Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Can You Dig It?

This YouTube video plays the original vocal recording Vincent Price did for Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

That version includes a middle stanza that was left out, and listening to it that makes a lot of sense; it's nowhere near as strong as those that the song includes.

On the other hand, it also leaves out Vincent Price asking. "Can you dig it?" It's a phrase that ranks up there with "y'all's neighborhood" and "without the soul for getting down" as ones you might never think of Vincent Price saying but once you've heard them you understand no one else can ever say them as well.

Oh well. Halloween's over, which means we can get away from the manufactured "horror" from Hollywood and get into the real horror of the way local TV news stations behave during sweeps weeks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Test Pattern

Meetings in the morning, wheel-spinning meetings in the evening. Back tomorrow.

Monday, October 29, 2018

New and Improved

Well, the amount of rancor in public discourse and the general ugly tenor that seems to accompany cultural differences may make you believe we live in some pretty rotten times. Perhaps we do, and perhaps things some 30 years ago or so were nicer, and maybe even better.

Unless you're a kid looking for a store-bought Halloween costume. Then yesterday stinks and today rules, all the way.

(H/T JenX67)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

An Offer You Might Not Refuse

Ron White was an "overnight success" when he toured with Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Dan "Larry the Cable Guy" Whitney on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. The four Southern-tinged comedians (although Whitney is from Nebraska) patterned their act along the lines of "The Original Kings of Comedy" and the success allowed White to release the bestselling comedy album of his career, Drunk in Public. The "overnight" part of the story was a misnomer, though, as White had been performing in comedy clubs and touring for several years before meeting Foxworthy and the others. He even had a 1990 album, Tater Salad aka Busted in Des Moines.

But the Blue Collar tour and the success of Drunk in Public made White well and truly famous, and he's followed it up in the 15 years since with five more comedy albums or specials, with the most recent being the Netflix comedy show If You Quit Listening, I'll Shut Up. The wide span between releases, White says in poking fun at himself, represents his work ethic. But as with most comedians, White "road tests" his material before shaping a full-fledged "named" tour and they may take some time in order to put together a whole show.

None of which can obscure the fact that every album or special in the years following Drunk in Public has steadily declined in overall quality. White remains the sarcastic, politically incorrect smart-aleck he showed during the Blue Collar days, but time seems to have made his character more brittle and mean than witty and fun. His storytelling and delivery style remain sharp, which makes the material the likely culprit. Every special has fewer and fewer great laugh lines stuck in the middle of more and more tired-sounding crankiness.

Drunk in Public represented material that White had worked on in some cases for more than a decade -- you used to be able to find a 1990s clip of him doing his "thrown out of a bar" bit in full Mo Betta and mullet glory on YouTube. It was the best of ten-plus years of comedy club storytelling and character crafting. That pool has grown shallower as the years have gone by.

Even though If You Quit Listening comes a full six years after his previous special, it's full of lines and tales that don't quite click. The cynical wit still flashes now and again but the mix is far more heavy on the cynicism than the wit. Drunk in Public had White making himself the punchline of more than one joke, but the newer show takes aim far more often at others than himself, and usually not to good effect. White tells a few jokes that have a lot of mileage on them -- he is by no means the first person to talk about repeatedly calling the office of someone he dislikes who has died and telling the person who answers the phone, "I know he's dead, I just like to hear you say it."

If You Quit Listening may feel "mean" simply because it came at a time when that's the way White himself felt -- he was about to divorce his third wife when it was filmed. But it feels unfunny because a lot of it isn't funny. Enough of it is to suggest that White may have some solid routines left in the tank somewhere, and if Netflix continues to churn comedy specials out at this rate, they may get back around to him when he has some to share.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Polk Salad

Probably one of the few times Johnny Cash sang with someone whose voice was lower than his. They're obviously having a blast.

You would want to be careful, so as to not gather the plant after a frost and it molest you. "Polk Salad Annie" writer Tony Joe White, who kept a corner of swampy blues rock nailed down solid for some 50 years, passed away Wednesday at 75.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Comeback Album Impending?

After facing some personal crises, Opus the Penguin has rediscovered an old friend and begins to explain what it means to Rosebud the Basselope:

One can only hope this means they're getting the band back together, and that the followup to "Demon Drooler From the Sewer" can't be long in coming.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Bad Ideas

Dylan Matthews and Byrd Pinkerton at Vox write about a study wondering if cities should add small amounts of lithium to their water in order to help reduce suicide rates. Although lithium is sometimes prescribed for and effective in persons dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide, it has a number of side effects.

Matthews and Pinkerton point to a review of several studies, conducted by a psychiatry professor at Tufts University, that shows cities and areas with higher amounts of trace lithium in their environments have lower suicide rates. No long-term experiments have ever been conducted to see if lithium-enhanced water would make a difference, nor is there solid evidence showing the elevated lithium levels caused the drop in suicide rates. Correlation is not causation, after all.

Attempts to put fluoride in the water in the mid-20th century to help improve dental health drew significant political opposition from certain groups, which Matthews and Pinkerton say makes the idea of lithium enhancement iffy even if rock-solid evidence exists. Even so, "it’s such a cheap intervention, and the odds of serious side effects sound low enough, that it seems worth a try."

Appearing for the opposition, one Malcolm Reynolds:

More seriously, Wesley Smith at National Review's "The Corner" blog suggests a more effective and less Huxleyan method might be to "increase our focus on mental health and restore suicide-prevention programs as a top-tier societal priority."

Now and Then

When we first encounter David Weber's Star Kingdom (later Empire) of Manticore, it is a strong and respected star nation with a thriving economy because it is near a well-traveled "wormhole" star gate. But it didn't start out that way, and beginning in 2014 Weber teamed with Timothy Zahn and later Thomas Pope to bring some stories out of those earlier years, when neither success nor survival were certain for the fledgling planetary system.

As A Call to Vengeance, "Manticore Ascendant's" third book, opens, the brave but ramshackle Manticoran space navy has thwarted an attack from unknown invaders. Although they are relatively junior officers, series protagonists Travis Long and Lisa Donnelly occupy the center of Vengeance's narrative and their actions take the largest share of our attention. The plot also spends some time with sinister plotters, foreign and domestic, as we see them shape the conflict against which Travis and Lisa act. Of course we meet other brave spacers, as well as some venial ones, as the overall storyline moves Manticore closer and closer to the commercial powerhouse it will one day become.

Probably through Zahn and Pope's work, Vengeance eschews the numbing conversational segments which hamper Weber's solo work for genuine action and forward motion. The main Honorverse sequence has been dinged for offering characters who operate in the stratospheres of political and military life, leaving the lower-ranking folks a few crumbs at the edge of a scene. The "Ascendant" series leans heavily on the young and still somewhat green characters of Long and Donnelly, opening up the lower decks of the spacecraft to find their residents' stories. There are still kings, queens, lords and admirals a-plenty, but here they either share the screen time with others or are even in the background of the action.

Weber, Zahn and Pope combine likable characters -- Travis and Lisa could almost have stepped out of a good Heinlein juvenile and they brim with wit, good cheer and earnest sincerity -- with an advancing plot and a Manticore that's nowhere near the unstoppable force it will later become. They thus make the beginning days of the Honorverse's story a lot more fun than some of the doorstops Weber has produced on his own and they can remind readers why they enjoyed the Honorverse in the books' beginning days as well.
This year's Uncompromising Honor closes the door on one chapter of the main sequence of the Honorverse saga, but in a rather unsatisfying manner.

The Star Empire of Manticore has been facing two enemies in recent books -- the shadowy Mesan Alignment and the immense Solarian League, the home nation of humanity in the galaxy. After several books dealing with the Alignment's work, Uncompromising turns the focus to the conflict with the League. The Alignment is still pulling strings in the background, but the primary focus of this story is the buildup towards conflict between the two star nations.

In the middle of this is Admiral Honor Harrington, our series heroine, who is trying to steer a course between all-out war and knuckling under to the pushy, arrogant and belligerent "Sollies." Manticore and its enemy-turned-ally Haven have an immense technological edge over the League's Navy. After all, they've been fighting each other off and on for 75 years, while the League Navy may not have fired more than one shot in anger at a time in about a hundred. But that League Navy is immense, and the sheer weight of metal gives Honor and other wiser heads pause at the idea of taking it on.

Behind-the-scenes treachery and sabotage, as well as underhanded tactics from the Sollies, push both sides toward conflict, and tragedy pushes Honor herself into a full take-no-prisoners mode that makes a confrontation inevitable.

Uncompromising earns a couple of points for not rehashing some of the same events covered in the last two or three books, and for bringing one part of the overall tale to a conclusion. The manner by which is concludes is a little facile, though, and can make a reader wonder why this step didn't happen three or four books ago.

It loses those points and more besides, though, with the by-now-typical meandering Weber speeches, conversations, dialogues and meeting minutes. Without much effort Uncompromising could shrink by 45% and be twice as good as it is. With that effort and some strict editorial standards it could maybe trim another five to ten percent and be really good. It's hard to see how an 800-page book can be sketchy, but Weber's choice of what to leave in (everything) and what to take out (not nearly enough, and a bunch of that wrong) make it so.

With one plotline resolved, the series can turn towards its other main enemy and the undivided focus may spur a quicker pace. The Honorverse is too much fun to just chuck it against the wall (not to mention what it would do to the wall and your rotator cuff) but it was a lot more fun when things happened instead of got talked about, and maybe it can be again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Even NASA...

What do you do when your multimillion-dollar space telescope isn't quite right?

Well, you turn it off and then turn it on again to see if it works. Who knew that Cable One was in charge of NASA tech support?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Csak még egy dolog...

The above is a translation of the phrase "Just one more thing..." into Hungarian. Or at least it's what Bing says is such a translation. My Hungarian doesn't stretch that far.

Either way, it's what could be on the base of an interesting statue in Budapest:

Yes, that's a statue of Peter Falk in his most famous role, Lieutenant Columbo. Folks in Budapest think that the actor may have been related to the 19th century Hungarian politician Miksa Falk and since the city has a street named after the poet, what better statue to install? And in 2014, they did just that. Why? Well, that -- fittingly enough -- is a mystery.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Her Highness!

A couple of weeks ago, this site joined several others in noting the very interesting way that Saga Vanacek spent her summer vacation -- finding a millenia-old sword in a lake in Sweden. Many people made the obvious joke that, since Arthur became king of Britian by virtue of receiving Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake, Saga was now eligible to be the Queen of Sweden.

Now Moya Sarner of The Guardian prints a conversation she had with young Saga, who demonstrates that, even at 8, she has significant presence of mind and if Sweden wants to bring some new folks into its royal line, it could do worse. Of course, that would first need to be run by Carl XVI Gustav and his heir apparent, Crown Princess Victoria.

In an interesting and horribly punnish note, we can see that Her Highness (Victoria, not Saga) is also titled the Duchess of Västergötland. Which would be a great fit for young Saga as well, because a good question to have asked her when she found the ancient blade might have been suitably translated into a bad Swedish accent as "Vats her got dere?"

Probably a good thing the Swedish monarch no longer has the right to summary execution. Or ever reads this blog.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


Given the immense box office success of the new Halloween sequel, this xkcd comic is a timely expression of my feelings.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Overhead View

The Atlantic's "In Focus" feature for Oct. 16 is a selection of satellite photos that show seven square miles of different places on Earth.

The wilderness or natural images are the most interesting, since most of the city scenes resemble each other from that distance. New York City is an exception, since the picture chosen includes the green rectangle of Central Park. Egypt's Giza is another, as the three pyramids of the ancient Giza complex are a part of that picture.

On the other hand, the seven square miles of Greenland's ice sheet looks about like you'd expect: A sheet of heavy-bond stationery, broken up only by a small meltwater lake in one corner. Two pictures of braided rivers -- one in Iceland and one in Mongolia -- show just how different those phenomena look observed from high enough up in the air.

Pic #25, the Maria Atoll in the south Pacific, looks like it would be a neat place to hang out, except that it's uninhabited. The fact that the interior lagoon is a hypersaline lake, similar to the Dead Sea, might make it tough to get drinkable water and contribute to the unfriendly living conditions.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Powered Down

Following the announcement earlier this week that Netflix canceled its Iron Fist series, today the streaming service did the same for another Marvel comics superhero show, Luke Cage.

Cage, known in comic bookdom as "Power Man," had finished two seasons and, like Iron Fist, set the table for new developments in its third. Netflix executives apparently didn't hear what they wanted in the pitch for the third season, which is really not surprising. Cage has suffered from one of the same problems all of the Marvel Netflix shows had -- too much season for its story. But it had some other structural issues that would probably have made for a pretty limp third season.

Season one opened with one of the better villains the Marvel shows have had, Mahershala Ali's crimelord Clarence "Cottonmouth" Stokes. But seven episodes in, the story kills off Cottonmouth and hands the evildoing off to the considerably less charismatic characters of Alfre Woodard's city politician Mariah Dillard and her new lieutanenant, Hernan "Shades" Alvarez (Theo Rossi), as well as the one-note run-of-the mill Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey). This trio might have managed to hold viewer interest over a couple of episodes, but not the six they were called on to serve.

Season two again offers too much of the load to Dillard and Alvarez. Alfre Woodard's considerable acting talent simply can't make Dillard anything more than a standard corrupt politician, even with the significant backstory the show uncovers, connecting her to her daughter Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis). And Rossi's weirdly affected performance and strangely cadenced speech give Shades an artificial manner that completely short-circuits his character's arc. Mustafa Shakir gives John "Bushmaster" McIver a dash of charisma, but since the meat of his moves in Harlem concern Mariah Dillard it would need to be more than a dash, and the standard-issue storyline offers him no room to bring it.

The season's main problem is that it can't figure out what it wants to do with its title character. Mike Colter's Cage is supposed to be a man who pairs his great strength and invulnerability with top-level smarts and a serious nature, but he's all over the map with no real consistency. Is Luke a man who wants to give his Harlem community a chance to bring itself forward, using his great gifts to guard it against dangers it faces? Or is he a man too clueless to see that a bully picking on the other bullies doesn't make people feel safe, it just makes them scared of him too? Does he understand that true manhood isn't measured by how much ass you kick, or does he see every problem as solvable as long as he can punch it? Different episodes present him differently. But rather than show any real sense of a developing conflict between the two views, the series just flips him back and forth like a switch. Colter's own powerful acting skills can't wring coherence from scripts that push against it, and when he winds up the season taking more or less the same authoritarian role that Cottonmouth had and Mariah sought you kind of have to wonder why you watched him at all.

Although I have no idea what shortcomings Netflix execs heard that made them back away from a Season 3, I would sympathize. It's not that a Luke Cage trying to walk the line between power and persuasion as he seeks to elevate and redeem his community is uninteresting. Every monumental smack he lays down can prompt people to see him as someone to fear rather than someone here to help -- how does he resolve that conflict? The showrunners to this point haven't given much reason to believe they'll be able to handle those ideas in an interesting enough way to get people to watch.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


-- Some of the late Hugh Hefner's possessions will be auctioned at the end of next month.

Disinfectant extra.

-- Dennis Hof will be on the ballot for the Nevada State Legislature on Election Day and is likely to win his race. The wrinkle is that he passed away Tuesday. A couple of the political consultants quoted in the story think that his passing may actually increase Hof's chances for victory: He was running as a Republican, but he owned brothels and large segments of the GOP would have been a little reticent to vote for him. But now, knowing that he will not serve and the vacancy will be filled by a state-specified process, those same voters will have much less discomfort.

And in any event, a dead man is hardly the worst thing that Nevada voters have ever put into public service.

-- No link for this, just an observation. Our current gubernatorial race pits GOP newcomer Kevin Stitt against Democrat and former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. With Libertarian Chris Powell, an Oklahoma City police dispatcher, in the mix as well. A vote against Stitt is pretty much a given -- if I wanted to spend the next four years watching Eddie Haskell I'd buy some Leave It to Beaver DVDs. But to vote for Edmondson or Powell? Edmondson trails Stitt but has significant support, so a vote for him could count. On the other hand he's a career politician who will have a healthy desire to get elected or re-elected, and a propensity to sell whatever he needs to seal that deal. Moreover, his major pitch to this point has been that he has a plan to help fix the state educational system's funding woes. What I've seen of it seems promising, but what we haven't heard is Edmondson's plan for getting his plan past a legislature controlled by the opposing party and unfriendly to most of his ideas. If you've got great ideas but no way to get them passed, then you haven't made the case I should vote for you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Highway to Hell

You think your commute is bad? Hey, it probably is and who am I to tell you it's not when I'm not the one who has to drive it. But I'm betting any route that includes the below Qianchun Interchange, found in China's Guizhou province, is worse.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Test Pattern

Driving, meeting, driving, sinus. See you tomorrow.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Just Four Questions

Ursinus College in Pennsylvania is not following the trend of many liberal arts colleges to reject the idea of a core curriculum for a variety of independent study topics or trend-of-the-month theory classes that will prove very useful in developing one's ability to gaze at one's own navel.

Ursinus, it seems, is strengthening its commitment to a grand idea uniting its core, which retains great writers of Western civilization while adding some new voices. The four questions are presented to students as guides for their entire college experience (and beyond), even if they are not necessarily the subject matter of each individual class.

The four questions: What should matter to me? How should we live together? How can we understand the world? And what will I do? I have to confess the Ursinus students are significantly more reflective than I was as an undergraduate, although I certainly spent some time contemplating these things.

I also spent time contemplating how to stretch my barley and hops budget without crossing over into the realms of Wisconsin Brews Of Unknown Grains, those 12- and 24-packs in the darkest corners of the liquor store, their boxes covered in the dust of the eldritch past. And I spent time contemplating my fellow students of the fair sex, especially when spring increased temperatures to above freezing and reduced layers of outerwear so that they no longer resembled the Michelin Man.

All the same, sending someone in search of answers to those four questions before they start out living their lives seems like a good idea, whether one is in college or not. Heck, those questions might even bear frequent contemplation by the aged and grumpy, especially as we near winter and we are no longer interrupted by the need to order the whipper-snappers off our lawns.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Although if this item from Laurence Andrew's 1527 The Noble Lyfe and Natures of Man of Bestes, Serpentys, Fowles and Fisshes is correct, it's going to be a surprise that Prince Eric does not enjoy.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Square Peg

Dan Piraro describes one of those days you find you just don't fit in.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Excellent Words!

Sometimes former First Lady Michelle Obama said silly things, but like most people she has a few excellent thoughts to share as well.

The quote from former Attorney General Eric Holder -- in which he morphs her famous, "When they go low, we go high" statement into, "When they go low, we kick them" -- was probably Holder's idea of a joke. No administration with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in it can stage a realistic contest as to who would be the biggest stiff with the least humorous sense of humor. But Holder usually managed to do quite well in the fight for second place, so I think he was trying for some kind of over-the-top humor.

That the attempt would fail as soon as he opened his mouth was a good guess. But still, it's nice to see someone rebuke the former chief law enforcement official in the United States for even jokingly advising assault against people with whom you might differ ideologically. Hearing Holder speak almost makes me wish it were Democratic presidential primary season again, so he could walk home with his single-digit show of support and we could go back to ignoring him.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


-- With its trailer for next year's live-action Aladdin movie, Disney also revealed that the Genie would be played by Will Smith. The late Robin Williams famously voiced the character in 1992's animated version. Left unanswered is the question of just what the heck the live-action version is supposed to bring to the story that the original movie and hit Broadway show have not. Unanswered, of course, in public -- because the answer is about how much green Big Blue will bring in.

-- A young girl wore a green dress to her school picture day. No worries, except that this was one of those elaborate kind of school picture shoots in which the subject stands in front of a green screen so he or she can be shown in front of a variety of different backgrounds. In this case, though, the green dress was close enough to the tint of the green screen that in each picture, the girl's dress appeared to be part of the background. Even at her young age, she knows how to dress for every occasion.

-- Kurt Russell is taking on an intriguing double role in his upcoming movie Christmas Chronicles. According to the promo poster at this link, he is apparently playing Dan Haggerty as Haggerty plays Santa Claus. I'm apprehensive; the movie is produced by Chris Columbus who has been known to insert some weird things in his Christmas movies.

-- If this blogger is right, then 15% of all human experience has been experienced by people who are alive right now. This is because there are so many more people on the Earth now than there have been in previous times; as the population shot up then the amount of things that people experienced during the current time frame shot up as well. The hat tip is to Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution, who says at his post on the subject, "This should cheer you all up" about the way that increasing population has obviously increased overall human productivity. And perhaps it does cheer me up -- although there's something to be said for skipping some of our national experiences over the last decade or so.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


As I wade into my denomination's season of paperwork, I am very interested in this Spanish shrine built in a remote cave:

I bet they've even escaped from wi-fi and phone service, too, the lucky dogs.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

They're Not Bad...They're Just Drawn That Way

At Bored Panda, this article shows off some artwork from Ástor Alexander, who draws some of Walt's heroines with a decidedly noir palette.

These Disney dames are unlikely to need rescuing, as each is carrying her own little "convincer" to suggest to potential attackers that they should look elsewhere. Pocahontas and Mulan seem as though they would be extra persuasive, as the former holds a shotgun and the latter a keen katana. Belle is a tough lady cop, but the others may be on the wrong side of the law. Which in the usual noir tale, is not a bug but a feature.

Monday, October 8, 2018


Beginning with the Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970s, ABC News' Ted Koppel appeared on America's televisions nightly with a summary of the days news events and some in-depth reporting on different issues. Mostly the episodes of the show, which came to be called Nightline, focused on a single issue or story. When Koppel retired in 2005, ABC kept the show but switched to a multi-host format. Nightline is still unique in television news programming in this respect: Similar shows usually air weekly and late-night programming is thought to be the domain of the smarmy and pretentious talk show.

In any event, Koppel recently appeared on The Kalb Report, a monthly show at the National Press Club hosted by Martin Kalb. He offered some opinions on several topics, suggesting that the national media treated the women who accused recently sworn-in Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault much differently than they did some of the women who leveled the same charges against then-President Bill Clinton.

His most interesting exchange came with CNN's Brian Stelter, in which Koppel said that Stelter's network as well as MSNBC enjoy higher ratings today because of their wall-to-wall coverage of President Donald Trump. “Is there a moment of the day when they are not focusing on Donald Trump or some intimately related subject?" Koppel asked. Stelter hmphed but not very loudly, since it wouldn't be hard to set a timer on a broadcasting day at CNN and find that the Trump minutes vastly outnumber everything else. Koppel suggested that an event such as the devastating Typhoon Mangkhut would get airtime if the death total hit four figures, which may or may not have been a little too much on the mean side.

In any event, Koppel points out that networks which lament the damage they say President Trump is doing to the nation were more than happy to cover his antics before he was elected and the coverage drew eyeballs to their shows. The recently disgraced and resigned Les Moonves of CBS said the same in February of 2016. When the people who eyed the ratings jumps as they snickered off-camera at the antics of candidate Trump complain about those same antics now staged from the White House by President Trump, I think of the old scorpion and frog tale. The scorpion talks the frog into swimming them across the river, promising he will not sting the frog if the frog carries him across, since they would both drown Midway through the crossing, the scorpion stings the frog and as the dying frog begins to sink he says, "Why? You said you wouldn't sting me because we'd both drown, and now we'll both be dead!"

"You knew what I was when you picked me up," says the scorpion.

Donald Trump was a reality-TV show host before he was a candidate for office. So TV people especially should have known what he was and avoided "picking him up." Now they're stuck with him and as much as I dislike the guy, I don't feel one bit of sorry. Doesn't sound like Koppel is, either.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Basepath Books!

As Yale senior Matt McCarthy neared graduation, he was like a lot of his classmates in trying to figure out what was next for him in life. The only difference was that he was looking to find a baseball organization to pay him to pitch for them, something he managed when he was drafted in 2002 by the Anaheim Angels organization. He spent a year playing for the rookie-ball Provo Angels in the Pioneer League and went to spring training in 2003 before being cut. In 2009, now a practicing doctor, he wrote about those experiences in Odd Man Out.

Rookie-level ball features a wide mix of players -- hot high school prospects who've been signed for seven-figure contracts, unknowns that the organization is willing to risk the rookie ball salary on, college grads who are seeing if their college stuff is really something someone wants to pay money to see happen, players really too old but who the organization is giving one last chance to show something. McCarthy meets them all during his year in Provo, a tee-totaling Utah community that is not an exact fit for a group of young men with a lot of time and testosterone on their hands. Odd Man relates the long bus rides across the northern plains and the colorful lineup of the Provo Angels. McCarthy finds himself questioning his commitment to baseball when it seems has no way to solve the problem of consistency -- he'll pitch well one night and serve up batting practice the next. Different coaches in the program offer him different solutions (no one suggests breathing through his eyelids) but none seem to work. Although his Yale education would seem to set him apart from his teammates, it's really just one of the quirks they all have, which McCarthy detailed in journals he kept through the season and used when he wrote his book.

Or did he? After an excerpt was published in Sports Illustrated, some of the people McCarthy names said that they didn't remember doing or saying anything like what he wrote that they did or said. New York Times writers did some investigating and saw that McCarthy said some things happened when they couldn't realistically have happened. For his part, McCarthy stood by his manuscript even though he wouldn't produce the journals he said were contemporary accounts of the events he wrote about.

My guess is spotty memories, exaggerated and embellished tales and journal entries that aren't as detailed as McCarthy says they are combine to cause most of the inaccuracies and disputed stories. Plus some of his teammates might not have known they were being documented and acted in ways they would rather not admit to. Odd Man Out is an easy and largely fun read with a mostly likable if quirky cast that show a few cracks here and there. Given that McCarthy took his notes and is writing about experiences that happened when he barely into his 20s, there's not a lot of reflection going on or much to add to other books about of the weird world of minor league baseball. The largely surface-level narrative and questions about some of the just-a-little-too-perfect sequences and events make this an excellent buy when you pick it up at the local library's "clear the shelves" $1.00 apiece book sale.
Although different incarnations of the Negro National and Negro American Leagues had as many as eight teams apiece, there were two or possibly three teams that stood out from the rest in terms of success on and off the field. The Kansas City Monarchs and their portable lighting system ruled the western area of the Negro Leagues playing area, but back east the Homestead Grays rode the mighty bats of first baseman Buck Leonard and catcher Josh Gibson to dominance. In Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, Brad Snyder explores the history of the team and its connection to Washington, D.C. baseball. He also traces the decline of the team as Major League Baseball began raiding the Negro League teams for talent following integration in 1947.

Cumberland Posey was the principal owner of the team when it stepped up its competitive level from a semipro club of Pennsylvania coal miners to full-time ballplayers. From that date in 1912, the team operated continuously for the next 38 years, surviving the Great Depression and World War II when many other Negro League teams folded. They began playing in Pittsburgh but in 1940 they started playing a significant part of their home schedule at Griffith Stadium in the nation's capital. Washington had a vibrant African-American community that featured all levels of society from wealthy elite to working class, and once the Grays connected with them full stadiums were a regularity. Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith worked well with Posey and cleared more profits from his Grays dates than he did from some of his lowly Senators' home stands.

African-American sportswriters often tried to suggest Griffith be the one to integrated major league baseball, given that Grays standouts like Leonard, Gibson and James "Cool Papa" Bell were better than anyone he was putting in a Senators' uniform. Griffith often weaseled around the unofficial color barrier by hiring Cuban players who might be as dark-skinned as any American player who suited up with a G on his hat instead of a W. Snyder points out the work especially of Sam Lacy, who during stints with the Washington Tribune, Chicago Defender and Baltimore's Afro-American pushed Griffith especially hard on the issue.

As Snyder tells it, Griffith didn't want to bring the Grays greats onto his roster because integration would be the first step in the disintegration of the Negro Leagues. Money, not altruism, drove his feelings, since Posey and the Grays could draw more fans to a two-day stand with the visiting Kansas City Monarchs and their ace Satchel Paige than the hapless Senators might manage during a whole week at home. His cut of that revenue came without any real expense on his part. Snyder also suggests that greed among some of the Negro League team owners kept them from organizing a more united front when Branch Rickey first signed Jackie Robinson, in order to gain concessions that might have helped their teams survive.

Had Posey and Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson joined forces, perhaps along with Newark Eagles owner Effa Manley and Indianapolis Clowns' Abe Saperstein, they might have been able to muscle the loosely organized Negro Leagues into organizations that more resembled major league operations. It would guarantee nothing but would have strengthened the Negro Leagues owners in arguments to integrate their existing teams into the major league system, perhaps at the farm club level. As it was, Posey didn't begin a real hard push in that direction until too late. He died in 1946 and his team disbanded in 1950, a collection of aging players that paying crowds had little desire to see.

Snyder is a lawyer by trade and also the author of the Curt Flood biography A Well-Paid Slave, giving him some good insight into baseball's turbulent history with race. He also offers great sketches of Leonard, Gibson, Lacy, Posey, Griffith and the Washington, D.C. African-American community to help fill out his story. He seems to operate with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder vis á vis the Monarchs and Paige, frequently elevating the Grays at their expense even though their last matchup was some 70 years ago.

But those are quibbles with a detailed and cleanly written story of the relationship between two baseball teams -- one stocked with stars kept from playing at the highest level and the other full of also-rans who managed exactly one World Series win in 60 years at Washington before moving to Minnesota. Although integration following World War II sometimes carries an aura of inevitability as we look back, Beyond offers a clear view of the many missed chances to have done the right thing many years before.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Rainbow Echo

After the remnants of Hurricane Florence passed over New Jersey, a photographer got a shot of the multiple rainbows formed in its wake. It should be noted that although the photog's name is John Entwistle, he does not seem to play bass guitar in any bands.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Well, We'll See

We're told that strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

Sweden may learn if that is true, since this summer 8-year-old Saga Vanecek found a 1,500-year-old sword by the shores of a lake in that nation. Her family has already begun calling her the Queen of Sweden, and we can probably expect her to lead her army to the capital any day now, just as soon as she has permission to cross the street.

Thursday, October 4, 2018


Note to the reader and/or viewer: Both of these comedy specials make extensive use of a free-range vocabulary, so those who do not appreciate such language should consider themselves warned.
Since winning Last Comic Standing in 2008, Iliza Shlesinger has not lacked for work, appearing in several different cable shows, hosting a podcast, writing a book and releasing four comedy specials. Her 2018 entry, one of Netflix's myriad comic releases, is called Elder Millennial and finds herself looking at how things have changed for her as she has matured and gotten engaged. (After the special filmed, she was married in May 2018).

Much of Shlesinger's material comes from considering the ways that women live and work in modern society, dealing with their expectations of themselves and each other as well as the ones society puts on them. Elder Millennial still works that vein heavily, but Shlesinger adds observation on what life is like in her mid-30s and how differently things were for her as a young person than they would be for someone today. Yes, she is a member of the "Millennial Generation," but as an older one she remembers things like landlines and other quaint devices that may mystify modern teens and twenty-somethings.

Elder Millennial ranks with Freezing Hot as her best work: There are some lags and a few soft spots, but both shows are solid stem to stern. Shlesinger relies on a very sharp eye, a lot of smarts and a quirky view of the world that lets her find the funniest angle for things that most people wouldn't necessarily think to make jokes about. But once she's made the joke, the humor in whatever she's observed is obvious, and viewers can see the funny angles for themselves.

Her likeability helps her sell the material, as well as her willingness to make a little fun of herself while she makes fun of everything and everyone else. In an interview Shlesinger says she steers clear of political humor, which can get outdated easily and which can too easily come off as preaching to her audience. She obviously has a point of view, and you don't have to watch very long before you figure out what a lot of her beliefs about society, men, women and the world are, but her expression of that point of view is carried through a desire to build people up rather than knock others down.

And of course, in the end Elder Millennial works because Shlesinger is funny. There's a weird little wave in comedy that for some reason celebrates comedians who come out and tell stories about themselves that aren't funny. So far, Iliza Shelsinger will have none of that, and comedy fans are the better for it.
Before Joe Rogan had a popular podcast, before he was a commentator for UFC and some other mixed martial arts shows, before he was the host of Fear Factor, before he was on a sitcom, he was a standup comic.

Having not listened to his podcast or watched much MMA, having taken a pass on Fear Factor because, well, neurons, and having not had a TV when he was on Newsradio, I have no idea whether or not Joe Rogan is actually stupid. Given his success, I'm inclined to believe he's not.

But boy oh boy, there's no reason to equivocate about his new Netflix special Strange Times. It's most definitely stupid. I've no idea what Rogan's original comedy career was like before he had the other gigs, but I can't believe he got the level of fame and fortune that he has if this Dice-Lite by way of Pseudo-Kinison is what he had to offer.

One of the special's biggest problems is the way Rogan can't seem to get his delivery and his punchline to hit the right notes at the same time. Strange Times seems to follow the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of comedy: When Rogan has a good punchline, he somehow muffs the delivery; off just enough to sap the material of the laugh it ought to get. And when he nails the delivery, it's with a punchline that doesn't make enough sense to make the trip to get there worth the time.

The handful of times he gets both together it's on a joke that you think you've probably heard before. Not because Rogan stole it -- he famously called out Carlos Mencia for joke theft a few years ago in a very public spat, so joke theft is most definitely not his thing. But because it's the kind of joke your really funny friend said that time at that party somewhere, which a lot of funny friends around the world happened upon and told their groups of friends. In fact, most of Strange Times gives the impression that Rogan is that funny friend, who manages to keep everyone at the party or the office or wherever in stitches by riffing off stuff that people around him said but who's out of his depth when it comes to crafting material out of whole cloth.

Although Rogan himself is probably not dumb -- after all, Netflix paid him for this -- he manages to hit "ignorant" more than once. Early in the show he suggests that Thomas Jefferson, if brought into modern-day America, would be aghast that we had not rewritten the Constitution to keep up with modern times. Yeah, because whatever comes out of Twitter is better than the Bill of Rights. At one point he riffs a little on theology and religion, proving that as a theological thinker he's an excellent water-cooler funny guy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Go Out Like You Came In

Twenty-five years ago today, Kansas City Royals legend George Brett hit a single in his final at-bat. Texas Rangers reliever Tom Henke had his catcher let George know that he was going to see nothing but fastballs, so it was up to him to find one and do something with it. Pitching great Nolan Ryan also retired that year and was in uniform to bring out the lineup card, but was on the disabled list and didn't pitch. Kansas City sent Brett out for the card exchange as well; Brett and Ryan would be on the same stage again July 25, 1999 to enter the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Robin Yount and Orlando Cepeda.

The game was also the final one played at Arlington Stadium. The next year the Rangers began playing at The Ballpark at Arlington and Arlington Stadium was blown up.

I was a seminary student who spent too much on a ticket for the ninth row, third-base side, in order to watch and take pictures of Brett's last hit. Ate more than a bit of ramen for the next several weeks, but it was worth it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Turn the Page

At long last, something returns from the dead that isn't a part of the most boring subgenre imaginable of entertainment, the zombie movie.

It's the independent bookstore, presumed dead or dying in the 1990s as Borders and Barnes & Noble stomped their massive inventories and extensive ordering potential into the market, overwhelming the small nooks and such that occupied downtown corners and repurposed houses.

But then Amazon killed Borders and has Barnes & Noble stuck in a corner of its own. And folks who want the experience of searching out a book that they might not have known they wanted to read find themselves committing the shocking act of leaving their homes and entering an actual building in order to browse or hunt down a potential purchase. The story at the link focuses on the openings of some new stores in Baltimore, but it's happening in other towns as well, and even the Bezos Brigade has dipped a toe into meat-space with a couple of brick and mortar stores with books printed on paper and everything.

There's not much hope for the United States Senate, but we may yet justify our country's continued existence by saving the bookstore.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Pastime

The regular season ends, with a couple of tiebreaker playoffs and then whatever weirdness the wild card structure has added to the postseason series. National Affairs, back in 2010, printed an extended essay on baseball in America and the way it connects to some interesting virtues that can help improve American civic life.

It's certainly lengthy, and it asserts some points that ought to have a little more foundation. But Diana Schaub, the Loyola University Maryland political science professor who wrote it, touches on key ideas that are worth some time spent on them. Somewhat like the game she's describing, the essay is finished when it is finished, and not before, confined by a predetermined clock or measure.

Comes now the short day of winter, and with it the rule of the games that are themselves ruled by that clock. A baseball game ends, of course, but it also finishes. Football, hockey and soccer have some extended play if the score is tied, but each eventually quits playing the whole game and settles for a scoring duel. Basketball, at least, will keep playing until one team is ahead when time runs out. Bud Selig's abominable 2002 All-Star Game mandated tie aside, a baseball game is not over until it is finished, and then it's part of the record and in the past.

Some postseason fun awaits, along with the abomination that is Joe Buck calling a game, and then it will be time to wait for spring again. And thinking, of course. Until it's green below and blue above, and sixty feet, six inches separate opponents and it ain't over till it's over.