pray that, together, they can achieve real education this school year despite the best efforts of those intent on thwarting that outcome...

Things That Make Me Happy: New Kid Edition

Last night my beloved Kansas City Royals were back at Kauffman Stadium to begin a short four-game homestand, all four games being against the Baltimore Orioles, the team the Royals swept 4-0 in the American League Championship Series last year to advance to the World Series.

Kris Medlen made his first start as a member of the Royals after a handful of relief appearances. It was also his first start in the major leagues since his second Tommy John surgery in 2013. Kris struggled in the first inning, giving up a two-run home run to CF Adam Jones. But he only gave up one more run in the next five innings, recording a Quality Start and earning the win in the 8-3 Royals victory. Kris is now 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA on the season.

It was an odd game for the Royals offensively. With two out in the bottom of the 6th, Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez had held the Royals to a single run on five hits. But with a runner on second, All-Star 3B Mike Moustakas hit a 427-foot home run (his 14th) to tie the game 3-3. Jimenez never got that third out, and the Royals wound up scoring 7 runs in the inning. The hitting star was 2B Omar Infante, who drove in the winning runs with a two-run triple, and scored himself on a throwing error. Omar hit a second triple in the 8th inning.

"Let a player PLAY!"
The Royals' third straight win was also the Orioles fifth loss in a row, their longest losing streak of the season. Game 2 of the series tonight matches Danny Duffy (6-6, 4.18 ERA) against the Orioles' Miguel Gonzalez (9-9, 4.73).

Chess Throwdown

At chess tournaments featuring the world's strongest players, it is not unusual for most of the games to end in draws, but that's not what is happening so far at the Sinquefield Cup, currently under way at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The world's top six players are competing, along with four others who are all in the world's top fifteen. This is one of the strongest round-robin tournaments ever held.

In Round 1, all five games were decisive, which is almost unheard of for an event of this kind. The highlights were World No. 3 Grandmaster (GM) Veselin Topalov defeating World No. 1 (and current World Champion) GM Magnus Carlsen, and World No. 4 (and top-ranked U.S. player) GM Hikaru Nakamura defeating World No. 2 (and former World Champion) GM Viswanathan Anand.

Three of the five games in Round 2 were decisive as well, which means the assembled grandmasters are not playing it cautiously. With his victory over GM Nakamura, GM Topalov is alone in first place after two rounds. How tough a tournament is this? After two rounds, GM Anand and World No. 5 GM Fabiano Caruana are tied for last place!

GM Hikaru Nakamura poses next to the wall honoring World Chess Champions at the CCSCSL.

Round 3 begins today at 1:00 PM CDT, and if you're interested you can follow the action in real time here, as I plan to.

My Interest Level in Your "Gender Identity"

Design available at the indispensable Snorgtees.

And, frankly, your constant mentioning of the subject is a particularly egregious brand of narcissism. Just sayin'...

Until Next Time...

In the spring of 1965, the Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded a live instrumental version of Dobie Gray's hit single "The 'In' Crowd" at the famous Bohemian Caverns nightclub in Washington, D.C. Gray's version had made it to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, but Ramsey's bouncy, jazz-inflected version made it all the way to No. 5, exactly 50 years ago this month. I was just starting to listen to Top 40 radio as my 7th grade year began, and this song was my first real taste of this style of jazz. Twenty years later, I had the opportunity to see Ramsey and his then-latest trio live, in a hotel ballroom in Casper, Wyoming. And "The 'In' Crowd" was still a real crowd-pleaser!

Today's send-off is one of those still-photograph slideshows paired with the music. The producer did a fine job of selecting images that give a good flavor of urban life in the mid-'60s. Enjoy...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ars Gratia Artis

Art and Politics

One of the most tiresome aspects of modern life is the degree to which we are relentlessly hectored to conform our tastes in the arts to the political moods of the moment. We are told that certain movies (e.g., American Sniper), television programs (e.g., NCIS), writers (e.g., Andrew Klavan), musicians (e.g., the majority of country music artists), etc., are to be disdained because their political views are considered Wrongthink.

A newsworthy current instance of this kind of thing is the controversial outcome
of this year's Hugo Awards, in which "No Award" was the result of balloting in five different categories at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention.
If declining to give out an award at an awards convocation seems unusual, that's because it is. In the entire history of the Hugo Awards prior to this year, "No Award" had only occurred five times total. The last time "No Award" occurred at all was nearly 40 years ago (1977, in the "Best Dramatic Presentation" category, and not surprising given the nominees).

2015 Hugo Award Trophy

This is the 2015 trophy design. It's almost as if they wanted it to be insipid on purpose. Such a shame...

This worldview, where we are told we must be mindful of an artist's political stances when choosing whether to support their work, has never made any sense to me. Frankly, I have a difficult time imagining a world in which I only partake of writing, music, painting, theatre, etc., produced by artists who share my own political perspective. At the very least, that would deny me the pleasures of...

Harlan Ellison

Brilliant writer, childishly silly left-wing politics...

Great band, one of my favorites, infantile left-wing politics...

Joss Whedon

Creator of Firefly, Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, etc., all favorites of mine. Completely idiotic left-wing politics...

To be clear: one of the reasons I read literature, listen to music, watch movies and television shows, look at paintings and sculpture, attend theatrical productions, etc., is to escape from politics (and the toxic rhetoric employed therein these days).

I believe that, if you want the citizenry to be more engaged and better informed politically (a good thing, on balance), it is counter-productive to ask them to view every pleasurable thing in their lives through the lens of politics.

Just one curmudgeon's opinion...

Things That Make Me Happy: Rally Cap Edition

Baseball is truly an unpredictable game. You can never take anything for granted until the final out is recorded. The finale of the four-games series between my beloved Kansas City Royals and the Boston Red Sox yesterday afternoon at Fenway Park is a case in point.

If I told you that your team would be trailing 6-4 heading into the 9th inning of a game, and that both the first AND last outs of your final turn at bat would be runners getting thrown out at home plate, wouldn't you assume your team would lose the game?

And yet, that is exactly what happened yesterday in the Royals' 8-6 victory. In between 2B Omar Infante (who had tripled) and DH Kendrys Morales getting thrown out at home, the Royals scored four runs on four singles, a walk, and a double. Chris Young (9-6, 3.26 ERA) picked up the win after recording the final out of the Boston half of the 8th inning, and Wade Davis got his 11th save with relative ease in the 9th.

The hitting star for the Royals was 3B Mike Moustakas, who had an RBI double in the 4th inning, a solo home run (his 13th of the season) in the 6th, and a bases-loaded double in the 9th that drove in the winning runs.
"Bada bing, bada bam, bada boom!"

Having wrapped up the six-game road trip with a 4-2 record, the Royals return home to Kauffman Stadium tonight to begin a four-game series with the Baltimore Orioles. Kris Medlen (1-0, 2.51 ERA) makes his first start as a Royal after seven appearances in relief, facing the Orioles' Ubaldo Jimenez (9-7, 3.97).


I collect pens (mostly Hallmark and Waterman, but I have a few other nice ones, too) and guitars (I have been introducing members of my "harem" from time to time ever since I started this project), so how could I possibly have resisted this when I saw it at Dietze Music in Omaha?

Gibson Les Paul Ballpoint Pen
"Wait, what??? You bought something on impulse? I don't believe it!"

I sometimes act on other impulses, too, so watch your step, buster...

Things That Make Me Happy: Rehab Edition

Yesterday afternoon Alex Gordon appeared in a game for the first time since suffering a severe groin injury on July 8. Playing for the Omaha Storm Chasers in front of a sellout crowd at Werner Park in Omaha, Alex was 1-4, the one hit being a 2-run home run in the 5th inning of a 4-3 Storm Chasers win over the Sacramento River Cats (which might especially sweet since they are the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, the team that bested Alex and my beloved Kansas City Royals in seven games in last season's World Series).


I'm planning on seeing a Storm Chasers game this coming weekend, and it will be great to watch Alex play in person for the first time in a couple of years. We're hopeful he won't be in Omaha long, as the Royals certainly need their Gold-Glove All-Star left fielder back as soon as possible!

Until Next Time...

Just a couple of days ago, I was reading a column by an author I read mostly for his political commentary, but in this particular column he was talking about songs, and in particular a Leonard Cohen song I'm very fond of, "Dance Me To the End of Love." I actually encountered the song for the first time before I knew Cohen had written it. I was directing a production of Cynthia Mercati's play To See The Stars, which calls for the use of klezmer music. I was not familiar with the style before directing that show, but I came to appreciate it, and still listen to it occasionally to this day.

It was during my research of this style of music that I encountered today's send-off, a rendition of Cohen's song by the Klezmer Conservatory Band that I have used as curtain-call music for both of the productions of TSTS that I have directed. Enjoy...