Wednesday, May 31, 2017

This is where we are

Good morning to all.  Unexpected thunderstorm underway here in central Kentucky.  'Tis the season, you know!

By the way, I hope that everyone was able to enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend.  I read about some rather crass suggestions for celebrating the day.  Those who are given to deeper thought appreciate the day off as much as the sacrifices that allow it to occur annually, of course.

Did you read about golfer Tiger Woods?  He was found unconscious in his car in the middle of a street in the middle of the night.  The engine was running at the time.  Arrested for DUI.

I learned of this while playing golf with some friends on Monday.  My first comment was that, well, let's remember that the guy had back surgery not so long ago and likely mixed alcohol with prescribed pain medication.  The police report is due to be released today, I believe.  I think Tiger has a little more explaining to do, even though he's months from attempting to return to competitive play.

Woods' fall from celebrated golf prodigy has been long and painful, as his body and image simultaneously broke down.  In his prime I enjoyed watching him play and watching him make a golf ball do some pretty amazing things.  Will we get to see him play at a high level again?  It's very hard to say.

Big fight in a Major League Baseball game over the weekend, featuring talented but temperamental player Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. His agent is making an argument that he does not deserve the four-game suspension handed down by MLB.  Provoked or not, there are rules against charging the mound, Bryce.

The Reds were showing some fight themselves recently, as they started a road trip on a good note and won their first series in Philadelphia since 2006.  Then they arrived in Toronto and promptly were decimated 17-2 on their first night there and lost narrowly last night, too.  I swear, I'm almost ready to volunteer my services as a pitcher, at the rate they're going they'll need me by the All-Star break.  Absolutely remarkable that this team is as close the the .500 mark as they are, with a starting rotation that has been decimated by numerous injuries.

RIP to sportswriter Frank Deford, who graced the pages of Sports Illustrated for many years before helping start The National, a daily sports newspaper.  You know, back when we used to rely on NEWSPAPERS for our information.  Deford was a frequent guest on ESPN's The Sports Reporters and other venues where his commentaries, which he wrote, of course, were the only thing better than reading his work.  In my lifetime I've had the privilege to read his work and that of Roger Angell, the brilliant writer of baseball and other subjects.  He will certainly be missed.

Speaking of antiquated institutions, I saw just a few minutes ago that CBS apparently decided to remove Scott Pelley as the anchor of its evening news broadcast.  We don't watch CBS News in our home, except for CBS Sunday Morning, but the few times I've seen Pelley he drives me bananas because he speaks so slowly as to be condescending.  Probably not intentional, but that's how I take it.  "I"m going to speak slowly for you so that you'll understand what I'm saying."  He'll still be on 60 Minutes, apparently, another news show which is very long in the tooth.

Have to confess that we watch NBC Nightly News in our household, well, nightly.  Because I spend some time online during the day, I usually know the majority of what will be covered, but my wife still prefers a digested version of the latest news.  Networks will keep putting these shows on provided they make some money, I think, but once the profit motive goes away, so will the programs.

Last comment:  I noticed that the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie made out well at the box office over the holiday weekend, sailing (sorry, bad pun) past the competition, which included a reimagining of the old TV show "Baywatch."  We saw the first three, noted very little original in numbers two and three, didn't bother with the 4th and agreed that this latest one was clearly a cash-in move by Disney, the producers and star Johnny Depp, whose quirky talents have not yielded anything close to a hit in some time.  Hope those who saw it enjoyed it, as I don't plan to.

Enjoy your Wednesday.  And, yes, I almost typed "Tuesday."






Thursday, May 25, 2017

More sorrow

Friends, it's raining here in central Kentucky this morning, which is probably contributing to my mood.

I am still so saddened by the recent events in Manchester, England. but I would add to that sentiment that it's powered by some family information.  In the past year both of my granddaughters, aged 11 and 7, have attended pop concerts by performers not that different from Arianna Grande, whose show was marred by this senseless act of violence.  So I have difficulty not thinking about this.

But it's becoming so much the norm, isn't it?  Think about it:  the TSA just announced a new pilot program where they'll more closely examine all kinds of things that they used to not look at specifically, like electronic devices larger than a cellphone.  Regular visitors to this space will remember that it wasn't that long ago that I flew for business regularly, and became rather numb to the art of getting through security quickly and without needless delays.  First the liquids, then the laptops, and now it looks like tablets and e-readers and portable gaming systems will be subject to added scrutiny.

My son and I attended a baseball game in Cincinnati recently, and I have to say that I was rather nonchalant about the need to pass through a metal detector when I arrived.  That's just how things are now.

At one point in my life I was a voracious reader of certain authors' work, and the late Tom Clancy was at the top of the list.  Clancy was the author of the Jack Ryan books, many of which have been turned into pretty good movies.  In any case, both the novel and film versions of "The Sum of All Fears" centered around a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear weapon at the Super Bowl (the movie did not refer to the game as that, given trademark issues and such).  There were countless mentions in the book particularly about how such an attack would scar the psyche of our country.  Another of Clancy's books, "Debt of Honor," ends with a rogue Japanese pilot deliberately crashing an airliner into the Capitol during a Presidential address.

Those are just the most evident examples of how this stuff is pervasive in our culture.  And it's not that Western nations need to provide inspiration to those who would carry out such acts.

I agree with those in Manchester and Paris and Nice and London and Boston and other cities that the best thing we can all do is NOT allow such possibilities to prevent us from living our lives.  So I plan to continue to do so, but with a more practiced eye toward what might be happening behind the scenes.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

News of all kinds

Friends, it's Wednesday, so we're at about the halfway point of the work week.  And we're approaching Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer.  School is almost out for the summer, too.

Let me first make a general comment about what's happening in Washington.  I don't think anyone who visits here would disagree that we're in for some rough times over the coming weeks and months.  I was a young teen when the Watergate break-in, coverup and investigation occurred, and remember well my mom (who was not working at that time) watching every minute of the Senate hearings on the subject.  I don't know if I understood everything that was happening, but got enough of it to know that it wasn't good for anyone.

My take now is that there are now so many media outlets that information is likely leaking from numerous sources, in the executive or legislative branches of our government as well as within some departments.  That's not good, but things are found out quickly in our current 24-hour news cycle and that may mean they resolve quickly.  Hoping that our most important institutions withstand what's happening right now.

Less important stuff to move on with....

It's hot here in central Kentucky.  Really hot.  Damned hot, if you ask me.  This often happens, the weather is fair, damp, often with a cold snap thrown in for good measure throughout the spring, then a switch appears to be thrown and here we are, in blazing heat.  We should be used to it, it seems to happen every year!

Good baseball weather.  Our grandson is in the middle of a good season with his T-ball team and at last night's game he made a very good play from his second base position on a ground ball, fielding the ball cleanly and making a perfect throw to first for the out.  Remember, these kids are four to six years old, so a semi-professional play on a ground ball is kind of a big deal, at least to me.  Our grandson's team has only lost once, but they have a couple of games to make up due to some of the foul weather I mentioned.

The Reds continue a surprisingly good season, too.  Thanks to having lost four straight games, they've fallen back to the .500 mark, but, honestly, rebuilding teams rarely get to that point and stay there, so it's been an up and down season marked with a fair amount of promise for the future.  And all of this with a makeshift starting rotation forced by multiple injuries to several pitchers.

My son and I visited Cincinnati last week and watched the home team beat the New York Yankees in a good game.  Great to be in the ballpark for that!

I've been trying to play some golf, but it seems that it has rained on so many weekends that it hasn't come together as it often does.  Played with some friends a couple of weekends ago, played a decent round with a good stretch of holes in the middle, which is not bad for a complete lack of practice and playing.

One more thing and I'll let you get back to your Wednesday...our family will be growing again in December, as we just found out over the weekend that our son and his wife are expecting their third child!  What a wonderful Mother's Day surprise!




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Same as it ever was

Good morning, everyone.  And on a Tuesday, too!

Our schizophrenic weather continues here in central Kentucky.  Hot, then mild, then downright cool, and now warming up again.  Rain and then dry and then drizzle and so on.

Enough about that.  I come to you today regarding a musical oldie-but-goodie.  And unlike so many of my preferred artists, this one is not so old.

I refer to the dynamic late-70s to early-90s group Talking Heads.

The four members met in art school in New England, as I have read, and combined new wave rock, funk, pop and performance art into a driving form with undeniable rhythm and catchy songs whose words are, well, interesting.

I began to think of them recently upon learning of the death of film director Jonathan Demme, better known for directing the acclaimed "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," but whose roots were in documentary filmmaking.  Demme collaborated with Talking Heads for a concert movie entitled "Stop Making Sense," the title lifted from a lyric in one of their songs.

I have a copy of that movie and watched it recently, and despite its age (made in 1983, I think), the film and concert both hold up well.  Talking Heads' music was always an acquired taste, with lead singer/songwriter David Byrne's vocal style intriguing and challenging to the audience at the same time.  Demme and Byrne cooked up an interesting film that relies mostly on photography of the band (and crew, for once) at work, with long shots of secondary players like a rhythm guitarist or percussionist and almost no displaying of the audience or their reactions.

The Heads played at the University of Kentucky when I was not long out of school and performed pretty much this same show here in Lexington at Memorial Coliseum, the one-time home of the Kentucky men's basketball team.  The entire show was performed with the house lights on, which probably diminished the impact of the show, but I learned later that someone had called in a bomb threat and the campus police would only allow the show to proceed (with a lengthy delay) with those lights still on.

It was a great show, and it still is quite entertaining.  The level of intensity by Byrne and his bandmates, with the lineup expanded for live performance, is evident throughout, but this bunch always seemed to enjoy it.  I suspect this film is available online in different places, so if you like music from that era, give it a look.

I must be reliving that part of my life recently, as I caught myself listening to the Police recently, too.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Seeing it on TV

It's Monday, everyone.  Which means, here in central Kentucky, that it's raining again.  At least the rain bookended the weekend, which allowed a steamy round of golf Saturday and grilled dinner last night!

I come to you this morning prepared to discuss several aspects of the television industry.  There have been items mentioned in the national media, and locally as well, that made me want to share some of this information.

I'll start with ESPN, the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports," a phrase co-opted from ABC Sports, which used to make the same claim.  Last week ESPN very publicly thinned its workforce in announcing layoffs of many recognizable on-air personalities like Andy Katz, Jayson Stark, Ed Werder, Trent Dilfer, Jay Crawford and a number of others, as well as a number of writers who seldom, if ever, appeared on camera.

ESPN, and its parent The Walt Disney Company, took this action after a workforce reduction just a year or so ago.  They indicated that this was in response to changing viewing patterns, which is probably true.

ESPN was a neat-o thing for me when I first had access to cable TV back in the 80s.  Why, the very idea that there was a channel that had all of the highlights of all of the games on THAT NIGHT!  Of course, now, virtually ALL of the games in EVERY sport are on somewhere, so I saw what I wanted to see already.

Thus the changing viewing patterns.

That leads me to my next point.  Our local newspaper featured a story yesterday about customers of our local cable TV company, now called Spectrum following the acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Charter Communications, finding that channels went dark suddenly because Spectrum determined that these customers weren't paying enough for their programming.  Worth mentioning that in Kentucky cable TV is controlled by the state's Public Service Commission, regulated just like any other utility like electric or gas or water.  And a single entity is allowed to provide service in any geographic area, so there's no competition.

I experienced something less jarring but no easier to accept recently, when our overall Spectrum bill jumped about twenty dollars from one month to the next.  In our case it was a revision of fees for the rental and USE of a cable box/DVR combination.  Yes, a charge to rent the box, and a separate charge to USE it to record programs.  I know, defies logic.

Just as the man who was heavily quoted throughout the newspaper article, I called Spectrum in hopes of negotiating a somewhat better deal, which used to be common with Time Warner and its predecessors, but now their approach is to explain what services can be removed in order to achieve a financial objective.

I left my package as is for now, opting to leave it alone.  Eventually, Spectrum will begin monitoring and either capping or throttling Internet usage, so until then at least I can stream and browse endlessly.

My final set of comments regard the traditional television networks.  Every year, my wife and I review new shows to see if there's anything we'd find to be worth watching.  And every year we wait to see if the new shows we've been watching will return in the fall schedule.  I don't know this, but it seems to me that the networks used to be a little more definitive about shows that were cancelled vs. shows that were returning.  Now it seems that shows just sort of fade away, never to be seen again.

Let's remember, the original "Star Trek" television series lasted barely three years, but has lived on in syndicated reruns, sequels, spin-offs and movies since the late 60's.  So you have to believe that the folks who decide on these things are simply guessing and hoping they're right.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading to my treadmill for some exercise, where I'll use my tablet to stream Netflix to pass the time while walking.

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