Saturday, February 28, 2009

Baseball Stadiums I Have Visited, Part 4

As you may recall from my last post on this topic, we were in the middle of a road trip undertaken by my friend Jeff and I to visit a bunch of midwestern ballparks back in the 1980s. After checking out the two Chicago teams (or maybe it was in between; my memory is sketchy on that point), we headed north to Milwaukee to see the Brewers.

8. County Stadium (Milwaukee Brewers)

What I remember most about County Stadium is that it was an incredibly relaxed atmosphere, and the fans were really into the game, but not in the rabid sense that's often associated with places like Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium (though I have to say, that was never my experience in the latter). We saw a good game on a beautiful day, and though the stadium itself was kind of old, and not very elaborate, it was totally comfortable and conveyed a sense of history and tradition (maybe this was partly because I knew the Braves played there prior to moving to Atlanta). Also, I had the best food I've ever had at a sporting event at County Stadium, their famous bratwursts in red sauce. I think I must have had about three, and the memory of those brats would draw me back to Country Stadium at least twice more in later years, once with my dad and another time with my then future brother-in-law Tom. On the occasion I went with Dad, we were in Chicago for the big annual plastics show, and we drove up for a day game. Dad liked the brats, too. I remember afterward driving back just ahead of a torrential rainstorm and listening to traffic reports of how intersections we had passed moments before were now flooded and impassable. The next time, Tom and I drove up from Oregon, Illinois (where my sister was working) for what we thought was an evening game. When we arrived, the parking lot was virtually empty, and one of the stragglers let us know we'd missed a pretty good day game. What hurt the most was realizing we would not be dining on brats in red sauce that day.

9. Tiger Stadium (Detroit Tigers)

The last stop on our itinerary involved a couple of games at old Tiger Stadium. The Tigers were Jeff's team, so he was really excited about visiting their park. I remember before the game driving around and just by chance spotting the original home of Motown Records, with a big sign out front "Hitsville, USA." For the first game, we had seats in the first row of the left field bleachers, with a sidewalk separating us from the fence. In a big back and forth game, Lance Parrish (I believe-- Jeff if you're reading, please confirm) hit a home run that just cleared the left field fence right in fornt of us, bounced once on teh concrete sidewalk, and, as virtually all of us fans in the vicinity lunged for the ball, landed squarely in the mitt of the youngster sitting right beside Jeff. Needless to say, he was quite excited (though we later figured his dad probably snatched the ball and set it in his glove, but that's not so good a story). The next night we were sitting in the right field bleachers, and all I recall is that we had an obstructed view behind a pillar which severely interfered with my enjoyment of the game. This was one of the real old-time parks (hence the obstruction), with a lot of character, and though it was kind of past its prime, it had a lot of funky features, like the way the right field bleachers actually extended out over the field. I also remember be fascinated by the press box sitting atop the roof along behind home plate because, frankly, it looked like it was likely to crack through its flooring at any moment. I'd get back to Tiger Stadium one more time with Jeff before they replaced it with their new field, and often when I'm back east over the summer Jeff and I at least talk about making another visit to see if the new place is as cool as the old one.

Our Daily Philosophical Quote

Can you believe that this sentiment was expressed by the Scythian philosopher Anacharsis more than 2600 years ago? Well, according to Plutarch, it was.

"Written laws are like spiders' webs, and will like them
only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the
rich and powerful easily break through them."

A Sad Passing

The fate of newspapers in this country, and possibly the practice of real journalism itself, seems in a precarious state these days, even more so after the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver yesterday. There are almost certainly other big city dailies about to crash, and efforts to remain viable have meant severe cutbacks in things like arts coverage, independent bureaus, editorial cartoons and columnists, etc. over the past few years. Certainly there will remain places where one can get the news, but the newer forms of delivering such content will never match either the intellectual breadth nor the tactile sensation of opening up a good print newspaper.

For a more expansive and elegiac treatment of this topic, let me recommend this piece by Hal Crowther, to my mind one of the most astute essayists offering cultural commentary in the country today. He comes at this topic as a former journalist (I first read him as a TV critic way back in the early '70s for the Buffalo News), and clearly grasps what is at stake.

Last Week's Top Five List

You'll recall that last Sunday was Oscar night, so I wanted to have a little fun in the Top Five list with a movie topic. You'll definitely enjoy this more if you are a Seinfeld fan; but even if not, maybe it'll elicit a little chuckle (always our aim):

Friday, February 27, 2009

Historical/Philosophical Comment (Inspired by Poetry)

Last Thursday I went to a poetry reading at the University of Montana Western (where I teach), to hear the work of one of my colleagues, Roger Dunsmore and also the Poet Laureate of Montana, Greg Pape. It was a pleasant affair, with a nice turnout of colleagues and students and community members. In introducing one of his poems, Greg Pape talked of how so much of our lives are shaped by memories, but that there is often at best a blurry line between those memories and our imagination. It was an interesting comment, and one that speaks directly to the creative process related to poetry (and much of the rest of the arts too, I suppose). But in thinking about it as I walked home, it occurred to me that this tricky relationship also plays a part in shaping historical understanding, in ways that can be both positive and negative.

I'd like to think it goes without saying that the study of history is driven primarily by a desire to learn from the past. Most of the questions we have about the past have their origins in current situations and issues. For example much of the current discussion of the ongoing economic crisis leads naturally to consideration of the last similar catastrophe, the Great Depression of the 1930s; by the same token, a lot of the debate over events in Iraq over the past few years was framed by tacit or explicit references to the Vietnam conflict. This is natural, to make those kinds of connections, especially for those who have direct memories of the earlier period and recognize similarities. But of course, not all the participants in the debate do, and that creates the opportunity for imagination (or, just as profoundly, lack of imagination) to play a role in shaping how we put the past to work in the present.

As a professional historian, I know that in examining the past I'm subject to all kinds of limitations related to the availability or accessibility of records, and also my own tendencies to engage those sources from a unique, and in all likelihood somewhat biased, perspective. If I'm intellectually honest about it, I acknowledge the possible flaws in interpretations drawn from my less-than-comprehensive sources, and how my own experiences shape my reading of them. I suspect though that for many not steeped in the discipline that there may be a tendency to avoid such qualification, and promote an interpretation that serves their vested interest without coming clean about what those interests are. I'm certainly not suggesting that this needs to stop-- it's inevitable. But it does mean that as consumers of information and opinion we recognize the potential impact of imagination to color-- intentionally or not-- the way we view the past, and employ at least some modest skepticism as we follow the coverage or public debates. In poetry, that kind of mental collaboration should be prized, but in history, well, it's a more complicated proposition.

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Okay, it's been awhile since Tom was featured, but here he is again. The question is, where was the photo taken (be as specific as possible). The only clue I can provide is that it is also apparently from 1999, and in fact the only way that I could tell where it was taken was by the other pictures in the same batch. But maybe some of you have sharper eyes and can find additional clues in the photo. As always, put your guesses in the comments section and the winner (if there is one) will be announced next week.

Finally, last week I managed to stump you all (about the whereabouts of the hat worn by Marenka). I think I'll keep that one open for a while longer to see if anyone wants to take another shot.

More Friday Family Blogging

The artist at work. You can kind of tell where I'm at in digitizing my old pictures. I'm sure Lil Sis remembers when this was (must've been a short time after the two previous pictures I posted), and a little while before their new garage ceased being empty enough to use as a studio (though, since most of her work is done on a more modest scale, the upstairs extra bedroom would prove to be sufficient).

Friday Family Blogging 2

Four lovely ladies from 1999 (this time I'm sure since I clearly forgot to turn off the date stamp in the camera). Not the formal quiz (because the date should be a dead giveaway), but does anyone know the event where this was taken?

Friday Family Blogging

I believe this is from Thanksgiving time in 1999, but then I've been wrong on guessing dates before (maybe Catie can say for sure). Gee, Maria doesn't look all that different today, does she? Just kidding. I suspect she's long outgrown sitting in box lids.

Friday Philosophy

There's always a debate over whether the media should be more respectful of elected officials, and it's easy to identify cases where they go too far in the other direction. But generally speaking, I think Charles Evans Hughes (1862-1948), former Supreme Court Justice, had the right idea:

"Where there is muck to be raked, it must be raked,
and the public must know of it, that it may mete out
justice.... Publicity is a great purifier because it sets
in action the forces public opinion, and in this country
public opinion controls the course of the nation."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jammin' The Blues (1944)

I'm an inveterate rock and roll fan, but there is nothing as preternaturally cool as classic jazz iconography, certainly nothing you're ever likely to see on MTV and its ilk. For a great example of what I mean, check out this opening sequence from the short film "Jammin' the Blues." That's Lester Young sporting the pork-pie and sax in the opening shot. And remember, this was made 65 years ago.

A Favorite Painting 11

Reginald Marsh, Twenty Cent Movie 1936

Marsh was a contemporary of Edward Hopper's, and at least superficially seemed drawn to similar subjects (namely, the modern urban landscape). But unlike Hopper, Marsh clearly emphasized the vitality, the vibrancy of his scenes, and populated them with the teeming masses (whereas Hopper could always identify the loneliest person in a crowd, or a secluded part of the city to focus on). This particular painting (which I saw at the Whitney Museum of Art) appeals to me for several reasons. One, as a movie fan I really like the depiction of a Depression era movie theater with the great posters hinting at all kinds of provocative wonders on the screen. I also like the jaunty demeanor of the guy in the tilted derby out front-- he seems completely in control of the situation, which is remarkable given that he's black amongst an otherwise all-white cast of characters. It speaks to a kind of self-confidence that was only possible in a place like New York at that time, and offers something of an antidote to the more common stories of oppression and segregation associated with that era. It also speaks to the persistence of the nation's ability to find some solace in the midst of hard times, if only for the evening out at a show. I tend to see paintings as artifacts of the time in which they were created, and though there are a lot of fine artists from that period, Marsh is the one whose work seems most emblematic of that decade to me.

A Thought for Thursday

Today, we have a quote from Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899-1977), a noted American educational philosopher and one-time president of the University of Chicago.

"The principal enemy of freedom is illusion... the illusion
of the importance of the size or quantity... the illusion
of our technical superiority. There is the illusion that
we don't dare to think. And there is the illusion which
is related to all these illusions-- the illusion of progress."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bonus Wednesday Family Blogging

I can't really think of anything to write about today (no time to continue the Baseball Stadium series), so I thought I'd bide my time with a picture of Natalie. If anyone can guess the connection between this picture to some other regular element of the blog, I'd be really impressed ;-)

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

Not mine of course... but rather from Immanuel Kant writing about 18th century Germany, but in terms that are still applicable today:

"Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything
must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the
authority of legislation, are by many regraded as grounds
for exemption from the examination of this tribunal.
But, if they are exempted, they become the subjects of
just suspicion, and cannot lay claim to sincere respect,
which reason accords only to that which has stood the
test of a free and public examination."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

One of the Greatest Movie Theme Songs Ever

Back in 1983, when I first saw Bill Forsyth's masterpiece Local Hero, I was totally knocked out by the music that swelled up over the closing credits (actually, I was knocked out by almost everything in the movie-- if you haven't seen it, check it out). I ended up buying the soundtrack, which I never do, just for that song. Anyway, here's a live version of the theme performed by its composer, Mark Knopfler.

Tuesday Philosophy

Josiah Warren (1798-1874) was an American anarchist, in the good sense. Here's a quote from his book Equitable Commerce from 1855.

"To require conformity in the appreciation of sentiments
or the interpretation of language, or uniformity of
thought, feeling, or action, is a fundamental error
in human legislation-- a madness which would be
only equaled by requiring all to possess the same
countenance, the same voice, or the same nature."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Baseball Stadiums I Have Visited, Part 3

Continuing my series on MLB ballparks I have visited...

Back in the mid 1980s, my friend Jeff and I took a road trip to Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit for the express purpose of catching some baseball and, only slightly less important, looking for rare records (I especially remember finding a pristine copy of Phil Ochs' Rehearsals for Retirement in a used record store in the Windy City, the one with the songs inspired by the Democratic Convention of '68). We drove all night to get to our first stop and wound up arriving long before we could check into our motel. So we found a shopping plaza with some benches and napped in the morning sun. That evening we made our first stop.

6. Comiskey Park (Chicago White Sox)

What I remember most about Comiskey was that it was really old and showed it. Rusty girders and beams dominated the area below the stands (our seats were out in right field), and that the concession food was pretty blah. I think I was also still tired from the marathon drive to Chicago and as a consequence have no memory of the game. I do recall that parking was not as difficult as I expected it to be, but that there was a little uneasiness walking back to the car, as the stadium was located in a pretty rundown neighborhood. Jeff, if you're reading this, can you fill in any other details?

7. Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

Obviously, Wrigley is one of the great palces to watch a ballgame. I can't recall now if we were there the day after watching the White Sox at Comiskey, or drove up to Milwaukee in between. But much like what I wrote about Yankee Stadium earlier, it was exciting just to walk up the ramp and see the green field and ivy covered walls spreading out before us. One feels really close to the action at Wrigley, and the fans are really into the game. And back then, the Cubs were still palying all their home games during the day (I think the lights went in a year or two later). Again, I'm sketchy on what transpired in the game (don't even recall who the Cubs played) but I remember just relishing the experience, and keeping track of things on the big old-fashioned scoreboard in center field.

Next time, I'll describe the other two parks we visited on that trip.

A Couple Post-Oscar Comments

Well two of my favorites won, the two actor awards to Penn and Ledger. I think the general tendency in post-Oscar comments is to be a bit snarky about clothes worn by the stars or the length of the program, but frankly I don't care about any of those things. Personally, I just wish they would do away with the big production numbers, and provide longer clips of the films. The Oscars are the only awards show I watch, more out of habit than because I expect anything interesting or exciting to occur. I think the only big surprise to me last night was that Manny Farber, the widely respected (but I suspect largely unread) critic was included in the memorial reel of those who passed in the last year. One point I've seen raised elsewhere is that they might use more presenters from the ranks of past greats (like, for example, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Peter O'Toole, Julie Christie, Warren Beatty, etc.). It seems like all the presenters are from the past twenty-five years or so, and they're missing out on some great tradition (though it was nice to see Shirley MacLaine & Sophia Loren last night).

Monday Morning Philosophizing

Today's selection comes from the Spanish-born Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the Younger), noted Roman statesman and philosopher.

"To be feared is to fear: no one has been
able to strike terror into others and at
the same time enjoy peace of mind himself."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Favorite Painting 10

Edward Hopper, New York Movie 1939

In keeping with the theme for the day here at Dr. John's Journal, I offer one of my favorite Hopper paintings which I get to see at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. It is yet another of his depictions of loneliness, made all the more poignant by the proximity of a crowd presumably enjoying the show. The lone usherette (how long since anyone has seen one of those in a theater?) seems lost in reverie under the exit light, dramatically removed from the more ornate setting of the theater proper. A lot of Hopper paintings have this motif of loneliness or serene stillness; this one is somewhat unique in locating its sense of ennui in such a usually festive place. And what do the steps symbolize? Opportunity? Stardom, maybe? Or just the way to the bathrooms?

p.s.- I partly selected this image because I've been writing a lot about movies today; but it also was suggested by the post about Zippy the Pinhead from earlier in the week. Check it out if you missed it.

Today's Philosophical Quote

I'm kind of in movie mode, given that I saw a couple yesterday, and am looking forward to the Oscars tonight. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good quote about film specifically, but I think that this notion from British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead applies to all the various forms that art may take including the flickers.

"Art heightens the sense of humanity.
It gives an elation to feeling which is supernatural.
A million sunsets will not spur on men towards
civilization. It requires
Art to evoke into
consciousness the finite perfections which lie
ready for human achievement"

What I'd Like to See at the Oscars

I don't have any idea what motion pictures and performers will be honored tonight, but, now that I've caught up with the last couple of contenders in major categories (see the last two posts), I thought I'd share what I hope the winners will be.

Best Picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
There seems to be a real split of critical opinion on this picture, but it's definitely the movie I most enjoyed this past year, on both an emotional and intellectual level.

Best Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I can't think of any way that the best film wouldn't, almost automatically, imply the best direction. By the way, in both of these first two categories, I wouldn't be surprised or offended if Slumdog Millionaire directed by Danny Boyle took the prize, as it was awfully good too.

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
looking back, I don't see how this movie would exist (or be so highly praised) without a dynamic performance at its center, and Penn definitely delivers. Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler is in virtually every scene of that movie and is equally strong, but I think that Penn's performance represented more of a challenge and represented the incredible versatility he has displayed throughout his career.

Best Actress: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
I haven't actually seen this film, but of those I have seen (I also missed Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Wedding) there were no great stand-outs (though I liked Meryl Streep in Doubt). Melissa Leo was always so good in the old TV show Homicide, that I'm pulling for her to win here.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Much as I said about Penn, this film is inconceivable without this performance (or anyway, it would have been considerably less entertaining, or even watchable).

Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
When Tomei won this category years ago for My Cousin Vinny, a lot of people thought it was a joke, merely because she had demonstrated how to do comedy. But she's always been good in a wide variety of roles, and this would be nice validation of her true talents. I might be inclined to see Viola Davis as also deserving, if her role amounted to more than a single scene in Doubt (though it is truly a dynamite scene).

Cinematography: Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Easily the best-looking film I saw all year (even critics who didn't like the picture seemed to acknowledge that).

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Obviously, I really like this movie.

Writing (Original Screenplay): Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
I haven't seen this yet, but I really want to (if it ever comes to Montana-- sometimes good movies don't), but Leigh has been so uniformly good for such a long time, that I want to see him rewarded. I wouldn't mind too much if Martin MacDonagh won for In Bruges either, as that was one of the most entertaining films I saw all year.

Those are the biggies. If you read this before the ceremony, give us your picks in the comments; if after, feel free to second-guess my picks. Enjoy the show!

The Last Movie I Saw

The Reader, directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross (the latter two play the same character at different points in his life), was, to me, a well-done but ulitmately disappointing movie. As the poster above suggests, it turns on the idea of keeping secrets, and the unintended consequences of doing so. It's an interesting idea, and the story, as it unfolds, is never less than compelling. But at the same time, the narrative creates what seemed to me a kind of phony duality, or mirroring, between the two protagonists (Winslet and Kross/Fiennes) that suggests some kind of moral equivalency for acts that are considerably different in scale and impact. To achieve this equivalence, the story necessarily reduces the two secrets down, to view their primary effect on the individuals whose story we are told, and in so doing generates a degree of sympathy that is, if not wholly misplaced, than certainly slanted by the attractiveness of the leads in portraying these particular characters.

Since this film has garnered a number of Academy Awards nominations, you probably already know that its story turns on the Winslet character's involvement in the death camps of the Holocaust. That character's ultimate culpibility in what happened there is open to question, and key evidence that could partly exonerate her becomes a shared secret for reasons that I found a bit murky. The effect of maintaining that secret is devastating in different ways to the parties involved, and as suggested above, although these consequences are apparently meant to mirror one another, it's difficult to see how those lasting penalties are, or even should be, equal.

I know that some have criticized the film for making a death camp guard essentially a sympathetic figure, and I see their point. But I can't think of any reason provided in the story to feel sympathy for that character except in that she's played by a star of Kate Winslet's magnitude. Her behavior throughout often betrays a selfishness and even meanness that could be read as the results of her own harrowing moral compromises; but in fact we are given little reason to belief that it is anything but her nature. And if that is the case, the guilt felt by the Kross/Fiennes character-- the only victim that we actually see being victimized by that selfishness and meanness-- at her fate is understandable but hardly sympathetic.

Unlike the more modest The Wrestler, which I wrote about in my previous post, The Reader seems like a self-important movie, tackling big issues, but in a manner that balances the moral scales unfairly. Despite its obvious positive qualities in terms of production values and acting, it left me felling that it's reach wasn't quite sufficient to its grasp.

The Second Last Movie I Saw

In Dashiell Hammett's famous detective novel The Maltese Falcon, the main character, Sam Spade tells a story about a case he once worked on involving a man named Flitcraft. It is, among other things, essentially a parable about how we are who we are, pretty much no matter what.

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is a similar kind of story, about a character who, like the proverbial leopard, cannot change his spots. It's a fairly rich character study, and as the story proceeds, each element lends itself inexorably to the ultimate tragedy of the straitjacket identity the main protagonist has constructed for himself. At the same time, it becomes clear that such a a conclusion can only come from the outside looking in, because it is also apparent that this manufactured identity is the source of whatever pride and joy the protagonist extracts from his mostly down-and-out life. Mickey Rourke has rightly been recognized for giving a stunning performance as the central character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a slightly over-the-hill professional wrestler. Even his name-- or pseudonym-- speaks to that idea of a manufactured identity. The character's real name is Robin Radinsky; "The Ram" is almost literally Robin's son, and it's clear that he has lavished more attention on that alter-ego than on his actual daughter, from whom he is estranged. I don't mean to imply that The Ram is an unlikeable figure, just the opposite. What makes the story so compelling is that he is at heart a decent guy, who early on attached himself so completely to an illusion (after all, everyone knows professional wrestling is fake), that his ability to function in-- as prospective girlfriend Cassidy (Marisa Tomei ) puts it-- "the real world," is severely handicapped. As an observer, you want to believe he can break out of the cycle of destructive behaviors, even as it becomes more and more evident that his stake in preserving that identity is all that he has. Tomei's character offers an interesting counterpoint-- a stripper who Ram courts, who desperately wants to dispel the fantasy into which she believes Randy has inserted her, and make him recognize the line between make-believe and true adult responsibility.

Hardly a great or important movie, but a good one extremely well-done, with fine acting and direction. Each scene adds to the overall theme (like Ram buying his daughter a gawdy jacket, or the pre-match rituals, including choreographical discussions, among the wrestlers) without the audience being hammered over the head with their significance through heightened melodrama or heavy-handed music. If you remember Rourke from his breakthrough performance as Boogie in Barry Levinson's Diner (which is my primary memory of his early career), you'll be gratified to see that he hasn't lost that ability to construct a well-rounded, complicated character in the service of a solid story, though it has been a long time since most of us have seen him do it. Marisa Tomei, who in my view is almost always better than the material she's stuck with (most recently in War, Inc.) shows that she's more than equal to the good stuff too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More Friday Family Blogging

A nice photo from the archives of a portion of the Banning clan. Let me call your attention especially to the expression on Maria's face (she's in the stroller). Click on the image to enlarge for a better look.

Friday Filosophy (sic)

Some sound advice, for the upcoming weekend perhaps, from the German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song,
read a good poem, see a fine picture, and,
if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words."

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Alright, I can't seem to stump you folks at all (results of last week's quiz are below). So I'm going to be a real stinker this time. The question is, where is the hat Marenka is wearing in this photo right now (11:40 am MST, Friday, February 20, 2009). Be as precise as possible; first correct answer wins the designation of top ESP'er of the family. Leave your answers, as always, in the comments section.

In last week's formal quiz, you were asked to identify where the photo of Ben & Natalie was taken. As almost always happens, I couldn't fool the children's mother (Sally) who correctly identified the site as a house in Greenfield Village outside Detroit.

In the informal quiz, I asked you to speculate on what Dad was working on, and I think I have to declare a three-way tie between Lil Sis, Mom & Cate-- all had good guesses, and no one of them stood out from the others. Here's hoping this weeks quiz generates some additional players...

On a Roll

Some of you may know that I'm a big fan of the art and history of the comic strip, and have collected a bunch of books on the subject. As the years go by, however, I find myself less and less interested in the current crop of strips, though there are a handful of favorites that I still check out virtually every day. One of these is Bill Griffith's "Zippy the Pinhead," and I have to say, that strip over the past few weeks has been outstanding. Griffith is one of the few (maybe the only) strip artist who insists on packing his panels with great visual detail, regardless of how much it may be reduced in publication. In the past, he sometimes lapsed into long stretches where he seemed to fixate on a particular verbal or pictorial tic almost ad infinitum, but he always bounces back. Right now, he's on a particularly hot streak, with mostly stand-alone strips that are bright and funny. The jokes especially have been consistently stellar of late, and though they can be a little esoteric, if you get the references they are sure to bring a chuckle (see the above example). If you want to follow along daily, you can find "Zippy" here. Enjoy.

Friday Family Blogging

As everyone knows, it is a time-honored tradition when kids have a camera pointed at them to try and slip the "horns" over some unsuspecting sibling. Here we see Marenka demonstrating how its done. I have to say (and please don't take this personally, anybody), but Gerik's eyebrows in this picture certainly add to the intended effect .

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Philosophical Phunnies

What's the point of considering the big questions if you can't occasionally have a little fun with it. So, today we have a riposte from Ambrose Bierce (American, 1842-c1914) to one of the most famous philosophical truisms, originally posited by Rene DesCartes:

"I think that I think; therefore, I think that I am.
Cogito cogito, ergo cogito sum."

A Favorite Painting 9

Wassily Kandinsky, Yellow, Red & Blue 1925

To me, Kandinsky is the greatest of the first wave of abstract artists in the first half of the twentieth century. This painting is representative of the musical quality of his work, suggesting a kind of visual tone and rhythm defined by color and the implied movement of his lines. It also lends itself to a "read-what-you-want-into-it" approach, rewarding contemplation with an amazing array of ideas and impressions. This piece has a particular humanistic element too, with the sketched profile at left seemingly absorbing the effect of the other elements swirling around him/her. But even lacking such a specific visual cue, it's easy to envision people and life as central to the images he creates, since they portray a vibrant, vital imagination at play with the literal world. Definitely an exciting and rewarding work.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Great Amy Rigby

I believe I've played Amy Rigby more often in the eight years I've been doing my radio show than any other artist except maybe Bob Dylan, so much so that I tend to refer to her as the program's patron saint. Just an incredibly talented, and as you'll see here, funny performer who just keeps putting out one great album after another. I got to see her live a few years ago in Kent, Ohio where she performed with Marti Brown (Sally and Natalie were with me- remember?) Recently she's been touring with her husband Wreckless Eric, and I can only hope they get within a few hundred miles of Dillon, and if they do, I'm there.

Wednesday's Philosophical Nugget

Some words of wisdom from Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592), noted French philosopher and essayist:

"If falsehood, like truth, had but one face, we
would be on more equal terms. For we would
consider the contrary of what the liar said to
be certain. But the opposite of truth has a
hundred thousand faces and an infinite field."

Baseball Stadiums I Have Visited, Part 2

Working in New York City between 1982 and 1984 afforded me the opportunity to visit two more major league stadiums (well, in this instance, the term major league is very relative). Frankly, one of the reasons I took a job in New York was to have access to big league games (along with the museums and libraries; after all, I was something of a nerdy academic, even before going to graduate school).

4. Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees)

I have a clearer memory of my first visit to Yankee Stadium than almost any other baseball going experience (at least of those more than a few years past). I remember buying the tickets at an outlet in Union City, NJ (the town adjacent to where I had my apartment in Weehawken); I remember thinking through what other team I wanted to see (the Minnesota Twins, because they had a bunch of up-and-coming young talent at the time: Hrbek, Brunansky, Gaetti); I remember the subway ride up to the Bronx, and getting off to walk around the stadium; I remember coming up the passage to the diamond and being entirely stunned by the greenness of the field, the whiteness of the railing spread our above the outfield, and the rich orangey brown of the infield dirt. I had a seat directly behind home plate maybe ten or twelve rows back (I sprung for a pretty expensive ticket, though about half way through I moved to the upper deck to get a different view, and ended up liking that better-- I couldn't ge tused to looking through the netting used to protect fans close-up from foul balls). I do not remember who won, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere there, as I did everytime I went to Yankee Stadium (probably five or six more times altogether over those two years). On another occasion, I went up to see Carl Yastrzemski's last game in NYC, and that was pretty cool, given the longstanding rivalry between the Yankeees and Red Sox. I should mention that I consider myself a Yankee hater, mainly because of Steinbrenner, but I always liked going to see them play at home. It really was a special experience, and you can count me among those who think it's a travesty to tear the place down. I can't imagine the new park holding any of the magic of the House That Ruth Built.

5. Shea Stadium (New York Mets)

Shea Stadium was something altogether different, and considerably less worthwhile. I always considered myself a National League guy, but the long train ride out, uncomfortable seats with poor sightlines, crummy food, and a then-dismal Mets team (the tail end of the Kingman years, pre- Gooden and Strawberry) made it hardly worth the effort. I think I only made the trip twice when the Braves were playing (and they were actually enjoying some good times as Dale Murphy emerged as an MVP). My primary memories are so different from what I experienced at Yankee Stadium-- mostly being hot, uncomfortable and bored. In my experience, one of the two worst stadiums I ever visited. The new stadium the Mets'll be playing in this year can't help but be much better.

One post-script: I remember one incredibly hot day in 1984 when I was planning to go and catch the Yankees game. I came into Manhattan early to do a little shopping first and by noon, the heat was so unbearable, that I couldn't imagine sitting in the hot sun through the afternoon. So instead, I ducked into a movie theatre that prominently promised air-conditioning and saw Ghostbusters. I enjoyed myself immensely (not the least for being cooled off so completely), but always wondered if I made the right decision to skip the game. As it happened, I ended up moving back to Buffalo shortly thereafter and haven't been back to Yankee Stadium since.

Part 3 should be up tomorrow or the next day.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question for My Readers (Well, Some of Them)

After reading the above Baby Blues strip this morning (by Rick Kerkman and Jerry Scott) , it made me wonder, is Emma walking yet? I'm sure somebody reading this will know the answer, and be willing to share an update in the comments section.

Confucius Says...

I've been giving short shrift to the Asians with the Philosophy, so here's a golden oldie from the most influential Chinese thinker, Confucius:

"Tsze-kung asked, saying, 'Is there one word which
may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?'
The Master said, 'Is not Reciprocity such a word?
What you do not want done to yourself,
do not do to others.'"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Baseball Stadiums I Have Visited, Part 1

In a comment related to my previous post about the start of Spring Training, Lil Sis asked which major league parks I've visited in all my years as a fan. So herewith begins a series in which I identify them all, along with what (to me at least) are some pertinent comments about the respective experiences I associate with each. The list will be more or less in the order that I visited the various parks.

1. Exhibition Stadium (Toronto Blue Jays)

When the Blue jays (along with the Mariners) joined the American League in 1977, they became my de facto home team, since Toronto was only 90 miles away from Buffalo. My friends and I would go up to see the Blue Jays play two or three times a year in what was easily the worst park to watch a game I've ever experienced (at any level). Exhibition Stadium was built for football, and the sightlines were terrible unless you were seated immediately adjacent to the infield (the right field seats were the worst of a bad lot). Since we didn't have a lot of money, and the team was pretty popular, especially as they got good in the early 80s, we often got stuck out in those right field seats. I remember one home opener in particular, where the seats were crummy, the weather was terrible (Toronto in April is a pretty iffy proposition in that regard) and it seems like we (my brother Nick and my friend Jeff were with me as I recall) spent most of our time huddling around cups of hot chocolate under the stands. But we also saw a lot of great games, and some fine young players (Jesse Barfield was a particular favorite) as they came of age. Oddly, by the time the Blue Jays were really good (and winning World Series), they were playing in the modern Rogers Center, and I never found the time to go see them play there. There was something about the rinky-dinkiness of Exhibition Stadium that made it charming, and I always saw the newer stadium as kind of cold (in atmosphere, not temperature-- it has a dome) and so of little appeal. maybe this year, when I'm back east I'll think about giving it a try.

2. Three Rivers Stadium (Pittsburgh Pirates)

The second major league stadium I visited was with Nick in 1979. We drove down to Pittsburgh for a doubleheader between the Pirates and Braves. During the game, there was an announcement that the Pirates (then a very good team) had adopted the Sister Sledge song "We Are Family" as their theme song. Led by an aging but still effective Willie Stargell that team would go on to win the World Series that year. The Braves (who I was really more interested in seeing) were a bad team, but Phil Neikro did win one of the games, confounding the Pirate sluggers with his knuckleball. Another announcement during the game was that the following night was dollar night-- with general admission seats all going for a buck. We had planned to drive back to Buffalo after the doubleheader, but instead went to visit our cousins in Johnstown to see if any of them wanted to come back the next night with us. I don't believe any of them took us up on the offer, but we were back the next night sitting in the left field bleachers for another Braves loss. I remember that Dale Murphy, a highly touted Braves prospect, looked really bad over those three games (though later he'd develop into a two time MVP), but I was glad to have had the opportunity to see him in person nonetheless.

3. Atlanta Fulton County Stadium (Atlanta Braves)

My senior year in college, I got it into my head that I should pursue a career in public relations for a major league ball team (I was a communications major, and the other options weren't all that exciting). So I wrote a letter to Wayne Minshew, who handled p.r. for the Braves, and he graciously wrote back inviting me to visit if I were ever in Atlanta. So naturally, I made the arrangements to fly down as soon as I could. I met Mr. Minshew and he showed me around the team offices, giving me a rundown on what he and his staff of one did. The Braves first round draft choice that year, pitcher Ken Dayley, was also on the premises that day, though I didn't get to meet him. Mr. Minshew was very hospitable, but in the end, they just didn't have any openings. I stayed for the better part of a week, at a hotel right across the street from the stadium, and saw four games against the Reds and Mets (if I recall-- I don't have my friend Jeff's memory for those kind of details), again all Braves losses except for the one started by Phil Neikro. Those were the wilderness years for the Braves, and I haven't been back to the city in the summer since, so haven't checked out Turner Field, though it's definitely on my to-do list.

That's part 1-- the next installment should be posted tomorrow or the next day.

Classic Smothers Brothers

I tend to think its somewhat forgotten today just how great the Smothers Brothers were in their prime. They're justly remembered for the strong stand they took against the censoring of material they wanted to portray on their late sixties variety show, but before they were free speech heroes, they were incredibly funny performers (and I suspect they still are). Here's one of their classic routines from, I'm guessing, the mid 1960s.

President's Day Philosophy

I'm not sure that anyone would agree with all of the comments collected below (or even that they all constitute philosophy), but it seemed worthwhile to produce such a list for the President's Day holiday. Like all the philosophical posts, they are offered up as a prompt for further thinking, in this case about the role played by the executive in our system.

"The President is at liberty, both in law and conscience, to be as big a man as he can." Woodrow Wilson, 1908

"No man can bring out of the Presidency the reputation which carries him into it." Thomas Jefferson, 1795

"A Galileo could no more be elected President of the United States than he could be elected Pope of Rome. Both posts are reserved for men favored by God with an extraordinary genius for swathing the bitter facts of life in bandages of self-illusion." H.L. Mencken, 1949

"One cannot always be sure of the truth of what one hears if he happens to be President of the United States." William Howard Taft

"... a man in his right mind would never want to be President, if he knew what it entails. Aside from the impossible administrative burden, he has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues.... All the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway." Harry Truman, 1947

"By the time a man gets to be Presidential material he's been bought ten times over." Gore Vidal, 1974

"I had rather be right than be President." Henry Clay, 1839

"A man can be right an' president, but he can't be both at th' same time." Finley Peter Dunne ("Mr. Dooley"), 1900

"I would rather be in my grave than in the Presidency." Attributed to George Washington by John F. Kennedy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spring is Here!

Pitchers and catchers from a number of teams reported today for Spring Training, with most other clubs gathering tomorrow. It's a sure sign that nice, warm weather and relaxing days in the stands are soon to follow. Also, I received a message that my copy of the 2009 Baseball Prospectus (my personal favorite of all the various annuals that forecast what to expect in the coming season) was shipped yesterday. Definitely good reason to start looking at things in a more positive light, even if it is only a game.

Clouds Over the Hotel Lafayette

Yesterday I posted a photo of the great sunset over the Pioneer Mountains in SW Montana. Today, it's the equally striking sky over downtown Buffalo (from a couple summers ago). I think the lesson is, if you look up anywhere, you might see something pretty striking, whether mountain sunsets, or clouds framing skyscrapers (or anyway, what pass for skyscrapers in Buffalo).

Sunday's Philosophical Nugget

Today we have a quote from the writings of Guido Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was burned at the stake as a heretic, though I hope no one will hold that against him:

"It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think
with the masses or majority, merely because the majority
is the majority. Truth does not change because it is,
or is not, believed by a majority of the people."

A Favorite Painting 8

Francisco de Goya, The Executions of the Third of May 1808, 1814

This is the kind of painting that a historian is sure to appreciate, symbolizing, in its dramatic depiction of violent retribution, the period often referred to as the Revolutionary Era. The scene took place in Spain when citizens in Puerto del Sol offered some meager resistance to the forces of Napoleon then establishing occupation of the country. In the aftermath, Egyptian troops under French command were ordered to massacre any locals they could find, participation in the resistance apparently not necessarily a consideration. The brutality shocked Spaniards, like Goya, who had thought the French revolution offered a chance of democratic reform as it spread into Spain. The massacre quickly disavowed them of any such notion. The painting is stark in its violence, and although painted several years after the event, conveys the immediacy of the horror, in part through its almost sketch-like quality-- Goya didn't need to strive for hyper realism in style, because the emotional impact required little detail to embellish its power. One of the outcomes of that revolutionary generation was a more broadly commitment to realism in the arts, but it also planted the seeds for a modernism that, stylistically speaking, began to reckon the realism of emotion over that of draftsmanship. I think you can see Goya's work as an early expression of that.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's one of the all-time great love songs, by Sam Cooke. It's from an old broadcast of American Bandstand and a little scratchy, but that hardly detracts from the song. Enjoy!

Some Valentine's Day Philosophy

This little bit from Friedrich Von Schiller seemed appropriate to the occasion:

"Egotism erects its center in itself; love places
it out of itself in the axis of the universal whole.
Love aims at unity, egotism at solitude.
Love is the citizen ruler of a flourishing republic,
egotism is a despot in a devastated creation."

Driving Back From Butte II

I spent most of today visiting my friend Jim up in Butte. Driving back, I was treated to a pretty nice sunset, which I thought I might share. Somehow, the photo doesn't quite capture how cool it looked in person, but you get the idea anyway. As a transplanted eastern suburbanite, I don't know if I always appreciate all that Montana is supposed to offer. But the sky is pretty regularly amazing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Philosophy

Something short, but sweet from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"If you put a chain around the neck of a slave,
the other end fastens itself around your own."

Friday Family Quiz

OK smart guys (I mean that in the gender neutral sense ;-)-- my recent quizzes have proven to be no challenge at all, but I think I may have stumbled across a stumper. Where was the above picture of Natalie and Ben taken? Let's just see how smart you are!

As for last week, the first contest asked you to identify an infant held by Natalie, and wouldn't you know it! The first guess, by Lil Sis was correct: Joseph Banning (though there was a bit of confusion regarding his nickname). Kudos to Lil Sis.

The second contest, more of a creative enterprise, asked you to identify the masked Theresa's superpower. There were several good guesses, but I have to pick Theresa's own "able to leap small children in a single bound" as the best. Congratualtions to all the players! Let's see if this week I can finally foil you!

More Friday Family Blogging

Here's a good one of Dad in his workshop:

Let's test your creativity (not the official weekly quiz): what do you suppose he was working on? He seems to be lining something up on the table saw. Throw your guesses intot he comments section.

Friday Family Blogging

Let's start off today's family stuff with another of my favorite pictures, of Natalie, Ben and the now sadly departed Ernie.

I can't think of a question to pose about this one; I just hope you like it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Political Comment

Yesterday I saw a Congressman (I think his name was Price) from Georgia on C-Span being interviewed about the current debate over economic stimulus. His basic position seemed to be (and this is a paraphrase): "we don't need the government to get us out of this mess; we'll get out of it because we're Americans." Now, it seems to me that, yes, as Americans we have the capacity, and hopefully the will, to do what's necessary to get out of this mess-- but in what way does that invalidate using the government and its resources to help accomplish that job? Is he suggesting the government isn't American? If it isn't, then what is he suggesting about the Constitution, which after all not only defines the nature of our government, but also the freedoms we all enjoy and would presumably use to make things better?

George Packer has written in the New Yorker that this debate is ultimately not about economic recovery. Here's a quote from a recent piece:

"The two parties are pretending to argue about the efficacy of the stimulus bill. They’re really arguing about the role of government in our society and economy, in the middle of a crisis and after decades of neglect. They’re arguing about whether health care, education, energy, and infrastructure are necessary areas for substantial federal spending and oversight. That’s why the stakes in this argument are higher than the final price tag on the stimulus package."

I can understand why there would be (and should be) some suspicion of government-- especially after the past eight years-- and I'm not saying they deserve a blank check with no oversight (again, that hasn't worked out too well recently). But if we don't believe that we (and, more to the point, our ancestors) created a system that can be employed in the service of the people in time of crisis, then what is it about our system that we are clinging to (and trying to export to other parts of the world, like the Middle East)? There seems to be an inherent flaw in the argument that the government is the enemy, at least as an absolute statement of principle.

A Favorite Painting 7

Umberto Boccioni, Charge of the Lancers 1915

When I was posting photos from my Italy trip last fall, I mentioned that I was anxious to see the futurists exhibited in the National Gallery of Modern art in Rome. This painting is an example of the style, though not part of that collection. It embodies a type of "action painting" long before the term was applied by Clement Greenberg to the abstract expressionists. I find the fluidity and coloring most engaging, and while there's a martial component that might normally put me off, it's offset by the collage element of the newspaper backdrop, conveying a sense of reportage (and history) as opposed to some kind of celebratory mythologizing. No doubt Boccioni was influenced by the cubists, but this work seems to hint at the coming revolution in cinematic montage with its dynamic thrust so evident on a static plane. Truly an exciting picture.

Thursday's Philosophizing

Here's a thought from the eminent American thinker, Lewis Mumford.

"A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty,
the contemplation of mystery, or the search
for truth and perfection, is a poverty-stricken day;
and a succession of such days is fatal to human life."