Friday, April 21, 2017

This Week in Review: Trump, Bill O'Reilly, Aaron Hernandez, Tom Brady and Sean Spicer

Photo: from, here (at your own risk). United's newest "passenger removal specialist."

Hey, it's been a few weeks! Mostly my absence was due to an illness that felt like a minor-league flu, but wasn't (I think). Fever up to 101 for a few days; really bad throat and ear pain; fuzzy and congested head (which I have normally anyway). I still have a lingering minor cough and fuzziness/congestion and ear pain, a few weeks and two different antibiotics later. Twice a doctor has shined a light into my right ear and said, "Whoa, there's a lot of water build-up there." Could've been worse, I could've met United's newest employee, pictured above, who calls himself a "passenger removal specialist."

Anyway, there's been a lot of crap lately to get my mind off it. Among these:

--Bill O'Reilly, who's made a (lucrative) living blowharding about "values" and telling people how to behave, has been paying off women over the last 15 years so they don't sue him for sexual harassment. To the tune of $13 million, that is, and I'll bet that's conservative. (See what I did there?) What a hypocrite! Is it me, or does it seem that everyone who makes a living telling others how they should live is a hypocritical dirtbag?

--And even then, Fox only let him go after the sponsors started pulling out. Which shows you it's, unfortunately, not about sexual harassment, but about dollars.

--By the way, O'Reilly's publisher, Henry Holt, has stated that it will still work with him. "Our plans have not changed," Holt said in an email, according to the New York Times. O'Reilly's latest best-selling book titles: Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, and Killing Reagan. I am not making those up. Read into the similarities what you will, but you don't need to read books from Henry Holt Publishing anymore, right? I don't (if I do already). I don't normally advocate not reading, but we don't need to support this dirtbag. There's plenty of other things to read.

Photo: from his own Wikipedia page. 

--And in any dictionary, next to the word "smug."

--Bill O'Reilly was given a severance package as high as $25 million, by the way. Add to that the approximate $13 million Fox paid to women he sexually harassed, and that's $38 million Fox had paid to kiss his butt, not counting his actual salary. His latest contract, just recently signed, was for $18 million a year--which he won't collect. Fox had an out-clause: it was void if any new allegations and lawsuits were filed against him. Hmmm...You think Fox knew anything?

--And this is after Fox Chairman Roger Ailes had to resign over his own sexual harassment woes. Despite this, Fox was still willing to pay the money for O'Reilly and sweep him under the rug. Rather than clean house all at once, Fox was willing to let it go on.

--And Fox has been putting on conservative "news" for years about proper values and behavior. Sexually harassing women? Check. Gay marriage? No.


--Speaking of scumbags, so Aaron Hernandez was (somehow) acquitted of double-homicide, then hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet, the same day the Super Bowl-winning Patriots visited the White House. If you think that's a coincidence, I want to drink your Kool-Aid. This is what narcissistic sociopaths do, right to the bitter end. That'll show them, he thought.

Photo: from the Huffington Post, at this website

--He also scribbled John 3:16 on his forehead. It reads: "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in [H]im may not perish, but may have life everlasting." That's a narcissistic That'll show 'em, too. Again, all about him. That's not religious belief. That's self-importance. And power. Actual religious people are the ones not killing people. This act is an offense to every Christian out there. Narcissistic sociopaths will do anything, and believe anything, that benefits them. Unless you think he was actually seriously religious. Again, I'll take a glass of that.

Photo: Tom and Gisele, from the International Business Times, at this website. These two are so used to the limelight that they know they'll look better together if they're looking in opposite directions.

--I normally don't give a damn about the politics or beliefs of my favorite athletes, but I have to give kudos to Tom Brady, who at the last minute pulled out of a visit to the White House this week. He'll deny it was a political move, but a) Gisele posted an anti-Trump tweet this week (and as Gisele goes, Tom Brady goes); and b) Tom Brady has been quoted many times supporting Trump, speaking for him, and basically being Defense Exhibit A of why I don't care about the politics of my favorite athletes (See also: Curt Schilling). But to blow off Trump at the last second on a worldwide stage is a gutsy move, because we all know it will anger him. And it speaks very loudly, no matter what PC spin all three will put on it. I don't know why he did it (except, as Gisele goes, so does Tom Brady), but I'm glad he did. I might actually try his workout and diet plans, too. Which are really out there.

--Prince died a year ago. I can't believe I just typed that, but it's so.

Photo: from, here

--There've been idiots in American politics since there's been an America, but Sean Spicer must be the most verbally handicapped one I've ever seen--and I've been keeping track since 2001. He makes Dubya look like he actually passed Yale with his own intellectual capacity. Dubya is an Oxford don next to this guy. If all the crap Spicer said before this week didn't open your eyes, drop your jaw and make you shake your head like a wet dog, surely this week's verbal diarrhea did it for you. Hitler didn't use gas?!? Holocaust centers?!? Bottom line: this is a national spokesman who cannot speak. And this doesn't just shock and awe Americans. It pisses off people across the world, including Germans, who haven't been our biggest fans since Trump refused to shake Andrea Merkel's hand, twice. What is it with this administration's problem with Jews, anyway? (Look up "Trump" and "National Holocaust Museum.") Now that O'Bannon is out, let's see what happens. If nothing does, we'll have to face the fact that it isn't just him, but the entire administration. (P.S.--It's all of them.)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Don't Believe Everything You Read and Hear: Ty Cobb, A Terrible Beauty

Photo: from the book's Goodreads page (and from my review)

I've got a major sinus infection and fever, that the doctor said looked like strep or the flu, and she just said she thinks I should be out of action for at least three days, so forgive the lack of structure here. Doing my best...

As Shakespeare's Caesar showed us (and Orwell's Animal Farm), when someone in charge repeats something often enough, the masses believe it. (Defense Exhibit A: Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Exhibit B: Everything Mr. Orange said to win the chair he never sits in.)  Charles Leerhsen's Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty attempts to show that everything we've thought, read and seen in a movie lately about Ty Cobb is either fiction, exaggerated, or misleading.

He largely succeeds, but he gets carried away with his own success. He inserts lame jokes into the text. He happily shows how he's correct and writers like Al Stump aren't. He's right, but does he have to be so gleeful and boastful about it? And most of the errors he points out about Cobb aren't direct falsehoods, but errors of degree. Was Cobb the psychotic we've learned about? No, he wasn't. But would you choose him over Honus Wagner to be on your team? No, you wouldn't. The Tigers desperately needed him, so they coddled him for as long as they needed to, but that was not a happy family in Detroit. Speaking of happy families, Cobb's mother did shoot his father, and Cobb apparently was emotionally and perhaps physically abusive to his kids, and perhaps his wife.

He favors Cobb with such a bias that he writes: "In Honus Wagner [the Pirates] had a marquee star who had almost all of Cobb's ability and none of his charisma..." (223). Now, there's a lot wrong there. Not so fast. Wagner had ALL of Cobb's abilities--including hits (Cobb 4,189; Wagner 3,420) average (.366 to .328) and stolen bases (963 to 897). The point isn't that Wagner surpassed the numbers; the point is we're talking about 2 all-time greats playing at the same time, amassing very similar numbers. And Wagner never saw the live ball era of the 1920s as Cobb did. Wagner retired in 1917 while Cobb hung up his spikes in 1928. Had they played during exactly the same years, their numbers would be closer. Though Cobb may have a slight edge with the bat, the numbers show that Wagner could have matched them, but didn't. Why? Perhaps the Pirates didn't need him to.

But the point Leerhsen never makes in his whole 400+ page book is that on defense for his career, Cobb owes 10 games to the Tigers (his defensive WAR is -10), while for his career Wagner gives his team +21 wins on defense. That's a swing of 30 games, which Cobb's 38 points of batting average, 700 hits and 66 stolen bases don't compensate for. (Cobb played 3 more years than Wagner, and Honus never saw the lively ball of the 20s.) Cobb was known as an average to below-average defender, at best, while Wagner made other players' jaws drop at shortstop. He played Gold Glove- caliber defense every day, according to his contemporaries, in The Glory of their Times. All of the players said Wagner was better than Cobb because of Wagner's defense, and that they all stood around and watched as Wagner hit. Nobody says that about Cobb.

Also consider Cobb's behavior. Leerhsen makes it clear that he was nowhere near the crazy butthole everyone thinks--but he also makes it clear that he was a pain in the ass to his own teammates, to anyone who got in his way on the basepaths (I can let that slide, as the players did. See what I did there?), to the team management that usually coddled him and adopted him, and to fans, both for him and against him. Did Cobb assault a black waiter? No, he didn't. Did he dislike African-Americans in general? The evidence says No, that he was indifferent, and that he was for them if they were good ballplayers, like how he spoke in favor of Jackie Robinson. Did he kill 3 people, as has been said? Nope.

But did he jump into the stands and beat the crap out of a paraplegic? Yes, he did! Did he slide with his spikes up? Yes, he did, but only if you were in his direct line on the basepaths. And if you were at a base, including home, he usually slid away from you. Did he say bad things to almost everyone, including his teammates, kids and wives? Yes. Did he drink too much as he got older and turn nasty? Yes, he did. You get the idea. Now, did Wagner do any of those things while active? Was the whole Pirates team against him? Did he piss off his ownership? Did he assault the disabled and chase after umpires and fight almost every guy he knew? Nope. And does that translate into a better team, so that it could be said that he helped his team by not being a butthole like Cobb was? You bet. (Though, like Cobb, Wagner drank too much when he got old. But while alcohol made Cobb angry, bitter and mean, the sauce just made Wagner babble incessantly, and start baseball stories that could last an afternoon.) In a nutshell, that's the argument Bill James makes when he says that Ted Williams was a better hitter than Stan Musial, but not a better ballplayer (or left fielder).

It's not clear by the numbers that Cobb was that much better than Wagner with the bat (though I'll concede the point that he may have been a little bit, like Ruth over Gehrig), but it's also very clear that Wagner was the much better defender and clubhouse presence. I don't give much credence usually to the latter, but I do when we're talking about a chronic problem like Cobb, though he may not have been the psychotic we've been led to believe he was. Having read this book, I see him now as a Jimmy Piersall type of neurotic, a nervous and anxiety-ridden guy, with an ability ten thousand times that of Piersall. But essentially the same temperament.

So that's what we've got here. The author makes the mistake of celebrating himself too much--ironic, since that's what he shows Cobb did too much, which made his teammates dislike him. He was better than they were, and different, and smarter, and faster, and that also made them dislike him. In fact, the T206 guys on his team actively bullied him, to the point that a few of them were suspended by the team. I don't criticize Cobb for this, though one would think he could have somehow handled it better. After all, Wagner was better than all of the Pirates of his time, and nobody taunted him or beat him up, even when he was a rookie. But Leerhsen says at least 12 times (I stopped counting) that Wagner (and Lajoie, and Elmer Flick, and other HOFers of the time) were grunts with a lunchpail, guys who would be in the mines without baseball, boring guys with no personality--I'm not making this up, or exaggerating. Leerhsen calls them these things.

Well, hell, I used to know a lot of people I thought were interesting, who did a lot of crazy things, who hurt a lot of good people, either emotionally, mentally or physically (or all of the above), but weren't they fun and exciting? But then I grew up, and I saw that stable and consistent behavior is a helluva lot more interesting than the crazy, destructive and self-destructive crap I saw the "exciting" people do. Those latter people flamed out, or exited from my life, stage left, (or both) and I replaced them with stable and consistent people with different things about them that were exciting and interesting.

Which ones would you rather work with for 20+ years? Exactly. Turns out, consistent and stable people make your job (and therefore your life) easier. Leerhsen gets caught up in his own cult of personality, like Cobb did in his, and it made them both pale in comparison.

So if you like the T206 era as I do, and you're interested in who Ty Cobb was, like I am, you should read this, and you'll find it interesting. It's informative, it sets the matter of Cobb straight, and it's a good read.

But like those guys who keep repeating the same thing, and it's believed because it's on the internet, or it's in print, or it's what you want to hear, or it's said by someone in some sort of power--Well, don't believe everything you read, you know? Ironic, because that's the point of this book, and Leerhsen proves his point in a way that he doesn't want to. But there it is.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Decay and Disgust in 1664 London -- The Sweet Smell of Decay, a Book Review

Photo: from the book's Goodreads page.

I really liked this book despite its inconsistency. Some parts are very well-written, and some...well, aren't. Very odd. You can get a paragraph or two, or a few pages, with exceptional prose, or description; but then suddenly you get a dead-weight clunker of a paragraph, or sometimes just a line or two. There are shifts in tone, too. Suddenly--and I mean you can hear the screeches--a character becomes shady. Suddenly a scene changes, or you can't see it clearly. Towards the end there's a well-drawn action scene--and then suddenly you're at a trial, and it's very drawn-out. And the main character, Harry Lytle, does this and does that, and seemingly never stops, to do anything, and you realize that can't be, and it all doesn't come together, but it's okay because you're reading about yourself going through the motions as Lytle, and that's enough. In fact, that's the point, and undoubtedly the author's intent.

Very tough to explain.

But despite it all, you have a main character who is likable in his opaqueness. Who is he? What does he do? Not really ever explained, but he's a common enough bloke, and he's supposed to be you, the reader. He's just accessible enough to be us. We're the ones doing what he's doing, seeing what he's seeing. That transition is so seamless, you don't even realize it happened.

1664 London is really the main character, and it is supported well. The mystery isn't really mysterious. (The plot is more of a mystery, if you know what I mean.) It's all explained at the end, not very well, as the bow falls off and isn't neatly tied. But you won't care, because you're there for the sights and sounds of 1664 London, and you will get a lot of that, and you'll like it. The logistics of the ending is a head-scratcher, as are all of the characters when they take off their wigs to check for lice. Everyone's bald, and everything's filthy and gross, and 1664 London is just a disgusting place, where people get hanged but don't die, and their intestines are ripped out and burned and they don't die, and they're then tied hand and foot to horses and ripped apart, and if they still don't die, they're carted in a wheelbarrow to the nearest river and dumped in. And then their heads are stuck on a pike on a bridge or tower. And a prisoner about to die this way soils his pants, and that's described, and you realize that's what you're reading this for--the details, like you're there in 1664 London, and you're happy to be there by reading about it, because you sure as hell wouldn't really want to be there.

That's why this book works. If you like the history of historical fiction more than you like the fiction of historical fiction, you'll like this one. I'm on to the next, A Plague of Sinners.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks -- A Book Review

Photo: cover of the paperback book, from its page.

Very, very well-written account of a young girl's life on Martha's Vineyard and in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1660s. Though the book is more known to be about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, it is really about this girl and her Puritan family. Narrated by Bethia, the book is a comparison between her life as an Other, and that of a native Wampanoag named Cheeshahteaumauk, called Caleb by Bethia's family after his Indian family dies of disease, probably smallpox. (He dies of disease, too, of consumption, not long after he became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.) This is a book, like all her others, to read and enjoy, and to learn from and emulate if you want to be a writer. I can someday hope to become nearly as good--though that is doubtful--but I cannot become better.

Bethia loves life on the island, despite its hardships. Let me rephrase: She loves the island more than she loves her life on it. Her chores and responsibilities are endless. She loses her parents and her younger sibling, all three in horrible ways. She can read and write and she has intelligence and opinions--all bad in 1660s Puritan Massachusetts, especially on the island. Her daily life, with and without her best friend Caleb, and her family, are equally interesting and distressing to read about.

She follows Caleb and her older brother to Harvard. Her brother is next in line to lead the family and to become a preacher like their father. Except, he's not intelligent, not good in the ways of leadership or human nature. He can't read as well as she, and he can't learn the Bible's languages as well as she. In fact, she's a helluva lot smarter than he is, and they both know it. In fact, Caleb, the "salvage," the other and the lesser in that time, is also smarter than he is in all of these things, and he knows that, too. Despite all this, Bethia goes to Harvard with them because it is her indentured servitude that will pay for her brother's education there, so that he can become more in their society than she can, though everyone knows she deserves it more. She steals a bit of an education while she can, eavesdropping on lessons, learning from the other students, etc., but it is not a life she is destined to overtly benefit from.

In lesser hands, Bethia would fall in love with Caleb, and run away with him, and such, but these are not ordinary hands, and she does not do this. Bethia as a child was confused about her true feelings for Caleb, and maybe she did have what we would call a crush on him for a few years, but overall she outgrows that, and they become perhaps even closer, a brother and sister that would have continued had he not died. She leaves with another man, rather happily, from that Harvard disaster, and lives in Italy for a time, before she comes back and sees Caleb in his final days. The book is told in three parts, the last of which is a bit more sad than perhaps it needed to be, but who am I to judge? It's all enthralling. You'll feel like you're there, and you'll care about everyone.

Brooks clearly is painting a parallel between Bethia's life in 1660s Puritan Massachusetts and that of women in 2000s America. She does this in every work, and continues to do so here. As usual, it is not overt, or heavily done, and you don't feel preached to. This outlook, again as usual, enhances the story and does not detract from it. In fact, that cultural comment is not the story. As always, her story is her story. Bethia and Caleb, two others in a career-long character list of strong others, are her vehicles to tell this story. They themselves are not the story, per se. This is a distinction that all writers trying to say something should understand: your characters tell the story, but your characters are not the story. They drive it, of course; the story is not a river and they the mere floaters. But the story is the tide, and the characters either swim with it, or they swim against it. Brooks is excellent--here, and especially in March, her Pulitzer-winner--at showing the tides of the times she sets her stories in. It is one of the many things she does masterfully.

So this book is a story of the time, but also of our time. There is an other of every time, as we see today. I suspect maybe a female of African-American or Mexican descent is writing a good book about that as I type this.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Get Out -- A Movie Review, Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of the movie review for Get Out. Yesterday's Part 1 is here.

Photo: from the movie's Wikipedia page. This is what white people like me, whatever that means, thought racists were when I saw this movie in 1988. Turns out, it's a lot more complicated than that. By the way, this movie has more relevance now than it should, so see it if you haven't. And don't expect factual accuracy. It's a depiction, a cinematic dramatization in broad strokes. It's not a documentary.

Yet Get Out says that the awareness of the...nervousness, or political-correctness, or even the awareness of the awareness of a biracial in fact part of the problem. Which of course it is. Maybe someday we'll live in a country where a biracial couple simply doesn't raise any eyebrows, anywhere, in any kind of person, pro or con, friend or foe. That isn't going to happen soon, since we've taken two steps back in this country, but we'll see.

But you can see maybe why this was such a ballsy movie to make. Especially today. Now, cynics that we usually are, we'd expect this movie to maybe--or maybe not--do okay its first weekend, maybe for interest or shock value, and then disappear once blockbusters like Kong and Logan are released at the same time. 

But I'm happy, and a little surprised, to say that it hasn't happened. It's hanging in there, in third place, right with those films. It's grossed over $100 million--on a budget barely over $4 million. Considering that, it's so far been more of a financial hit than Kong: Skull Island or Logan. That's saying something.

And it should be. It is (uncomfortably) funny--but it won't be for those who don't think biracial couples, or the reaction they can elicit from others, is funny. Frankly, if you're racist, you're not going to like this film. But I suspect racists know that, and are staying far away. I've seen shockingly scant mention of it from them in the news and on the internet, but then I'm not an internet crawler. Also, it's a good horror flick, once you get by the horror premise, which you're not really supposed to take seriously to begin with. There is actual unease and tension and suspense. Strangely so, for me, and it wasn't scary, exactly, for me, like other horror films have been. Like, The Exorcist, or The Silence of the Lambs.

So it's a ballsy film, and it's a good film, and it's doing really well, which means it's hit a nerve somewhere, and found a niche. You can expect to see more films like this now, perhaps not as good.

I will leave you with some positive reviews of the movie, which are written more succinctly than this one. They're all taken from the movie's Wikipedia page, which you can click on here.

Richard Roeper gave the film 3.5/4 stars, saying, "[T]he real star of the film is writer-director Jordan Peele, who has created a work that addresses the myriad levels of racism, pays homage to some great horror films, carves out its own creative path, has a distinctive visual style — and is flat-out funny as well." Keith Phipps of Uproxx praised the cast and Peele's direction, noting: "That he brings the technical skill of a practiced horror master is more of a surprise. The final thrill of Get Out — beyond the slow-building sense of danger, the unsettling atmosphere, and the twisty revelation of what’s really going on — is that Peele’s just getting started." Mike Rougeau of IGN gave the film 9/10, and wrote: Get Out's whole journey, through every tense conversation, A-plus punchline and shocking act of violence, feels totally earned. And the conclusion is worth each uncomfortable chuckle and moment of doubt." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated Get Out a 3.5/4, and called it: "[A] jolt-a-minute horrorshow laced with racial tension and stinging satirical wit." Scott Mendelson of Forbes praised how the film captures the current zeitgeist called it a "modern American horror classic".

So if this sounds good, or if you like horror/comedies, go see it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Get Out -- A Movie Review

Photo: from the movie's Wikipedia website

Get Out was a ballsy movie to make, considering our present climes. It's a horror movie with a good horror movie ending, but this is no horror movie. It's also a comedy with a message about racism that doesn't hit you over the head, or preach at you. This makes it even more effective. This movie tries to do for racism what Rosemary's Baby and Stepford Wives did for sexism, and it largely succeeds because Jordan Peele, Get Out's producer/director, was aware of those two movies. There's a bit of Kubrick's (and not King's) The Shining in there at the end, too, but luckily that guy doesn't end up like Scatman Crothers did.

I saw this with my better half, and we're both white. (I'm as boring, suburban white as Wonder Bread, but not as fluffy or as wholesome.) We sat next to a bi-racial couple, one white and one black, which is pretty rare for my suburban-hell neck of the woods. (See the movie juxtaposition I made there?) Normally this would not be relevant, but, unfortunately, for this review, and for this movie, it is. Just a sign o' the times.

A quick review of the movie: After a quick prologue of a young black man getting kidnapped, another young black man (the main character) and his pretty white girlfriend are off to a rural home to introduce him to her family. She hasn't told them he's black, by the way, which you know is not going to turn out well.

So the racial theme comes and it's played for laughs. This is ingenious, and if you think Peele is only playing it for laughs, then you don't know what kind of serious cultural change laughs can do. Like, All in the Family and Richard Pryor changed some views in the 70s and 80s. The point works because it's played funny. And in the funny, we feel the tension and disquiet, and realize it's not funny. This is a good movie for a collegiate class about film, comedy and horror. I'm going to let the following critic of The Guardian tell it, because I'm just fumbling here:

Lanre Bakare of The Guardian commented on this, saying, "The villains here aren't southern rednecks or neo-Nazi skinheads, or the so-called 'alt-right'. They're middle-class white liberals. The kind of people who read this website. The kind of people who shop at Trader Joe's, donate to the ACLU and would have voted for Obama a third time if they could. Good people. Nice people. Your parents, probably. The thing Get Out does so well – and the thing that will rankle with some viewers – is to show how, however unintentionally, these same people can make life so hard and uncomfortable for black people. It exposes a liberal ignorance and hubris that has been allowed to fester. It's an attitude, an arrogance which in the film leads to a horrific final solution, but in reality leads to a complacency that is just as dangerous."

In other words, the target audience was, in some ways, people like me, who like to think they're racially aware, and who like to think they're helping the cause, in whatever way they can. Now, I'm not liberal like this passage, thank God, but I do donate to the ACLU and I would've voted for Obama again. I don't shop at Trader Joe's. (In fact, I don't do the food shopping at all, because I'd buy just cereal, bananas, apples, blueberries, and green olives.) But it's also true that I don't know how to relate to someone who's a victim of racism. For example, I realized in my last movie review that I didn't even see why Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was racist itself (an irony, since it effectively shows how racism is a [see title]) until I read Chinua Achebe's speech about it. (Achebe was kinda right, kinda not, but more right than not. And, by the way, who am I to speak about racism?)

This is the point of the movie, which is hidden in trappings of comedy and horror. I can speak of racism only in the sense that I've seen it; I've written and spoken against it; I don't know what the hell it's all about; I don't know why so many people deny it exists; I don't get why people don't understand why African-Americans and other minorities are angry; I don't get why Samuel L. Jackson says Daniel Kaluuya, the main actor, isn't "black enough," and I don't get why I don't get that, because I get what such people think it means; and I also realize that I don't know enough about it to criticize Samuel L. Jackson, which I also realize isn't a smart thing to do to begin with, about anything at all, because he's scary. I used to think that racists only lived in the South, in a Mississippi Burning kind of way, but now I see that it's everywhere, including in the recent court decision about how Texas unconstitutionally re-districted itself to disillusion minority voters; about how voting ID laws in many states--including those as far north as PA and North Carolina--were purposely passed by Republicans to make it harder for the poor (reads: Democrat) to vote. I see that racism exists, or used to, in zoning laws, for God's sake, around here.

And in truth, Get Out is probably a more realistic depiction of racism than Mississippi Burning ever was. Maybe. Who am I to say?

This movie review of Get Out concludes tomorrow...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kong: Skull Island -- Movie Review and Kong Flick Comparison, Part 3

Note: this entry is the last of 3 about Kong: Skull Island. Part 1 is here, two days ago. Part 2 is here, from yesterday.

Photo: Kong and Apocalypse Now Crossover Shot. (Don't ask where the natives got the hydraulics necessary to build this.) From this IMDb page.

The movie might not make you feel smarter, but you'll perhaps nod along with some cultural references and homages, unless you were born after, say, 2001.

First, as you see in the poster above, there's a nod to 1986's Platoon. Speaking of war movies, there are a few very obvious nods to Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness. We've got major characters named Conrad (after Heart of Darkness's author, Joseph Conrad) and Marlow (after the main character in both Conrad's book and Francis Ford Coppola's movie, which takes place in Viet Nam [another nod] and is based on Conrad's book).

And the movie's most famous line--"The horror...the horror..."--is lifted directly off the pages of Conrad's book, without credit. Ugh.

Photo: The famous Apocalypse Now poster, from its IMDb page

If that wasn't enough, John C. Reilly's character is obviously Dennis Hopper's zany (and drugged-up) photographer from Apocalypse Now--a direct comparison. Almost an exact copy. And both novel and film is mostly about a boat trip up a river to capture someone who's thought to be very dangerous--and is--but who also has a shocking truth to tell, and whose anger and possible insanity is distressingly easy to understand and relate to. He is not what he seems, or what you've been told he is. Or what you'd expect. That's Kong in this movie, which you'll definitely see.

And Kong is Kurtz from the book and movie. And Kong and Kurtz are both worshiped by the jungle's natives (Conrad's Kurtz, from the book, is in the Congo, while the movie Kurtz is in Viet Nam.) And the choppers in the movie's poster is a direct reference to the famous opening of Apocalypse Now, with its choppers, and all three works, the book and the two Kong movies, all have the same theme: Mankind has a heart of darkness to all living things, including mankind.

Samuel L. Jackson's character is a mad Ahab from Moby Dick, but is even more a direct copy of his man-loving, man-is-all-powerful character from Deep Blue Sea. This is such an exact duplicate of that role that I'm a bit surprised that he hasn't come into more critical panning. True, Christoph Waltz won two Oscars for essentially playing the same role in consecutive Quentin Tarantino movies (and his turn in Inglorious Basterds was much better), but, still...Maybe Jackson would've been criticized more if his name had been, say, Brie Larson.

But I'm over it.

So if you like creature movies, and if you remember the Creature Double Feature flicks with a little fondness, and if you know your war movies, literature, and cultural references, or if you just like a good popcorn flick that's very fast-paced, that looks great, that has a directorial flair of its own, and that looks like a franchise that promises more of the same, go see it. It's right up there with Spielberg's original Jurassic Park, and with the latest Jurassic World, and with Jackson's King Kong, though maybe it finishes just a notch below these in overall value. Still, well worth your time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kong: Skull Island -- Movie Review and Kong Flick Comparison, Part 2

Note: This blog is a second part of yesterday's blog entry.

Photo: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, and the Skull of One of Kong's Parents, from this IMDb page.

Brie Larson (who infamously stood, without applauding, as Casey Affleck won his Oscar for Best Actor just last month. This was the other thing that telecast was known for, besides the texting Price/Waterhouse fool screwing up the last Best Picture award) has come into a lot of criticism for accepting this role after she won the Oscar last year for Best Actress (for Room; and she's soon to appear as Jeannette Walls in the movie of Walls's excellent memoir, The Glass Castle) in a much more serious and important film, but what the hell is that about? Oscar or not, if you're a woman in Hollywood and you're given a role that may become a shot at a franchise and a chance to make big bucks in three or four movies, don't you take that? With the length of women's careers in Hollywood, and the lack of roles that don't involve some sort of nudity or inadvertent (or purposeful) sexism, don't you take a role that might lead to a few more movies and big paychecks in which you at least get to do your own running around, and no guy grabs your hand and makes you run with him? Yup, I sure do. She did. Plenty of guys have in such film franchises, right?And who says she had a ton of other better offers at the time? Ridiculous and sexist criticism against her here. She's an actor making a living. No more, no less. Why does it have to be anything else? Drives me nuts, our society's and culture's attitude towards women. Nobody criticizes guys who always take such roles, but who are capable of better, right? Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis and more have gone that route. Willis especially could've done great supporting work in films as good as his Nobody's Fool, for example, and Tom Cruise's best work have been in films like Jerry MaguireRain Man, and Born on the Fourth of July. But these guys, and many others, have made the action flicks and the big bucks, and nobody criticizes them. You would think movie critics, who get paid to know movies more than I do, would realize this and not say such crap about women--in this case, Brie Larson. I say, it has made me mad. ::takes a breath:: ::gets over it::

Photo: Brie Larson, from Kong: Skull Island, ready to shoot a flare at her next sexist critic. Or at Casey Affleck. (Sorry.) From IMDb.

Well, a little off track here...Let's reel it back in.

After a brief foreward of sorts, the set-up for the rest of this movie is pretty standard: the characters are told they'll be dropped off at the southern tip of the island, and picked up three days later at the northern part. At this point, even a three-year old can see that they'll get trapped on the island, and have to fight their way through it for three days before they're rescued. That's the set-up, in typical action-flick fashion. When they drop bombs to see if the island is hollow and safe (???), you would expect problems, and you get them, and unless you have a heart of stone, you probably feel the characters deserve what they get. I mean, they were dropping bombs on an island where they knew living beings existed, and if you don't get the Viet Nam political message there, then I can't help you at all with this review. (The movie takes place during the Viet Nam War and involves Viet Nam soldiers. Did I mention that?) So the crap hits the fan, and you know there's going to be a lot of mayhem and running around, which there is. In truth, there's probably nothing in this movie you haven't seen before, but it does it so incredibly fast and well, with some shots that will really impress you, especially when creatures stand in front of an apocalyptic firebomb, etc. to express menace and danger...Well, you've seen it before, yes, but probably not this well. And fast. And fun.

Plus, there's a little more...tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kong: Skull Island -- Movie Review and Kong Flick Comparison

Photo: from the film's Wikipedia page

Very, very entertaining monster pic that wasn't on my radar at all, but which caught my eye during its previews during other films, like Get Out (review to come soon). Quick warning: Wait until the end of the credits before you go, or you'll miss an entertaining segment that promises much for the future. 

It ends with a bang that really defines what works with this movie: It's simple, loud, visually eye-popping, and it has a sense of its own style that is similar to other monster (and other classic) movies, but which defines itself as well. You'll want to see this one, and probably to buy it for a rainy day when you're in the mood for a good monster flick. I'm thinking of watching it, back-to-back, with Gareth Edwards' recent Godzilla, and Peter Jackson's King Kong

Photo: 1976's King Kong, from its Wikipedia page. [For Christmas?]

Because the comparison is gonna happen, I'll get it out of the way here: this movie, and Jackson's film, are really apples and oranges. (And 1933's King Kong is a different food group entirely, by comparison to this one. This movie actually is closer to the so-so 1976 King Kong, but without Jeff Bridges's caveman look and Jessica Lange's unintentionally hilarious "Eat me! Eat me!" dialogue to an understandably perplexed King Kong. Lange gave it her best, but by God what a thankless role. Still, it made her a star. Naomi Watts's turn was an Oscar-worthy effort by comparison, but she had a much better script to work with. And the '76 film showed what not to do, which helps.) Anyway, this movie and Jackson's film don't try to do the same thing, as this is a reboot prequel with an eye to a franchise, and Jackson's was a straight-up remake that didn't want to go anyplace else. (But without it, Gareth Edwards's Godzilla doesn't get the go-ahead.) 

Photo: King Kong (and Naomi Watts), directed by Peter Jackson, from its Wikipedia page

Having said that, my better half liked Jackson's film better, and I'd have to agree, but only if you follow the difference I've just said. Jackson's film has better acting, and maybe better directing (though Jordan Vogt-Roberts does an excellent job here, which I'll get to; it may be a tie), but it also is much more depressing (remember the sucking creatures scene?!?) and it has the all-time sad ending that we know is coming. Naomi Watts does a better job with her character than Brie Larson (who I like) does here, but Watts's character had a lot more depth, and she had a lot more to do. Larson never gets that chance with her script, and does the best she can with the words she got. Essentially, she runs around and looks horrified, and then pleased, and then horrified, and then she runs around a lot again. But she does it all well, with spunk and grit. Her character has a point to make, though I'm not sure anyone knows what it is, including the moviemakers, us, and Brie Larson. (Actually, she's the audience's aghast stand-in figure.) Again, she does what she can with a one-note role. In truth, all the characters are one-note roles, without much else to say or stand for.
I mean, it's an action film, with creatures and such. Did Jurassic Park have great acting, outside maybe Jeff Goldblum? Nope.

This review of Kong: Skull Island continues tomorrow...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Less is More -- One Hour Less of the Apocalypse




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Trump & Co. -- Law Professors File Misconduct Complaint Against Kellyanne Conway

Photo: The Crypt Keeper's Wife  Kellyanne Conway. Photo and cited article from this page.

Sorry for the name-calling, but I'm getting a little tired of the BS. So the latest from this monster:

According to the article cited above, esteemed and established law professors from around the country have filed a complaint against her, which could (and, frankly, should) lead to her disbarment. I mean, at my job, if I proclaimed to the world that a massacre occurred that never did, I'd be in big trouble, so why shouldn't she? And I can't pitch someone's product (or my own) at my job, either.

For those of you not in the know:

The letter, filed with the office that handles misconduct by members of the D.C. Bar, said Conway should be sanctioned for violating government ethics rules and “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” the letter says.
The 15 professors, who specialize in legal ethics, cite several incidents, including a television interview in which Conway made the “false statement that President Barack Obama had ‘banned’ Iraqi refugees from coming into the United States for six months following the ‘Bowling Green Massacre,’ ” and the use of her position to endorse Ivanka Trump products.
“We do not file this complaint lightly,” the professors said in their filing. “We believe that, at one time, Ms. Conway, understood her ethical responsibilities as a lawyer and abided by them. But she is currently acting in a way that brings shame upon the legal profession.”
The professors teach at law schools such as Georgetown University Law Center, Yale Law School, Fordham University and Duke University.
Professors at those awesome schools don't rat on each other without cause.
First, you can't use your public position to push products:
Conway was also criticized for using her position during a Feb. 9 interview on Fox News to endorse Ivanka Trump’s fashion products.
“Federal rules on conflicts of interest specifically prohibit using public office ‘for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity,’” the complaint said.
By the way, can you work in the legal profession in D.C. and not be a "suspended" member of the D.C. Bar? From the same article:
The letter was sent to the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the chief prosecutor for disciplinary matters that involve active or inactive attorneys who are members of the D.C. Bar. Conway is listed as a D.C. Bar member under her maiden name, Kellyanne E. Fitzpatrick, but is a suspended member for not paying her dues, according to the disciplinary filing.
Conway was also responsible for an upsurge in Amazon sales of classic dystopian literature, such as Animal Farm and 1984, because of this infamous utterance:
Since she has been serving as counselor to President Trump, Conway has been caught up in several controversies. Last month, during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” she said the White House had put forth “alternative facts” regarding the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.
“ ‘Alternative facts’ are not facts at all; they are lies,” the professors said in their filing.
Couldn't have said that better myself.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump & Co. : Muhammad Ali's Son Illegally Profiled and Questioned at FL Airport

Photo: Trump and Ivanka. (Normally beautiful, she seems a little E.T.-like here.) From this page.

Well, let's get right to it. There'll be more to come, and I'll blog about the gravest insults to decency and reason that have already passed, but for now, here's the latest travesty from Trump & Co.:

The Travel Ban That's Not Supposed to Be in Effect

Is it a ban? He says it isn't, then he tweets it is. But just ask someone Muslim, and you'll see quickly that it is. Judges have struck it down as unconstitutional, but that hasn't stopped biased guards at airports. Though they shouldn't be prohibiting anyone from entering the country, as the ban is not supposed to be in effect, as per the courts, that hasn't stopped illegal searches and seizures, and illegal profiling and questioning.

The latest case is of the son and ex-wife of Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer and civil rights pioneer. Both were detained at a Florida airport in February. According to Chris Mancini, their lawyer--And is there anyone else benefiting more from Trump than American lawyers?!?--and friend, they were pulled aside at the airport "because of their Arabic-sounding names." Ali's ex-wife provided a picture of herself and Ali and was let go, but his son "wasn't as lucky."

As the linked article said:

Mancini said officials held and questioned Ali Jr. for nearly two hours, repeatedly asking him, "Where did you get your name from?" and "Are you Muslim?"
When Ali Jr. responded that yes, he is a Muslim, the officers kept questioning him about his religion and where he was born. Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1972 and holds a U.S. passport.
The line of questioning is indicative of profiling and designed to produce answers that corroborate what officials want to hear, Mancini said. Neither Camacho-Ali [Ali's ex-wife] nor Ali Jr. have ever been subjected to detainment before, despite extensive global travel experience, he said.
"To the Ali family, it's crystal clear that this is directly linked to Mr. Trump's efforts to ban Muslims from the United States," Mancini said, referring to President Trump's executive order signed Jan. 27 that instituted a ban for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.
I'm not the only one who smells "lawsuit" here:
Mancini said he and the Ali family are contemplating filing a federal lawsuit and are currently trying to find out how many other people have been subjected to the same treatment as Ali Jr.
"Imagine walking into an airport and being asked about your religion," he said. "This is classic customs profiling."
And, again, unconstitutional and illegal, since judges nationwide have shot down the ban. And, even if they hadn't.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Wonder of Different Cultures and Religions -- People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Photo: from the book's Wikipedia page

This is a book of historical fiction about a real Jewish book, saved, during the real bombing of a real museum in World War II, by a real Muslim. The real Muslim was a real librarian in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and he really saved the Sarajevo Haggadah, twice, from the Nazis.

If you've read my blog before, you undoubtedly see where I'm going with this. I'm not very subtle when I'm angry. (Or, when I'm not.) 

People of the Book is a novel in many parts, in many POVs. Normally that irks me, but it's handled very well here, as you'd expect it to be, since Brooks wrote it. The story starts in 1996 Sarajevo and ends in 2002 Sarajevo, but it also jumps around to other countries and continents, in other times, as far back as 500 years ago. It's a book also of many cultures, including those of Sarajevo (Bosnia), Africa, Spain, Italy, Austria (Vienna) and Australia, to name a few. It's also a book of many religions, including Catholic and Muslim. In the end, an Aussie falls in love with a Bosnian. I don't know if Europeans move around a lot more in Europe than Americans do in America, or if I've just seen too many James Bond and Jason Bourne (notice the similar initials) movies and read too many books. But it sure seems that way. There seems to be less fear and more acceptance because of this.

You're probably seeing where I'm going with that. I apologize for my lack of subtlety.

Turns out, most people of most faiths and cultures are peace-loving people, running from wars and oppression and ignorance. That includes Catholics, Hebrews and Muslims. But people of most faiths also start wars of oppression and ignorance. In this book, those people are also Catholics, Hebrews and Muslims. These faiths have works that go back millennia. The Sarajevo Haggadah, the book of the title, is one of those. It was created with love and honor and faith by someone (actually at least two someones, as one drew and another wrote) who tried to create a masterpiece to honor the faith.

Brooks's book has one overall message: culture and books should prevail over wars and ignorance. And the first sign of oppression and evil is the suppression, and burning, of books. Keep a watchful eye out for that. Nazi Germany wasn't the first killing tyranny to burn books, but doing so is the first sign of an ignorance and an oppression. That, and shutting down the press and universities.

Keep your eyes open for that, no matter where you are.

Many hands have undoubtedly touched the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is a very real book, as many hands undoubtedly have created it. This is the case of all old books.

Yes, all of them. Many hands will create many errors, especially in print, especially if the words have been created and put together over many centuries. If you've read my blog, you probably know where I'm going with that. If not, read the book, and you may.

Of all the sections of Brooks's book, she is at her best in those of historical fiction. The most memorable to me is the section of the book's travels out of World War II. There's a scene on a frozen lake that you won't soon forget. The part about the writing of the Haggadah is also great. So is the section about the real signature and inscription, and the fictional wine and blood stains.

Less great are the parts of the main character, Hanna, necessary to set the outline of the novel. She is asked to restore the book, as it's many hundreds of years' old. While doing so, she notices missing silver clasps, a butterfly's wing, a white (cat's) hair, a drop of wine, and another drop of what turns out to be blood. There's also a signature and inscription by a censor of the Inquisition--a real guy named Giovanni Domenico Vistorini. All that is known about this real man is his signature and inscription; other books from the Inquisition also have his name and notice. He had surely not signed hundreds of other books, many of them old even by 1609, thereby fating them to the flames. This one he let live--a strange book for an Inquisitor to pass. You'll have to read Brooks's book to see why.

So this is a great, literate book, about a real book, and the message is that books and cultures are cool. It's got a Travelling Pants kind of frame--Remember the movie with different segments about characters who all come across the same pair of pants? (Well, I didn't read the book or see the two movies, either, but I'm aware of the writing frame.) If not, how about Cat's Eye?--that really works here, even if Brooks is obviously more at home with the historical fiction parts, and less proficient with Hanna's modern day. She tries to hard, IMHO, to portray a sassy and independent Aussie. I found what she did for a living more cool than her character. That's just me--though she does have a memorably Lady Macbeth-like surgeon mother, who admits a whopper at the end.

Ultimately I prefer Brooks's March and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, but this--her third book--is also a wonder of a sort, and well worth your time. Though I think it's her third best at the time of its writing, it's still better than the best of most, including your humble reviewer. Actually, a piece of this gave me inspiration for a book I'm writing, that also takes place over many generations, with many characters, nations and problems. My book didn't have a MacGuffin--which is essentially what the Haggadah is here--nor did it have a Citizen Kane-type narrative frame, which is what Brooks's book is. The stains, the inscription and signature, the hair and the butterfly wing--they're all Rosebud, get it?

Knowing different cultures and religions makes you smart. They are not to be hated, oppressed or expelled. See where I'm going with this?!?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez

Photos: from my own collection

A little side note before we begin: Bagwell signed one of the most player-friendly contracts ever. In 2005, he had 100 at-bats and 25 hits, and for this he got paid $18,000,000. Yes, that's 18 million bucks. That's $720,000 per base hit. Yes. What most professionals get paid in 10 years, he got per base hit, just in 2005. But it gets better. In 2006, he got paid over $19,000,000. Yes, 19 million bucks. That was #1 for all of baseball that year. He got paid more than anybody. For how many hits? 0. That's right, 0. He was injured and couldn't play, but that money was guaranteed. Like Pablo Sandoval last year for the Sox, he got paid $19M in 2006 not to play. For his career, he made over $128,000,000. Today, because of 10 years of inflation, that would be worth $169,000,000--an increase in 10 years of $41 million. And all he had to do was sit down and watch it happen. $41 million for doing nothing more than counting his money. If I ever hit it big doing anything, I want his agent.

And a little side note about Ivan Rodriguez: He's the 2nd catcher I've ever heard of nicknamed Pudge, and both guys are in the HOF. You should be ashamed of yourself if you don't know the name of the other guy.

See Bagwell's stats here.

See Rodriguez's stats here.

The Cards

Anyway, these two cards--both from the 1991 Topps Traded Set--are in PSA Gem Mint 10 Condition and can be had at decent prices.

My Rodriguez card cost $22.67 total, including shipping. This was a decent buy, as I saw some for about $2 to $5 less, but I also saw it go for a heckuva lot more than that. Some of those bought prices were crazy--up to $40+ for a card worth about $20. Craziness. There were a few who paid overall a couple of bucks less, and a couple of bucks more, than I did. I got this one from a Woonsocket place, not too far from my neck in the woods, and it was delivered the next day. I might drive up there sometime and check out his store. His ebay handle is rwm8218, and it was at a good price at next-day delivery, so if you're in New England and you're looking for cards, and you want it fast, give him a look on ebay. I was the only one who bid on this one, and the bidding started at $20--which is about average for the card--so his store on ebay is still small enough that you're not bidding against a ton of people. This is a highly sort after card, since Rodriguez just made the Hall of Fame, so the fact that it's been selling for more, but that I was the only one to bid on it at the asking price, tells you something. Sure, by pressing Sold Listings on ebay you can see that the top one sold for $20 +$2.67 shipping--that's me--and then the next one says it sold for $39.99 + shipping--that's the crazy one. Others sold for about $15 + shipping, so they paid a little less than I did, but that's followed by some $22 to $27 buys, all of whom paid more. So mine was about average, discarding the crazy high one and a crazy low one. As Rodriguez is just in the HOF, I expect this card to go up a little, so this will prove to be a slightly better than average buy.

The Bagwell card cost me $29.01 from someone in California. In all honesty, I made a rookie mistake here: I didn't look at the shipping before I bid. Had I done so, and seen that it was $4, I wouldn't have bought this. Overall I paid about $5 more than many, and about $5 less than a few. Overall, an average buy, not a steal, because of the shipping. I had first seen it at rwm8218, where it sold for $20, and someone else was the only bidder. That was a helluva price, a nice steal, better than the deal I got on his Rodriguez card and a helluva better deal than I got here. I'm still happy with the buy, and as Bagwell is just in the HOF as well, this will go up, so it'll prove to be an average buy, probably. But the lesson, again: If you want a deal, it's usually in the shipping, not in the price. Grrrrrrrrrrr...

So, the players...

Bagwell--if you're old enough, you already know this--was infamously traded by the Red Sox to Houston in 1990 for Larry Anderson, an average relief pitcher who'd had a helluva year in 1989, which overinflated his value. The Sox were constant losers in the playoffs--usually to the Oakland A's at the time--and were trying to get over the hump and advance further in the playoffs. They also had a 1st baseman at the time named Mo Vaughn, who was a consistent home run threat until he ate himself into an Angels uniform and then his career quickly ended. (All the Lady visits didn't help.) Anyway, Bagwell was a 1st baseman / DH type, which the Sox had a lot of, so they dealt him.

Bagwell was brought up immediately and won the Rookie of the Year Award, and then an MVP a few years later, and played 15 years--a short career derailed due to a bad back and shoulder--for Houston. He and Biggio made Houston legit for a few years, really put them on the map. They've been mostly legit since, with a few hiccup years in there. The bottom line about Bagwell--and you should see his stats here--is that he played the vast percentage of his team's games over the years, hitting more homers and drawing more walks than any 1st baseman, consistently, in the National League. His on-base %, RBIs, walks and his homerun totals are amongst the best ever, and's JAWS shows him to be the 6th best 1st baseman ever, after the likes of Gehrig, Foxx, Pujols and Cap Anson (and Roger Conor, and look at that guy's stats, please, because I know you've never heard of him), and higher than Miguel Cabrera (after 14 years) and Frank Thomas--which is damn impressive. If you're younger, you may not have ever heard of Bagwell because he played in Houston and because he was very, very quiet and shy to the media. Had he been a Yankee or Red Sox, he'd be a household name today. There is the steroid taint on him, of course, and he did balloon from a stick to King Kong, but don't get me started about how HOF writers shouldn't moralize, because I can show you that probably 85% or more of the best players of his era used. I don't condone it, of course, and it is extremely unhealthy for you...His election, and Piazza's, means that the writers are officially ready to open the door for players of this era who probably used. Bagwell was never accused officially, nor officially caught, using steroids, ever. Those whispers means he made it to the HOF on his 7th try when he should've made it on his first. JAWS says he was a better player in his career than Miguel Cabrera is now. Think about that for a second. He was the best quiet player I ever saw. If he and Biggio, who had over 3,000 hits and got on base almost as frequently, had had any quality players in the lineup with them at all consistently over the years, the Astros would've been a playoff powerhouse. Alas, not the case, and they rarely had the pitching as well. I've been making the Bagwell for the HOF case for a few years, as you know if you've read this blog, so I'm glad he's in.

Ivan Rodriguez--Pudge--also had the steroid whispers follow him around, mostly because of his remarkable durability at the toughest baseball position. People my age remember him as the only guy we've ever seen who crouched behind the plate with his right leg stretched out all the way, his left knee on the ground. From this truly unique position--without moving from it--he could throw out runners trying to steal second with a career-long consistency over 46%. Most years he was over 50% and 60%. For those of you who don't know, today 35% is fair and 40% is good. Most years he was between 50% to 60%. He won 13 Gold Gloves as a catcher, including 10 straight. Take that defense--by far the best all-time at that position--and throw in almost 3,000 hits. He finished with over 2,800 hits, but would have had well over 3,000 had he played any other position. He was so good defensively that he was maybe the best hitting catcher never moved away from the position, because you would waste all that ability putting him anywhere else, including DH. Even Yogi Berra played a ton of games in left field, and Piazza played some at first. In 21 years, Rodriguez played just 57 games at DH and just 8 at 1st base. He played 2,427 games behind the plate, the most ever. That, from a guy who had almost 3,000 hits, is remarkable. Rodriguez always--and I mean every day--played the game with a huge Cheshire Cat smile, and a lot of happiness and energy. He never complained about anything--as well he shouldn't, also having made more than $122,000,000 for his career, or over $156M with inflation since his retirement. You should see his stats here, and you can see the money at the end of the page. All stats and dollar figures for this entry via That website has him as the #3 catcher of all-time, behind Bench and Carter. We remember him from the Texas Rangers, of course, but in his spare time in 2003 he helped the Marlins win the World Series, which I actually remember. He had the NLCS of his life that year, and won its MVP, mostly with his bat.

Both guys were quiet, though Pudge's defense made him look flashy. I watched the careers of both guys, who both started in 1991, and I'm happy as hell to see them in the Hall, especially Pudge.

By the way, Pudge #1 was Carlton Fisk. You knew that, right?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben -- A Quick Book Review

Photo: from, at this address

Another very appealing Bolitar novels, again proving the series is better than the stand-alones. In this one, a 13 year-old boy needs a bone marrow transfusion. A donor has been found, but then goes missing. Can Bolitar find him?

He can, and does, of course, and along the way he punches a bloated, soft-in-the-middle lawyer, kidnaps a millionairess, captures a serial killer, gains a great client, annoys the feds, and deals with daddy issues--with himself, and with his own father. The result is another mystery in the series that works well because it deals well with the real problems of its main character, problems we all face, especially guys in our 40s, as both Bolitar and myself happen to be.

One aspect here--the identity of an older man living by himself--was as obvious to me as it will be to you, but that's okay. You want to get some it yourself, right? Umberto Eco and James Joyce are great writers, but they're smarter than we are, too--and who wants to be outsmarted all the time, and condescended to at the end because the writers know they're too smart for us? I'm not calling Harlan Coben a dummy here--and he wouldn't want to be thought of in the snooty vein anyway. I'm saying the opposite: Coben knows his genre, and he knows he can't outclass the reader all the time. You've got to let them in on the fun sometimes.

I've said before that Coben, like Bolitar himself, tries too hard, and he does here as well. It's an okay too hard, like when he always (and I do mean each and every single damn time) admits to the cliche before he springs the cliche upon us. Sometimes he admits the cliche so he doesn't have to spring it upon us--but by doing so, he's springing it upon us, and it's cliche at this point to admit to the cliche in this way, and for this reason, anyway. But he makes it work. If you know the genre, you know the cliche, and you know the admission of the cliche, and when it comes, and you're already expecting it, he's got you in his hands, don't you see? It's all part of the game. Coben knows you're smart enough to know it, and he knows you'll be happy to know that he knows you're smart enough to know it. So in the end he's giving the reader what he wants. And, if you listen closely to the minor characters in this one, he's telling you why you're so happy to be acknowledged and pseudo-complimented.

And how easy it is to just go along with the game all the time. We stay on that path, right?