Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Shining Stars

The Stupid, It Burns

"How's THAT for virtue-signaling, huh?"
So, in the latest bit of idiotic theatre involving asshat Donald Trump and his "leadership" team, the acting Attorney General of the United States was dismissed for making
a highly public declaration that she would not do her job.

Specifically, acting AG Sally Yates announced that she would decline to defend President Trump's Executive Order on immigration from certain selected countries.

Her given rationale for this action was unpersuasive, to say the least, and to the complete surprise of no one with a functioning brain, Trump fired her.

Despite the fact that this was a manifestly correct decision, the usual suspects in the progressive mainstream media (but I repeat myself) are in full meltdown mode over her dismissal. Some of these stupid freak-outs have to be read to be believed.

"So, they're mad that he fired someone who was refusing to do her job?"

That's about the size of it, yeah...the progressives seem determined not to learn anything from losing the 2016 election...this sort of thing is a big reason for what happened to their party last November...

Feast Day

St. John Bosco, by Ferdinand Stuflesser

Today we celebrate the feast day of
St. John Bosco, a 19th century Italian priest from Turin who made numerous contributions to religious education.

A follower of St. Francis de Sales,
John is best remembered for founding the Salesians of Don Bosco, a religious order dedicated to helping poor children. In particular the order's Salesian Preventive System gained widespread acceptance in Catholic education and is still in use today.

John Bosco was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI and canonized by him
in 1934.

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

"And a hero of yours, I would imagine."

Absolutely he is, yes...every good teacher carries a bit of his philosophy in them, even
if they aren't always aware that they do...

Baseball Birthdays

Today is the birthday of three different members of the Baseball Hall of Fame...

On January 31, 1919 Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born into a family of sharecroppers in Cairo, Georgia. He and his siblings moved with his mother to Pasadena, California after his father abandoned the family in 1920.

Jackie Robinson's athletic abilities and his strength of character led him to become the first black player in major league baseball in 1947. He was the National League Rookie of the Year that season.

Jackie starred for the Dodgers for a decade, making the All-Star team six times and winning the National League MVP Award
in 1949. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

On January 31, 1931 Ernest Banks was born into a working-class family in Dallas, Texas.

Although he was more interested in other sports as a child, his father's passion for baseball led Ernie Banks to a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Cubs. He was inducted in 1977.

Banks was a National League All-Star 11 times in his career, and won the National League MVP Award in 1958 and 1959.

Ernie's cheerful demeanor and his passion for the game (his best-remembered quote: "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame...let's play two!") endeared him to fans across the country.

On January 31, 1947 Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr. was born into a middle-class family in Refugio, Texas.

Nolan Ryan's athletic ability was apparent at an early age, and he made his major league pitching debut with the New York Mets at age 19.

In his 27-year career Ryan won 324 games (14th all-time), and threw a record seven no-hitters (no other pitcher in MLB history has more than four), the first of them being against my beloved Kansas City Royals in 1973. Ryan also holds the MLB record for strikeouts with 5,714 (more than 800 ahead of the No. 2 man on that list).

Ryan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, the same year as his long-time rival (and my hero) George Brett of the Kansas City Royals.

Lest There Be Any Confusion

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

Until Next Time...

On January 31, 1797 Franz Peter Schubert was born in Vienna, Austria. He went on to become one of the most noteworthy teachers and composers of his era, although he was not widely appreciated until long after his death.

A prolific composer (more than 1,500 works to his credit), Schubert's music stretches across a wide range of genres and instrumental groupings. For the most part I enjoy all of his work, but I have always been especially fond of his chamber works for piano trio, and own more than a few recordings of them.

Since music with a wistful or melancholy feel
to it has a special appeal to me, it is no surprise that my favorite of his piano trio compositions
is his Notturno in E-flat major, which was originally published posthumously (and most likely composed just before his death in 1828).

The Beaux Arts Trio is one of the most acclaimed chamber ensembles of all time, with a performing and recording career that spanned more than half a century. Needless to say, they recorded every significant piano trio work ever published, some of them several times. Their 1985 recording of the Schubert Piano Trios
is considered definitive.

Today's send-off is their splendid performance of Notturno from that recording. Enjoy...

Monday, January 30, 2017


The Troubles

Growing up in a large Irish Catholic family, I heard quite a bit about "The Troubles" from the adults in my life, especially on those occasions when the associated violence made the evening news on TV.

On January 30, 1972 the "Bloody Sunday" incident took place in Derry, a major city
in majority-Protestant Northern Ireland.

My own sympathies, shaped as they were by my upbringing, were always with those mostly Catholic voices arguing for an Irish republic and an end to the 1921 partition that had created Northern Ireland as an English province.

"Bloody Sunday" happened just as the second semester of my freshman year of college was getting under way, and the issues involved were being hotly debated on my campus as they were all across the United States.

It took another 26 years for a meaningful end to the conflict to come with the signing
of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Everybody decided to stop being mad because of a piece of paper?"

Well, no...the agreement calmed things down considerably, but resentments remain...

So What?

23-year-old American Grandmaster (GM) Wesley So, who moved to the United States from the Philippines in 2015, took clear first in the famous Tata Steel Chess Tournament which just concluded
on Sunday.

The victory in this prestigious event moved Wesley up to the World No. 2 ranking,
just a few points behind World Champion Magnus Carlsen (who placed second in the Wijk aan Zee event).

He has now gone 56 consecutive games without suffering a loss, a truly remarkable streak considering the level of competition he has faced during that stretch.

"Is this kid a legit contender for the World Championship?"

He certainly appears to be, yes...that give the United States three such contenders: So, Fabiano Caruana (currently No. 3 in the world), and Hikaru Nakamura (currently No. 6 in the world)...

Hodge Podge

One of the things I most enjoy about living where I live is getting to watch the BNSF and Union Pacific freight trains that rumble back and forth on the trackage that lies
just north and just south of my apartment complex. Sometimes these trains consist of impressive strings of identical cars with relatively fresh paint (tank cars and hoppers, mostly). More often than not, though, they are a rag-tag collection of every sort of rolling stock imaginable...

Union Pacific SD70M No. 3968 photographed roughly an hour northeast of Council Bluffs in January 2016.

BNSF B40-8W No. 539 in the classic old-school Santa Fe "war bonnet" livery, photographed at the same grade crossing in June 2016.

"So, how come you don't have anything like that in your model collection?"

Because locomotives interest me, not what they're pulling...also, since I don't actually have a layout, there's no point in owning any rolling stock for my locomotives to haul...

Give It Up, Dude

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 they first formed in Dublin in 1976, the rock band U2 was basically some kids who dug punk rock and who believed musical proficiency wasn't that important in achieving success. After knocking around for a few years the band finally began a recording career in the early '80s, but the initial public response to their music was disappointing.

That changed in 1983 with the band's third studio album, War. Released in February
of that year, the recording was the band's first to crack the Top 50 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart (it peaked at No. 12), and it received four platinum certifications from RIAA. It was also the album the changed the band's image from quasi-spiritual punk rockers to socially-conscious, politically-aware musicians whose music needed to be taken seriously.

Original 1983 45 rpm single
The album's first track was the most overtly political song the group had recorded to that point. And while
it is explicitly about The Troubles, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is also
a broader political statement about the futility of violence and revenge as tools for bringing about change.

The song quickly became a staple
of the band's live performances, and is now considered a signature song for the group. In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine included it on its
500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.

Today's send-off is the 2008 remastered version of the original landmark recording,
from the band's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Potpourri No. 51


Temperatures here in the Bluffs the past few days haven't strayed more than a couple of degrees above or below freezing, which is better than the bitter cold of last week but still rather problematic in terms of getting the ice from the last storm to melt off.

At my age, I need to be especially leery of icy spots on sidewalks and parking lots...

"So 'Tubthumping' isn't your theme song these days?"

Might be the worst song ever, actually...

LI Lull, LOL

For the first time since the NFL season began back on September 8, there are no games to watch today. That's because we're in the tedious interregnum between the AFC and NFC Championship games which were played last weekend and the February 5 Super Bowl in Houston.

I have always thought the extra week off was pretty silly, but the league doesn't consult me about such things. And speaking of silly, one has to wonder if the league now regrets deciding to stick with those Roman numerals for Super Bowl logos...

"Wait a minute! Aren't they playing the Pro Bowl game today?"

Crappy play, dreadful uniforms, players bailing out...no real football fan considers the Pro Bowl an actual game...

Cultural Landmark

Original 1964 "one sheet" poster

On January 29, 1964 the legendary
Stanley Kubrick-directed black comedy  
Dr. Strangelove was released.

Adapted from the 1958 novel Red Alert,
the film was successful at the box office and earned several Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture as well as a Best Director nomination for Kubrick.

More than a half century after its release it remains one of the most highly-regarded films in American history, and has been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry curated by the Library of Congress.

Told You So

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

Until Next Time...

The original score for Dr. Strangelove was written by English composer and conductor Laurie Johnson, whose scoring work included the popular TV series The Avengers (with which I was mildly obsessed in the early '60s).

There was never an official release of the Dr. Strangelove soundtrack or score, but in 1980 Johnson included a track from the film score on The Avengers (Original Scores), an album which featured several bits of music from The Avengers as well as from some other Johnson film and TV projects.

Today's send-off is that track, "The Bomb Run," from Johnson's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Memories Fond and Otherwise

Feast Day

Statue by Ferdinand Stuflesser
Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Dominican friar who was one of the great theologians and philosophers in the history of the Church. Aquinas's influence as a philosopher in particular goes far beyond his theological works. His defense of reason, grounded in Aristotelean principles, is now a pillar of western philosophy. His writings on Just War theory have played
a central role in that ongoing ethical debate
for centuries.

Thomas was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323, and in 1568 he was named Doctor of the Church by Pope St. Pius V.

Among his many patronages Thomas is the patron of Catholic schools, philosophers, and theologians.

Requiescat in Pace

Yesterday we lost a handful of actors who all figured prominently in my cultural life...

I first saw English actor John Hurt when he deftly played the grasping betrayer Richard Rich in 1966 in the Best Picture-winning period drama A Man For All Seasons. Hurt more than held his own in scenes with acting heavyweights Paul Scofield, Leo McKern, and Nigel Davenport.

He also appeared in two other favorite films of mine, the science fiction/horror thriller Alien in 1979 and the bleak, harrowing 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984.

Hurt received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor in 1978 for Midnight Express, and a nomination as Best Actor for The Elephant Man in 1980.
He died at his home in Norfolk at age 77.

Actress Barbara Hale won an Emmy Award
for her portrayal of legal secretary Della Street on the landmark TV drama Perry Mason, which was must-see TV in my house growing up until the series ended in 1966.

I had an enormous crush on her, naturally.

Hale died at her home in Sherman Oaks, California at age 94.

My parents were big fans of TV detective shows, and since there were only a handful of channels to choose from when I was growing up that meant I got to watch a lot of those shows too.

One of my parents' favorites was Mannix,
a private eye drama which ran for eight seasons beginning in 1967. The hard-boiled title character was played by Mike Connors, who won a Golden Globe Award for the role in 1969 along with four Emmy Award nominations. During most of its run Mannix was the highest- rated crime drama on TV.

Connors died at a hospital in Los Angeles at 91.

"Say, didn't Mannix drive a car you lusted after on that show?"

Why yes, yes he did...a 1968 Dodge Dart GTS...

Dark Day

At mid-morning on Tuesday January 28, 1986 I was with one
of my students in the lobby of the Gertrude Krampert Center at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming.

We were there for the county-wide American Legion Oratorical Contest when our school district's superintendent, who always attended that particular competition, arrived with an ashen look on his face. He told us that the Space Shuttle Challenger had been lost due to an explosion shortly after launch.

It took a moment for me to remember that this particular mission was the first of the Teacher in Space Project, which meant that classroom teacher Christa McAuliffe was among the casualties.

On the day of the tragedy, President Ronald Reagan had been scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address, but he postponed that speech and instead went on
live TV at 5:00 PM EST to give one of the most moving speeches in American history...

Me too, old friend...still gets me even after 31 years...

Yes, Yes, We Saw What You Did There

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 I miss the most about classroom teaching is learning about interesting music, movies, and television programs from my kids. They were sort of a flesh-and- blood Wikipedia I could consult on a daily basis about such things.

An example of the sort of thing I miss involves a song that has been an earworm for me ever since I first heard a snippet of it during a Coca-Cola commercial that began playing last fall. For the longest time I just assumed it had been written specifically for the commercial, but yesterday I heard it again on an episode of the TV show Bones, which prompted me to look up that episode's page on IMDB. Back when I was teaching
I could have simply asked my classes "Who does that song in that 'Classic Love Story' Coca-Cola commercial?" Less work, more fun.

In any event, my research led me to the song, "Put It Together," written and performed by Langhorne Slim & The Law. Langhorne Slim is the stage name of Sean Scolnick, a singer-songwriter from Langhorne, Pennsylvania (about an hour's drive from where my best friend Skip lives).

The song is included on the band's 2015 album The Spirit Moves, their fifth studio recording.

It was that recording that got the group booked for an appearance on the talk show Conan, where they performed the album's song "Strangers" to glowing reviews.
The album as a whole has been favorably reviewed also, and now thanks to "Put It Together" the band can consider me a fan as well.

Today's send-off is the official music video for the song, from the band's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Friday, January 27, 2017

Marching On

Thank Momus It's Friday!

"Why yes, I am mocking you. About time you noticed, idiot!"

My Kind of March

Lots of enthusiasm, zero vagina costumes

Today is the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
This event has been held every year since 1974, to protest the infamous Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the disgraceful abortion-on-demand climate it has fostered.

Of course, the progressive mainstream news media (but I repeat myself) have gone out of their way to avoid reporting anything about this event for more than 40 years. Our newly-inaugurated President even brought up this disparity in media coverage in his very first interview since taking office, much to the discomfort of his interviewer.

It isn't going to be easy for the media to ignore the march this year since, in addition to the president's comments in that interview, both his campaign manager and our new vice-president are addressing the marchers in person. That is unprecedented.

"Cool! Maybe this will be the year you bipeds finally decide to abandon infanticide."

I have been waiting for that notion to catch on for more than 40 years now...I'm not holding my breath, but I am hopeful for some incremental progress this year...

Per Aspera Ad Astra

L to R: Grissom, White, and Chaffee
On January 27, 1967 during
a launch rehearsal for a mission scheduled to launch on February 21, a fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module.

The accident caused the deaths
of all three crew members: Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. It also resulted in
a nearly two-year delay in manned Apollo missions.

Yes, it was a tough day...something like that had never happened before in our manned spaceflight program, and it came as quite a shock...

Wild Kingdom Bed & Breakfast Update

"We had some stuff to do, okay? Stop worrying..."
As the weather gets nastier during the winter months I'm always a bit worried about the well-being of my patio visitors, especially the ones whom I haven't seen around the place for awhile.

Yesterday, for the first time in several weeks, the B&B played host to a hungry pair of mourning doves,
in addition to the usual assortment of sparrows and finches.

Partial Credit

From the Jeff MacNelly-created comic strip Shoe, now being produced by Gary Brookins and Jeff's widow Susie.

Until Next Time...

On July 27, 1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria. One of the most remarkable musical prodigies who ever lived, he was already playing the clavier and violin at age three, and had begun composing music by age five.

Mozart's genius led him to become a towering figure in the history of classical music, with hundreds of compositions to his credit in virtually every genre, from chamber music to symphonies and operas. There are those who consider him to be the greatest composer of any era.

As it happens, this week's Music Recommendation is Mozart: The Complete Violin Concertos by Canadian virtuoso James Ehnes. The five concertos were all written in 1775, and are among Mozart's most influential and frequently-recorded compositions.

Ehnes is accompanied on this recording by a hand-picked symphony of his colleagues, dubbed the Mozart Anniversary Orchestra. The project was clearly a labor
of love for all concerned, and the performances are phenomenal.

Today's send-off is the rondo from Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, from Ehnes's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Gilding the Lily

Yesterday provided an excellent example of what is currently the bane of news reporting: the urge
to "spin" important stories to fit
a preferred narrative rather than just, you know, report the news.

While I was glad to hear that the U.S. House of Representatives had voted to pass HR7, a stricter version of the Hyde Amendment (which has been used annually to prohibit Federal funding of abortions), I was less than thrilled by the way this incremental bit
of progress was being reported.

In essence, the biggest change is the elimination of the need for annual renewals of the Hyde Amendment itself. But news outlets on BOTH sides of the ideological divide on abortion were reporting that the ban on Federal funding for abortion had been made "permanent." One report even went so far as to claim that the ban would now extend "into perpetuity."

Of course, in legislative terms there is no such thing as "permanent," or "in perpetuity." That whole notion is antithetical to self-government, and courts have consistently ruled that any attempt to bind future legislative or executive action is unconstitutional. Here is a short list of things which were once enshrined in law that are no longer operative:
        • slavery
        • segregated schools
        • 55 mph speed limit
        • wage and price controls
The motivation on both sides of this debate is to make yesterday's vote seem like something bigger than it is. It is highly likely, for instance, that if the Democrats were to retake control of the House of Representatives repeal of HR7 would be the first order of business. So much for "permanent."

Considering that the hot topic in Washington in the wake of November 8 has been
repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), it is comical to see folks claiming that any legislative enactment is "permanent."

My objection to that sort of hyperbole is that it corrupts our civic discourse. We need
to be able to discuss issues (and report news about those issues) without such absurd exaggerations.

"Shall I bring you your lance, Don Quixote?"

Shut your pipe...

Feast Day

Today we celebrate the feast day of Sts. Timothy and Titus, two disciples of St. Paul who figure prominently in New Testament accounts of Paul's life and works.

Timothy was martyred late in the 1st century, and is the patron of those who suffer from stomach or intestinal disorders.

Titus served as an important emissary of Paul, and for his efforts was eventually named bishop of Crete, where he lived out his days. Titus is the patron of the United States Army Chaplain Corps.

Requiescat in Pace

As Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show

Yesterday brought news of the death
of actress Mary Tyler Moore, one of the most popular performers in television history. She was 80.

Mary first came to stardom as the female lead on landmark comedy series The Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961
to 1966, a role for which she won two Emmy Awards.

As Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

A few years after her stint on that show ended, she went on to even greater acclaim as the star of  
The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970 to 1977.

That program consistently ranks at
or near the top of every list of greatest TV programs of all time, and Mary won another three Emmy Awards for her fine work in it.

As much as any woman on television as I was growing up she shaped my notions of the ideal woman: smart, funny, capable, and warm-hearted.

"She was really good in Ordinary People, too."

Yes, she was, and richly deserved her Academy Award nomination for playing against her warm, wholesome image...

  Maybe Stop Inflicting New Wounds Daily?

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

Until Next Time...

On January 26, 1934 Huey Pierce Smith was born in New Orleans. Performing and recording as Huey "Piano" Smith he was a major figure in the history of New Orleans R&B music, first as a sideman for artists like Earl King, Lloyd Price, and Little Richard, then as a leader of his own group.

Original 1957 45 rpm single
In 1957 Smith earned his first
RIAA gold record with "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," a rollicking hit that deftly blended Smith's influences from Professor Longhair to Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Domino. The song sold over one million copies, and peaked at No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.

The single was released with the vocal version ("Part 1") on the A-side, and an instrumental version ("Part 2") on the B-side. Fifteen years later the song charted again for rocker Johnny Rivers.

Smith had an even bigger hit in 1958 with "Don't You Just Know It," which peaked at No. 9 on the Hot 100 and was also a million-selling record. That tune became Huey's signature song, but for me "Rockin' Pneumonia" will always be the song that best exemplifies his playing style.

Today's send-off is the original vocal version of Huey's jaunty hit, paired with some still images by a fan. Enjoy...