Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Radio reminds me when baseball was simpler

It might sound like I'm just getting older, but days like today remind me when BASEBALL was a much simpler game.
I am listening to 93.7 WEEI FM BOSTON online this morning and plenty of callers are weighing in on the RED SOX trading for pitcher Jake Peavy.
The majority of the callers are against the deal, wishing Boston had held onto shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was dealt to DETROIT as part of the deal.
Apparently the Tigers need Iglesias if/when their starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta receives his suspension in the BIOGENESIS performance-enhancing drugs scandal.
Trading for a player because of an impending scandal suspension? Like I said, I can remember when baseball seemed like a much simpler game.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The back of an old postcard

"Dear Mary,
We made it fine, got to Chicago a little after 2:00 but too late already to pay for reservations, so we had to pay on the trains.
Arthur said I look like you, have hair almost like you and talk like you. We saw the place you used to live, looked in the windows and the yard. It was nice.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Another star turn by the "Dimestore Dostoyevsky"

Crime novelist JIM THOMPSON had such a way with first-person narratives featuring murderous psychotics that he was tagged the "Dimestore Dostoyevsky."
I just finished reading Thompson's 1964 masterpiece, "POP. 1280," and I'm still stunned at the novel's marvelous construction.
Narrator Nick Corey is a small-town sheriff who performs just enough of his sworn duties to keep his post.
As Corey explains in the opening of the novel:
"Well, sir, I should have been sitting pretty, just about as pretty as a man could sit. Here I was, the high sheriff of Potts County... I had it made, and it looked like I could go on having it made -- being high sheriff of Potts County -- as long as I minded my own business and didn't arrest no one unless I just couldn't get out of it and they didn't amount to nothin'."
During the course of a funny novel that grows more darkly sinister with each turning of a page, the reader learns that Corey is not the lazy and somewhat brainless protagonist we thought we knew.
Instead, Corey reveals himself to be a cunning manipulator who takes his murderous vengeance with a missionary's zeal.
It makes for truly chilling reading to realize Corey's carefully crafted plots against people and the way he uses racism and society's rigid propriety to help cover his tracks.
"Pop. 1280" is a remarkable tale and a stark view of a man who can calmly end lives with the skill of a puppeteer.
Canadian writer Stephen Marche characterized "Pop. 1280" as Thompson's "true masterpiece" -- "a preposterously upsetting, ridiculously hilarious layer cake of nastiness, a romp through a world of nearly infinite deceit."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Classic country sounds match the sunrise

JOHNNY RODRIGUEZ always sounds great when the sun rises.
I didn't mean to wake up before dawn this morning -- once again the pets had other days -- but since I was awake, I decided to enjoy myself with some of Rodriguez's classic country music.
The Texan came to prominence in the early 70s, with a sound linked directly to the honky tonks, heavily flavored with fiddles and piano.
Rodriguez released a string of country chart-topping hits, such as "You Always Come Back (to Hurting Me)," "Ridin' My Thumb to Mexico" and "That's the Way Love Goes."
These songs and his others sound good any time of the day.
Today was proof, though, that they might sound best as the first rays of sunlight stream over the horizon.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Superman does his part to end domestic violence

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Braun is guilty, but baseball had its own role in rise of 'roids

RYAN BRAUN'S suspension gives MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL another black eye, but also reminds me of the culpability of the sport itself in the wake of the "STEROID ERA."
The home run chase by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, fueled we now know by performance-enhancing drugs, also launched baseball on a much-needed comeback.
Attendance swelled and television contracts soared as the new crop of sluggers swung for (and easily reached) the fences.
Baseball benefited immensely from the artificial power. Heck, I personally benefited  How many times did I cheer the big hits of BARRY BONDS without questioning where the power originated?
America doesn't like cheaters, though, which we can see with the reaction against Braun and the current group of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
Baseball officials need to do more than just suspend the latest culprits. They need to come clean about their own role in the rise (and apparently continuing plague) of 'roids.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

AC/DC provide a glimpse of Australia's better times

It's been a bad weekend for AUSTRALIANS, seeing their cricket team flailing so unsuccessfully against ENGLAND in the ASHES series.
With the Aussies more than 500 runs behind, I decided I should relive some better times for the folks Down Under, so I spent last night watching some AC/DC videos on DVD.
I love the Bon Scott-era, earlier days of the Sydney band. My joint favorite albums are "LET THERE BE ROCK" and "POWERAGE," with classic songs such as "Dog Eat Dog," "Problem Child," "Rock 'n' Roll Damnation" and "What's Next to the Moon," among others.
The songs certainly displayed more "oomph" than the Aussie cricketers have shown at Lord's Cricket Ground. On the field, the Aussies only seem to whimper.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My selfish reason for Pakistani violence to subside (Yes, cricket is involved)

I wish tensions would lessen throughout South Asia -- strictly for selfish reasons, I'm afraid.
I've been participating in some "ARMCHAIR TRAVEL" the past couple of days, reading "THE LONELY PLANET GUIDE TO PAKISTAN" and wishing violence would subside so I could undertake a tour I've dreamt about for years.
I want to attend CRICKET matches during a Southern summer in PAKISTAN and INDIA.
It would be marvelous attending matches at the top grounds of the subcontinent, such as Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, National Stadium in Karachi and M.A. Chidambaram (Chepauk) Stadium in Chennai, among others.
I've read about the subcontinent's quasi-religious passion for cricket for years. I would love to experience it for myself.
I'm not entirely cricket-obsessed. I'd also like to pair that dream tour with visits to sights of the BRITISH RAJ, from the Empress Market in Karachi to the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata and many more points in between.
So, you can see why I wish violence would subside in Pakistan. I'd love to spend time at their cricket grounds.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Ashes as a mother and child reunion

It's hot and rainy here, but in listening to the ASHES TEST I am transported to a sunny day of an English summer.
ENGLAND host AUSTRALIA again today at LORD'S CRICKET GROUND. I visited the home of cricket in 2009, part of a love affair with the sport whose roots lie in a European trip during my middle-school years.
WISDEN'S Definitive Guide to the Ashes (2006) helped sum up the importance of England and Australia meeting on a cricket field:
"When it comes to England, Australia, and their desire to thrash each other at cricket, the reason stems almost exclusively from the idea -- expressed in deliberately crude terms -- that one team represents the mother country, and the other its distant, illegitimate sprog. It stems, in other words, from misplaced English feelings of superiority and Australian grievances that inevitably follow."
The mother country is definitely superior at this stage of the match, having batted for 361 and currently holding the Aussies to 86-5.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Remembering my 2009 day at cricket's home

I'll never forget Dec. 29, 2009.
Although clouds covered LONDON and rain fell steadily, I thought about nothing but CRICKET.
That's the day my sister INGER and I toured LORD'S CRICKET GROUND.
The drizzle didn't bother me at all. I walked around the ground thinking about all of the matches played throughout the years, all of the famous players who had toiled under the sun, and all of the supporters who received such joy.
Known as "The Home of Cricket," Lord's serves as an historic stadium, an administrative headquarters and a comprehensive museum of the sport. I liken it to a combination of Fenway Park and the Baseball Hall of Fame -- with the commissioner's office tossed in for good measure.
Cricket is back at Lord's beginning today, with the second Test match in the ASHES series between ENGLAND and AUSTRALIA.
I'm listening to today's play this morning before I head to work. I'll listen to cricket on the radio all day tomorrow, while remembering my own trip to the sport's most hallowed ground.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Midsummer and midwinter classics collide, thanks to our shrinking globe

The era of globalization means I can enjoy the Midsummer Classic followed by a midwinter classic in a matter of hours.
After watching BASEBALL'S ALL-STAR GAME on television last night from New York, I am watching AUSTRALIAN RUGBY LEAGUE'S STATE OF ORIGIN deciding match on television this morning from Sydney.
The annual three-game series pits the best players from QUEENSLAND against the best from NEW SOUTH WALES.
The Maroons of Queensland aim to clinch their eighth straight series in this match, and lead, 8-4, at half time.
I've loved rugby league since visiting Sydney a few years ago.
Thanks to technology and our "shrinking" world, I can now enjoy it from the comfort of my living room.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Vince Gill lifts 'Firin' Up' beyond its limitations

If we're nominating albums for reappraisal, I'll put forth "FIRIN' UP" by the PURE PRAIRIE LEAGUE.
It sounds better now, perhaps, than it did upon its release.
The band's ninth studio album doesn't get the highest reviews.
Indeed, critic Jim Worbois characterized "Firin' Up" as a "last-gasp effort" by the Pure Prairie League and a "sad end to a band that had begun with such promise."
Admittedly, by the album's 1980 release, previous band leaders Craig Fuller and George Ed Powell were gone, and the music could be mistaken for a second-division version of the EAGLES.
Except for one important detail -- VINCE GILL.
The future solo country star's soaring lead vocals and underrated guitar playing lifts "Firin' Up" beyond its early '80s limitations.
A song such as "She's All Mine" demonstrates the warmth Gill's tenor could lend. He can turn an otherwise nondescript tune into something memorable.
I know this fact for certain: "Firin' Up" sure sounds good while driving home on a steamy, late afternoon.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Musique tapageuse pour célébrer la Journée Bastille

We're celebrating LE QUATORZE JUILLET -- also known as BASTILLE DAY -- with a bang today by listening to the riotous sounds of vintage French rock 'n' roll.
Today's playlist includes JOHNNY HALLYDAY, DANNY BOY ET SES PÉNITENTS, LES CHAUSSETTES NOIRES and the band that gave full meaning to "riotous sounds," LES CHATS SAUVAGES.
The band's biography on the Nostalgie website explains how they caused fans to riot at a 1961 gig in the capital:
"Les amateurs de rock ne tardent pas à s'enflammer pour les Chats sauvages, qui se produisent au Palais des sports à la fin de l'année. Ils électrisent la salle de spectacle, qui est ravagée par les fans emportés."
Basically, the band headed by vocalist Dick Rivers excited the crowd to the point that fans ravaged the auditorium.
We won't riot today, just rock -- dans le style français.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Like hearing obscure Wikipedia entries read in between shouts

Somehow, both CATS are sleeping through this session of the ASHES on the radio, as AUSTRALIA chase 311 to defeat ENGLAND.
I guess the felines just don't appreciate CRICKET on the radio.
I have loved it since first experiencing it as a kid on a European vacation.
Cricket's pace (or rather, lack thereof) provides radio commentators an opportunity to discuss everything from history to culture and geography -- somewhat like listening to a continuous baseball rain delay with interesting announcers.
Imagine listening to people with upper-middle class accents reading rather obscure WIKIPEDIA entries with an occasional shout when something happens in the match.
That's cricket on the radio.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nothing says "summer" quite like cricket on the radio

There is CRICKET on the page and cricket on the radio on this fine summer day.
I'm listening to the ASHES series between ENGLAND and AUSTRALIA on the BBC'S TEST MATCH SPECIAL.
Nothing says "SUMMER" to me quite like cricket on the radio. The broadcast drifts by languidly like a puffy white cloud in a bright blue sky -- until the shouting alerts the listener to a wicket being taken!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Up early for the first overs of the day

I woke up earlier than usual this morning to catch the first overs of today's second day of the first ASHES Test match between ENGLAND and AUSTRALIA at Trent Bridge, Nottingham.
I'm listening on the radio online.
Yesterday, Peter Siddle took five wickets as the visiting Aussies held England to 215 runs.
Australia are currently 108-5 in reply, Stephen Smith was just caught out for 53.
The low scores suggest the bowlers are in the ascendancy during this initial Test.
I first heard cricket on the radio during a summer trip to the Netherlands when I was on the verge of entering high school. It has remained one of my favorite summer pastimes.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Perhaps we should all head for higher ground

My sister INGER was only half-joking when she sent me this message last night:
"You guys need to start thinking about buying a house on a hill."
She was referring to coverage of the FLASH FLOODING in TORONTO.
More than a month's worth of rain fell on Canada's largest city yesterday, flooding streets and subway stations, knocking out power to 300,000 customers and canceling flights at the airports.
The storm also served as a reminder that no locale, neither big nor small, is immune to the extremes of weather -- particularly now that climate change has apparently contributed to these extremes becoming the "new normal."
Actually, perhaps my sister wasn't joking at all. Maybe we all need to start looking for houses on hills.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Rugby as a model for society

"The rugby team requires 15 men, of whom eight should be strong and active, two should be nimble and quick-witted, four should be tall, graceful and swift, and the last one should be a model of calm and coolness under pressure: This is also the ideal ratio for society."
-- Jean Giraudoux, "Le Sport," 1928

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Rugby as a renewable French battle

"Us against them" could describe the pervasive mindset of RUGBY UNION in FRANCE.
That's one of the lessons I've learned since I began reading Philip Dine's comprehensive "FRENCH RUGBY FOOTBALL: A CULTURAL HISTORY."
The book examines the way the imported sport first captured the interest of the Third Republic's elites -- it helped them emulate in a small way the colonial expansionist success of traditional rivals Britain -- and later spread throughout the southwest of the country -- where it sprang from the local schools and represented a rare opportunity to turn the tables on the centralist domination of Paris.
There was also a militaristic aspect to the sport that proved popular among Frenchmen eager to avenge the humiliating battlefield defeats of the 19th century.
Dine explains that the two most basic laws of rugby -- prohibitions both on passing the ball forward and players being in front of the ball when it is played -- mean that the game is characterized by a "permanent front line."
More so than ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL (SOCCER), rugby can thus be viewed as a battle on the pitch -- a renewable battle hosted by communities large and small.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

"Dr. Strangelove" and the genius of comedy in the midst of unspeakable horror

I hadn't seen it in years, so I had forgotten about the greatness of STANLEY KUBRICK'S 1964 masterpiece, "DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB."
Our daughter ANNIKA had studied the film during a week of social sciences instruction at the UNIVERSITY OF IOWA earlier this summer. Her love of the film prompted me to watch it on DVD this weekend.
Watching it after the span of many years, I realized Kubrick's stroke of genius was in couching the most horrific of concepts -- nuclear annihilation -- in the midst of side-splitting laughter.
Crafted in part by writer TERRY SOUTHERN, the film's lines are memorably funny, particularly when set in relief against their nuclear-holocaust context.
Major T.J. "King" Kong, played by Slim Pickens, illustrates the comedy-in-the-midst-of-nuclear-horror motif when he's describing the contents of his bomber squad's survival kit:
"In them you'll find: one .45 caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; 100 dollars in rubles; 100 dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."
It's a fantastic film, made all the more compelling to watch because the audience is forced to laugh in the face of unfathomable horror -- the potential destruction of the human race.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Minimalist Shazam

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Racing and rocking on Independence Day

It seems wrong to celebrate INDEPENDENCE DAY by listening to FRENCH ROCK 'N' ROLL and watching LE TOUR DE FRANCE, but it's fun.
German Andre Greipel won today's sixth stage of the Tour, from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier, with South African Daryl Impey claiming LE MAILLOT JAUNE -- the yellow jersey signifying the race's overall leader.
I watched today's stage on TV after having spent the morning enjoying the classic French rock of DANNY BOY ET SES PÉNITENTS, LES CHATS SAUVAGES and LES CHAUSSETTES NOIRES.
This music caused riots when it burst onto the French cultural scene of the early 1960s. These days, the songs seem like mini-soundtracks to particularly hip films.
Like I said, it wasn't fireworks, but it sure was fun.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Philippe Tissié kicked off France's oval-ball love affair

I've been reading about southwestern FRANCE the past couple of days, and no mention of the region is complete without mention of its pervasive love of RUGBY.
Biarritz, Bayonne, Pau, Castres, Toulouse and other such cities provide examples that the sport's heartland resides in the traditional southwestern areas of Béarn, Guyenne et Gascogne and elsewhere.
A combination of expatriate Britons and physical education instructors helped stoke passions for the sport in southwestern France.
Writing in his "FRENCH RUGBY FOOTBALL: A CULTURAL HISTORY," Philip Dine credits the southwest's fervor to the work of pioneering phyiscal education proponent DR. PHILIPPE TISSIÉ and and his Bordeaux-based Ligue Girondine de l'Education Physique:
"In Dr. Philippe Tissié, French rugby had found its most influential advocate, and in the south-west it was to find its spiritual home."
I can't read about France's southwest without thinking about the area's favorite sport.
HENRI ROUSSEAU captured some of the early fervor in his painting, "LES JOUEURS DE FOOTBALL," on display at the Guggenheim in New York.
I think about this painting, too, when I read about southwestern France.

Monday, July 01, 2013

On this day, everyone should do one Canadian thing

Happy CANADA Day!
On this day, everyone should do at least one Canadian thing.
I'm going to hit a stranger with a taped stick and then sit quietly by myself for two minutes.