Eurovision Q and A

If you’ve been paying attention here in the past, you’ll know I’m a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest (which is only a few weeks away). You are free to check out all my prior posts on the matter, but just in case you had any questions about this whole “Eurovision” thing – and why I keep blathering on about it….

What is it, anyway?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Surfing the Blue Wave

With each passing day, more and more corruption in the Trump administration is revealed. And there are more and more examples of Trump’s unsuitability for office. Social movements from student demonstrations against gun violence to teachers’ strikes are all over the news. More and more members of the administration, and Republicans in Congress, are leaving. Those on the Left politically have to be happy about their prospects for the mid-terms.

But Election Day is six months away. That’s a long time. It can be too easy to lose momentum or become complacent, and if one hopes to at least check the worst excesses of the current administration, that could lead to disaster.

What’s a Democrat / Liberal / Leftist to do?

Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: 13 Ghosts (US, 1960)

The Zorba family is in a rather bad state. That day, the repo men came and collected all their furniture. There’s no indication as to the source of their financial troubles, but it doesn’t really matter. That night, while eating dinner on the floor (the repo men didn’t take their dishes or kitchenware), a telegram arrives. The father, Cyrus (Donald Woods), is being instructed to show up at the offices of attorney Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner, in his pre “Adam-12” days).

It doesn’t look good at all.

However, once Cyrus gets there, he’s informed that his eccentric uncle Plato Zorba has died recently, and has left Cyrus and his family his house and all its contents. This is a pleasant surprise to Cyrus; he’d though Plato had died years ago. The family quickly relocates to the old mansion (conveniently furnished, and with a live-in housekeeper (played with suitable creepiness by Margaret Hamilton).

There, they find out that Uncle Plato’s eccentricities concerned the supernatural, and he had developed a method that he claimed would make ghosts visible. That would explain the weird glasses that were the only non-house item left by the will. Uncle Plato also happened to “collect” ghosts – and they shared the house with him….

Haunted or no, the Zorbas really don’t have much choice at the moment….

Continue reading

The Race to the Bottom

Opening Day for the baseball season is tomorrow – which means all the sports journalists have come out with their power rankings and predictions for the season. It’s pretty easy to choose who the division winners are going to be. With the exception of the American League East (which has two – the Yankees and the Red Sox), each division has just one powerhouse team that should have no problems running away with their flag.

That’s just how the game has turned out these past few years. Sure, a few teams can sneak in to the playoffs via the wild card, but even there you don’t have more than a couple of teams capable of doing that. Most teams are mediocre at best, with no chance of getting anywhere.

And however it happened, the current economic situation has actually encouraged – at least it hasn’t actively discouraged – poor teams from giving up and selling or trading off the few good players they might have in the hope of getting a bunch of good prospects or draft choices.

With the pennant races virtually decided even before the first shout of “Play Ball”, the real races to watch are the ones for last place. Will the crappy teams do the honorable thing and try to win as many games as they can, or make the good business decision to “tank” and hope for the best in the off-season?

Here are my choices for the worst teams in every division (and how they might actually pull off a miracle):

Continue reading

Now Comes the Hard Part

Congratulations!

You’ve marched and protested and demonstrated. You’ve gotten great coverage in the local and national press, and even international news has noticed.

It might be tempting to just sit back contentedly and watch as your efforts achieve their intended results. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Marches alone didn’t bring integration, as Barry McGuire sang.

There’s a tendency to look at the March on Washington in 1963 as an example of how a march can lead to change. But in that instance, the march was the culmination of well over a decade of laying the groundwork, building alliances, and coming up with a clear set of goals.

By the time people gathered in DC, everything was already in place socially and politically. The march itself wouldn’t have accomplished anything if the ground hadn’t been prepared ahead of time.

Now, you’ve got society on your side (for the most part). Surveys show that most Americans agree on a set of basic laws for reducing gun violence, there are plenty of organizations on your side, and even corporations are starting to take notice. It’s time to get the politicians to come out on your side.

While fighting in DC is what gets the big headlines, that’s also where you’re going to get the most resistance. State capitols, on the other hand, tend to fly under the national radar. And some states have already passed the sort of legislation you’re calling for. Connecticut didn’t wait much after Sandy Hook to pass a package of gun control rules – and they worked. Gun deaths dropped significantly in that state. Get state governments on your side, and the federal government will have to fall in line.

I also see that you’re already being slandered by your opponents. Ignore those losers; they know they can’t win a fair fight.

It’s going to be a long slog over the months ahead. The hardest part will be to never lose faith, never lose hope, and to never give up.

BOOK REVIEW: The Berlin Project

The Berlin Project
by Gregory Beford
Saga Press
Copyright 2017 by the author

“What if we had the atomic bomb a year earlier? The easiest and least expensive method of separating isotopes, a method used throughout the world today, is based on a centrifuge procedure that Harold Urey proposed in 1940. General Groves chose the diffusion method instead. Karl Cohen, Urey’s able assistant during that period, believes that Groves’ decision delayed the atomic bomb by a year.

“If Dr. Cohen is right, atomic bombs of the simple gun design might have become available in the summer of 1944 and, in that case, would surely have been used against the Nazis. Atomic bombs in 1944 might have meant that millions of Jews would not have died, and that Eastern Europe would have been spared more than four decades of Soviet domination.”

– Edward Teller, Memoirs

Benford posits that the team working on the centrifuge method got enough independent funding to fix the engineering problems they were having, and got their method chosen over the diffusion method.

This alternate history novel takes it from there, and follows the career of Karl Cohen, the lead engineer-chemist on the centrifuge project.

That Cohen happens to be Benford’s father-in-law, well….

Continue reading

The Greatest World Series Ever

With Spring Training underway, baseball is back in the news!. One of the many things we’re pondering (Will Mike Trout ever get another MVP award? Are the Rays and Marlins really trying to lose?) is the eternal question: Who is going to win the World Series this year? It’s a teeny bit too early for predictions – so I won’t make any.

Instead, I’ll note that we’ve had some really great series recently. Exciting games, teams ending championship droughts, classic matchups, the works. It leads one to ponder – just which WS was the most exciting of them all?

Seems like one cannot quantify “excitement” in that manner. Surely, it’s an objective matter. But hold on a minute. The huge body of statistical records in baseball, with details down to individual pitch counts, makes it a bit easier than one would expect. There’s something called “Win Probability” which, as it suggests, gives a team’s chance of winning a game at any specific point in any given game. Atfer a play, the difference in Win Probability becomes “Win Probability Added” (WPA). The bigger and more important a play, the greater the WPA. (more on WPA in this post ) In a World Series or other playoff game, one can calculate the odds of a Championship Probability – the chance a team has of winning the actual series – for each situation. The Championship Probability Added (cWPA) is therefore how important a given play was in determining the outcome of a series.

Naturally, people have done this to figure out the biggest and most important plays in World Series history. Over at The Baseball Gauge, Dan Hirsch has crunched all the numbers and made the database.

Continue reading

This Year’s Cold

Well, it’s not so much as a “cold” as the world’s most evil cough.

No headache, no fever, no chills, no congestion, no general achiness. But every couple of hours, the body decides it’s time to turn the lungs inside out.

When I wake up, I feel fine. “Okay, no problems today, I must have beaten it during the night!” So it’s off to work….only to be hiding in the rest room three hours later coughing into the sink wondering just how much slime can be in my lungs without my noticing it. And holding my stomach in, because I don’t want to cough so hard I pull something or give myself a hernia (which actually did happen to me some years ago).

I suppose I could be mainlining cough drops, but that doesn’t help much when I’m in bed trying to sleep. At the drug store, I’m confronted with the Paradox of Choice. Which over-the-counter medicine is most appropriate? Extra-strength? Nighttime relief? The one loaded with ingredients to deal with symptoms I don’t have? Name brand or store brand? Should I care about the flavor? AARRGGHH!!

The worst part is that because there are no other symptoms, I’m never going to be truly certain that it’s gone…..

Book Review: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

By Edward Gibbon
Published in six volumes, 1776-1789
With commentary by Henry Hart Milman, 1846

(Project Gutenberg edition)

“It was Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.”

Some months ago, in a discussion of “Great Works”, a friend of mine had mentioned that she’d read Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”. Intrigued, as I was nearing the end of Durant’s “Story of Civilisation”, and looking for something to load onto my mini-tablet for further lunchtime reading, I was pleasantly surprised to find an ePub version of all six volumes available at Project Gutenberg. I quickly downloaded and installed them.

Continue reading

Overrated – Underrated 2

Movie Presidents

Every so often, around Presidents’ Day, you’ll see lists of “Best Movie Presidents”. Well, if you look in the right places, you might. Dramas at the level of the federal government serve us in place of tales of palace intrigue (without a king or nobility, we have to have something), and have served Hollywood well when it comes to story ideas.

Glossing over the fact that the realities of government do not make for good cinema, there have still been plenty of movies – both good and bad – in the genre. And when anyone starts making lists or doing rankings, there are going to be some that are overrated and underrated as a matter of course.

Continue reading