Monday, April 30, 2012

Song of the Week: I Won't Dance

We have another nice, little Sinatra tune this time.  Why is it the song of the week?  It ties into this week's book review, so stay tuned for that.  But for now, enjoy!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup: Round 2

Well, I don't think I did very well with my Round 1 predictions.  I went 4-4 which is the worst I can ever remember going.  It just goes to show how much parity there is in the NHL these days.  On to round 2:

East:
Rangers vs Capitals:  My knock against the Caps for as long as anyone has listened to me is on their defense.  They've gotten great goaltending from Holtby, which allowed them to upset the defending champion Bruins.  But the guy in the other net has been great all year.  Henrik Lundquist just got himself nominated for this year's Vezina.  I see the Rangers in 6.


Flyers vs Devils:  Philadelphia gets another team they hate, though there is less animosity than against the Penguins.  Of all the playoff series in the first round, the Devils/Panthers series was the slowest, least passionate of them all.  If the Devils can't bring any kind of urgency to their game, the Flyers will make short work of them.  Yes, Martin Brodeur has nearly every goalie record on the face of the planet, but the Flyers' shooters made Marc-Andre Fleury (second in the league with 42 wins) look like a cardboard cutout.  Devils have no shot.  Flyers in 5.


West:
St. Louis vs Los Angeles:  This should be a great one to watch.  St. Louis starter Brian Elliott and Los Angeles's Joathan Quick were the top two goalies in the league (as far as GAA goes) by far.  They also gave up the fewest number of goals (St. Louis - 165, LA - 179, Rangers -187) by a large margin.  They also allowed the fewest goals in the first round of the playoffs with only eight against apiece in five games.  This one could go either way and probably end up a 2-1 score of triple overtime in Game 7 to decide the winner. It's a coin toss, but I'll go with #2 seed St. Louis in 7.

Phoenix vs Nashville:  The new blood series of the playoffs.  Neither team has much of a playoff history, but they both made noise by knocking off Chicago and Detroit, respectively.  Nashville is scary good with Pekka Rinne, the NHL's winningest goalie in the regular season, defensive studs Shea Webber and Ryan Sutter, and made a great "deadline" deal bringing back sniper Alexander Radulov. The Coyotes are beat up and have lost the biggest advantage they had in the first round: a far superior goalie. Predators in 6.

Let's see if I do any better this round.

Friday, April 27, 2012

MST3K Friday: Worst Deliveries

Here's a little something different this week:  five really, really bad dialogue deliveries.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by, Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson served as speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, a job he got in what he describes as a fluke, from 1982-1983.  Then, he served as speechwriter and special assistant to President Ronald Reagan from 1983-1988.  He wrote nearly 300 speeches in his time at the White House, including Reagan's famous "Tear Down This Wall" speech from June 12, 1987. After stints in the MBA program at Stanford, The News Corporation, and the SEC in Washington, Robinson joined the Hoover Institution as a fellow in 1993.  Currently, he hosts Hoover's Uncommon Knowledge interview program, where he conducts some of the best, most insightful interviews I've seen.  In 2003, he published the book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life about his time in the White House and how it shaped him.

I remember hearing about this book when it first came out and thinking "Great.  Another book saying how great Reagan was that people will write off as hero worship by Republicans."  On a recent Ricochet podcast, the hosts mentioned how to get a free audiobook from audible.com (just click this link) and that Robinson's book was read by him, with audio excerpts of Reagan where he is quoted. Since I've become an admirer of Robinson's, I decided I'd use my freebie to download this book. Robinson himself says the book is kind of a "love letter" to Reagan, but it's not an outright hagiography of the president.  He shares ten important lessons he learned from Reagan and it reads as a warm portrait of a mentor - who just happened to be the leader of the free world.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a life lesson Robinson took from his time in the White House.  Some of these include finding the good in the bad, do the work you are intended to do, act now, what you say matters, and take things in stride.  Each one of these items is backed up by anecdotes from Robinson or from other former Reagan staffers who he interviewed.  Those interested in the "Tear Down This Wall" speech should pay close attention to chapter 4, it is a detailed behind-the-scenes look at how that speech came to be.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Song of the Week: Let It Rain

This week I've had Clapton on the brain.  "Let It Rain" was the last track on his first solo album, Eric Clapton (1970).  Though I don't think it ever became a big hit, it's a great song.  If you're interested, there's a live version featuring Phil Collins on drums here.  But I prefer the studio version:


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Well Said

In an audiobook I listened to last week (review coming in a couple days), the author included a quote from G.K. Chesterton.  This comes from his What I Saw in America (1922):

The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.

Friday, April 20, 2012

MST3K Friday: Track of the Moon Beast

"Something's inside my head?"  "Yeah, not much."
"Your brain has performed an illegal operation and will now shut down."


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shop Class as Soulcraft by, Matthew B. Crawford

Over the course of the 20th Century, the nature of work changed. Through advances in technology and assembly line techniques, most of the economy, at least in the US, has been transformed into “knowledge work”; that is, work that doesn’t produce a physical product. Increasingly, the American worker has become disaffected with his work, sometimes questioning if he provides any value at all. Are these two phenomenons related? Matthew B. Crawford makes the case in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft.

Adapted from his essay in The New Atlantis magazine, Crawford argues that we reconsider the ideal of “manual competence”. He says,
A decline in tool use would seem to betoken a shift in our mode of inhabiting the world: more passive and more dependent. And indeed, there are fewer occasions for the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or to make them. What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves installing a pre-made replacement part.

This segues into the psychic appeal of manual work. The tactile experience of building or repairing something creates a connectedness with the real world that you don’t get when the output of your work is an idea.

Crawford’s story itself is interesting. He has many degrees from many big name universities and worked for a time at a think tank outside Washington, D.C.. Becoming dissatisfied with knowledge work, he quit his job and opened a motorcycle repair shop. Since this change, he became much happier and achieved a sense of community that he felt lacking as a cubicle drone.

The trades aren’t for everyone, but Crawford’s attempt to rehabilitate their image is a welcome one. Not everyone is suited to be a motorcycle repairman or master electrician, but, conversely, not everyone is suited to sit at a desk and stare at a glowing screen all day. In some ways, the trades might offer a better future for young people today; a lot of knowledge work can be outsourced, but craftsmen need to be local.

The original essay (linked here and above) is well worth the read. There are sections that need to be fleshed out and expanded, and that’s what the book does. There is a long middle section of the book that reads like memoirs of a mechanic. It made for unique reading because the first section sounds exactly like something you’d expect from an academic. Unfortunately, I was a little bored by the memoir section. He could have condensed some of the anecdotes and used them as examples for his arguments. Spending too long on how he got into the trades ultimately distracts from the broader point he was trying to make.

Overall, a thought provoking read. I’d say read the essay and continue on to the book if it seems like something up your alley.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Song of the Week: Who Cares

Who Cares? is a song written by George and Ira Gershwin for their 1931 musical Of Thee I Sing.  Not too many people these days remember Anita O'Day, but hers is my favorite rendition of this song.  I picked this song because I randomly remembered the intro one day:

Let it rain and thunder / let a million firms go under
I am not concerned with / stocks and bonds that I've been burned with

Friday, April 13, 2012

MST3K Friday: Radar Secret Service

"Oh, it's the heat.  Hide the stash."
"Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"
"Aim high, Ted."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

It's the most wonderful time of the year!  We've got the start of baseball season and playoff hockey to burn up all the non-work hours in the day.  As always, here are my picks for the first round matchups.


EASTERN CONFERENCE
Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa (8)
The Rangers have been solid all season.  Typically they go through a slow spell, quite often at the end of the season, but not this year.  The name of their game was defense and they gave up the third fewest goals of any team in the NHL.  Ottawa, meanwhile, has been struggling recently.  They won a fair number of games, but gave up the most goals against of any playoff team.  Erik Karlsson had his breakout season this year, but how will he handle playoff pressure?  The one odd stat is Ottawa won the season series against New York 3-1 and outscored them 14-8.  Still, Rangers in 6.

Boston (2) vs. Washington (7)
The Bruins, the defending Cup champions, are built from the back out. Goalie Tim Thomas is the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner and captain Zdeno Chara anchors one of the best defensive corps in the league. The Bruins score goals by by committee, which is needed depth for a long playoff run. The Caps have had a down year and they still haven't addressed their defensive holes. Added to their woes this year is a big question mark on who will be the starting goalie. The defending champs are a lock to win this. Bruins in 5.


Florida (3) vs. New Jersey (6)
One interesting sub-plot is Devils head coach Pete DeBoer was fired by Florida two years ago. This series I have a hard time getting a read on. The Devils are a much more solid team and have Martin Brodeur. But Marty has been less than human (16-26) since the Devils won the Cup in 2003. Florida has a good, young core led by Stephen Weiss, made a big splash in the offseason with their acquisitions, but have some question marks in goal (Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, really?). Conventional wisdom goes with the Devils in an upset. Devils in 7.


Pittsburgh (4) vs. Philadelphia (5)
This is the series that even the most casual hockey fan can get excited about.  Saying the Penguins and Flyers don't like each other is a supreme understatement.  They actively loathe each other, and it makes for spellbinding hockey.  The Flyers have been good all year and have had very few losing streaks.  Claude Giroux stayed at the top of the NHL scoring race all season finishing with 93 points, good enough for third behind Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (109) and Tampa's Steven Stamkos (97).  Top netminder Ilya Bryzgalov has been lights out for the past month, but this is after some shaky outings in the first 3/4ths of the season.  Philly's also a little banged up, missing three solid defensemen, James van Riemsdyk, and Daniel Briere (who got injured by Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale in the 4/1 matchup between the two teams).  Briere was a key player in the Flyers' 2010 run, scoring 30 points in 23 games.  Another minus for the Flyers is they've given up the first goal in 24 our of their past 32 games.  They have a good record coming from behind, but uphill is the wrong way to play hockey in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh is as hard to beat as they've been for the past couple years.  A team-wide dedication to defense gives them the third fewest goals against in the East and the second best penalty kill in the league.  And this is with Art Ross winner Malkin and stud James Neal (7th in points, 4th in goals, 1st in power play goals) on the team.  The Penguins have 5 players with 20+ goals, and Matt Cooke with 19, and had nearly a dozen players make career best numbers this year.  Malkin hit a career best in goals, game winning goals, and shots.  Neal hit bests in goals, assists, shots, points, and power play goals.  Pascal Dupuis hit career bests in almost every single offensive category and had an NHL-best 17-game scoring streak to end the season.  On the minus side, the Pens have had some defensive lapses in the last month of the season.  They got blasted by some fairly bad teams and made way more turnovers than any team should be able to get away with.  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can make a strong case for team MVP.

Each game of the series should be must see TV.  Penguins in 6.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mr. 500

Well, this is a nice milestone. This is post number 500 at Unsquare Dance.  And that's in just under four years.  A previous blog I had lasted about that long, but ran out of steam at around 240 posts.  Of course, MST3K Friday helps me out a bit.

Most frequent topics here include:  Mystery Science Theater (151 posts), books (72), movies (42), and the various TV shows of Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Terriers, Lie to Me).

There hasn't been as much hockey talk as I expected, but there's still time.  Of course, tomorrow will start my annual tradition of playoff predictions.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Song of the Week: A Little Bach

Here's a little something different this week.  Yesterday was Easter, so we'll go with some sacred music.  First up is the first movement of JS Bach's Easter Oratorio.  If you're so inclined, there's a different recording of the full version also available on YouTube (it clocks in at 40 minutes).



Next, we have a Bach transcription by Leopold Stokowski. This is the Chorale from the Easter Cantata. This one is exceptionally beautiful.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2010: The Wrap-Up

The Great American Ballpark Tour continued this year. After going on trips in odd numbered years, we decided not to take 2010 off. Starting in 2005, my brother and I have gone to as many baseball games in as many cities as we can in a single week. 2005 was Mets, Yankees, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. 2007 was Pittsburgh, Cleveland, a minor league game in Columbus, and Cincinnati. 2009 was White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Cubs, and Milwaukee Brewers. 2010 was the new Mets and Yankee Stadiums, plus Fenway Park in Boston and Rogers Centre in Toronto.

As is tradition (though it looks like we skipped last year), here's the after action report for this year's installment of the Great American Ballpark Tour.

1) Best Park:
Me: Fenway. No doubt. New Yankee Stadium is impressive and they did a good job with CitiField. But sitting in the bleachers at Fenway I got a "holy crap! I'm actually here" vibe that was awesome. Grandstands had no legroom, but center field seats for game 2 were fine.
Dave: Fenway Park, despite the serious lack of leg room. I was pleasantly surprised with CitiField too.

2) Best Fans:
Dave: Outfield seats game #2 in Fenway.
Me: Fenway fans in general. Any time a popular song came on the loudspeaker, everyone sang along with it.

3) Best Individual fan:
Dave: I'd have to go with the guy heckling Oliver Perez at the Mets game
Me: Heckling guy was fun. That game also featured a couple (grown up) fans talking about how awesome Teddy Grahams were. Who else? Crazy grampa from Fenway's center field? Nobody as cool as the Sawx guys from year 1, though.

4) Best Park food:
Me: I had a pretzel in every park and a hot dog in every one except Toronto. Pretzel - Yankee Stadium. Hot dog - Fenway. The BBQ Chicken Nachos in Toronto are a must try, as is the 3 Brewers restaurant (next to Hard Rock)
Dave: I want to say the nachos at Rogers Centre were the best ballpark food, but they were too spicy for my mouth. Nothing else sticks out in memory. Favorite restaurant was probably 3 Brewers in Toronto.

5) Best Game:
Dave: Tough call between the two games in Toronto. The first game was insane fun because of the amount of runs scored, home runs, and the debut of J.P Arencibia (we've seen 4 of his 5 career hits). But game 2 in Toronto was 8 2/3 innings of no hit baseball that they still could have LOST because of two runners on in the 9th.
Me: I'd go with a Toronto game, too. The first three were blowouts with the home team losing. Game 2 in Fenway was fun. But 9 homers (8 by Toronto) in one game and a near no-hitter with 17 K's in the next are just outstanding. Brendan Morrow put on the finest pitching performance I've ever seen.

Games:

8/1/10 Mets 1, Arizona Diamondbacks 14
8/2/10 Yankees 2, Toronto Blue Jays 8
8/4/10 Boston Red Sox 1, Cleveland Indians 9
8/5/10 Boston Red Sox 6, Cleveland Indians 2
8/7/10 Toronto Blue Jays 17, Tampa Bay Rays 11
8/8/10 Toronto Blue Jays 1, Tampa Bay Rays 0

Posted on the old blog 9/15/2010.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2009: The Wrap-Up

I mentioned in my introduction that we didn’t do a wrap-up of the 2009 leg of our tour. This is a shame because it was one of the most fun and quite possibly my favorite (though that’s presumably like picking your favorite child). I had never been to Chicago before this trip and came away with a great appreciation of the city. It’s one of the places we hit on our tour to which I would like to return. We flew in from our separate airports (he from Dulles, me from Newark), and met at O’Hare around 8:30 on Saturday morning. His flight beat mine by maybe fifteen minutes.

Since our hotel didn’t allow check-ins until after 2pm, we figured we’d start right in with sightseeing. We started with Shedd Aquarium (large and with a wide array of sea life; recommended if you like Aquariums) and the Adler Planetarium (also large and also recommended). It was at this stop that we stumbled across the Chicago City Pass. By buying the City Pass, you got discounted entry into many of the museums, the occasional freebie, and the authority to bypass about half the lines at many of the more popular attractions.

That night we indulged in the main activity people first think of when Chicago is mentioned: shady politics. Just kidding. It was deep dish pizza.

Day Two saw our first baseball game of the trip, which introduced us to the heartburn many White Sox fans felt that year upon hearing the name Bobby Jenks. Dinner was at The Weber Grill (which could introduce heartburn of its own kind to the less gastrointestinally stout than I) and then a quick stroll over to Navy Pier.

The next morning we visited the Field Museum, then took a brisk walk up Lake Shore Drive to the Art Institute of Chicago. I got to zone out for a bit before Nighthawks (Edward Hopper, FTW!) and admired a work by an artist I was unfamiliar with: Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (picture on right). They also have a large selection of Impressionists. A must stop for anyone, even if you’re not necessarily an art fan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2007: The Wrap-Up

Just like last time, here’s the wrap up from both my brother and myself for the week. And just like last time, there’s not much disagreement

1) Best park:
Me: We decided to not include Pittsburgh, because we’ve been there before and we’re kinda biased since we’re Pittsburgh fans. I’m going with Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Great setting, easy access, good overall feel. It’s now up there in my top 3 parks with Pittsburgh and Philly.
Dave: I really liked Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. While both Great American Ballpark and the The Jake are in the new ballpark style, I think what put GAB over the top was the view past the outfield. I must admit, though, that I thought "Great American Ballpark" was being hyperbolic; I didn't realize it was named after an insurance company.

2) Best fans:
Dave: the fan interactions between Indians and Red Sox fans were probably the most intense, but I'm going to go with the fans in the Cincy/Cubs game who stuck it out through the storm showers. Great game too.
Me: Sox fans. We weren’t even in Boston and they had such a huge presence in Cleveland. In game one, they clearly outnumbered the Indians fans. Game two had a lot of Sox chants that the Indians fans tried to boo down.

3) Best individual fan:
Dave: Kid in Columbus who called every player by his first name
Me: I’d have to go with the minor league kid too. The fans were more noticeable as a group than individual like last time (Boston guys, Jabba and the girls).

4) Best Place to Eat:
Dave: Donato's Pizza. If you're looking for something specifically ballpark, I'd go with the brats in Columbus.
Me: I really thought Dave was going to go with Skyline Chili and the Mt. Everest of Cheese. There was some great food. Cleveland had Hometown Heroes (right across from the ballpark). Columbus had O’Charley’s. I really should’ve taken a picture of my lunch there. It was a chicken and shrimp jambalaya served over penne pasta. Tasty and gorgeous. But, I’m going with Donato’s too. Man, that Founder’s Favorite was awesome.

5) Best game:
Me: I’m torn. There were some really good games. The two games in Cincy stand out for me. Probably because they were both back and forth and won at the last possible second. If you like pitching, Dice-K vs C.C. Sabathia is your game. But, I’m more of a National League guy. I’m going with the only day game: Cincinnati vs Milwaukee.
Dave: Cincinnati-Milwaukee game. Griffey's 588th HR in the first inning winning some guy free pizza for a year, back-and-forth game, and free baseball ended by a walk-off hit from the home team.

Games:
7/20/07 Pittsburgh Pirates 2, Houston Astros 1
7/21/07 Pittsburgh Pirates 7, Houston Astros 3
7/23/07 Cleveland Indians 2, Boston Red Sox 6
7/24/07 Cleveland Indians 0, Boston Red Sox 1
7/25/07 Columbus Clippers vs Indianapolis Indians (minor league)
7/26/07 Cincinnati Reds 6, Milwaukee Brewers 5
7/27/07 Cincinnati Reds 5, Chicago Cubs 4

Posted on the old blog 8/17/2007.

Song of the Week: Sweet Home Chicago

This week's song of the week is for tomorrow's Great American Ballpark Tour wrap-up.  In 2009, we went to Chicago.  Here's Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan, Hubert Sumlin, and Robert Cray playing "Sweet Home Chicago".

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2007: The Cities

This trip, my brother and I didn't spend as much time exploring the city as in past trips. We spent most of the time with family. However, on Saturday we did venture over to Phipps Conservatory to see their exhibition of glass artwork by Chihuly. Looks like I didn’t post any examples in my album section. You can find some on his site. Very interesting.

We didn’t spend much time exploring Cleveland on Monday, but did end up driving down most of East 9th Street where we saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Lake Erie. Tuesday, after breakfast at Eat 'n' Park, we spent the whole day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Highly recommended. If you're ever in Cleveland, check it out. They had some great exhibits spanning the decades of rock and roll, from its roots in jazz and the blues, to the modern day. They had an interesting "cities of rock and roll" exhibit that spanned the decades and different styles of rock: Motown, Liverpool, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, all the way up to Seattle’s grunge movement. After this, there were exhibits on some of the big rock acts: The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix. I loved the Hendrix exhibit (probably because I’m a huge fan). They had the expected costumes and historic guitars, but there were some more subtle pieces too. Like drawings Jimi did as a child (he was a great artist as well as musician). His father kept Jimi’s sketches and donated them to the Hall of Fame. Some of the more outspoken political rock of the 1960’s made my brother and I talk about the "is rock dead?" argument. The only bad thing about the HoF was that you weren’t allowed to take pictures.

Columbus, unfortunately, is probably the one new city we visited that we didn’t take full advantage of. It could be that we had such a short time there (less than 24 hours) or that we stayed so far out of town.