Sunday, January 27, 2008

Madness of King George number three

Our Netflix queue recently brought us this movie that we had never seen before. I thought it was so good I want to get the first two in the series.


I meant to add this to my last blog, but didn't.

We saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly on Friday. I thought it was going to be the sequel to Bell, Book and Candle, it wasn't. Turns out it is the French version, without the war issue, of Johnny Got His Gun. Wouldn't these two guys have made great roommates?

Actually we went to see The Savages but screwed up the time so we had two hours of the French alphabet and blinking with cute therapists, just like real hospitals.

Days until...spring

It has been a long winter, not in terms of snow, but in its consistency. Snow came early this winter and has hung around. On top of the 2 or 3 feet of snow that had been on the ground since November we have had bone chilling cold over the last several weeks. It is difficult to get motivated to do anything when the wind chill is 18 below.

Winter has me looking forward. It is 111 day until my daughter's marriage, 86 days until the Santana concert, 50 days until St Patrick's day, 47 days until the Springsteen concert and 18 days until pitchers and catchers report. The promise of spring and summer.

It is the reporting of pitcher and catchers that is the most warming. Baseball season will begin its annual spring renewal where every team, with the possible exception of the Kansas City Royals, will believe they have a chance to win the World Series. Winning 20 games will dance in the eyes of starting pitchers and hitters feel that 300 is within their range. Mostly they are wrong, but it is glorious to believe that it could happen.

Baseball for me began in my home town in the mid 50's. Like many small Midwestern towns we had some level of semi pro baseball, be it a town team or a single A team that carried the name of a real big league team. We had the Yankees, not my cup of tea as a childhood Cleveland fan, but never the less it was fun. Nothing more fun than sitting down the right field line chasing foul balls with the occasional sprint to see if we could get the home run ball. I think you could get a quarter if you returned the ball. Big money in the 50's.

Following baseball on what passed for TV in the 50's was all about Saturday afternoon, Dizzy Dean, Pee Wee and Hamms beer, from the land of sky blue waters. "Reese asked what the pitcher threw. Diz: "I believe that's a baseball."

In the 70's I was in a major league city and I could go to games. By that time I was a Giants fan and since I lived in SF I could follow them closely. They were somewhere between poor and average during the 70's, but they had great players like "dirty" Al Gallagher, John Montefusco, Dave Kingman. I also was able to experience the decline of the Willies, Mays and McCovey. I spent many a cold summer night at the stick watching the promise that never was, but cheering and hoping anyhow.

To me baseball is one of those events that calls out to you to relax. It takes as long as it takes and should not be rushed. Although when leaving the stadium you should always strive to be the first to have witnessed the last out and be the first out of the parking lot. A distinction that Joe and I held until we left SF. In fact I think we are still in the annual Giants media guide.

18 days and spring will begin, snow and cold will remain, but in my heart I know it is spring. Go Giants!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Academic style urban legend

Have you heard that the Inuit(Eskimo) have dozens of words for snow? It is an urban legend given us by an amateur linguist named Benjamin Whorf, whose day job was that of a fire inspector for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. Whorf was considered brilliant in his hobby of native languages, but it turns out he was often wrong.
It really isn't wrong, just a misrepresentation. Any language has many words for concepts like precipitation. We could list include flurry, blizzard, drift, drizzle, sleet, thunderstorm, squall, tempest, gale, slush, hail, etc. I'm really going to stop, but you can list lots more words that mean rain or snow.
I got this from a book by an academic named Steven Pinker, called The Language Instinct. He said this is like a printer having multiple words for fonts, which doesn't strike us unusual at all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

John Stewart

My partner mentioned that John Stewart died(Saturday). John Stewart was a wonderful, truly American singer-songwriter who managed to fly pretty much beneath the popular culture radar for a long time. Even now, were you to google him, you first get references for the funny guy whose name isn't even spelled the same way.
Now, he wasn't always under the radar. He wrote one of the most memorable songs of the rock era, Daydream Believer, and had a top five hit in 1979 with Gold, a song produced by Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac featuring vocals by Stevie Nicks. Curiously enough, hard-core Stewart fans are not particularly fond of Gold, although a few songs on that cd are well regarded. Sportscaster Chris Berman regularly references a song from that cd, Lost Her in the Sun, when appropriate.
I first learned of him in 1961, when he replaced a founding member of the Kingston Trio. I first seriously got into his music when one of my sisters, not sure which, bought California Bloodlines in 1969, at Kaufman's in Kearney. (funny what you remember)
We saw him twice, in 1974 at an outdoor concert at Stanford, and 2000 in Loveland, CO. I'll try not to go on and on, but his music was never far from my consciousness. I am sure that I have listened to as much John Stewart in the last 39 years as I have anyone. I counted 8 Kingston Trio cds, 25 commercially released cds, and 20 cds full of about 15 concerts I have accumulated. And I'm a piker by fan standards, many who own all or nearly all of the 47 cds he has released.
I do treasure the one cd that he burned at home, autographed, and mailed to me. Of course, he did the same for anybody who sent him a check. I did save the check, too.
This wasn't the first musical hero of mine to die, and certainly won't be the last. (And that is not a reference to Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse, both of whom, I fear, are not long for this mortal coil)
But this one hit me. This is the first one that I felt I knew, someone I had exchanged emails with. No, I never met him, or talked to him, but the very lack of widespread popularity he enjoyed, made him more accessible, more real to me.
And when he wrote and sang Daydream Believer, the line wasn't:
"You once thought of me
As a white knight on a steed.
Now you know how happy I can be", but was:
"You once thought of me
As a white knight on a steed.
Now you know how funky I can be",
which I think you should agree, changes everything.
Apparently the record company wouldn't let Davy Jones sing "funky".

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Miscellanous items...

Steroids and the major league hearings are way down my list of things to worry about. I also find the current Presidential race boring in light of things that I believe are really important.

We are spending over $487 billion dollars to fund the war in Iraq and $3.5 billion for Nebraska alone. Over 4,000 (US troops) killed and 60,000 wounded. We really didn't learn much from the small ground war in the 60's.

The economy is on pace to flow quickly into a recession and the market has dropped like grandma's socks. All of a sudden the Commander in Chief is concerned and now wants to produce a stimulus package...when will we get our $1600?

I see that Nebraska is concerned about the penalties in place for pot. Seems they lightened them up in 1978, 9 years to late if you ask me. Now they want to stiffen them up in order to stem the tide of young users and even them out with alcohol.

Comanche Moon and the prior blog about the Keystone had me searching the Internet for Stu Grant. I think I found his picture, some of us age better than others. I ate venison at Stu's place in McCook on one warm summer night in 67 or was it 68? He had brought it down with a bow and arrow, a real Indian. Legend has it he once kicked a 60 yd field goal.

I don't want to go back, but it was fun.

Concerts with Bruce and then Santana on the horizon. John Stewart died today, what will become of the Kingston trio reunions? Sneaky Pete died last year.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Keystone camera

If you go to this site, you can see a live view of Norris Avenue in McCook, Nebraska. The camera is on the the roof of the Keystone Hotel, six flights up, and it faces not quite directly south.
I rarely visit McCook, last being there in 2005, at my fortieth reunion. I did catch myself looking up at the camera, which is readily visible from below.
All I can say is that I am really glad that camera wasn't there in the '60s. That's dumb, because even were the camera there, the technology wasn't available to make is so easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection. But you have to admit that one of the many ways our world has changed is how much of it is filmed, by someone, somewhere.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Have you seen the Southwest Airlines commercials with the young salesman facing scrutiny for using "productivity enhancers", because he has had such great success?
I know it is supposed to be a joke, a goof on the steroid controversy, but it got me thinking.
I watched a depressing amount of ESPN's coverage of the congressional hearing on steroids etc. I endured the Connecticut Republican's inability to say Black Sox, making it Black Hawks. I laughed as Donald Fehr eloquently pointed out that George Mitchell's report was the work of a "management lawyer", which, of course, is exactly correct. And no matter what he says, Bud Selig reminds me of a snake speaking with a forked tongue.
But I must tell you, this whole steroid deal doesn't upset me all that much. People act like major league sports are some bastion of all that's good about sports and honest competition. Was that ever true? When?
One of my fondest memories of the San Francisco years was journalist Charles McCabe, a crusty three times a week columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. His thought was that professional sports were entertainment, not sports, and that they should be forced to pay for the advertisements that ran in the sports page. Yes, others called those news stories, but McCabe said they weren't anything but advertisements.
Yes, I agree with McCabe. Major league sports have been more entertainment than real sports for years. Ever since the television execs started determining starting times of games. Ever since the advent of the designated hitter rule. Ever since the NBA unilaterally changed what traveling means, even though the official rules bear no relationship to what the refs actually call. Feel free to add your own instance of disillusionment with modern pro sports.
And let's look at productivity enhancers. What does that cover?
I apologize in advance for this reference, but clearly, all forms of plastic surgery are productivity enhancers, with breast enlargement clearly the most noticeable. What would the television and movie business be like without these enhancers?
I certainly think all musicians should be tested for the possible use of enhancers. We wouldn't have to put up with groups like the Grateful Dead, who openly used productivity enhancers. And jazz fans wouldn't have to endure 20 minute improvs by their favorite musician.
And think of how many people use caffeine as a productivity enhancer.
And don't give me that "it's against the law" bit. Not all that long ago heroin and cocaine were not only legal, but touted for health benefits. Tobacco, a drug with no possible positive use, a drug that when used as marketed, kills the user, is legal. Laws are too often written for the benefit of those who have the money and power.
Now, I know that steroids are against the rules of major sports, although the vast majority of the Mitchell Reports' accusations are from times before they were against the rules of MLB. Well, actually, there was no punishment even if there were weak rules on the books.
And I don't buy for a second that "role model" line they keep spouting. Nobody with a lick of common sense looks to any pro athlete or any other entertainer as a role model.
Can anybody imagine telling their child that they should grow up to be Roger Clemens or Britney Spears? And, trust me, as long as professional athletes earn more in a day than most teachers make in a year, there will be no shortage of people willing to do permanent damage to their bodies, in an effort to be one of the lucky ones to cash in on our fascination with kids' games.
I just think we should discuss all enhancers, not just the ones used by pro athletes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Posting info

If anybody else wishes to post directly, send either Kevin or Joe an email at any of the accounts they use, or to the one established for this blog:
Pretty original, eh?
joeandkevingallagher@somefreehost must have already been taken.
We'll send you the necessary password.
All are welcome, particularly if we're related.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

More Movies

I received a note from a relative about this blog site and his thought that the site needed to
" add an explosion or gratuitous boob shot, you know to man it up". I sent him note with the picture of our current Miss America candidate (apparently a third cousin on my moms side), but he continues to believe the blogs to be too girlie. He just reached a milestone birthday and appears to be a bit grumpy.

However, I have seen several movies that would fit part of his request. If you are into action I think the recent "Live Free and Dies Hard" might trips your trigger. The action is non-stop and as a sequel is done pretty well. I would recommend big screen, surround sound if possible.

As for blood I saw "Sweeney Todd". I realize it is a musical, but the blood is quite graphic and the images dark. I enjoyed the cast and since I had not seen the actual stage play it was entertaining in a dark way.

Last night was "No Country for Old Men". I think you need to enjoy the Coen brothers and the type of movie (see Fargo)they create. This is not for the faint of heart. The acting and film production was excellent. The story is pretty basic, drug exchange goes bad, lots of dead Mexicans, lone stranger finds money, more death and pain, semi-hero is chased by pretty sadistic folks until it reaches its natural conclusion., with some twists.

As always there are hints of humor. As the Sheriff and his deputy survey the carnage at the initial shoot out they realize that two of the body's are fresher than the majority of the rotting bodies. The two bodies are dressed in suits, as opposed to the other deceased. The deputy quickly sees that and refers to them as "looks like we have some middle management".

Again it is a thriller based on fate and chance and the really bad guy, its really spooky bad.

I also saw Charlie Wilson's War which is easy to watch and has some humor. It is probably a good rental. It is hard to go wrong with Tom Hanks and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Part Two

Better get this done before I forget it. The other movie we loved over vacay was Once, a dvd rental from last year of an independent Irish movie. The movie is low-budget, featuring musicians instead of actors. Better explain that. The two main characters are a busker, or street musician, and a young Czech immigrant to Dublin, surviving by cleaning houses and selling flowers on Grafton Street. She plays piano, sings and writes songs.
The two are played by an unknown Czech musician, and a fairly well-known Irish singer. Those with great memory might remember him from a fairly small role he played in The Commitments. His day job is lead singer of The Frames, a fairly well-known Irish band.
The director is John Carney, who was, many years ago, the bass player for The Frames.
The movie only lasts 85 minutes, is full of music, and has a wonderful conclusion.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Winter Movie Fest, part one

For most of the past dozen years or so, we have made a serious effort to see several movies in the time frame of Christmas vacation, extended. I refuse to list every movie we have seen in the last three weeks, although I shouldn't have to apologize for my fondness for Marvel comics, and at least my tolerance for some of the movies made from them.
Let me concentrate on what we enjoyed and can recommend to others. We saw one rental and one new movie that we considered clearly four stars, and two more movies in theatres that we enjoyed. One of them can't exactly be taken seriously, but was fun.
Saturday, at the actual movie theatre, we saw Juno. Somewhere I read that this was this year's Little Miss Sunshine, a movie I enjoyed, but certainly didn't think was the greatest thing since sliced bread, as many did.
Really, the comparison is superficial: the movies are independent features featuring young females, as well as pretty salty casts for indies. I don't really see much similar beyond that.
In any case, I absolutely loved Juno. I will admit to being a sucker for snappy dialog so it is probably not a total shock I would tend to like this. The movie also has a heart and a certain sweetness, not cloying. A great cast of supporting actors(Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner, JK Simmons,whose face you'd recognize, if not the name) help a lot, but the movie is made by a young Nova Scotia actress named Ellen Page.
The movie is essentially a story of a sixteen year old getting pregnant. Early on she decides not to get an abortion, a fact seized upon by many. That is really secondary, however, to the movie's real story, that of a smart as a whip high school junior girl who, when faced by adversity, grows up. She has the support of good friends and parents who care.
Sample not quite exact dialog from the parents, upon learning of the pregnancy:
Dad: Did you see this coming?
Mom: Yeah, but I was hoping she was expelled or into hard drugs.
Dad: Or a DWI.
More favorite dialog, with Juno and best friend discussing the pregnancy and the possible adoption of the baby:
Leah: You should look in the PennySaver.
Juno: They have ads for parents?
Leah: Yeah, desperately seeking spawn.
The movie was directed by Jason Reitman, who directed Thank You For Smoking, and whose dad directed Stripes and Ghostbusters.
The movie is already much beloved, with a small developing backlash that says nobody really talks like they do in the movie, and it is not in the least believable. Imagine that: a movie criticized for not being believable.
I'll go ahead and post this and add more later about what else we saw.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I drove today!

OK, twon't be official until next Tuesday, but I'm back on the roads. Had to get a blood draw today, so I drove myself, uneventfully, to the doctor's office. And home. It is kind of like riding a bicycle, in that you don't really forget.
Next week, I'll be able to drive myself to physical therapy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sixty Annuals

2007 provided me several memorable, measurable, moments.

First, I spent my first full year in a new, yet familiar job. After 34 years in the insurance industry I was put on waivers in early 2006 and didn't catch on with another club until late that year. So, 2007 was the first full year working on the physician side, managing a customer service and collections area. The irony is that the organization I work for moved into their new location some six months after I started. In itself not particularly noteworthy, except the new location was my old location!

I am enjoying this new opportunity and I think that it is allowing me to start my preparations for my retirement. Retirement being defined as doing less, specifically fewer hours, but still engaged in something.

Next I traveled to Ireland, my first venture outside of North America. It was grand! The country, the color and the people were as advertised. We enjoyed a seven day swing from west to east and then back around the south to the western side again. We should have stayed longer, but the exchange rate is brutal. No wonder the Irish smile so much.

Finally, I reached that 60 number that brings with it all of the anxiety and concern about your life. Have you done enough, could you have done more, is there still time? Who knows?

Well, 2008 is here and I will experience another first the year, the marriage of a daughter. The planning is in full swing and time is growing short. I am sure that the upcoming months will be crowded with activity which I will probably mention from time to time on this blog.

By the way, I checked several sites for top albums in 2007 and find that I have no clue about music today. Who is Feist or M.I.A? I thought Amy Winehouse was merely a skinny Brittney. The National or Arcade Fire? I know Bruce and really like the John Fogerty new album, but frankly I struggle to keep up. I did see Dylan, Elvis, Judy Collins and Bob Seger this year and have tickets for Bruce in March. Life continues.