Thursday, December 23, 2010

Double Helix

          I went to squash a bug today
          It saw my form and flew away
          Preserving for another day
          Its double helix (DNA)

          I couldn't help but wonder why
          For usually I get my fly
          With stealth, dispatch, and steely eye
          Passed down through the milleni-i

          But on this day my strike was slow
          Or just a bit too high or low
          Thus saving my intended foe
          From crippling force of mighty blow

          The reflexes are not as keen
          As when I was a scrawny teen --
          Or had the bug evolved a gene
          And thus was my appendage seen?

          A thousand generations hence
          Some mutant fly with sharpened sense
          Grows fangs, and then comes back at me
          To snack upon my six-foot-three

          I doubt that I could self-defend
          And thus it's to a sticky end
          And all because upon this day
          It saw my form and flew away

          © 2010 Bob Wait

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Schrödinger's Dishwasher

For your consideration: an everyday kitchen appliance -- perhaps very much like one in your kitchen -- that's both clean and dirty at the same time:

          Beloved Spousal Unit: "Is the dishwasher clean?"
          Me: "No, I just emptied it. It's dirty now."

At the instant I said that our dishwasher was "dirty" -- and spoke truthfully -- it didn't have a spot of dirt in it. This pristine, yet fallen state would continue for a few more blissfully ambiguous moments until I fouled the nest, defiling our beloved Putzmaschine with the first crumb-stuck breakfast plate and stained coffee mug of the day.

This ambiguous state of our pre-pastried power-scrubber is related to the Physics conundrum known as "Schrödinger's Cat":

          Schrödinger's Cat's a metaphorical cat
          It lives in a box with a nuclear vat
          When a nucleus decays, a loaded gun is released
          And although the box hides it, the cat is deceased
                    ...or is it?
                                                            -t.s. eliot

To the outside world, the cat is unobservable as it waits for the ax to fall; it's unobservable after the ax has fallen. In some external sense, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time.

Or, consider the moment of any creature's demise. Let's say there is one last atom left in a cat's Central Nervous System that has kept the cat alive; for surely there must be a last one, as there must have been a first one. It's down to its ninth life, as it were, and it's the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes. We know from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that the exact position and state of a particle are mutually indeterminate. Is our beloved kitty dead or alive at the indeterminate moment of the last atom's expiration? Or both?

Notwithstanding any of this, our feline friend clearly picked the wrong box to crawl into; it should have selected our dishwasher instead (or else the curtain where Carol Merrill is standing). It might have gotten clean, it might have gotten dirty, or both; but it surely wouldn't have fallen into the clutches of that horrific sadist Erwin Schrödinger, the mere mention of whom, properly framed, could lift PETA's Freshman Orientation Week fund drive to goal immediately.

I saw the following headline recently: "World's Oldest Person Dies".

Not any more.

* * *

UPDATE: Since writing this piece, I Googled "Schrödinger's Dishwasher" to see if Google had indexed the article yet. What I found instead surprised me: one metaphorical variation on Schrödinger's Cat is indeed called Schrödinger's Dishwasher! Imagine dirty dishes inside a dishwasher; then, imagine an atomic switch for the dishwasher whereby the electrical circuit is closed, and the appliance starts, when the atom decays. Are the dishes inside clean or dirty? Or both? It's an equivalent dilemma to the classic metaphor involving an atomic-triggered gun, except that no animals were harmed. Hooray animals!

          It would be such a pity
          If we bumped off the kitty!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How It's Made: Blog Entries

[V.O.] Today on How It's Made: Blog Entries.

[Sx: Light techno-pop music]

[V.O.] A "Blog" is a formatted presentation of digitally encoded, creative content, produced and published on the Internet by one or more authors or editors. It's often, but not always, organized in reverse chronological order around a single, coherent theme. "Blog entries" are the short, mildly amusing essays, anecdotes, and other elements of content that make up a blog.

To start with, the Worker turns on his personal computer and waits for it to boot up. This may take 10 to 15 minutes, so the Worker places a nearly full mug of tap water into the microwave for a serving of instant coffee. He closes the door of the microwave and sets the timer, using the touchpad on the face of the appliance, to 99 seconds and presses the Start Button. This saves one keystroke, compared to entering 1 minute and 39 seconds.

While the water is heating, the Worker notices and then ignores the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. This skill is essential for the successful blogger.

Instant coffee crystals are shaken from their container into the container's lid, for later transfer to the hot water. Using the container's lid instead of a spoon results in one less utensil for the Worker to clean. He knows the correct amount of coffee to use based on his many years of writing blog entries. A shake of cinnamon, a pour of sugar, and a blip of whole milk add to the aromatic and flavor qualities of the beverage.

Returning to his computer, the Worker carefully places the mug of hot coffee on the folded paper towel on the desk. He's careful to avoid bumping the mug with his left wrist, forearm, and elbow for the remainder of the production cycle.

By now, the computer is almost ready.

[Commercial Break: End of Part I]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seal Rock

The humorist Dave Barry once wrote, "Yuppies have a very low birth rate, because apparently they have to go to Aspen to mate."

Clearly, Mr. Barry has never attempted to drive through the North Side of Chicago on a Wednesday night with a destination and an arrival time in mind. Yuppies, hipsters, and various bicyclists and jaywalkers, thick as a pod of seals on Seal Rock, crowd the sidewalks, their closely-spaced numbers both the result and proximal cause of privilege and procreation. The opportunity to reduce the surplus population is there for the motorist's taking, whether the heel at the wheel is a sociopathic Illini or a mild-mannered Wisconsinite in town for, say, a Dresden Dolls reunion tour concert at the Vic Theatre.

At least my Beloved Lady Seal and I knew better than to assume a trouble-free route to our destination. Ten years prior, our bucket list baseball pilgrimage to Wrigley Field had resulted in an apparently predictable two hours of futile wrangling with Addison Road gridlock, not to mention a supplementary idiot tax of $20 exacted by alley youngsters perpetrating a well-practiced, time-tested faux-parking ruse. We arrived to take our place on the Rock in the fourth inning.

Once inside Wrigley, our fellow fans crammed themselves into the tiny grandstand seats, more interested in animal partying and mating rituals than the batting averages of the alpha seals on the field, blocking our view of the ballgame annoyingly and repeatedly as they shuffled past us multiple times to make their way to the sea for more fish. The confines of Wrigley Field may be friendly, but when the perpetuation of the species is at stake, marine life on the Rock doesn't have time to spectate.

Ah, nostalgia. We were but pups then.

Seal Rocks are fascinating and diverse. A Rock can be seasonal, as with Aspen during ski season or Milwaukee Summerfest in, er, the summer. It can be a singular, temporal event, as with Woodstock or the Jon Stewart rally, or recurring, as with the quadrennial co-mingling of the athletes at the Olympic Village. A colony can evidence prosperity and generative energy -- the quickly constructed suburban schools, townhouses, and mega-malls ringing Washington, D.C. come to mind -- or high-density deprivation and a lack of alternatives, as with urban ghettos or tent villages. Recognizable-by-type residential and commercial districts, each with their own characteristics, surround military bases, factories, colleges and universities, and anyplace else that colonization and the raising of baby seals occurs.

Seals sometimes also go clubbing, a nifty role-reversal. On the aforementioned Wednesday evening in Chicago, we managed to wend our way through traffic and avoid running over the locals with the Silver Zloty at seal crossings, arriving at the Vic Theatre in the fourth inning -- i.e., near the end of the opening act. We found our way inside. The uniformly skinny, black-clad and/or costumed members of species H. Dresdendollus teemed on the lower level, performing intricate mating rituals, exchanging, if not genetic material, at least cellphone numbers, email addresses, and pirated MP3 files. Sharing fish with each other, as it were. Meanwhile, the older, heftier, balding and bespectacled members of the colony -- hey, that's me! -- headed for the higher altitudes of the balcony.

Having experienced a Seal Rock first-hand, I'm inclined to agree with the line from Jurassic Park: "Life will find a way." The entire colony danced its happy-mammal dance in the panorama before us, rocking and writhing to the percussive tones. It's hard to tell if the collective joy in the theater that evening was born of enthralled appreciation for the musical performance or warm affection for the musicians. Both, I'd say. But it was also a purely instinctual response: now and then, if you're a seal, it feels great to find yourself on Seal Rock.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Go Green!

What if the cost of packaging were subtracted from GDP instead of added to it?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Might As Well Be on Scrolls

I don't want to answer the "48 Things About Me" quiz that the Brick Duck passed along to me on Facebook this week. Instead, I'll offer a list of largely unread library books that I have in a stack at home, awaiting my attention:

Aimee Baldridge, "Organize Your Digital Life: How to Store Your Photographs, Music, Videos, and Personal Documents in a Digital World"

Stewart Brand, "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto"

Linda Greenlaw, "Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea"

Susan Hasley, "Intelligence" (novel)

Chuck Klosterman, "Eating the Dinosaur" (essays)

David Maraniss, "Into the Story: A Writer's Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports, and Loss"

Daniel H. Pink, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us"

I'll probably finish most of "Seaworthy" and skim through "Eating the Dinosaur", and that's about it before they all have to go back. Discipline, Drive, and Intelligence are all fine aspirations, but do they really trump playing "Monopoly" on Organizing my digital life is important but not urgent, and as such will just have to wait.

When did I stop reading entire books, anyway?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fear the Deer; Don't Fear the Tier

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and columnist Don Walker today asked, "Is Contraction on the Table in the NBA?"

I tend to think it is, in order for the league to gain leverage on two fronts. First, of course, is the ever present push-pull of labor negotiations with the NBA Players Association. The threat of fewer jobs will either loosen up the players' demands or result in a strike or lockout. The NHL Players Association found out about the latter the hard way a few years ago.

Second, the specter of contraction rattles the cities and communities that constitute the smaller, less profitable NBA markets, such as Milwaukee. To put it bluntly, the Greater Milwaukee area isn't as "Greater" as it used to be, economically. There's no question that some so-called small-market NBA teams, such as the Bucks, are disadvantaged by lower television revenues than their peer franchises. Some also have arenas that -- from a revenue standpoint -- are economically inferior to major facilities in the league's top cities. If the Bucks are to remain competitive here, then local business leaders and politicians will have to pony up for a new arena, or else for a major refurbishment to the Bradley Center that would be tantamount in cost to a new arena. This public expenditure seems unlikely in the current economy, particularly with U.S. Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, the Bucks' owner, increasingly less likely to influence the team's direction within a few years.

So the situation for the NBA, in a nutshell, is this: how can the league avoid abandoning its middle-city franchises, like Milwaukee, while not absolutely requiring new arena construction from markets that cannot afford it?

There's a potential solution that I haven't heard anyone discuss. Personally, I would have no problem with a two-tier NBA in which more playoff slots are reserved for teams from the upper tier. Put the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, and Heat, and their peers, in the upper tier; keep Cleveland, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and other middle-city franchises in the league by creating a second, lower tier. That's basically what it's come to now anyway. Shift teams between the upper and lower tiers based on their prior year's performance, like the European soccer leagues. Or just define teams as upper or lower tier, more or less permanently, and negotiate different salary caps with the NBA Players Association that fit the economics of each respective tier. The peer-level competition within the respective tiers will keep the fans happy, and the lower cost and payroll stability will keep the owners -- and importantly, their risk-averse bankers -- happy.

For some reason, we're allergic to consideration of a tiered approach to professional sports in the U.S. Major league franchises are uneven in quality as a result, and the minor leagues, while beloved by local fans, are very minor by comparison. I like a Toledo Mud Hens game as much as Max Klinger does, but unless I go to a game when driving through that city, I hear nothing about it. But the sad truth is, some of the major league teams in all major sports have become, from the standpoint of national recognition, all but minor league franchises as well -- the Bucks in the NBA, the Pirates in MLB (I'm trying very hard not to mention the Brewers here), Detroit in the NFL, and so forth. Occasionally they overachieve, thanks to a star draft pick like the Bucks' guard Brandon Jennings or stalwart center Andrew Bogut, but in the long run, such teams have little recurring chance against the Lakers, Yankees, and Cowboys. Still, the mid-cities' citizens and local leaders want their teams to remain "major league", not just in fact but as a point of civic pride. "We're big kids, too!"

A two-tier structure would provide a measure of franchise sustainability and allow civic face-saving to occur in the smaller markets, an outcome far preferable to the loss of a team altogether. The NBA second tier that I'm proposing would not be a mere replica of the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association; the Bucks would still play the Cavs, and it would still be an NBA game with NBA players. They'd even play the Lakers once in a while, and the Bulls more often as a regional rivalry. We just wouldn't see Kobe or LeBron in person as often at the Bradley Center -- and by the way, the tickets might be priced at $30 or $35 instead of $75.

If you can live with that, Bucks fans, then so can I. It might even open the door for NBA expansion, not contraction. Pittsburgh Pipers, anyone?

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Ooooh, Sticks!"

Some people like to take casual strolls in Milwaukee's lovely parks and along its waterways. Others go for a jog near Bradford Beach at the Lake Michigan shoreline. Civic-minded volunteers pick up trash and litter in public areas, working together toward the laudable goal of urban beautification.

My Beloved Spousal Unit and I pick up sticks.

Not just any sticks; dead sticks. Burnable sticks. Burnable-in-the-fireplace sticks. Burnable-so-that-even-a-former-Boy-Scout-who-never-made-Second-Class-can-start-a-fire-with-two-matches sticks.

Last winter was our first season as domestic fireplace operators. Our large firewood supply held out fine, but we ran out of sticks. They sell firewood by the face cord; who sells sticks? So, we fetch sticks.

The other day I voted in the Primaries. On my half-mile walk to the polling place, I saw an eight-foot fallen branch, an inch-and-a-half or so in diameter, the late mother-limb of several baby limbs of useful dimension, sitting at the side of the road; an obvious casualty of the prior evening's thunderstorms. A veritable treasure-trove of sticks -- for free! -- merely three blocks up from our place.

The calculations began: If I pass it by, walk the three remaining blocks to vote, and walk back, will the branch still be there? Should I haul the branch home first, and then restart my trek -- a gambit which might tempt this proud but lazy citizen to say the hell with voting? Or do I claim the branch, drag it to the polling station, leave it outside with the slogan-sign mules and pamphleteers -- they'll surely know better than to mess with a branch-wielding loony, won't they? -- and then drag it all the way back home? This is how the branch-addict thinks.

I'm not sure who was more thrilled: I, when I saw that my branch was still waiting for me on the way back, or my Beloved Spousal Unit, when she saw that I'd actually performed a useful act of hunting and gathering.

          When a poor man came in sight,
          Gath'ring winter fue-ue-el!

I asked a timber-owning friend, The Tin Woodsman of Upstate N.Y., whether my wonderful branch and its many sublime sub-limbs would air-dry in time to use in our fireplace this season. Taking pity, he provided remedial education: "Some species such as oak take more time to dry because of their grain (xylem cell) structure, beech is fairly fast drying, and maple is sort-of average." He further advised me, in a kind voice -- or would have, had he not been responding via email -- that my splendid prize, which I'd spent a highly inefficient 45 minutes dismembering and cutting to length with a dull pruning saw, "may not amount to much volume."

Hmmph, I thought. The Tin Woodsman may know his xylem and phloem, but I say he knows nada about sticks.

Today, the autumn wind is howling. Returning from errands, my Beloved Spousal Unit and I stepped out of the Silver Zloty in front of our home. Instantly, our eyes fell upon a cornucopia of future kindling on the street and sidewalk. "Ooooh, sticks!" said the two highly-educated professionals, in unison. We can hardly wait for the first ice storm of the season.

The General Election is a month-and-a-half away. In six weeks, I'll walk six blocks to vote for the candidate who promises us the most sticks.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

To Say Nothing of Wade Boggs

Once again, the Idiot Spirit has visited us. The following were my seriously sorry entries in last night's trending meme on Twitter, #MLBnovels (MLB = Major League Baseball):

1. A Confederacy of Bunnings
2. The Guns of Ausmus
3. Lonesome Glove
4. 84, Charing Cross Rhodes
5. I, Lopat
6. The House of the Seven Gaedels
7. D'wight Stuff
8. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of Wade Boggs)
9. Midnight in the Garden of Gooden Evil
10. How Stella Got Hargrove Back

Granted, the source material behind 2 and 7 was nonfiction rather than fiction, but when the Idiot Spirit speaks, we do not ask questions.

Hundreds of others had, of course, already plumbed the depths of the obvious, as in The Island of Justin Morneau. The rest of us had to dig a little deeper -- go down the Dusty Rhodes not taken, as it were.

This gives me the opportunity to recommend a terrific web site for baseball fans, especially those who can't quite recall the name of the St. Louis Cardinals' shortstop they saw when their Dad took them to a Brooklyn Dodgers game in 1937. I've lost entire afternoons careening around, and endorse it wholeheartedly for anyone who loves the game more than they remember it.

(By the way, the Cardinals' shortstop for that 1937 game was either Leo Durocher or Frenchy Bordagaray. Answer found in four clicks.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cabaret, Revisited

My disclaimer in an earlier post about not being a professional theater critic turns out to have been well-founded. I've just read Tom Strini's colorful, comprehensive review of The Milwaukee Rep's season-opening production of Cabaret in Third Coast Digest. It seems that if you immerse yourself in the performing arts for nearly 30 years, you get pretty good at writing about it. My hat's off to the true Schreibenmeister!

I now want to go back and see the show again, if only to look for and absorb all the wonderful movement, musical, and staging elements that Tom Strini identified and I'd failed to see beneath the surface. I'm also curious to see if I'll be able to discern any further sculpting and shaping of the production by The Rep's Director Mark Clements since the Preview Night performance that I saw. No doubt, Strini could tell me where to look -- and Clements could tell me where to go!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Empress Gladys

Is there anything wrong with America that more Pips couldn't fix?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cabaret dell'Arte

(Disclaimer: I am not a professional theater critic, nor do I have any business trying to be one.)

Another production of Cabaret, I thought -- until I heard that the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's own Lee E. Ernst would star as the Master of Ceremonies (and Preview tickets were cheap!). Ernst's dynamic portrayal of the frenetic, improvisational masked clown and show-stopping centerpiece Harlequin in The Rep's 1998 production of Servant of Two Masters, an 18th-century classic in the Commedia dell'arte tradition, had been one of the most distinctive, physically expressive, exhausting stage performances that I'd ever seen. Now the Emcee role; perfect casting. "I am your host!"

Twelve years on, Lee Ernst is nearly as spry as before, and his unmasked facial expressions are priceless. As the events inside and outside the Kit Kat Klub progress from light entertainment to ominous foreboding, building ultimately to tragedy and terror of historic proportions, Ernst centers the show. With the exception of the stage-whispered song "I Don't Care Much", which I guess is meant to be haunting but seemed underwhelming, Ernst's musical numbers were spot-on, faithful recreations of the original versions with touches of his own manic style.

That a long-time Milwaukee Rep favorite actor should be the one to animate the 2010-11 season opener is ironic, as The Rep's new Artistic Director Mark Clements cast dozens of outsiders and interns as part of a purported fresh blood/new energy movement for the company. Some fit their roles well, most notably supporting players Linda Stephens as Fräulein Schneider and Angela Ianonne as Fräulein Kost. Those recalling the movie version, expecting scintillating lead performances from the actors playing the Liza Minnelli-Michael York couple, will be disappointed, however -- not in Kelley Faulkner's powerful, pitch-perfect singing of the title song as Sally Bowles, but in her rigid affect, a seeming disqualification for playing a headlining showgirl. I got the sense that she hadn't quite warmed to the role yet. I also thought Ianonne, a more expressive actor, might have made a more credible Sally Bowles. Geoffrey Hemingway, as the closeted American naif who becomes enamored with Sally, is also either miscast or misdirected, coming across as a refugee from the cast of Our Town whom one can never quite believe is a promising writer.

Director Clements is more successful in the overall stage direction, including his collaboration with Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink as Choreographer. It's evident that exceptional effort went into the dance and musical direction of the show, particularly the show's classic opening number, "Willkommen!" I had a sense that Clements wanted to make both a statement and a memorable splash with his first production number of the season -- not to mention his nascent tenure as Artistic Director. While this production seems "safe" -- PG-13, if you will, and not at all edgy by today's standards (what were those odd costumes Lee Ernst was wearing?) -- Clements is quite unsubtle in presenting the signs of impending doom in the Nazi era. With a spotlight narrowly focusing on a significant, symbolic crystal bowl, and the ensemble's coalescing into a folk chorus singing the nationalistic anthem "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" -- not to mention the openly, unabashedly displayed swastika armbands on the sleeves of partisans -- the show leaves little doubt about the horrific trajectory that awaits German Jews and Germany itself in the 1930s.

One side note: I very much appreciate the preliminary talk given by Milwaukee Rep cast member Jonathan Gills Daly, who appears in the show moments later as the middle-aged, Jewish-German fruit merchant, Herr Schultz, tragically smitten with Fräulein Schneider. His description of the events and mindset of ordinary Germans in 1928, based as they were on German national ambitions and humiliations of the prior seventy years, covers familiar ground but is, perhaps, useful for younger audience members who may not yet have been introduced to the lessons of history -- and stands as a stark warning for those among us who may have forgotten them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm a Lucky Spousal Unit

My Beloved Spousal Unit has written a wonderful blog post, a warm appreciation of baseball and the small treasures that even a late-season game between two non-contenders can hold in store for the observant fan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"X-U" Too, Buddy!

Word came last night that K.Q., creator of alternative worlds and a college radio friend, has suffered a small stroke. His demeanor remains feisty and humorous; he later posted on Facebook, "I'll still beat you in Scrabble if you don't make me use my left hand."

Have I been called out?

With K.Q. in mind, this seems an excellent time to disclose my burgeoning Scrabble habit -- possibly an addiction by now. (Yes, I know I'm supposed to use the ® symbol after each instance of the word Scrabble. Let's pretend I did.)

I have two principal enablers: my Beloved Spousal Unit, who challenges me routinely and defeats me regularly in our epic series of spirited analog contests ("You're going down, Tile-Boy!"), and, a multi-user gaming site that is the licensed host, promoter, and operator of the "official" online version of Scrabble.

(If you think I'm shilling here, please be advised that I am not an obsolete English coin, nor do I own a bloody sock. Ahem.)

The two Scrabble experiences are different. Keeping our rivalry casual and friendly -- the usual trash-talking at kickoff time notwithstanding -- Beloved Spousal Unit and I rely upon Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed. as our handy reference. Utterances such as "A-H", "E-R" and "U-M" are old friends, and I've inherited a familiarity with the wonders of "J-O" and "Q-I" from my Scrabble-playing parents. These are all fair game according to Merriam-Webster.

Subsequently, however, my overconfidence in thinking I'd become a bona fide Scrabble person led me online to, where the game site's Scrabble-playing 'bot -- and the carbon-based life-forms that frequent the community, I might add -- immediately confronted me with nuggets of rare ore such as "A-A", "O-D", and "X-U". A thorough knowledge of two- and three-letter words is essential for a full and healthy life, granted, but "X-U"? What the bleep?

Turns out, a xu (n.) is a Vietnamese coin. Not just any Vietnamese coin, but a formerly minted Vietnamese coin, as obsolete nowadays as the English shilling (or the word "nowadays"). The plural of xu is xu, too. All of which is completely irrelevant, of course; the only thing that matters is that "X-U" somehow snuck into the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, 4th Ed., the standard reference used for online Scrabble. To the automated 'bot, "X-U" is as good as "C-E-N-T"; just another allowable permutation of the 26 letters of the alphabet, hence, just as likely to appear depending on the game situation. It's a great way to use two inconvenient letters in the same turn while increasing your vocabulary, thereby impressing and angering your friends.

With an arsenal full of "A-R", "P-E", and "U-T", as well as the aforementioned "X-U", I now feel vaguely qualified to respond in kind to Recovering Carbon-Based Unit K.Q.'s all-comers challenge: "You're going down, Tile-Boy!"

(Please don't hurt me.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mr. Flash and Mr. Quiet

For weeks, we heard about The Chase. Any day now, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was going to hit his 600th career home run in the major leagues, a huge milestone even in the steroids era. Fans anticipated; radio shows discussed, exulted, decried; ESPN broke in to its regular programming for live coverage of each of A-Rod's potentially historic at-bats. (Or is that "ats-bat"? "RsBI"?) Flashbulbs popped with each swing. A-Rod grounded out to second, or got a single. We waited.

And waited. And waited some more.

Finally, on a Wednesday night, it happened; the ball left the yard, A-Rod circled the bases, and the heavens sang. Finally, The Chase was over, and baseball fans everywhere, their supplies of food, water, and attention span nearly exhausted, were released from captivity. Never mind that if human beings had been born with four fingers on each hand, Rodriguez would have passed the 600 homers mark 216 home runs ago (Base-8 math joke, ha ha); or that the performance-enhancing drug usage that he has kinda, sorta admitted to might have goosed his career totals by, oh, I don't know, say, 216 home runs or so; 600 is still a pantaloon-load of round-trippers.

Oh, and then, four days later, Derek Jeter quietly passed Babe Ruth on the all-time career hits list. The moment passed quickly; I only knew it had happened because a note of congratulations appeared on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, and the ESPN announcers took a break from congratulating each other on their own careers to mention it on the game telecast. Jeter modestly held his batting helmet aloft to acknowledge the crowd's applause, and then the game continued.

Um...hel-llllo! Did you hear me? Is this on [tap-tap]? I said, an actual human being, biochemically unenhanced (as far as we know), passed Babe Ruth in a major offensive category! You remember Ruth, right? Big guy? Liked hot dogs? Visited kids in hospitals? Dominated his era? Built a stadium? Most famous dude in the world, in his time? And yet, there wasn't much hype or fanfare for Jeter's accomplishment, nor a lot of drama, nor network break-ins ("breaks-in"?); just another memorable day in the outstanding professional career of the Quiet Captain of the New York Yankees. And maybe, just maybe, Jeter's dignified, Dimaggio-like celebration, just four days after A-Rod's cathartic, swaggering stagger across the finish line, was also calculated to serve as a understated, nearly undetectable dig at his limelight-seeking, headline-grabbing teammate and rival.

That's how it's always been in the Big Apple: Mr. Flash and Mr. Quiet. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson. Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Dave DeBusschere. Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson. Carol Alt and Ron Greschner. (Just seeing if you were awake.) "Broadway Joe" Namath and...everyone else on the Jets. And now, A-Rod and Jeter. One draws the flashbulbs; the other just produces, and leads by example. Both are needed for championships. Both annoy the bejesus out of each other. The daily drama doesn't seem to have cost them any rings, though, and the internal competition may have even spurred them to greater heights. Piecing together a Lincoln-esque "Team of Rivals" ("Teams of Rival"?) is, after all, the Steinbrenner Way. Sports in New York.

This time, Jeter got the last laugh. So, Alex, when are you getting to 700?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Best Shel Silverstein Impression

          Blur My Eyes
          Off to work, and to and fro
          Thinking of the world I know
          Blur my eyes, what do I see?
          Monkeys on computers, three!
          Steve works in an office tower
          Trades for profit, hour by hour
          Tracks the markets on his screens
          Makes no difference what it means
          Makes a killing, takes a loss
          Gets an earful from his boss
          Dreams of what his money buys
          Caffeine junky, bleary eyes
          Doesn’t look like too much fun –
          Monkey on computer, one!
          Joan sends email to her boys
          They don’t answer, she makes noise
          Plans their childhood, day by day
          Keeps the demon Sloth away
          Blocks them from the unapproved
          Monitors their every move
          Now they’re gone and she has fits
          Waiting for their bytes and bits
          Not a lot that she can do --
          Monkey on computer, two!
          Mike’s a blogger, has his say
          Vents his rage most every day
          Posts a comment, writes a screed
          That precious few will ever read
          Thinks the opposition’s bad
          Finds a reason to get mad
          Word by word, his time is spent
          Chasing fifty-one percent
          Blur my eyes, what do I see?
          Monkey on computer, three!
          We’re all primates, goodness knows
          All tethered up in even rows
          All trying not to get the boot
          All dressed up in our monkey suit
          But real monkeys play in trees
          And hang out with the birds and bees
          Smelling flowers, munching berries
          Raising babies, small and hairy
          Scrounging for enough to eat
          Napping in the midday heat
          Swinging from a bamboo pole
          Splashing at the water hole
          While we’re all sitting, desk and chair
          Forgetting there’s a world out there
          Blur my eyes, what do I see?
          Monkeys -- luckier than me!
          © 2010 Bob Wait

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Covert Horse

My latest guilty-pleasure TV show is Covert Affairs, on USA Network. It's like the defunct, geek-appeal series Numbers, without the math. Only this time, the clueless brother is in the field while the smarter brother is behind the scenes at headquarters. Only they're not brothers at all; rather, the field agent is a sexy, newly trained gal-agent recruit who can drive like Mario Andretti, throw an elbow like Gordie Howe, and hold a bewildered but meaningful facial expression for an extra beat whenever she processes new information like Judge Amy on Judging Amy; and the smart guy is a blind techie ops guy who gets her out of two types of trouble every three minutes, between commercials. And they're all in the CIA, not the FBI. Except that Charlie, the smarter brother in Numbers, was never actually in the FBI; he was a math professor who consulted for the FBI. And his colleague was an astronaut. And his father was Judd Hirsch, who used to be the guy in Taxi and Ordinary People; only this time the mentor is not Judd Hirsch but an ice-blond covert ops lady boss who is married to her boss, a politically connected CIA Deputy Director who is leaking information to a pretty reporter, whom the blind guy is sleeping with, while he deputy-directs a thorough shakedown of his division to stem the leak; which is why the blind guy can never answer the phone when Judge Amy needs him.

Perhaps I should have started by comparing the series to Bonanza.

Anyway, the horse comes through the wall in Covert Affairs at least twice per action sequence, which, while putting it on a par with Leverage, the statistical leader in the Implausible Moments category, is of little consequence in the realm of guilty-pleasure viewing. Piper Perabo is no Gina Bellman or Leslie Ann Warren; then again, Gina merely bowls you over with her classic beauty and Pan-European accent, assumes stock-character identities, and arranges helicopter pick-ups, whereas Piper as Annie Walker has to keep the very identity of her employer secret from her Georgetown Hausfrau sister, Amber from House, with whom she lives, only Amber isn't Amber in this series and hasn't appeared as anyone's spooky ambulatory hallucination as if she were one of John Nash's imaginary friends helping him develop the mathematics of Game Theory -- which Charlie, the smarter brother, calls upon weekly to illustrate a plot point in Numbers -- in A Beautiful Mind. At least, she hasn't yet.

Will she? Will the Deputy Director blame the leak on the blind guy, kick him to the curb, and start fooling around with the reporter himself? Will Annie Walker find love while successfully ingratiating herself with her Ice Queen boss -- who also appears in Leverage as Nate Ford's ex-wife who bailed Nate out of trouble while Gina Bellman was off having her baby, despite her lack of covert ops training and not being blind? Will Amber from House turn out to be a fellow CIA agent whose own ambulatory hallucinations involve Judd Hirsch? Most crucially, is Leslie Ann Warren -- who also played Juanita in Baja Oklahoma and Cinderella in Cinderella (A Very, Very Special Television Event), and whose star-turn in Mission Impossible set the bar for future spy-gals very, very high -- still smokin' hot?

The answers to these questions, and many more, are only a DVR box away.

Friday, July 2, 2010

AT&T U-verse: One Year Review

When we were shopping for cable and high-speed internet service upon our return to Milwaukee in mid-2009, we compared AT&T U-verse and Time Warner Cable. Our choosing U-verse was based on user experiences that we'd read online, as well as the two companies' respective offerings and a price/value comparison. Perhaps others will find the following summary of our U-verse experience for our first year helpful in making their decisions.

The installation is a somewhat time-consuming process that required custom cabling in the basement to enable our fairly simple configuration, but we haven't had many problems since; thankfully, we needed only one callback early on, and replacing the set-top box fixed it (hard drive problem). Every so often, we've had to reboot the set-top box due to a glitch, and while that's an automated process, it's also an iffy process that on occasion doesn't completely finish. That hasn't been necessary in a long time, however, and has worked better when it has. Our upstairs neighbors (we live in a 2-family duplex), in contrast, were about ready to rip the wires out of the wall. Multiple, frustrating technician callbacks and escalations were required for them to get their U-verse Internet working and keep it working, they said. Based on their reported experience as well as ours, my sense is that tech reliability is just a bit more problematical than the equivalent cable service.

Once U-verse is working, though, it's pretty fine. We love the high-def, especially for sports, travel, and science/nature shows. We love the DVR's multiple-channels-at-once capability, including the ability to program it remotely over the Web. The channel assortment is good (our U200 tier gets Fox Soccer Channel starting today!). We do have to pay an extra $10/month for the high-def channels that, by now, should be standard. As with cable, you're blacked out for regional sports channels other than your local teams (Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Minnesota Wild for us -- why oh why not Chicago Blackhawks, only 90 miles away???). Forget the music channels; they're basically worthless unless you want to burn your television screen with a channel title slide that doesn't move like a screensaver. The remote control clicker is laid out well, but its physical buttons are squishy and uncertain, causing multiple instances of "oh damn!" utterances and rekeying.

As for high-speed Internet, we have the mid-level service (nominally 6.0 Mbps, I think). Sometimes, and I don't know if this is AT&T's doing or a hinky wireless connection trying to penetrate from front to back in our old-construction building, my Dell laptop connectivity will slow to a crawl, nominally 1.0 Mbps but essentially shutting down, often when the machine's been idle for a while but sometimes during the running of online applications. I then turn off the laptop's wireless, turn it back on, and do the "repair" sequence. Usually that works. Once in a while I have to reboot the modem that's incorporated into the AT&T Gateway by unplugging and replugging the unit, a nuisance if someone else is watching television or using the Internet at the time. Lately it seems this has been happening more frequently, and I kind of correlate it with that court ruling that said carriers have the right to perform network management functions at their discretion; so I sometimes suspect I'm being throttled even though I'm not a high-volume user. No similar issue occurs when I'm using my directly-connected desktop computer, though, and my Beloved Spousal Unit's newer Dell laptop doesn't have the same wireless issue as often as mine, so maybe it's simply an underpowered radio in my little Dell machine.

We've had no problems with the AT&T phone line. Voice mail is a bit convoluted to use, although it's nice to retrieve voice messages online. Just recently, AT&T activated the extra-cool feature that shows the Caller's ID on the TV screen if we're watching television.

Billing and administration has been accurate, but the billing website's interface seems kind of klunky.

Overall, we're satisfied, though the monthly bill for the three services (about $163 including taxes) does take our breath away. If we would give up the house phone line, we could save $30, but we're old-school that way.

Time to turn on Ghana and Uruguay in World Cup Soccer. Television gets a bad rap for its commercialism and shallowness, but it certainly broadens your scope.

UPDATE (August 15, 2012): The AT&T U-verse service has continued to perform well for us.  A $15/month upgrade to the higher U300 tier of channels and a later downgrade back to our current U200 tier were both executed flawlessly, as was a $5/month downgrade from unlimited landline telephone service to a base plan.  The channels included in each tier have evolved over time; for example, if we want the new MLB Network, being baseball fans, we will have to upgrade once again to the U300 tier.

Late last week, we experienced a set-top box failure.  The picture froze suddenly, so we rebooted the box.  This began to happen repeatedly, including sometimes when we were checking the on-screen program guide.  The frequency of the picture freezes increased until they began to happen almost hourly.  Then we started to hear a tell-tale churning and grinding of the hard drive when they happened.  AT&T handled our phone call to tech support flawlessly, agreeing to send us a replacement box via UPS Standard Overnight delivery service; it arrived the day after our call.  The self-install instructions were simple, and the U-verse TV service was switched back on that evening, as promised.  (High-Speed Internet and Telephone service were not interrupted in any part of this process.)  We now have to send back the damaged set-top box from a UPS store, prepaid by AT&T, within ten days; no problem.  Assuming the company receives and credits our equipment return promptly and properly, I would give the company full marks for the service transaction.

While the exchange of boxes meant that our previously recorded programs on the DVR disappeared, our future schedule of programs and series to be recorded survived the exchange.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"He Lived"

The key to this party game is for everyone present to say this two-word tagline earnestly and meaningfully, in his or her best Winston Churchill-on-the-radio-swallowing-the-greasy-roast voice.

Participants of a certain age may find it helpful to summon up the image of the late actor John Houseman, the condescending, faux-fusty Professor Kingsfield from Paper Chase and the stern investor in the old E.F. Hutton television commercials ("They make money the old-fashioned way; they earn it!").

The most outrageous, obscure, or pathetic tale wins, à la The Aristocrats and that "The Most Interesting Man in the World" ad campaign. Shall we give it a go?

"He may have bilked millions of widows and children out of their few meager pennies in order to provide the necessary capital to expand his chain of South American rodent burger franchise restaurants, but...he lived."

"She may have sacrificed her dream of becoming a urological physician's assistant to marry a diseased toad who had bought her two stale beers at a reunion of matchbook trade school graduates, falsely promising her that he was, in fact, the third cousin of a Moluccan prince, but...she lived."

"He may have retired from his promising career as a Triple-A pitcher in the Dodgers organization to produce a new reality show pilot featuring a team of UC-Irvine snail biologists in their attempt to breed a new species variant of sea slugs that, they hypothesize, will better attract bottom-feeding fish unaffected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but...he lived."

Extra points are awarded for true stories about the person on your left.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oops...My Bad

No sooner do I rag on the Pittsburgh Pirates for their epic blowout losses this season than our beloved Milwaukee Brewers, their chief tormentor, splice together an impressively outrageous string of early-inning, middle-inning, and late-inning defeats.

Following an "Oh-for-Homestand" homestand, the Brewskis, seemingly eager to distance themselves from their tenderly loving, patient, and concerned patrons at Miller Park, sought their fortunes on the Carefree, Open Road. I'm pretty sure that was manager Ken Macha I saw driving the team bus to the airport at light speed.

Getting away almost worked. Long the bugaboo of Brewers' fortunes, the team's starting pitching has actually seen Fortuna reversed this week, eking out two good starts in a row in Cincinnati. The team's young demi-ace, Yovani Gallardo, provided a gutty, one-run outing over six innings on Monday. Then today, Tuesday, Manny Parra notched an unusually above-average start, and minor league call-up Marco Escobar had a terrific Brewers' debut in middle relief.

All of these efforts were, of course, wasted. What's the opposite of clutch heroics? Clutch goat-ics? Todd Coffey gave up the seventh inning grand slam in relief of Gallardo on Monday; and today, Future Hall of Fame Closer Trevor Hoffman took the hill in the ninth with a 4-2 lead.

It's getting harder and harder to keep to my spirited defense of Hoffman, who, once again this season, blew the save opportunity. Five men up, nobody out, bingo-bango-bongo, that's all she wrote. That's five blown saves this year for Hoffman, most -- like today's -- involving the long ball. I still wouldn't boo him, based on what he's meant to the game, but I'm pretty sure his personal Open Road, having headed south for the past six weeks, is about to head west, into the sunset.

That's how it's gone for the Bluer-than-Blue Crew all season. The starting pitching is largely an underperforming disaster. The exhausted relief corps has converted near-wins into losses with astonishing predictability. The bats are made of titanium in one game and sawdust the next. With former starter Jeff Suppan making $12.5 million, Trevor Hoffman at $8.0 million, Bill Hall -- Bill Hall! -- still collecting $7.2 million of Bernie Brewer's money while hitting .218 for Boston, and Prince Fielder gearing up for a Scott Boras-sized payday in 2012, Brewers GM Doug Melvin might be wishing he'd been on the bus out of town, too. Macha, a convenient target of scorn, might be wise to strap on a parachute on the flight to Pittsburgh.

The Pirates are now ahead of the Brewers in the standings. It could be all my fault for posting that earlier blog entry; I've awakened the Baseball Gods and earned their scorn and retribution. As New York Mammoths' star pitcher Henry "Author" Wiggen says at the end of Bang the Drum Slowly, "From here on in, I rag nobody."

Until tomorrow's game, at least.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Merit Badges

Remember earning merit badges in the Boy Scouts?

I don't. I never got past Tenderfoot, the equivalent rank in Scouting to "maggot" in the Marines. Something about not being able to start a campfire with two wet matches. But I did earn a nifty Bowman patch at the archery range at Camp Boyhaven one summer, and one winter at the Deep Freeze Jamboree (they use words like "Jamboree" in the Scouts), my Deer Patrol teammates earned us another patch, exhausting themselves pulling me on a sled around a timed obstacle course and successfully cheating at the signals checkpoint. Way to go, guys!

Professional certifications are the merit badges of the corporate workplace. I recently took the ITIL V3 Foundation exam following a six-month contract that lasted two months. If the Deer Patrol were to decode "ITIL V3" on the signal range, with or without deploying a runner from the send station to the receive station -- I'm not saying that's what happened -- we would report that it's a stilted, U.K.-originated IT management jargon used by IT departments at budget-justification time to promise that they will, for a small investment this year, say a 10% cost increase, disentangle and standardize (er, standardise) their various functions and processes so that costs can be reduced the year after next; by which time, it is hoped, this year's budget cycle will be largely forgotten. When I passed the ITIL V3 exam at one of those ubiquitous computerized testing centers, the certifying organization, EXEL, sent me a certificate and a pin. A pin! For me! I put it on my sash, right next to my other merit...oh, wait. Never mind.

Merit badges come in all shapes and sizes. I'm reminded of this whenever they trot out a flag rank military leader to go before Congress or the cameras at budget-justification time, his or her dress uniform festooned with about a hundred colorful insignia, each representing some courageous or meritorious accomplishment. Once in a while, the press catches some ex-military political appointee sporting a merit badge that he didn't earn, and then all hell breaks loose. We former Scouts who have passed the ITIL V3 exam recognize the public procedure that follows: in ITIL V3 terms, it's referred to as the "Service Operations: Gang-Wedgie" process.

Modern life is full of merit badges that you can earn: high school diplomas, sports trophies, driver's licenses, college degrees, letters of recognition, paychecks and promotions, perp walks. I think there should be additional awards for the intangible accomplishments in life. When you figure out a new commuting route across town that avoids the construction in rush hour, you should get a merit badge in transportation. When you get your kids to eat their vegetables, both you and they should get a merit badge on the spot. When you 'fess up to transgressions from your youth -- I'm not saying that's what happened -- you should get a badge, too.

In this spirit of generosity, I am pleased to announce that I hereby award myself the Fire Starter merit badge. On several occasions this past winter, at long last, I successfully built a wood fire from scratch, using only two matches. It turns out, the trick is to build it indoors.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Too Much of Nutting: Pirates Lose, 20-0

Having lived in Pittsburgh three times in my life, including one particularly great day in the crib listening to the radio when Bill Mazeroski hit his World Series-winning home run (so I'm informed by a reliable source), I remain a fascinated outside observer of the city's major sports franchises.

I stayed up last night to see the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins' well-fought, triple-overtime defeat at the hands of the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs. Nearly losing the team to bankruptcy and relocation several times in the team's history, Pittsburgh fans have thoroughly enjoyed the Penguins' 21st Century renaissance.

I'm ruefully following the sordid train-wreck of an off-field life of Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with his motorcycle crash, barhopping misconduct, alleged assaults and improprieties, and now, a multiple-game league suspension. But frankly, I'm more interested in the long-term trajectory of the team's fortunes. Big Ben's shoestring tackle following a turnover saved one Super Bowl opportunity for Pittsburgh, and his perfectly placed touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes won another. Never mind that Roethlisberger is a risk-taking lunatic and Holmes is now history; the "Stillers" will always be intriguing.

Then, there's yesterday.

The Pittsburgh Pirates -- home to Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, and Manny Sanguillen; winner of National League pennants and World Series championships as recently as 1979 -- have now had a losing record in 21 consecutive seasons.

Yesterday, they capped off more than two decades of sub-.500 futility with a historically awful, 20-0 drubbing at the hands of the formerly awful, recently capable Milwaukee Brewers.

The Pirates players are reportedly angry and embarrassed. The front office, manager, and coaching staff are surely embarrassed. Ultimately, however, it's all about the ownership and its commitment, or lack thereof, to providing the financial resources for on-the-field success.

For the Penguins, former NHL superstar Mario Lemieux assumed a leadership role and parlayed an ownership share borne of unpaid back salary, a willingness to partner with moneyed interests, his dogged persistence through health problems and arena issues, and his status as franchise and league icon into a consistently successful, entertaining Stanley Cup winner. Around the NFL, the Rooney family is a highly regarded class act, and its stewardship of the Steelers has brought championships and cause for celebration to Pittsburgh.

In contrast, the Pirates' ownership group, led by the Nutting family, fields a persistently losing team with the lowest player payroll in Major League Baseball while remaining profitable due to large revenue-sharing sums from wealthy teams. That's a stick in the eye to the dwindling core of traditionalist fans that, along with casual scenery-seekers, constitutes the Pirates' fan base. Losing is no disgrace, but not even trying -- in this case, an indictment of the team's cynical, miserly ownership rather than its struggling, overmatched players -- is a travesty.

Supposedly, ownership and the front office have a 5-year plan to invest in minor league talent that will blossom into major league competence. That's a formula that worked recently for the Brewers, as Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Tony Gwynn, Jr., Ryan Braun and J.J. Hardy progressed through the ranks to the major league level. Time will tell whether the Nuttings and their front men in the front office will offer a hot prospect a groundbreaking, millionaire-making contract as the Brewers did with Weeks, but the signs are not promising; at least one recent top prospect, catcher Matt Wieters, was bypassed in the 2007 amateur draft by the Pirates as too expensive to sign. He's now the starting catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. And the beat goes on.

It makes me wonder whether Bud Selig's overriding powers as MLB Commissioner, which reputedly can be invoked at will for the good of the game, can be invoked to effect a much-needed change in the ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Baseball in Pittsburgh has lost its way, but the solution is simple. It's time for Commissioner Selig and his fellow owners to kick the Nuttings out of the crib. The irony is that if they do, it will be the Pirates that can grow up.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Every person that you've ever known who is not, at this moment, either in outer space, flying, soaring, jumping, skipping, leaping, vaulting, performing a handspring, diving, falling, or dead is, at this moment, somewhere on the Earth.

Happy Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Cheshire Cat, With Wings

Andrew Weiland of BizTimes Milwaukee posted an article today about the post-merger rebranding of Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines as Frontier Airlines: "Only the Cookie Remains".

Midwest had some great amenities in its heyday as Midwest Express: 2x2 leather seating, enough legroom for actual human persons, and real meals featuring real food on real tablecloths. With direct flights that avoided an O'Hare connection, Midwest truly was, as the slogans went, "Milwaukee's Hometown Airline" offering "The Best Care in the Air."

It was a wonderful experience. Passengers were happy cats. Clearly, it couldn't last.

One by one, the amenities disappeared as airline price competition and a moribund travel economy, post-9/11, brought cost-cutting imperatives and forced Midwest to consider consolidation. The company's Board of Directors rebuffed a takeover bid from AirTran Airways, only to sell soon thereafter to Republic Airways, which had also bought Denver-based Frontier Airlines.

Everyone seems relieved that Midwest's fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies, customarily handed out to passengers during the descent, will continue to be part of the customer experience as the fleet is repainted in Frontier's colors. Really? Was it only about the cookies, all along?

The smile may remain, but this cat's disappeared. Like Grizabella, only time will tell if she has another life left in her.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hell's Bells: Trevor Hoffman Wins One

What do you do when your legendary bullpen ace falters? If you're the Milwaukee Brewers, you win the game anyway. If you're a Brewers fan, it's not so clear.

Sunday night's Brewers-Cardinals game at Miller Park was hugely entertaining for Milwaukee baseball enthusiasts, including my Beloved Spousal Unit and I, perched in the upper deck. Baseball's full range of action was on display: impressive power hitting, alert baserunning, an incredible, diving catch in the outfield, and both expert stops and game-changing errors in the infield.

By the time the overtaxed stadium speakers struck up "Hell's Bells" at peak volume as the Brewers' closer, future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, trotted in from the bullpen, the hometown faithful were in a partying mood.

Only, not so fast. Giving up back-to-back homers to Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday -- what other pair of the game's best sluggers would be more likely to come through in the clutch? -- Hoffman closed out merely the half-inning, not the game. He left with a a 7-7 tie, a blown save, and a deflated crowd.

There were boos as he walked off, more than a few. For Trevor Hoffman. The Trevor Hoffman. With 594 career saves, the most in the history of the game. The veteran presence on the pitching staff. The player whose theme song alone whips the crowd into a frenzy.

But also, the Trevor Hoffman who had signed a new contract for a healthy raise early in the off-season, struggled all spring training, and has yet to find his "A"-game this April. Now, two of the game's best hitters take him deep in the ninth. Never mind that the Brewers' Casey McGehee made Hoffman the game's winning pitcher with a walk-off homer moments later. The question remains: is this the beginning of the end for one of the game's superstars?

Could be. But, fellow Milwaukeeans, knock it off with the booing. We're talking about Trevor Hoffman here. Not only is he crucial to our chances, but we're lucky to have the opportunity to watch him at his craft, even in his late career. This is why we bring Rembrandts to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Milwaukee Public Museum, Eric Clapton to Summerfest, the Bratwurst to the Sausage Race.

We're trying to encourage the Brew Crew to win a ballgame, and we're disappointed when the team falls short some nights. But please, a little appreciation and respect for the great career and continuing efforts of a consummate professional. Enough with the booing. All things considered, I'd rather not be in Philadelphia.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

You Too Can Be a Golf Announcer

With the Masters underway, My Two Innings presents Ten Essential Phrases that will help even you achieve your lifelong dream of making a living by talking adoringly about people who walk around lawns for a living while other people carry their equipment for a living:

1. "He's got the courage of a champion."
2. "Not his best effort on that one."
3. "Now, Tiger Woods."
4. "Slight break from left to right."
5. "You can tell he's been working on the range."
6. "They all look good when they go in."
7. "He's got that look in his eye."
8. "It's amazing when you think of all the great champions who have walked across that bridge."
9. "That's in the fescue."
10. "Here's Tiger."

Using only these phrases in a carefully modulated stage whisper, and with the help of a long-suffering on-course reporter who knows the game better than you ever will, you too can earn that network blazer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Books in 10 Words or LessxxxxFewer

Herewith, My Two Innings presents brief descriptions of well-known books. Based on the recent Twitter meme, #booksin10wordsorless; elevated in status from mere tweets to a full blog entry.

The grammar cops are correct to insist that we amend the title to "10 words or fewer" from "10 words or less". (I'm holding fast to my revolutionary placement of quotation marks, however).

To business:

1. Ethan Frome: The sled, Ethan, the sled. The sudden deceleration. That's life.

2. Gorky Park: Soviet Union has police detective, too. Like yours but better.

3. Jurassic Park: Prehistoric tse-tse's, manufactured beasties, bovine feasties -- hold onto your keisties!

4. Moneyball: Billy Bean boasts best budget ballplayers.

5. Winnie the Pooh: English child's vivid imagination manifests as blissfully stupid animal friends.

The author reserves the right to add to this list, and will do so whenever the Idiot Spirit moves him.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Three Card Wenceslas; or, Tegwar Revisited

Ten years ago at a family reunion, my sister and I started to play a game that we called Three Card Wenceslas. We'd never played it before, but we both picked it up fairly quickly and, before long, became totally absorbed in a spirited contest.

Three Card Wenceslas has no rules. We made it up as we went along.

She would play a pair. I would meld. She would draw from the deck. I would raise. She would knock. I would discard. And so forth. Complete and utter improvisation. Complete and utter nonsense. Even the name of the game was phony. But we played confidently (and loudly!).

Our mom's cousin wandered over. By that time, my sister and I had progressed to Three Card Blind Wenceslas, played with eyes closed. I think I was holding a card to my forehead. The improvisation continued, with plenty of trash-talking between us.

Our cousin took this in for a while. Finally he asked, "How do you know when someone wins?"

"We just did," I said. Ba-da-boom!

A bit of a lowlife prank to pull on a relative, granted, but at least we didn't scam anyone for money (I rationalize). However, it turns out the cosmic joke of the situation has been on me all along, and I've only just realized it.

You see, I've just finished rereading Bang the Drum Slowly, the touching, tragicomic 1950's baseball and mortality novel by Mark Harris. It was the first time since my early teen years, when I was a budding baseball geek, that I'd read the book. Also, by chance, the 1973 movie version starring Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro was shown the other night on Turner Classic Movies.

Both are terrific, the book moreso than the movie, but that's not important now. What is important is that the fictional ballplayers played a fictional card game to scam unsuspecting bystanders in hotel lobbies out of their fictional spare cash. The ballplayers' card game was called "Tegwar", and it had no rules. The play of the game was eerily familiar, right down to the trash-talking!

Buried like an intelligence mole in the Early 1970's quadrant of my baseball-addled subconscious, "Tegwar" had been lying in Wait (so to speak) for decades. It reemerged ten years ago as "Three Card Wenceslas" -- the T-W letter combination is too improbable to be purely coincidental, don't you think? When I came across the Tegwar bit in Bang the Drum Slowly recently, the realization of what I'd likely done sent chills up my spine. Cue the Twilight Zone tones!

We'll see our cousin again this summer. Hopefully he'll get a good laugh at my expense when I tell him the "Tegwar" story. It still might work out for me in the end, though; I'm pretty sure I can sell my remaining inventory of "Three Card Wenceslas" rulebooks on eBay.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For Evelyn Evelyn, Life is a Cabaret

Cabaret rocker Amanda Palmer and accordianist Jason Webley have teamed up to produce a forthcoming album of oddball songs by "Evelyn Evelyn", a musical act featuring conjoined twin sisters and former circus performers Eva and Lynn Neville who were "discovered" by Palmer and Webley. The twins don't appear much in public, so it is said, but their songs, featuring musings from many angles on the nature of duality in the universe, would be suitable for the old Dr. Demento radio show.

Perhaps predictably, the twins -- more accurately, their producers -- have their detractors. In particular, Disabled Feminists airs a thoughtful protest that, paraphrasing, Evelyn Evelyn is part of a tired, stereotype-laden treatment of Persons With Disabilities (PWD) by the Abled, as it treats them as freakish, and is therefore objectionable on the face of it. Less admirably, Disabled Feminists goes on to warn prospective commenters against posting any counterarguments on its site that would be "derailing" its apparently unimpeachable criticism of the project.

So, I'll do it here. I would respond: Palmer's and Webley's art lies squarely within the cabaret tradition and is entirely appropriate in that context.

Cabaret as a genre provides a safe space for exploring touchy, edgy, even taboo subjects by treating them humorously, satirically, or entertainingly, for the sake of illuminating the humanity at their core. Like gossip, cabaret art is, at least in part, a communal conversation to discuss essential truths and morals, including where the boundaries are.

Consider the satirical show-within-a-show at the Kit-Kat Klub in the movie Cabaret. The stage show and its songs depict poverty, hunger, greed, promiscuity, bisexuality, antiSemitism, Naziism, etc. We gasp when the "bride" is revealed to be an ape, and then Jewish. Is that depiction in the 1970's movie unacceptable on the face of it, due to its vile antiSemitism -- i.e. should the piece never have been written, performed, and filmed at all -- or does it serve an illuminating purpose by laying bare the antiSemitism of 1930's Germany (and elsewhere, and elsewhen) through satirical mockery?

Consider the subjects of Amanda Palmer's songs "Mandy Goes to Med School", "Missed Me", and "Oasis", to name just a few. "Oasis" alone treats alcohol abuse, date rape, teen pregnancy, abortion, manipulation, betrayal, and denial (all in under two minutes). Those are hardly the only examples of difficult subjects in her repertoire. When in "Guitar Hero" the narrator says "Tie them up and feed them the sand -- ha! Nigga!", is her use of the n-word variant vile and unacceptable on the face of it -- i.e. should the song have never been written and performed -- or does it serve a greater satirical purpose by illuminating the vulgar slang used, by videogamers and soldiers alike, to dehumanize one's virtual and real enemies?

The critics are welcome to say, they don't like this or that or that something is bad or wrong. That's part of the conversation. And granted, the original conception of Evelyn Evelyn seemed more screwball than purposeful or satirical, though the more recently published Evelyn Evelyn background story can be seen as a kind of a text-based cabaret number. My point is, if you're the kind of person who sees Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" as a political statement against animal rights, you're unlikely to find much of value in Palmer's and Webley's songs -- or indeed, in the entire cabaret tradition.

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's Our Bloggerversary!

Dear Friends (and the occasional "Next Blog" clicker),

One year ago today, I posted a timid entry regarding the number of days remaining until the start of baseball spring training. Thus began a rapid disgorging, ceremonious and unceremonious, of every wee little intellectual twitch I had that I thought might look good in ASCII characters. I had two rules: I had to express a unique take or personal angle on each topic chosen; and...I forget the second rule. Whatever. Oh, right, that was the second rule: Whatever. My internalized Assignment Editor would be checked at the door, or preferably into the boards.

I only violated the spirit of these rules a few times, as with a rather generic recent review of the new Sherlock Holmes movie. That's the neat thing about having a blog, though: I can flout my own rules at will. In the immortal words of General Al Haig: I'm in charge here, yo ho ho!

Since My Two Innings was initiated, I and my Beloved Spousal Unit (take a bow, dear) have rescued ourselves from the brink of Denver employment and happily scurried back into the warm embrace of Milwaukee's economic malaise. This represented the closing leg of an epic, four-year tour of America's most benighted, yet reportedly above-average cities -- all of which seemed to involve driving large trucks through Nebraska to get there.

Meanwhile, through the secular magic of Blogger, I've indulged in numerous obscure references, ignored highly sensible educational requirements that one should meet before engaging in art criticism, and decried the downfall of third-rate sports teams that were never really as good as second-rate to begin with. Baseball, Hockey, Movies, and Music have all been featured prominently in these scribblings, naturally, but who knew at the outset that Bowling Alley Demolition, Equestrian Feats, and Male Hereditary Characteristics would also become tagged entries? Free Verse, even -- twice. Talk about indulgence.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression. It's not been all Pulitzer Prizes and mid-six-figures book contracts. Distractions from a more dedicated commitment to the blog and to writing generally have included a foray into the lamentable, lazy man's world of Twitter; a randomly occurring, sudden spate of gainfulness carrying with it the strangely alluring appeal of a paycheck; and the predictable development that it took only two months in the beginning to use up all of my passably tolerable stories.

Even so, I've managed to prove once and for all, in this media-slogged millenium, that an amateur blogger's two best friends are an ergonomic keyboard and a low readership count.

So here we are again, only seven weeks until pitchers and catchers report. At the rate things are going, that's either three blog posts, two soul-crushing Pittsburgh Pirates salary dumps, or one exceptionally long drive through Nebraska. My money's on the Nuttings, as they haven't disappointed me yet. Good luck on your picks, and Happy New Year to you and yours!


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