Wednesday, August 31, 2016

They Might Be Giants

Big (Dumb) Ideas

"Did you know watching football makes you a monster?"
One of the more tedious aspects of modern life is the general public's increasing inability to tell genuine intellectuals from glib hucksters. Today's case in point is Malcolm Gladwell, author of numerous best-selling books.

People keep buying those books and going to hear the guy speak even though it is quite obvious that he is completely full of shit.

As you might expect, he's the type of charlatan who claims that any serious criticism of his work is just one more sign that he is right. And if you disagree, why,  you're simply not smart enough to understand just how right he is. Q.E.D.

That's why it was such a day-brightener when I came across an article which pointed to the latest scientific evisceration of Gladwell's famous "10,000 Hour Rule." It isn't the first time someone has refuted Gladwell's absurd claims on the issue, but piling on is fine with me in this intellectual football game...

"It didn't take me 10,000 hours to master eat-murdering ant colonies."

Of course it didn't...

Feast Day

Stained glass of St. Aidan, Holy Cross Monastery

Today is the feast day of St. Aidan,
an Irish-born monk and later bishop who was noteworthy for his tireless and successful evangelism to both the nobility and the common people of what was then known as the Kingdom of Northumbria, where the return of Christianity in the 7th century is credited to him.

Virtually all of what we know about
St. Aidan comes from the remarkably thorough Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) by St. Bede (also known among scholars as Venerable Bede).

Because he was born in Ireland, established an important monastery in Scotland, and ministered to the English, from time to time there are proposals that he be named the patron saint of the United Kingdom.

The precise date of St. Aidan's canonization is unknown, since his sainthood is pre-Congregation. He is buried beneath the priory he established on the island of Lindisfarne. Aidan is the patron saint of Northumbria, and of firefighters.

Baseball Coincidences

As I've mentioned on previous occasions in this space, one of my favorite things about baseball is its rich history, and especially its veritable treasure trove of amusing coincidences. Today's episode focuses on a pair of "firsts," one batting and one pitching, accomplished by a pair of teammates on the same calendar date nine years apart...

Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges was one of the biggest stars of the famous Boys of Summer teams of the 1950s.

On August 31, 1950 Hodges became the first man in National League history to hit four home runs in the same game without the benefit of extra innings. He hit each home run that day off of a different pitcher. At the time, American League star Lou Gehrig was the only other player since 1900 to have accomplished the feat.
On August 31, 1959 Hodges's teammate, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, pitching in the Dodgers' first season in Los Angeles, became the first man in National League history to strike out 18 batters in a nine- inning game.

Koufax's record stood for a decade.
On September 15, 1969, it was broken
by 24-year-old future Hall of Famer
Steve Carlton, who struck out 19 in a losing effort for the St. Louis Cardinals against a New York Mets team that went on to win the World Series that season
(the legendary Miracle Mets).

Who was managing the Mets the day Carlton broke Koufax's record?

Gil Hodges.

Behind Schedule

From the delightfully off-kilter webcomic xkcd, by Randall Munroe, which you should read every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as I do.

Until Next Time...

One of my favorite things about my guitar hero Joe Bonamassa is that he is so prolific. Unlike artists who make you wait years at a time for new music, Joe's fondness for releasing live recordings and collaborations with other artists means there's almost always something new in the pipeline. And it is always good stuff.

Many of these live recordings aren't regular concerts, but rather special events like his all-acoustic show at the Vienna Opera House, or his Tour de Force series of four albums capturing four concerts with four different set lists over four consecutive nights at four different London venues. He has yet another live album scheduled to be released in a few weeks, just six months after the release of his latest studio album.

On August 31, 2014 Joe performed a unique show at the famous
Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, in which he paid tribute to the music of two of his biggest blues influences, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

The sold-out concert was one of Joe's largest-ever crowds, and one of his rare outdoor shows. Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart, and reached No. 35 on the Billboard 200.

Today's send-off is Joe's performance that night of "Killing Floor," the award-winning Howlin' Wolf number that many consider the epitome of Chicago-style electric blues.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Life's Little Victories


Electronic note-taking is common in college classrooms

Even though I'm no longer in the classroom, I always enjoy coming across news stories that validate opinions I used to champion back in those halcyon days when I was a classroom teacher.

While I was meandering around the 'net yesterday I came across a link to a story run by NPR back in April. It was about a recent study which provided support for the idea that taking notes on electronic gadgets leads to poorer educational outcomes than taking notes by hand.

That is an argument I made to my peers for many, many years, but to little avail. Some of those colleagues accused me of being a Luddite, which is preposterous. I love tech gadgets, and I support incorporating those technologies in the classroom. I'm just not convinced they should take the place of note-taking and other forms of writing by hand.

Author and editor Anne Trubek has a book coming out next week on the subject, which
I look forward to reading. In the meantime, it's always nice to be proven right, even if
I no longer get to do my victory dance in faculty lounges.

"Do you ever get tired of being right all the time?"

Sometimes it can be a burden, it's true...

Roller Coaster

My beloved Kansas City Royals were back at Kauffman Stadium last night to begin
a six-game homestand. In the first of three games with the New York Yankees, we got
a game with more than its share of ups and downs. The Royals took a 3-0 lead before making the third out in the 1st inning, then went down in order the next five innings. And that was just the beginning of the roller coaster ride that ended with the Royals taking an 8-5 victory.

Now 6-7, 4.37 ERA

Royals starter Dillon Gee pitched six strong innings, holding the Yankees to a single run on just four hits.
LHP Brian Flynn came on to pitch
a scoreless top of the 7th. Then the bullpen made things...interesting.

RHP Chris Young began the 8th inning by allowing the first three hitters to reach base without even putting a ball in play, then giving up a two-run double. RHP Peter Moylan allowed two more runs across on a sac fly and a single. All-Star Kelvin Herrera, who should have had the night off, came in to face the tying run and got out of the jam.

In the 9th inning, Herrera gave up two singles to bring the tying run to the plate a second time, but struck that batter out to preserve the win for Gee.

After going down in order for five straight innings after their three-run outburst in the 1st, the Royals staged one of their patented late-game rallies in the 7th, scoring five runs on five singles, a walk, and a home run.

The three-run home run came off the bat of SS Alcides Escobar, not noted for power hitting, and seemed to blow the game open. It turned out to the game's winning margin.

Every Royals starter had at least one hit, and five players besides Escobar had an RBI.

"Quite a game, especially against another Wild Ca--"

Zip it, ant-breath...

Feast Day

Today is the feast day of St. Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross, founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Jeanne grew up during the harsh persecution
of Catholics during the French Revolution,
and at age 26 she became a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. At 34 she founded her own prayer community with two other women, and dedicated her life to teaching the catechism and caring for the elderly.

Jeanne was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1982, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

St. Jeanne Jugan is the patron saint of the destitute elderly.

If the Floppy Shoe Fits

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...

One of the things that makes writing the blog fun for me is coincidences and connections between so many of the topics I write about, many of which I wasn't even aware of until revisiting them for a blog entry.

Yesterday, for instance, was the birthday of film director William Friedkin, director of several of my all-time favorite films. Writing a brief mention of him in yesterday's blog brought to mind his 1977 film Sorcerer, which featured one of my favorite soundtracks, and when I began poking around that part of the memory closet I discovered a neat coincidence of which I was previously unaware...

Original 1977 "one sheet" poster
I went to see Sorcerer back in '77 in part because it was Friedkin, and in part because I was intrigued by the trailer for the film. It was the first film I saw in a theatre following my first wife's death.

It turned out to be nothing like what
I had expected based on the trailer,
but it became one of my favorite movies nevertheless. For a variety of reasons,
it was not available on DVD in true widescreen format until 2014.

Part of what made the film so effective was the haunting score by the German electronic music group Tangerine Dream. As it happens, this week's Music Recommendation is a TV soundtrack by
Paul Haslinger, who spent five years as a member of Tangerine Dream in the 1980s.

Small world, ain't it?

Today's send-off is "Grind," one of my favorite tracks from the Sorcerer soundtrack. Still gives me chills even after nearly four decades. Enjoy...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Peak Experiences

Natural Disaster

On August 29, 2005
the United States experienced the costliest natural disaster in its history as Hurricane Katrina made landfall along our southern coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

I was beginning my second year teaching in Atlantic, but my first year actually living there (during the 2004-2005 school year I commuted from Council Bluffs).

The devastation and human suffering caused by the storm was obviously a topic of conversation for quite some time afterward. Folks in Atlantic were quite active in relief efforts, including fundraisers organized by students at the high school.

One of the more popular such fundraisers was the sale of carabiners in the shape of houses, with the money going to help find housing for people displaced by the storm.

I bought a red one, which is still on my keyring to this day.

"It wasn't a barrel of fun for the wild kingdom, either."

No, no it was not...

Big Inning

Last night at Fenway Park in Boston my beloved Kansas City Royals enjoyed their biggest offensive outburst in a single inning all season, scoring 8 runs in the 6th inning to cruise to a 10-4 victory over the Red Sox. The win meant the Royals captured the series two games to one, their fourth consecutive series win on the road and their seventh straight series win overall. The team is 19-7 (.731) so far in August.

Now 2-0, 0.68 ERA in 10 appearances
Royals starter Yordano Ventura struggled mightily, and left the game with just one out in the bottom of the 5th inning. Rookie Matt Strahm came one to pitch 2 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out batters and earning his second major league win.

Relievers Peter Moylan and Joakim Soria each pitched a scoreless inning.

The 8-run offensive outburst in the top of the 6th inning erased a 4-2 deficit and basically ended the contest.

The key hit was a bases-loaded triple to center field by rookie 2B Raul Mondesi (the ball would easily have been a home run back in Kauffman Stadium).

All-Star C Salvador Perez, who homered twice in Saturday's loss, went deep again last night, his 20th of the season. DH Kendrys Morales was 3-for-5 with a run scored, and All-Star 1B Eric Hosmer contributed a two-run single.

"A clutch win like that probably has them in the thick of--"


Happy Birthday!

In The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
On August 29, 1915 Ingrid Bergman was born in Stockholm, Sweden. She lost both of her parents before her 14th birthday, but she overcame her unsettled early life to become one of the most-honored actresses of all time.

Bergman won a Tony Award, four Golden Globe Awards, and two Emmys. Her three Academy Awards are second only to Katherine Hepburn's record four.

The first film I saw her in was The Bells of St. Mary's, the Oscar-nominated sequel to Best Picture winner Going My Way. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Sister Mary Benedict. I found her performance endearing, and was a fan ever after.

Friedkin in 2012
On August 29, 1935 William Friedkin was born in Chicago, the son of Ukrainian immigrant parents.

After a nondescript academic career in high school, Friedkin went to work in the mail room at WGN-TV in Chicago, but soon afterward his interest in directing kicked in, and before long he was directing live TV programs and documentaries. His skills as a director led him to move to Hollywood in 1965.

He directed three of my all-time favorite films in succession in the 1970s: Best Picture winner  
The French Connection in 1971 (the first R-rated film to win that honor), Best Picture nominee The Exorcist
in 1973, and the underrated classic thriller Sorcerer in 1977.

Trump's One True Skill

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

Until Next Time...

The protest song has a long history in American popular music. During my adolescence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war were responsible for a substantial number of such songs. They only rarely appealed to me, though, as more often than not they just weren't very good as songs. Every so often
a protest song would become a popular hit, like Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction," the first protest song to become a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit in 1965.

The creative talent in the world of soul and R&B music was not immune to these social currents, of course, and in 1969 the Motown songwriting team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote a protest song about Vietnam for the label's popular vocal group
The Temptations. That recording was included on their Psychedelic Shack album, but not released as a single. Executives at the record label decided that "War" was too political for a mainstream act like The Temptations to risk. Instead, the label chose the struggling singer Edwin Starr, who had only had a single Top 10 hit in his career to that point. His recording of the song was much more aggressive and intense, and as it turned out that style suited the public's mood just fine.

Original 1970 45 rpm single
On August 29, 1970 "War" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart, a position it would hold for three consecutive weeks.
It also became a major cultural phenomenon. No one who grew up in those days doesn't remember the song, or the political climate in which achieved such success.

Starr had a handful of charting singles over the remainder of his recording career, but for better or worse he will always be associated with this one song, and this one moment in history.

Today's send-off is the 1985 remastered version of the song. It was released that year as a single packaged with a remaster of Starr's other Top 10 hit. Enjoy...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Potpourri No. 40

The Mountaintop

One of the great joys of my career teaching speech was helping my students truly understand the power of rhetoric by exposing them to some of the greatest speeches of American history.

On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, delivering what would come to be known as the
"I Have a Dream" speech, widely regarded as the greatest political speech of the 20th century.


Feast Day

Saint Augustine (1650), by Philippe de Champaigne
Today we celebrate the feast day
of St. Augustine of Hippo, son of
St. Monica (whose feast day we celebrated yesterday), and one of the most important theologians and philosophers in the history of the Christian faith.

Augustine's writings, especially
City of God and Confessions, remain among the most influential works in church history. In 1298 Augustine was named Doctor of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII, one of the first four men so honored.

Augustine is the patron of printers and brewers.

Getting Off the Schneid

Alex Smith scrambles for 17 yards and a key first down
My beloved Kansas City Chiefs won their first game of the pre-season yesterday, dominating the Chicago Bears 23-7 in an afternoon game at Soldier Field.

My best friend Skip thinks it is silly to place any importance on exhibition games, and he may be right, but it is still nice to see the Chiefs win one easily, after two straight 1-point defeats.

"Say, didn't your other favorite team have a game yesterday too?"

I don't want to talk about it...

Back-to-School Problems 2016

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

Until Next Time...

Before Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous speech, the popular folk music trio Peter, Paul, and Mary performed for the assembled crowd. They sang the folk music staple "If I Had a Hammer," then performed their biggest hit, a cover of Bob Dylan's song "Blowin' in the Wind."
Original 1963 45 rpm single

Released as a single earlier in the summer, by mid-July the song had peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 with sales of over a million copies.

The recording propelled the trio's album In the Wind to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart,
and earned two Grammy Awards.

Today's send-off is the trio performing the song live on a BBC broadcast in 1965. Enjoy...

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Galactically Stupid

"I'm not dumb, I'm SMART, and I want RESPECT!"

I've never been a believer in the "dumb jock" stereotype, and
I generally try to eschew writing about current events stuff on the weekends, but...

Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers,
is dumber than a sack of hammers.

"So ESPN fired Curt Schilling, but this clown gets to keep his job?"

I know, right? We'll see what happens, but since anti-Americanism is politically correct when embraced by black athletes, my guess is he'll suffer no consequences...

Feast Day

Saint Monica, by Pedro Berruguete

Today is the feast day of St. Monica, mother of  
St. Augustine (whose feast day is tomorrow).

Monica is revered in part because of her steadfastness during her difficult marriage to a Roman bureaucrat, and in part because of her tireless efforts to bring her son to a life of faith.

Monica is the patron saint of those in difficult marriages, and of parents struggling with wayward children. The city of Santa Monica, California was named in her honor, although the legend involving the Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi's role in that naming is apocryphal.

Early Offense

My beloved Kansas City Royals improved their record on the current six-game road trip to 3-1 with a rather odd 6-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Now 9-9, 3.57 ERA

Royals starter Ian Kennedy wasn't as sharp as he has been in his past few starts, but he worked 5 1/3 innings, giving up just two runs while striking out nine batters.

The Royals bullpen's team-record scoreless innings streak was extended to 41 1/3 innings before the Red Sox pushed across a run in the 9th. That was the longest streak in the major leagues since 1966.


On offense, the Royals scored five runs before the Red Sox recorded the second out in the top of the 1st inning.

1B Eric Hosmer hit
a three-run homer, and LF Alex Gordon added
a two-run shot to give the Royals all the runs they would need.

RF Lorenzo Cain hit a solo home run in the 8th inning to give the bullpen a bit more breathing room.

"Say, aren't the Red Sox one of the teams the Royals are chas--"

Don't even think it, quadruped...

You Have a Future in Politics, Kid

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

Until Next Time...

In this section yesterday I talked about how much my late best friend Matt enjoyed introducing me to new music, and as luck would have it today gives me an opportunity to do so again.

Pearl Jam was by far Matt's favorite band. He saw them live three times, bought each of their studio albums on the day of its release, and purchased as many of their live albums as he could afford (the band released a virtual torrent of live recordings over their career). He even talked me into incorporating a Pearl Jam song ("Nothingman") into the finale for my first production of Flowers for Algernon, in which he starred.

His fondness for the group dated back years before our paths ever crossed...

On August 27, 1991 the band released its debut album, Ten. Although the record took awhile
to find its audience, it eventually peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart over a year after its release. It produced three charting singles as well.

Ten would go on to become one of the signature recordings of the '90s, helping to popularize the alternative rock genre and receiving 13 platinum certifications from RIAA. It is included on several lists of the greatest albums of all time.

One of the interesting things about the band's music is that Matt and I usually disagreed about what were the best songs on each Pearl Jam album. He used to tease me pretty mercilessly about my fondness for "Red Mosquito" and "Hail Hail," for instance (Matt really didn't like the No Code album).

Today's send-off is the 2009 remastered version of "Black," my favorite song from Ten (the subject of more than a few good-natured arguments with Matt). Enjoy...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Dog Day Afternoon

Thank Anubis It's Friday!

"Fetch me some Milk-Bones, mortal, and be quick about it!"


I have never actually owned a dog in my life. My grandfather owned a few, including
a border collie  and a dachshund of whom I was very fond, but I've always been a cat person myself. My writing hero Raymond Chandler was a cat person, too, but in honor of National Dog Day I thought I would mention that several of my other writing heroes were dog lovers.

WFB riding in his limo with Rowley

Conservative author and intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr. was partial to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels...

Parker with Pearl

...while mystery writer Robert B. Parker was fond of German short-haired pointers (his detective character Spenser even had one in several novels).

Lehane put up posters to help find Tessa

Mystery writer Dennis Lehane made headlines with his search for his missing beagle.

Living the life I live currently, there's no room for a dog, but if I were to win the Powerball...well, let's just say there would be an animal or two who would get "rescued" shortly thereafter.

"'An animal or two,' yeah right. Who do you think you're fooling?"

I suppose it is possible that the number might be greater than two...


My beloved Kansas City Royals had their nine-game winning streak snapped at Marlins Park in Miami on Wednesday night, but last night they bounced back with a 5-2 victory over the Marlins. They also won the three-game series, their sixth straight series win.

Now 10-10, 4.88 ERA

Royals starter Edinson Volquez turned in a solid performance, giving up only two unearned runs in his five complete innings. He only allowed three hits and a single walk, and the only runs that scored against him were the result of a throwing error.

Relievers Chris Young, Matt Strahm, Joakim Soria, and Kelvin Herrera held the Marlins off the board for the remainder of the game, though they did mount a couple of threats. The bullpen's club-record scoreless streak has now reached 38 2/3 innings, the longest streak in the major leagues since 2003.

As in the previous two games, there wasn't
a great deal of hitting, although the Royals made the most of their opportunities.

SS Alcides Escobar was the hitting star, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. One of his hits was a home run to left center field to lead off the 4th.

"Now it's off to Boston and Fenway Park!"

Yes...not a venue that has been too kind to the Royals, either...

Just Wait

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

Until Next Time...

One of the things I miss the most since my best friend Matt died in 2008 is our frequent conversations about music. In the thirteen years I knew him he introduced me to several musical artists who became favorites, and he in turn became a fan of some of my music as well (we attended R.E.M. and Maynard Ferguson concerts together, for instance).

Just after school had started in the fall of 1997 he stopped by my apartment and handed me a CD, telling me he expected me to listen to it immediately and that he would be calling later that evening to get my reaction. It was definitely not normal for him to have such an enthusiastic reaction to a new record (especially one from an unknown artist), so of course I did as he asked.

On August 26, 1997 the new band Creed had released their debut album, My Own Prison, and Matt became a big fan the first time he heard the title track on the radio. While I didn't realize it at the time, the music spoke to some of Matt's own personal demons. The music was strong, heavy rock, and I liked it, too.

I wasn't alone. The album peaked at only No. 22 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, but it stayed on that chart for more than two years. It produced four charting singles, and eventually sold 6.5 million records.

The two albums which followed the successful My Own Prison both hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (Human Clay sold nearly 12 million copies in the U.S. alone, while Weathered received six platinum certifications from RIAA).

As often happens in the music business, though, the band's star burned brightly but only briefly. Just four years after their multi-platinum debut their recording career basically ended. A belated reunion album in 2009 sold less than half a million copies and put to rest rumors of a permanent revival of the group.

Today's send-off is the official video for the song that made Matt a fan, from the band's VEVO channel. The usual '90s music video disclaimers apply. Enjoy...