Sunday, January 31, 2016

Caucus Eve

Stale Cookies

So, it turns out that yesterday's weather report on the blog was completely screwed up because The Weather Channel's website reset my cookie to Washington, D.C. for some reason. I didn't catch the change until yesterday evening.

Not really sure why their site does that, but it isn't the first time. It also happens with their Android app.

In any event, the forecast for tomorrow night's Iowa Caucuses is back to being miserable: Winter Storm Watch, snow, wind, etc. And we're back to wondering what effects (if any) the weather will have on turnout statewide.

"Snow again??? This is some bullshit..."

Dude, it's February in Iowa...we've been over this...

Feast Day

Today is the feast day of St. John Bosco.

He is best remembered for founding the Salesians of Don Bosco, a religious order dedicated to helping poor children. He was canonized in 1934
by Pope Pius XI.

John Bosco is a patron saint of school children (especially those we used to call "juvenile delinquents"), as well as editors and publishers.

Problem Solved!

Courtesy of the excellent Christina Hoff Summers, a solution to the problem of "offensive" language, ideas, or behaviors:

The Next Big Thing

From the delightful comic strip FoxTrot, by Bill Amend, which you should read every Sunday, as I do.

Until Next Time...

On January 31, 1797 Franz Peter Schubert was born in Vienna, Austria. A remarkable talent, he would become one of the great teachers and composers of his era, although he was not widely appreciated until long after his death.

January 31, 1797 - November 19, 1828

Although he died young (just 31), Schubert was remarkably prolific, with more than 1,500 significant compositions to his credit. Many of them are considered masterworks of their kind, and he is one of the most frequently performed composers in the classical repertoire.

At his own request, upon his death he was buried next to Ludwig van Beethoven, whom he greatly admired, in a Vienna cemetery.

Today's send-off is the second movement (adagio) of his String Quintet in C major,
the last piece of chamber music he completed before his death. The work is considered Schubert's greatest chamber composition, as well as one of the finest in all of chamber music. It is performed by Pablo Casals, Isaac Stern, Paul Tortelier, Eugene Istomin, and Alexander Schneider. It is paired with some beautiful works of art. Enjoy...

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Weather Report

"I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm highly paid."
Just a couple of days ago, the weather forecast for Monday night wasn't promising. Snow was expected on Sunday evening continuing into Monday. This had everyone freaking out about how it would affect turnout for Monday night's Iowa Caucuses.

Those of us who actually live here, of course, knew better than to press the panic button. You know the old cliché: If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.

Sure enough, as of this morning the forecast is completely different. We're supposed to have a high of 61 degrees (on February 1!), and some rain in the afternoon.

That doesn't mean this forecast can't be wrong, of course. The same people telling us this told us there'd be no White Christmas, then that we'd only get a "dusting" of snow on Christmas Eve. We got 6.5 inches that day.

I don't expect weather to be much of a factor for the caucuses. I certainly plan to be there no matter what the weather is doing.

"Admit it: You're hoping some Trump supporter calls you a 'cuck,' aren't you?"

Well, it has been far too long since the last time I kneed someone in the groin, so yeah...

Boola Boola

7'6" center Mamadou Ndiaye is the tallest player in NCAA Division I.

We're in a lull in sporting events
I care much about right now, so I'm throwing in a mention of my wingman's favorite team, the UC-Irvine Anteaters.

They're having a fine season so far, 17-5 overall and 6-0 in the Big West conference standings, good for first place.

For a game back in December, they rolled out a starting five that was the tallest in NCAA men's basketball history. Pretty amazing.

They've won their last seven straight games, and 10 of their last 11. The lone loss was on the road versus then-No. 2 Kansas. No shame in that.


"You know that 'Boola Boola' is a Yale thing, right?"

I'm using it metaphorically...

We'll Let You Know Monday, Asshat

From the pen of Lisa Benson, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

Although I am a lover of classical music, I am no expert. There are certain composers with whose works I am quite familiar, and of course certain compositions are so widely popular that it is virtually impossible not to know them. But much of the time my awareness of or interest in a composition is tied to its connection with some other art form.

One such piece is Frédéric Chopin's famous Nocturne in C sharp Minor. Composed for his older sister Ludwika as a piano exercise, it became one of the most popular short works for solo piano in the classical repertoire. It has been featured in many motion pictures and television programs, and it was a favorite piece of mine to use for journal time with my students.
Original 2002 "one sheet" poster
By far my favorite cinematic use of the piece is in director Roman Polanski's 2002 drama The Pianist. Polanski used it to open the film, and to set the somber tone.

The screenplay, by award-winning playwright Ronald Harwood, is based on Polish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman's memoir by the same name. The film tells the story of Szpilman's experiences surviving the German occupation of Warsaw.

Harwood won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation, Polanski won for Best Director, and Adrien Brody's performance as Szpilman won for Best Actor (at 29, Brody became the youngest Best Actor Oscar winner in history). The film was also nominated for Best Picture.

Today's send-off is a splendid live performance of the Chopin piece by Jan Lisiecki.
It was his encore at the 2013 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. He was just 18 years old at the time. Enjoy...

Friday, January 29, 2016

Cream Rises

Thank Randall Flagg It's Friday!

"What happens in Vegas..."

Debate Reflections

So, there was another Republican presidential candidate's debate joint press availability last night in Des Moines, the final one before actual voting begins on Monday night with the Iowa Caucuses. There were no game-changing moments, but the absence of asshat Donald Trump (who boycotted the debate in fear of Fox anchor Megyn Kelly) meant a refreshing focus on actual issues as opposed to the "What do you think about what Mr. Trump has said?" sort of thing that has dominated most of these events thus far.

It was actually a good look at what might have been had the mainstream media not decided that Trump was the only candidate worth covering this cycle. My own brief impressions...

Carly Fiorina totally dominated the so-called "undercard" debate. That she was not put in the main stage debate when Trump withdrew is a travesty. She is smart, well-prepared, thoughtful, and fearless. An anti-Trump, which the campaign sorely needs.
Senator Rand Paul demonstrated why it was a mistake for him to have been excluded from the previous gathering, giving calm, thoughtful answers and showing a willingness to raise issues others shy away from. His core libertarian principles deserve a place at the conservative table.

Senator Marco Rubio made a good showing, and dealt with some tough questions about his record with honesty and clarity. A first-class mind and a first-class temperament. Clearly the winner of the so- called "main stage" event.

Senator Ted Cruz didn't do badly, but it wasn't his best performance. Former governor Jeb Bush had a solid performance, probably his best of the campaign so far, but it is unlikely that voters will re-examine their position on him at this point. Governors Chris Christie and John Kasich, along with Dr. Ben Carson, ought to seriously consider dropping out of the race. They contribute nothing of value to the proceedings, and take time away from better-prepared candidates who actually have important things to say.

First Class

Although major league baseball's National Baseball Hall of Fame would not formally open until 1939, voting for its inaugural class of honorees began in 1936. Eighty years ago today (January 29, 1936), the results of the first voting for the Hall were announced. To be elected, a player had to be named on a minimum of 75 percent of the ballots cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Five players reached that level of support, and became the Hall of Fame's first "class" of inductees:

L to R, by ballot percentage: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson

This is as good a time as any to throw in a plug for my all-time favorite book about baseball. Written by the indispensable Bill James, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? is not only a fascinating history of the institution itself, but also a useful discussion of how baseball fans ought to think about the Hall of Fame, too. James does
a marvelous job of debunking almost every fallacy that plagues conversations about who should be in the Hall, a true public service if you pay much attention to the half-witted "debates" that swirl around some pretty marginal Hall candidates every year.

The chapter on Don Drysdale alone is a textbook example of how to build a Hall of Fame case (or how to dismantle one). Anyone studying argumentation and rhetoric could profit from a close study of that chapter.

"That's a pretty impressive group."

Yes, it is...the BBWAA didn't start fucking up their voting until later...

Presidential Material

From the pen of Henry Payne, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

It is no great insight that the timing of a person's birth sometimes has much to do with the path their life subsequently takes. This is as true for entertainers as it is for anyone.

On January 29, 1981 Jon Gordon Langseth, Jr. was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Performing as Jonny Lang, he has had a reasonably successful career, but most likely would have been a much bigger star if he had begun his career at a time when guitar- based music was more popular with young people.

Jonny's father encouraged his son's interest in the guitar at a young age, and his talent for the instrument quickly became apparent. His major-label debut album Lie To Me was released on January 28, 1997, the day before his 16th birthday.

Being a fan of blues and blues-rock, I quickly became a fan of Jonny's as well. I also liked the fact that he performed barefoot (a practice he has since abandoned). He really didn't fit the mold of what guitar prodigies were supposed to be like during that time period. He was a throwback, in a good way.

Today's send-off is the official music video for "Lie to Me," the album's opening track and first single, in which Jonny plays a vintage Fender Esquire he saw in the guitar shop where the video was filmed. The guitar was later purchased and given to him as a gift, and he still plays and records with it. Enjoy...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lives Well Lived


On the morning of January 28, 1986 I wasn't teaching, as I normally would have been on a Tuesday. I was with one of my students, sitting in the lobby of the Gertrude Krampert Theatre at Casper College. We were awaiting the start of the Natrona County American Legion Oratorical Contest.

T+73.162 seconds
It was just before 10:00 when our school district's superintendent arrived. A member of the American Legion himself, he was a big supporter of the oratorical contest and always made a point of being there any time a student from our district was involved.

When he walked into the lobby,
his face was ashen and he was obviously distraught. Of course
I asked him if he was okay, and it was then that I heard the news about the Challenger.

Because this flight included civilian Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher selected as part
of the Teacher in Space Project, it was watched live in thousands of schools all over the United States, including the high school where I was teaching at the time.

As hard as the news hit me and my student at the speech contest after the fact, it was far, far worse for those who saw it happen in real time.

President Ronald Reagan had been scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address that night, but of course he postponed. Some things are more important than politics.

Instead, he gave one of the great speeches in American history, remarkable for both its emotional power and its brevity (Reagan understood that a grieving nation didn't need a lengthy address). When he closed with the quote from John Gillespie Magee, Jr.'s poem "High Flight," I wept for the first time that day. Even now, that portion of the speech still elicits the same reaction...

Right there with you, old friend...

Feast Day

Painting of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francesco Solimena
Today is the feast day of one of the great intellectuals in the history of the Catholic church,  St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas is a Doctor of the Church, and is widely regarded
as its greatest philosopher and theologian. His ideas still exert considerable influence both within the Church and in the larger field of philosophy.

Canonized on July 18, 1323 by Pope John XXII, St. Thomas is the patron saint of students and universities, so of course as a teacher myself I have always had a special regard for his life and work, especially his writings on the subject of ethics.

Tough Guy

From the pen of Michael Ramirez, whose editorial cartoons you should read often,
as I do.

Until Next Time...

Although I had greatly enjoyed Tom Wolfe's non-fiction book The Right Stuff in 1979,
I didn't expect the movie version to be nearly so good. The book had won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and Hollywood has a long history of disappointing us with adaptations of such bestsellers. This time, though, I turned out to be very, very wrong.

Original 1983 "one sheet" poster
Writer/director Philip Kaufman's film adaptation of Wolfe's book turned out to be one of my all-time favorite movies, one of those films that I never get tired of watching.

Despite the usual dramatic liberties with the historical record, the film (like Wolfe's book) is mostly faithful to the true story of the Project Mercury program, and the seven men who took part in it. The parallel story of legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager is also handled brilliantly.

Featuring a stellar ensemble cast, the film received 8 Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. It won four Oscars (losing out to Terms of Endearment for Best Picture, a good film that benefited greatly from Hollywood's obsession with Big Name Stars).

The Right Stuff was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress's prestigious National Film Registry in 2013.

Even though composer Bill Conti won the Academy Award for Best Score, a soundtrack album for the film wasn't officially released until 2013.

Today's send-off is a suite of Conti's stirring music paired with clips from the film. Enjoy...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hot Buttered Stupid

College Is Wasted On the Young

Well, maybe not entirely wasted, but it is difficult to avoid the sense that young people these days don't really get that the whole point of going to college is to open their minds to the full range of human ideas, to learn that there are interesting and useful perspectives on life that differ from their own, insights worth thinking about from smart people who lived in earlier times, etc.

More and more these days, the news is filled with depressing stories about college students pursuing just the opposite approach, trying to suppress speakers whose ideas they don't personally support, rejecting thinkers whom they object to for one trendy reason or another, and childishly insisting that their entire campus environment be tailored to conform to the social and political orthodoxies of the passing moment.

Of course, the faculties of our institutions of higher learning bear some responsibility for this, but that's a subject for another time. What's bugging me most today is the growing anti-intellectualism among the students themselves.

Erb Memorial Union, University of Oregon

A recent instance of this kind of thing took place at the University of Oregon, where the student government debated removing an offensive quotation from the wall of the Erb Memorial Union, the campus's primary student center.

It really shouldn't shock you that the "offensive" quotation was from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. No one, no matter how distinguished intellectually, is safe from the modern campus iconoclasts.

And the "offensive" quotation? Here you go:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream...
If you find yourself scratching your head about what could possibly be "offensive" about this excerpt from Dr. King's famous address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that's because you're not as smart as Oregon sophomore architecture major Mia Ashley:
Does the MLK quote represent us today? Diversity is so much more than race. Obviously race still plays a big role. But there are people who identify differently in gender and all sorts of things like that.
"The stupid, it burns!"

False Alarm

Hey, remember than time ten years ago when hack politician and tree-impersonator Al Gore told us at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival that we only had a decade left to reverse global warming and avoid a "planetary emergency"?

Remember how all the half-witted environmentalists went gaga over Gore's glorified Powerpoint slideshow?

Remember how Gore and his acolytes in the press simply ignored people pointing out the many, many flaws in his presentation?

Remember how Hollywood, in thrall as it usually is to progressive narratives, actually gave this dreck an Academy Award for warning us while we still had a whole decade left to avert catastrophe?

Remember the spate of laughably inept movies Gore's dire prophecy spawned?

Yeah, never mind...

"Maybe he was right. You certainly seem hot and bothered a lot lately."

Purely a coincidence...

Hillary's Campaign Logo (Poll-Corrected Edition)

From the pen of Michael Ramirez, whose editorial cartoons you should read often,
as I do.

Until Next Time...

One of life's sublime pleasures is unexpectedly stumbling across something wonderful.
One afternoon in early 1997 I was shopping at my favorite record store (remember those?) in St. Joseph, Missouri, looking for a recording of a Mozart piece I wanted to use in a play I was directing. I didn't find it, but I did find something much, much better,
a recording that became one of my all-time favorites.

When I found it at my local Hastings store, Sony Classical's Mozart: Piano Quartets Nos. 1 & 2, K. 478, 493 had only just been released.

I bought it without hesitation, as I had never been disappointed by any offerings from pianist Emanuel Ax, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, or violinist Isaac Stern. I was not familiar with violinist Jaime Laredo (who plays viola on this recording), but I am grateful to have made his acquaintance.

It is one of only a handful of classical recordings in my collection that gets as much play as my rock, blues, and other popular music favorites. Not to be missed.

Today's send-off is the group's gorgeous rendition of the second (Larghetto) movement from Piano Quartet No. 2. Enjoy...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Here in I-OH-WAY


"Your insolence will be punished in due time, human!"
So, at last night's Democratic town hall meeting in Des Moines, in which each candidate faced the audience by themselves, one at a time, Hillary Clinton reverted to her "I did nothing wrong" defense in response to questions about the ongoing national security scandal involving her illegal email server.

Asked if she had made an error in judgment when she set up her illegal server, her exact words were: "I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment because what - nothing that I did was wrong.  It was not - it was not in any way prohibited."

And, of course, the MSM says nothing, because even though almost every word of her response is false, they don't want to talk about it.

This ought to put to rest once and for all the canard that Democrats constitute the "reality-based community." There is no more brazen denier of reality than Hillary Clinton. Anyone who votes for her needs to admit that it is her uterus that really matters to them, not her character, or her political views. There can be no other explanation for supporting her...

"You just don't like pantsuits."

Pantsuits are fine, but she'd look better in an orange prison jumpsuit...

Hilton Magic Redux

Cyclones guard Monte Morris had 21 points and 9 assists
One week after their stirring Big Monday victory over top-ranked Oklahoma, the Iowa State Cyclones welcomed another highly-ranked Big XII opponent to Hilton Coliseum. This time it was No. 4 Kansas, and the Cyclones routed the Jayhawks 85-72 before a packed house.

The final margin was even more impressive when you consider that KU led by 7 at halftime.

The Cyclones now own victories over three teams in the RPI Top 10, while no other team has more than one. They have defeated No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Iowa, and No. 4 Kansas. They've won four straight conference games after stumbling to a 1-3 start in
Big XII play.

If they keep playing like this, March Madness should be quite interesting...

"Is there anything you enjoy more than seeing Kansas lose?"

It is a short list, but there are a few things, yes...

Some Things Never Change, Kid

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

Until Next Time...

On January 26, 1953, just three weeks before I entered the world, singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Just as happened in my own life, her father's work caused her to live an itinerant lifestyle while she was young. That may explain why so much of her music strikes a chord in me.

She became interested in writing at a very young age, as I did, and by age 12 she had taken up playing the guitar (I was 14 when I got my first one). Lucinda, unlike me, turned out to have talent both as a singer and songwriter, and began performing at 17.

Because her music is an eclectic blend of country, folk, blues, and American rock influences, Lucinda's career hasn't enjoyed the sort of commercial success that comes to artists who more narrowly focus their efforts. It hasn't prevented her from winning three Grammy Awards, though. She is also one of the most-covered songwriters, and her
Car Wheels On a Gravel Road is widely considered one of the best records in American popular music history by critics.

In 2007, Lucinda released her album West, which reached No. 14 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.

Among the songs on the album was "Are You Alright?" a song about worrying about someone suffering from depression. Simple and direct, the song's lyrics really hit home with me the first time I heard it, just a few weeks after my dearest friend unexpectedly took his own life.

Today's send-off pairs Lucinda's heartfelt performance with video clips from the HBO series True Detective, which featured the song on one of its episodes. Enjoy...

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mundane Monday


Snowplow at work in Brooklyn, New York
Here is southwest Iowa we have had little to complain about with regard to weather, at least in comparison to our neighbors in the east, who are still feeling the effects of a deadly, record-breaking winter storm.

As I type this, my area is still under a Winter Weather Advisory for
a few more hours.

Mondays suck badly enough with crappy weather, Mother Nature. Get it together...


One week from today, the first votes will finally be cast in the 2016 presidential nominating processes.

Yesterday the caucus sites for my county were announced, but I still have to find out which precinct
I live in.

I'm looking forward to participating next week, not least because I'm sick to death of reading about all of the bullshit polls that are being trumpeted by various partisans in the campaign.

One week from today, the only kind of polling that really matters will take place.

And snow is in the forecast for that day. Of course.

"Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow should keep you from caucusing for Hillary."

Don't even think such a thing...

Cut It Out!

I'm on the email mailing list for a very cool company called Model Train Stuff. I always enjoy seeing their mailers, as I like to keep up on new stuff being released for hobbyists. Every once in awhile, though, I regret it because they'll have something in their catalog mailer that sparks an inordinate amount of acquisition lust. Something like this...

True Line Trains Fairbanks-Morse C-Liner

One of the things that appeals to me as a model train collector is the rarity of a particular locomotive design. Fairbanks-Morse introduced its Consolidated Line of locomotives in January 1950. These locomotives were intended to compete directly with the popular "streamliners" being built by ALCO and EMD. The so-called "C-Liner" was a commercial flop, though, with fewer than 100 units sold to U.S. railroads.

Although they were not much loved by actual railroads, collectors are fond of C-Liners precisely because so few ever saw service.

"So, model railroaders like to celebrate failed designs?"

Not exactly,'s complicated...

Anyway, I really don't appreciate Model Train Stuff dangling something like that Milwaukee Road C-Liner under my nose. Unfair.

Better Than Average

From the droll comic strip Dilbert, by Scott Adams, which you should read every day,
as I do.

Until Next Time...

As often happens, I was poking around in iTunes last night looking for a song I wanted to listen to, and stumbled upon another, different song I hadn't listened to for awhile. That's how today's selection came about.

"The Call and The Answer" is a charming romantic ballad by Irish singer-songwriter Phil Colclough and his wife June. It has been recorded by numerous Irish artists and groups, including De Dannan, one of my favorites. The lyrics are a simple paean to the enduring nature of true love.

De Dannan has been around in one form or another since 1975, but as often happens with bands there have been ups and downs, break-ups and reunions, etc. I like all of their stuff, no matter which version of the band (or which spelling of its name) we're talking about.

Today's send-off is the group's 1988 recording of the song from their album A Jacket of Batteries, paired with some splendid images of Ireland. Enjoy...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Potpourri No. 23


Now that I've recovered (somewhat) from the sting of last weekend's playoff defeat, it is time to honor those members of my beloved Kansas City Chiefs who were selected to the Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl game itself is ridiculous, but that doesn't mean it isn't an honor to be selected.

As you might expect, given the team's 11-5 record and franchise-record 10-game regular season winning streak, several Chiefs were selected, including SS Eric Berry, (who was also named Comeback Player of the Year for beating the cancer that sidelined him last season), OLB Tamba Hali, and OLB Justin Houson. Those players have been selected to Pro Bowls before. They'll be joined by two first-time selections...

Second-year TE Travis Kelce caught 72 passes for 875 yards and scored five touchdowns.

Rookie CB Marcus Peters intercepted a pass on his first NFL regular-season snap, and recorded 8 picks on the season, two of which he returned for TDs.

"It's nice to have a talented young nucleus."

It is, yes...


What two feet of snow
in Manhattan looks like...

h/t Jim Dougherty

"You're going to have to go to confession for that one."

Worth it...

Ursine Treachery

From the indispensable comic strip Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, which you should read every day, as I do (even though Wiley is a squishy liberal).

Until Next Time...

When I taught classes where students were required to keep a daily, in-class journal,
I played instrumental music of various kinds while the students wrote. There is research suggesting that listening to instrumental music can be helpful during free writing. My students over the years confirmed that the music spurred their creativity. I also used the post-journal period for a bit of what is called "enrichment," a brief discourse on whatever piece I played that day, and something interesting about the music, the composer, or both.

Since this was something we did for several minutes each day, I need a large selection of material of the appropriate length (roughly five minutes). I spent a fair amount of time screening tracks of that length and putting the "winners" in a playlist for use in class.
I built up quite a collection over the years, and my students expressed a special fondness for a few of those pieces.

Thaïs is an 1894 opera by Jules Massenet. It is not generally regarded as one of the "standard" works of the operatic repertoire, but "Meditation," an instrumental transition between two scenes in the opera's second act, is one of the most popular short works in all of classical music. It's length and tranquil nature made it perfect as "journal music," and it was among the most popular pieces with my students.

In 1996, violin virtuso Itzhak Perlman included "Meditation" on his A La Carte album, where he performed with the Abbey Road Ensemble under the baton of Lawrence Foster.

Today's send-off is Perlman's exquisite rendering of the Massenet piece, paired with some evocative video and photography. Enjoy...