Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Old Dude, OId Movies - "Bombadier"

I was dragging a bit on Monday, so I stayed in and watched a couple of movies I'd DVR'd. "Bombadier" was one of them.

Released in 1943, it's one of those World War II movies I like so much. Stars such as Pat O'Brien, Randoph Scott, Eddie Albert, Robert Ryan and Barton MacLane make it work.

Like a lot of movies in that era, it starts with an "alpha male" tug of war. Two opposing views, two stubborn guys, one problem to be solved.  The views revolve around relative merits of high-altitude bombing (doable with some top-secret bomb-sight doohicky) or dive bombing (conventional but hugely dangerous & not always accurate). The two stubborn guys are old flying buddies/rivals, "Maj 'Chick' Davis" (O'Brien) and "Captain 'Buck' Oliver" (Scott). The problem to be solved is improving bombing accuracy. Davis supports high-altitude bombing, which is yet to be proven. Oliver supports dive-bombing, but the Army Air Corps can't absorb the great losses of life and aircraft. A flying test is ordered, and the results push the rest of the movie.

The staff meeting in the opening scene hearkened back several memories of my time as a staff guy, listening to differing sides of an argument, hearing the passion and commitment from both sides of an issue.

Davis is quickly installed as commander of a start-up bombadier school. Influential generals have come on board supporting the need for this training with the new bomb-sight, and fully support a school to be set up at fictional Hughes Field in Almansor, New Mexico (think Kirtland Air Force Base, back in the early 1940s). The first class rolls in, and it's a typical cross-section of Americana (wise-guy city type, naive but earnest farm boy, shy guy who needs confidence, one ethnic type for comic relief, one guy destined to fail as example of how this endeavor is tough & dangerous). Davis pushes the class hard. He's gruff and distant, but is passionate about his mission. The class scenes reminded me of the days when I was navigator training. The flying training, board reviews and off-duty activities also were pretty cool reminders as well.

Given the era of the film's release, the bombing of Pearl Harbor was accessed as a transition point in the plot, ramping up the danger and purpose. How else do you "ops check" this secret bomb-sight capability except in wartime?

Anne Shirley is the female lead, "Burt", secretary to the commander and granddaughter of the field's namesake. She is contractually guaranteed a job supporting the field's leadership as long as it's open, and a romantic quadrangle immediately forms with her, Chick, Buck and one of the cadets ("Jim Carter", played by Walter Reed). She held her own in the picture, but this film wasn't much about the romance. It was about changing the culture of military bombing.

Flyers in uniform have to fight, so there is a scene where the training has to be challenged in the crucible of combat. Go get 'em, boys! Some live, some sadly die. All serve with honor. It is a feel-good film, no doubt.

I hadn't heard of it before, but I liked it. I probably won't go out of my way to buy it, but I'll watch it again when it's on.

My Team - Game 5, Grizzlies at Clippers

After two wins at home, the first round series is tied at 2 games apiece. The usual cliches about "it's now a best-of-three" do apply, and the Clippers still hold home court advantage. So, if the Grizzlies want to advance, they must one one game in L.A. Why not Tuesday night's contest?

Los Angeles is going to come out like a caged tiger, wanting to burst free. They'll force tempo, even at the cost of taking some wacky shots. They want the crowd on its' collective feet, but the team will have to force the spectacular to get the crowd engaged. That anxiousness will allow Memphis to stay in the game.

For Memphis, they'll have to take the home team execution on the road. Move the ball via the pass, not by over-dribbling. Continue the rough stuff in the post. The Grizzlies have to hold the Clippers to 10 or less second-chance points. Memphis must stay below 10 turnovers. Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen have to contribute offensively, in addition to their stellar defense. Memphis' other starters (Randolph, Gasol and Conley) must be efficient with the basketball, shooting a 50% or more as a group & assisting on each other's baskets. Conley must have as many or more assists as field goal attempts again.

I'm rooting for my team to win. Make no doubt about it. But, in this series the Clippers average 102.5 at home, while Memphis has scored 91 in each road loss.

My guess, Los Angeles 104, Memphis 102 in overtime. The Clippers' starters who combined for 2 points in Game 4 (Billups, Butler and Jordan) will look for early offense, to prove a point. They'll get it. The two teams will fight back and forth all evening. Chris Paul will prove yet again to be one of the Association's best "closers", making plays to tie the game at the end of regulation and win the game at the end of overtime.

(Well) After the Game: Memphis 103, Los Angeles 93. Wow, again I am truly surprised. I am so close to going "total fanboy" and start gushing about how my favorite team is the best ever!

Anyway, after a deep breath or two, the Grizz played well on the road against a good team. Sure, Blake Griffin's high ankle sprain in a Monday practice depleted the Clippers, but you play with the guys you have.

For Memphis, it was 37 field goals, 42 rebounds, 19/7 assist/turnover and 7 steals. Three Memphis starters had 20+ points (Randolph with 25, Gasol with 21 and Conley with 20). Randolph had 11 rebs, Gasol had 8 rebs and 4 assists, and Conley had 6 assists. Prince added 15 points and good help defense.

The Clippers had 34 field goals, 40 rebounds, 19/13 assist/turnover and 6 assists. Chris Paul had a playoff-career-high 35, Crawford came off the bench to add 15, but no other Clipper scored in double figures. Griffin only played 19 minutes (4 points, 5 rebs, 5 assists). They need him making plays on Friday night, for sure.

Memphis won the second quarter by 8 (28-20), to forge a 54-48 lead. That, coupled with Griffin's injury and ineffectiveness, took a lot of energy out the home crowd & the Clippers on the floor.

Memphis is up 3 games to 2, and Game 6 is in Memphis. Can the Grizzlies avoid a letdown, start the game with a great deal of urgency, and keep the pressure on the Clippers for 48 minutes? I sure hope so.

In Dreams - "Memphis to L.A. and Back"

I was back in Memphis, and it felt good. Some enterprising developer had built some really nice townhouses adjacent to FedEx Forum, home of my favorite pro and college basketball teams. I had recently bought one and moved in. Life was pretty sweet.

One perk of living in the townhouse community was we could freely walk around the arena certain times of day, as long as we didn't make a mess. I'd gone over to pay for my luxury box for the upcoming Grizzlies' season (don't ask me where I got the cash). It was a good feeling to know my family and I could watch every home game from the comfort of a luxury suite.

After that, I'd gone through the private gym in the bowels of the arena. The gym was another perk of living in the townhouse community, and the gym's amenities were first rate. I didn't stop that day for a workout, but made a mental note to get back there soon.

As the day wore on, there was some gathering in the arena's concourse. Blake Griffin of the Clippers was in the midst of a public relations appearance on behalf of the NBA. Even though he was a member of a league rival, Memphians came out in droves to see him in person. I tried to avoid the crush of the crowd, and walked past the group on the way back to my townhouse.

Next thing I knew, I was in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. It was a peaceful day in Chavez Ravine, but one thing threw me for a loop. the section of stands directly behind home plate was missing, as if a bomb had detonated and tore down a section of the stands. There were a few people there, and none seemed to mind the damage. I don't know what caused the damage, and didn't take the time to ask anyone.

Then, it was back to Memphis. I was on the campus of the University of Memphis, at the campus bookstore. My brother and I went there to look for something, but I didn't know exactly. He wouldn't tell.

We got to the bookstore just before opening. I could see employees inside milling about, preparing for the work day. Also, an armored truck was either dropping off or picking up a batch of currency, so an armed guard was there watching the proceedings. Finally, we got in the store and my brother asked one of the store managers a few questions. The two people were off to the side, whispering about something. I couldn't hear my brother's request, but the manager couldn't satisfy it. The two shook hands, my brother looked at me & motioned towards the door, and we left.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Atlanta

Starting pitchers -

Monday: Strasburg versus Teheran
Tuesday: Gonzalez versus Hudson
Wednesday: Zimmermann versus Medlen
Thursday: Haren versus Maholm

(Starters subject to change)

The Nationals won the first three of the four-game home weekend series against a pretty good Cincinnati team. Now, it's off to Turner Field against a Braves team that is the best in the National League the first month of the season.

Washington's pitching is starting to gain a bit of equilibrium. Even Haren pitched solidly last time out, showing hope for the future. The bullpen is doing OK, but Henry Rodriguez is still struggling with command issues. I wonder how many more times will the skipper keep running him out there before the organization says enough & sends him to another organization.

Offensively, Harper is still raking. Span is still getting on base, but Werth has scored nearly twice as many runs (17, to 9 for Span). Desmond is starting to heat up, and his aggressiveness at the plate has to serve as an example and motivator to teammates. His first-pitch ambushing is well-known around the majors. LaRoche has to start driving the ball. I wonder if he's willing to expand his strike zone a bit to force the issue, or take walks. He's one of the guys the team needs to drive in runs consistently, so a passive approach may not serve the team best. He may not have a great batting average this season, but if he drives in 90+ runs it can still be a successful season for the team.

Defensively, they're still 30th in fielding percentage, but things are starting to stabilize there as well. Span has shown great range in center field. He doesn't have Ankiel's arm (few outfielders do), but he gets to so many fly balls that he saves his pitchers runs.

For guesswork, I think Strasburg outduels Teheran on Monday night. I also think Hudson outduels Gonzalez on Tuesday night - Hudson is a real bulldog on the mound & he rarely gets flustered. I think Zimmermann guts his way through an ugly "quality start", but gets the win on Wednesday. Thursday, Maholm continues his good beginning to 2013 with a gem against Haren (who will pitch well for 4 to 5 innings, but not well enough for the win).

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Steamboat Bill, Jr."

Again, Buster Keaton showed us how physical comedy is done. From 1928, this one is funny, touching and insightful.

Keaton is "William Canfield, Jr.", a college man in Boston. He's been separated from his dad "Steamboat Bill Canfield" (Ernest Torrence) for years, and finally has a chance to see dear old dad. Father is a rough-and-tumble steamboat captain who looks forward to seeing his son.

The elder Canfield is plying his trade on the Mississippi River, deep south sector. His main rival "J.J. King" (Tom McGuire) is the big shot in town. Not only does he own nearly everything in the sleepy hamlet, he's christening a shiny new steamboat. King's intent is to run Canfield out of business. King also has a daughter, Kitty (Marion Byron), who's his little princess.

Canfield senior gets a telegram informing him his son is enroute, and should arrive today! Canfield and his "first and last mate Tom Carter" (Tom Lewis) expect to see a tall, rangy young man, the spitting image of his rawboned father.

Son wrote in the telegram "I'll be wearing a white carnation". Of course, that sets up the gag that drives the initial meeting at the train station. It just happens to be a time where boutonnieres are in fashion.

Father and son meet and immediately get off on the wrong foot. Son is all college man polish (even carrying a ukulele), while dad is grease and soot. Dad works right away at getting son ready to work on the steamboat, getting son's mustache shaved off & getting son proper work clothes. Since son showed up wearing a jaunty beret, dad was obligated to help son find head wear more suitable for work on the boat. The "trying on hats" scene was crisp and hilarious.

As the wardrobe scenes pause, Canfield junior runs into Kitty. Seems she too goes to college in Boston, and the two are already acquainted. Now, a mutual attraction is inflamed (maybe it's that southern summer heat). Also watch for the times either Steamboat Bill or Kitty leads the younger Canfield around by the hand, trying to help son's adjustment to a new life.

Since their respective fathers are bitter rivals, a "Romeo and Juliet"-type dilemma comes to the fore, separating the young couple. King looks at this situation as a way to ruin both Canfields, one through business means and the other through affairs of the heart. Between that and untimely bad weather, the second half of the movie picks up in intensity. We get the patented Keaton physical humor, with pratfalls aplenty.

There are lots of subtle physical comedy bits that must have required a great deal of dexterity and forethought. The more I watch Keaton's work, the more I'm continually amazed. His sense of plotting out a scene, then executing it flawlessly blows my mind.

This is a very good movie. Check it out.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

It's Yard Sale Season ! (sarcasm included)

Now that the weather is getting warm locally, it's that time again. It's yard sale season (others rejoice - I cringe). People who in previous years bought stuff they thought they wanted, now realize they want sell that stuff to other people, people who may or may not need it.

Neighborhood roads become clogged as bargain hunters move caterpillar-like from one subdivision to the next. Pedestrians cross roads without looking first just to have first choice of the bric-a-brac out in someone's driveway. As a driver, it makes me very nervous.

I'll freely admit, to me it seems quite cheesy. In some cases, a family's used-up stuff is put out on display with the hope that the family "can get something for it". If there is still some value, why let it go? If you found out you didn't need it, why buy it in the first place?

I'll also admit, if it's a case of a death in the family, a difficult divorce or another scenario where someone is trying to move on from the past, selling off stuff makes sense. I sold my wedding band after my divorce (and yeah, I did buy cheeseburgers with some of the proceeds). Of course, I don't know every back-story of every yard sale. Some times, I'm sure they make sense.

To me, if I'm done with a certain item but there is still some use to it, I prefer to give it away. If I'd gotten all the use out of it that I plan to get, to expect proceeds seems a bit absurd. The item has depreciated. The remaining value is negligible at best. If I feel that I can still get use out of it, then why not keep it?

So many neighborhoods try to sell the idea of "refuge from the hubub and danger of city life". To me, the bustle of yard sales isn't very peaceful. But, I'm a curmudgeon at times...

My Team - Game 4, Grizzlies versus Clippers

Game 3 was more of a relief than anything else. Now that the Grizzlies have that first win in the series, it's time to climb back into a dead heat with Los Angeles.

In Game 3, guys like Paul, Crawford and Barnes didn't shoot exceptionally well. I expect them to try to force the issue early. They will want to run to a) demoralize the Grizzlies and b) dull the crowd's emotion. Paul especially will look to impose his will on both ends of the court.

The Grizzlies will come out like in the previous game, make it physical in the low post and at the mid-range area. There will be hand-checking, bumping L.A. players as they cut through the lane, and more boxing out to prevent Clippers' second chance points. Memphis needs a bit more offense from Conley, and they will get it.

It was interesting to see Coach Hollins shorten his rotation. Bayless, for example, only played 9 minutes. With Dooling on board as a back-up point guard, and Bayless' obvious disadvantage if he has to cover Crawford, Bayless' role seems to be changing on-the-fly. If he's not immediately blazing hot with deep jumpers, there may not be a big role for him the rest of this series.

Memphis will need a combination of Dooling, Pondexter and Arthur to have impactful minutes on both ends. Don't turn the ball over, look for opportunities to score before the Clippers' defense is set, and provide the energy that keeps momentum on Memphis' side.

My guess, Memphis 94, Los Angeles 86. As always, my guesswork isn't for gaming purposes. I'm glad you are aware of that.

After the Game: Memphis 104, Los Angeles 83. Surprise, surprise. Memphis gave up only two second-chance points to the Clippers. This is after 4 such points in Game 3, and 25 in Game 2. That'll do it.

For the Grizzlies, 39 field goals, 25/13 assist/turnover and 3 steals. All five starters and Pondexter scored in double figures. Gasol scored 24, and added 13 rebs and 4 assists. Randolph added another 24, with 9 rebs. Conley had 15 with 13 assists. Other than Pondexters' 10, the rest of the bench only scored 6 points. The Clippers' bench countered with 43.

For Los Angeles, it was 32 field goals, 17/8 assist/turnover and 8 steals. Griffin had 19 with 10 rebs. Paul scored another 19, and added 6 assists to only one turnover. However, three Clippers (Billups, Butler and Jordan) combined for only 2 points. You know that won't happen again, especially in L.A.

The Clippers led 47-46 at the half. Memphis doubled up L.A. 33-16 in the 4th quarter, turning a back and forth contest to a seeming blowout. The Clippers tried a bunch of threes to get back in the game, but finished 4-21 from 3-point range.

When Conley's assists equal or exceed his field goal attempts, Memphis is a good team. When Prince (7 1st quarter points, 15 for the game) gets off to a good start, it enhances his point forward play. With Conley, Prince and Gasol moving the ball via the pass, other guys get easy shots. The Grizzlies don't have to be a low-scoring team. This game was an interesting example.

Game 5 is gonna be interesting to consider. More to follow...

In Dreams - "An Unpopular War"

I was in a Bavarian-like region in Europe. The weather was cool and misty. The town wasn't very big. It had some amazing architecture from a previous era. I found myself in the town's center, which had a large open circular paved area with roads like spokes radiating away from the center.

The region was under threat of attack from an neighboring country (didn't know which). From our response, the expected invasion would be primarily ground forces. I didn't notice any anti-aircraft capability nearby, and since we were land-locked we weren't concerned about maritime forces.

The primary military of this nation was already sent out to confront the enemy, so all that was left were the aged, infirm, housewives and children. I was assigned the duty of organizing some of these folk into an effective "home patrol"/self-aid, buddy-care/defense of last resort cadre. We didn't train much with weapons, though. We organized watch patrol details, showed people techniques of first response medical stabilization of wounded, and some minor weapon familiarization. We all realized if this group was required to fight for its' town, we would be in dire straits.

There was no patriotic display of high emotion. I only noticed a grim resolve. The remaining folk knew it would be a tough job, with no glory or public reward. They expected the worse, and went about their business with a solemn demeanor. Trying to motivate them was nearly impossible.

One odd thing about the town was they were in the midst of having a World War I reunion for surviving veterans. Yes, there were a handful of locals who'd fought towards the end of the Great War. I met one in passing, and he was the most optimistic one present. He had that fighting spirit, that gleam in his eye that convinced me he would have gladly picked up a weapon and taken on the enemy. He and some others finished their assembly, then shuffled off to individual vehicles to be chauffeured to some unknown location.

As a side note, I ran into a family who were trying to rent a U-Haul truck to use to move away from this area.  Back and forth, the man of the family negotiated with the U-Haul folk on pricing and length of truck rental. Finally, the company rep relented and allowed the family access.

Friday, April 26, 2013

On the Street, Somebody Else is Packin' Heat

(No, this isn't a gun rant. I have no desire to have anyone's guns taken away. Just don't want to get shot by 'em, that's all.)

Thursday was my turn to go out on the streets with the homeless. For the most part, the vibe was pretty mellow & our customers enjoyed the shepherds' pie and coffee. But something happened that was a wake-up call for me personally.

A patrolwoman drove by in her police cruiser, on the lookout for a specific person who was armed. The patrolwoman gave us a description, and one of my co-workers did remember seeing the person in question. I, however, didn't.  That's what bothered me. I had dropped my guard. My vigilance was lacking.

When we're working, part of my duty is to keep a safety watch out for trouble. I want to protect my co-workers in case a fight or other nonsense crops up. If shots were to ring out one day when we're working, we have a few "moving parts" and a few people to gather up before we could drive our lumbering canteen vehicle away from the site. "Duck and cover" may not be enough to protect my co-workers. Leaving just before things get violent is our usual plan for worker safety.

I'm a bit naive, but I do realize people in this state have concealed carry licenses. And, there are others who are doing the act without being registered. However, lately when I'm serving I haven't been as alert for stuff like that. I haven't given as much thought to escape routes or sharing info if trouble suddenly popped up or shots suddenly rang out. I have to do a better job of thinking these things through.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Team - Nationals versus Reds

Scheduled starters

Thursday: Gonzalez vs. Arroyo
Friday: Zimmerman vs. Bailey
Saturday: Haren vs. Leake
Sunday: Detwiler vs. Cingrani

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

The Cardinals are a good team. No dispute there. The Reds and a good team, and have already beaten up on the Nationals. The Atlanta Braves are yet another good team. The Nationals are reeling, with no relief in sight. This weekend, they host Cincinnati, then head off to Atlanta next week.

As of the morning of 25 April, the Nationals are 10-11. For a team that was a popular pick for World Series champion, this is distressing. I know "it's still early", but the team is listless. They've scored 4 runs in the last four games. They have 4 errors in the last four games (although three were in the 21 April, 2-0 loss against the Mets).

You don't need sabermetrics to see a) the team isn't hitting, b) the fielding is erratic at times, and c) the pitching hasn't been as consistent as needed.

The skipper, Davey Johnson, is getting perturbed. The team is frustrated. So many leaks have sprung (no pun intended), that it's hard to determine which thing needs to be fixed first. It's not gonna be "early" much longer. Then, what do you say? Saying "they just need to play better" may be true, but it's also nebulous. It's gonna take more than tweaking the batting order to get out of this slump.

My guess: they split with the Reds this weekend. The Nationals get to Arroyo and scratch across just enough runs to win on Thursday. Bailey shuts down Washington on Friday, like he did earlier this season. The Nationals take advantage of some wildness by Leake to scratch across a close win on Saturday. Washington struggles on Sunday against the unfamiliar (but talented) rookie Cingrani, losing late.

My Team - San Diego Chargers & the 2013 NFL draft

For pro football fans, it's probably the third biggest day of the year (after the Super Bowl and Opening Day). For teams who struggled in the previous season, it may be the biggest. On draft day, hope springs nearly eternal. Some kid coming out of college could be the missing piece that helps your team go from afterthought to contender.

For me, the Chargers have been my favorite team for a while. I was a Steelers' fan in the early '70s (in large part because Joe Gilliam, Jr. was a backup quarterback on the roster). That team won several Super Bowls, and eventually sent a number of guys to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then, the '80s came and the team got old. In that period, the Chargers were starting to make a move up. One pre-season game pushed me over the edge into serious San Diego fandom.

Let's go back to late summer, 1985. I was in Air Force navigator training, and living with my wife in a small apartment in Rancho Cordova, California. she was eight months pregnant at the time, and money was tight, so most evenings were spent at home. This night was one of those at-home nights.

I was going over some celestial navigation class paperwork, getting ready for a training flight the next day. The television was on in the background, but I wasn't watching it close. The San Francisco 49ers were down in San Diego, playing the Chargers. Like most pre-season games, the second half meant lots of guys with unfamiliar names getting into the game. I had some knowledge of Dan Fouts and the "Air Coryell" passing offense, but not much else about the team.

The Chargers' offensive backups were on the field, and the quarterback was a guy named Ed Luther. I didn't know anything about Luther, but he showed a poise and command of the offense that I didn't expect. Of course, the San Francisco defensive backups weren't anything special (and some of those guys were probably cut from the roster in the following days), but Luther was different from most backup quarterbacks. His dropbacks were clean, his reads were confident. One, two, three steps and boom - the ball was out & on the numbers of one of his wide receivers. He repeated that command of the offense over and over, marching his offense downfield with seeming ease. Seeing a backup QB play that confidently drew me in, and I started seeking out more info on the Chargers. Been a fan ever since.

(Whew. Take a breath, man.)

I typed all that to type this: the team is starting a downward slide. The organization can't admit it, for fear of damaging ticket sales, but it's true. The last couple of years in particular have been a disappointment. Key playmakers like Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles have left, and their replacements have yet to show the dynamic ability of their predecessors. Even quarterback Philip Rivers is starting to show the effects of wear and tear. The defense has been taken advantage of, and struggles to get stops late in games (that 4th-and-29 against Baltimore still haunts my dreams).

So, for the draft this weekend, the Chargers need players. You could make an argument that nearly every position needs either a) a young guy to step in and play well from day one, or b) higher quality depth as part of strengthening the whole team.

I expect San Diego to take offensive and defensive linemen early and often this weekend. The pass rush still hasn't become upper-echelon (so the rest of the defense suffers), and the offensive line struggles to protect a barely-mobile Rivers in the pocket.

The San Diego Chargers need help. Hopefully this weekend, they draft guys who can help from game one this fall.

As training camp and the subsequent season commence, I'll definitely post my thoughts on my team.

My Team - Game 3, Grizzlies versus Clippers

Thursday night is a "must win" for Memphis. I guess they will win, 97-92 over the Los Angeles Clippers. Here's what I think needs to happen for Memphis to win:

1) Make make-able shots (duh). Towards the end of the season, Randolph, Conley and Allen were the most egregious offenders. The team gets good looks, especially when the passing game is in high gear & the back-court is getting deflections and steals. Even with the team's rep as a defensive force, Coach Hollins has admitted recently the team needs to consistently get to the mid-90s to win playoff games.

2) Better help defense on Chris Paul. He's the heart and soul of the Clippers. Can Memphis generate a match up that actually gets in Paul's way?

3) Match up with the Clippers' bench. Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Grant Hill are three productive bench guys who are much more consistent than the Memphis counterparts. Bayless must contribute on both ends. Arthur has to score, and battle DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and others in the post. Pondexter has to do similar while chasing Caron Butler, Matt Barnes or Chauncey Billups around the perimeter.

4) Limit the Clippers to one shot more often. Memphis gave up 20+ second chance points in game 2. Cut that out!

5) The fans have to make it a raucous FedEx Forum. Get up and cheer. Don't wait for some guy with a placard to tell you to cheer for your team.

Will all this happen? I dunno. That's why I watch.

As always, my guesswork isn't for gaming purposes. Period.

After the Game: Memphis 94, Los Angeles Clippers 82. Now, that's more like it. See that stuff at the beginning of the post? Let's review, shall we?

1) Uh, kinda. Memphis shot 38.8% from the floor (ugh). So did the Clippers. No, really. What are the odds?

2) Yeah. Paul was 4/11 FG/A, and had a 4/5 assist/turnover ratio. Nice team defense against that guy.

3) Almost. The Clippers' bench outscored Memphis' bench 33-30. However, Bledsoe went 0/4 from the floor.

4) Yeah. The Clippers had 5 offensive rebounds. Five. Good on Memphis for controlling the boards a bit better.

5) Yeah. Sellout crowd that didn't leave early. Y'all need to do that EVERY game.

Memphis had 31 field goals, 45 rebs, 18/10 assists/turnovers and 11 steals. Randolph went for 27 and 11 rebs. Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol contributed 16 and 8 rebs. Conley had 10 assists, 6 rebs and no turnovers (although he was 1/9 FG/A). Pondexter contributed 13 off the bench.

Los Angeles had 26 field goals, 33 rebounds, 14/16 assists/turnovers and 5 steals. Griffin had 16, but only 2 rebs. Barnes and Crawford combined for 22, but shot a combined 5/16 FG/A.

Game 4 is Saturday afternoon. The blueprint has been established Memphis needs to do similar in execution, and maybe hit more shots. Control Paul. Control the boards. Cherish the basketball. Memphis can/should win Saturday. Then, it would become a best-of-three. Cool.

In Dreams - "And The Running Man Runs"

Wednesday night, I met with a friend who's also my property manager. We went to dinner, and I had my first beer in over a year. I also had calamari and crab won ton  so maybe that dinner combination somehow aided the vividness of the dream.

I was deployed to southwest Asia, to a fairly quiet location. It was winter, so the skies were overcast. The temperature was mild, though. A bit of a breeze wafted around the buildings. There were trees all over, lining the roads. Most roads were paved, but enough sand blew around that some covered the asphalt of the roads.

My duties were nebulous. I didn't carry a weapon, so I guess I was a staff guy. I was with a group of staff guys, and we all did similar jobs. Those jobs included a lot of standing around and talking.

Every once in a while, we would leave our building and go to other locations on base. Once at the other locations, we would sit and talk. Then we would go back to our original location. We normally did this by double-timing from place to place. Weird thing was, I was basketball sneakers instead of running shoes. I could tell the difference in my gait.

At one point, I was to go to a different building on my own, a "building 93" which was 3 to 5 miles away. I was to meet with some individual who was higher up the chain of command, so I didn't want to be late. I spent more time than necessary plotting out which path I would take that would shave time and possibly distance on the run. Even in the midst of "mission planning" the run, we also digressed and talked about unrelated stuff. With all the talking we did, I don't think any of us were actually listening to each other. The jabber didn't stop, though.

Some of the jabber was about using a particular piece of equipment. There were several components, and numerous acceptable techniques on how to use equipment. So, there were several viewpoints on which technique was most appropriate. We didn't actually turn on the equipment, however.

I finally set out, saw the senior officer, and then started jogging back. I found myself across the street from my point of origin, but traffic prevented me from crossing soonest. Funny thing was, the traffic consisted of a rickshaw crossing from my right to left & a Soviet-era utilitarian box of a compact car crossing from my left to right. Both vehicles were moving slow, but at a pace faster than I thought I could beat. I stood on the side of the road, waiting for a gap I could exploit. The rickshaw driver was a smaller guy wearing a white shirt and bow tie. He was very talkative, and he offered lots of advice on road-crossing.

Eventually, I got across the road and entered my building of origin. I had a weird sense of accomplishment, given that all I did was run to a place and run back. Upon my return, as several co-workers sat around talking. I suddenly had the urge to go pee. In our latrine, we had toilets but not urinals. Weird thing was, the toilets were oriented opposite of normal, where the back of the tank was nearer the user. So, I had to aim over the tank into the bowl. Also, the bowl seems much smaller than a normal bowl, so the targeting had to be more accurate. And, the flush mechanism didn't work. Weird thing was, it wasn't as messy as one would have expected.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Dreams - "Riding on the Metro"

(with apologies to the new wave band Berlin)

I was in Washington D.C., one of my favorite cities on Earth. It was mid-to-late spring, so it was comfortably warm. I'd gone to some meeting, and afterwards was on the way to my hotel. I was on a Metro (possibly the Red Line), but don't quite remember if we were going to Metro center or an outlying area. There were several of us in the group, and we all got along well. There was an camaraderie between all of us, so the laughs flowed freely.

Individuals in my group departed the ride at various stations, until one friend and I were left aboard. Soon, my stop was coming up. However, I left the Metro one stop short of my hotel. I got off, went up the escalator to ground level and walked the couple of blocks to my hotel. There had been light, intermittent rain showers all day, so the air smelled sweet and fresh.

On the outside, my lodging was classy and modern. Once I got to my room, however, things were in disarray. Pizza boxes were everywhere. Furniture was moved about in a haphazard fashion. The television was blaring. Strangely, I didn't get upset about the room's condition.

In an instant, that last friend from the Metro appeared in the room. He too was relaxed despite the surroundings. He grabbed the television's remote control and changed channels. He found a rerun of a past football game, threw some stuff from a chair onto the floor, and took a seat.

While he got comfortable, I went to the refrigerator. The only things in the fridge were three bottles of Heineken beer. I looked for a bottle opener, cracked open two of the three beers, and passed one to my friend. I took a draw of my beer, cleared off room on the couch, and kicked back.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Fuller Brush Girl"

Monday was the 107th anniversary of Eddie Albert's birth. This movie stars Albert and Lucille Ball (just prior to her star turn in "I Love Lucy".

I've always liked Albert's work on television and in movies. In movies like "The Longest Day", "Bombadier", "The Wagons Roll At Night" and "Out Of The Fog. Ball was in movies like "The Long, Long Trailer", "Fancy Pants", "Meet The People" and "That's Right, You're Wrong".  Both actors were key contributors in many movies, but never seemed to get that breakthrough role (even in a character/supporting role) that solidified a Hollywood career.

"The Fuller Brush Girl" is typical of that era's comedies. Earnest, young leads. Hope for settling down as a married couple. The chase for domestic bliss leading that couple into a difficult, compromising position. Menace just one step behind the leads.

Albert (as "Humphrey") and Ball (as "Sally") are a young couple hoping to get married and purchase their dream suburban tract home. The house is available, but the couple doesn't have enough cash. They work at the same place, a shipping company, where neither makes a lot of money. A manager at the company was just fired, so Sally thinks her Humphrey is good enough to move up from the mail room to management. If he gets this chance, Humphrey will earn enough to close the gap & enable the couple to buy the house.

Like most comedies, misunderstandings put our happy couple on the run from one absurd situation to another. There's murder, embezzlement, hair loss, and mistaken identity. Most of the movie is extended chase scenes, creatively designed and executed.

My guess about the hindrance of Albert's movie career is his earnestness on-screen. He almost seemed too eager in this role, too chipper. The role was written for that level of energy, but you couldn't see a Cary Grant playing this role in this manner.

Ball is deft in a precursor role to the more slapstick parts of her TV career. She was strikingly beautiful, to be sure, but she wasn't afraid to make the physical humor parts work. It was a big risk for one who still aspired at that time for a long career in film.

My Team - Nationals versus St. Louis

Proposed starters

Monday: Haren versus Shelby Miller
Tuesday: Detwiler versus Wainwright
Wednesday: Strasburg versus J. Garcia

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

Washington lost two of three games at Citi Field over the weekend ("but it's still early"). Friday, Strasburg wasn't invincible. Saturday, Gonzalez was lit up (he has a 5.85 ERA). Sunday, Zimmerman pitched well, but gave up the only two runs of the game on a John Buck homer.

St. Louis' roster is pretty strong. Their outfield of Holliday-Jay-Beltran is proven. Their infield, especially at the corners with Freese and Craig, has a solid track record as well (especially offensively). Yadier Molina is one of the best two-way catchers in baseball. The pitching staff has names like Wainwright and Westbrook, guys who have had success under pressure situations.

Early on, though, Craig (.234 BA), Freese (.226) and Jay (.208) have yet to get going. Each has an OPS of .605 or less.

Cardinals' pitching has been thus far decent but not dominant (3.49 team ERA, 1.33 WHIP, but a .262 BAA).

St. Louis reminds me of the Tampa Bay Rays. You may not know every name on their rosters, but their teams go about their business in a professional manner. It seems they're never out of a game.

For the Nationals, Harper is still raking. I'm surprised there isn't some early, distant "MVP" rumblings in the media. Defense is another story, however. The team is 30th in fielding percentage. Desmond is still inconsistent, and Zimmerman's throwing woes may have been exacerbated by the hamstring injury that put him on the DL.

Anthony Rendon was called up on Sunday to replace Zimmerman. He's this year's hotshot prospect, so he gets an early taste of life in the big leagues. If he can hold his own at third base & scratch out a hit or two, that could give the team a lift out of its' present doldrums.

All year, I will guess "they've gotta win two out of three this series". I'm an fan, and I'm not apologizing for rooting for my favorite team. But, the team's not executing right now. Things have to change, don't they?

My Team - Game 2, Grizzlies at Clippers

Looking at the Game 1 box score, the Grizzlies did some good things. A 22/7 assist/turnover ratio is pretty good. The team shot 46.5% from the floor, 41.7% from 3, and 80% from the foul line. Marc Gasol had 7 assists without a single turnover. They were down to L.A. 75-69 at the end of the 3rd quarter. They scored 91 for the game, which is slightly more than their season average.

Even with all the good, some bad stuff was evident as well. The Clippers shot 55% from the floor. They also had 14 offensive rebounds (to only 4 by Memphis). The Clippers had seven guys in double figures, led by Chris Paul's 23. This was a grind-it-out playoff game, and L.A. scored 112. Uh-oh.

This may sound defeatist, but it's not the end of the world if Memphis loses Game 2 in Staples Center. As a Grizzlies' fan, I'd like to see the following areas of improvement:

a) Memphis gave up 25 second-chance points to L.A. The Grizzlies have to lessen that by half or more.

b) Randolph, Gasol and Prince combined for 10 rebounds. They've got to double that production, at least.

c) Allen's early foul trouble limited him to 16.5 minutes. The team needs 30+ minutes of a productive Allen on the floor.

d) some combination of Conley, Allen, Dooling and Bayless have to hold Paul to 15 or so. Maybe they don't completely shut down Paul, but make him work even more for his points. And, oh-by-the-way, don't go under the pick when Paul runs pick-and-roll. He had a field day stopping for the long set-shot 3-pointer.

My guess for Monday night: Los Angeles 105, Memphis 96. I hate the phrase "moral victory" ('cause it's still a loss). But, if Memphis keeps building on increasingly improved play, they can win Games 3 & 4 at home. Once you get to a best-of-three in a series, the stress can open opportunities for the underdog.

As always, my guessing isn't for gaming purposes. It's to keep me busy while the snow falls.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Seven Chances"

This Buster Keaton movie was released in 1925. I stumbled across Keaton's work last year, and was immediately captivated. His silent films had a level of choreography that is impressive, and even more amazing given the era in which they were constructed.

The "Seven Chances" film was based on a Broadway play that had a 151-performance run in 1916. The premise may have been considered hackneyed even then - a business is on the brink of ruin, without a miracle infusion of working capital. The business owners will be shamed in proper society, forever dishonored. Keaton's character "James Shannon" and his business partner "William Meekin" (T. Roy Barnes) are getting desperate. A lawyer (Snitz Edwards) shows up at the partners' office, and the two men try to duck out, thinking the lawyer is bearing more bad news. Not so fast, my friend...

The lawyer finally gets to the two businessmen and gives them surprisingly good news. Shannon stands to inherit $7 million dollars from his grandfather's estate. There's one sticking point, though. Shannon has to be married no later than 7 P.M. on his 27th birthday. This being a movie, Shannon's 27th birthday just happens to be that same day. James has hours to find a wife, get her to the altar, and finish the ceremony.

James has someone in mind. He's sweet on "his girl" (played by Ruth Dwyer, adorable in this role). She likes him too, and is waiting for him to show initiative and propose marriage. He's been holding out, in part because he doesn't want her stained by the disgrace his failed business would bring. Watch the early scene with him, her and her dog.

Through usual movie misunderstandings, the couple have obstacles in their way. All looks lost. James gets desperate and takes his requirement public. Maybe "his girl" is reluctant to get married under these circumstances, but other unwitting women have no such reluctance. Soon, a legion of women is after James, more than willing to be his wife for a share of the cash. A madcap chase ensues, and it's not even the best chase scene in the movie. 

Many silent movie fans have probably seen the "boulders chase" scene in various retrospectives. It is impressive. However, there are other chase segments just as ingeniously constructed. I found myself howling with laughter.

For supporting cast, look for Jean Arthur in one of her first roles, uncredited as a receptionist at a country club.

To me, Keaton was a genius at physical comedy. Since he did nearly all his own stunts back then, he must have had a high tolerance for pain as well. His level of athleticism was amazing. I am a fan of his work, no doubt. I actively seek out his work, either through DVRing, DVD purchases, etc. 

If you go for screwball comedy, it doesn't get better than this one. It started a bit sedate, but the action ramps up. It's a great ride.


My Team - Nationals at New York Mets

Scheduled starters

Friday: Strasburg versus M. Harvey
Saturday: Gonzalez versus Gee
Sunday: Zimmermann versus Hefner

As a kid in the late '60s and early '70s, I was a big Mets' fan. For years, I pretended to be Tommie Agee in the sandlots, diving for flyballs just for the fun of it. Also, my hometown had the Mets' Double-A team for a while, with guys like Ron Hodges, Buzz Capra and Benny Ayala coming through the roster on their way to the bigs.

Even as I became an Expos fan, I kept a soft spot in my heart for the Metropolitans. Yeah, they've had some tough times lately.

David Wright is the linchpin of the team. With his recent contract extension and showing in the early parts of the World Baseball Classic, he's the face of the franchise & dependable on both sides of the ball. John Buck is showing early power, and guys like Ike Davis & Lucas Duda are dangerous power bats. Justin Turner and  Jordany Valdespin are guys off the bench who aren't afraid to get a pinch-hit in a late-game situation. If I remember right, Valedspin had five home runs last year, and three were against Washington (and I also thought two of that three were pinch-hit homers late in games).

Friday night's starter, Matt Harvey, is a lot like Stephen Strasburg - a young guy with a world of confidence & the stuff to potentially throw a no-hitter any given start. With guys like Jonathan Niese, Bobby Parnell and Brandon Lyon, they may not be the '69 vintage pitching staff but they are competent.

I would guess Friday night is gonna be a classic pitchers' duel. Maybe Washington's bats will come alive Saturday and Sunday. I have no idea who's gonna win this series, but if I must I'll guess Washington wins on Friday, the Mets win on Saturday, and Washington wins on Saturday.

For the Nationals, it's getting to be time for LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman to join in the offense. Zimmerman's throwing woes have garnered attention in the media, but as long as there is no unspoken injury he will work thru it.

On Washington's pitching staff, Dan Haren is still trying to re-work his approach in public. He's got the smarts, but his stuff's been getting hammered lately. Henry Rodriguez, Clippard and Storen out of the 'pen have gotten back to nibbling around the corners of the plate instead of attacking hitters. Duke had a couple of good outings, and has had some rough times as well. Is it time to find a left-handed specialist?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Team, In the Playoffs - Grizzlies versus Clippers

First off, I hate to admit it, but I expect the Clippers to win in 6 games. Partly because the Clippers won at Memphis last week - they know how (duh). Partly because they are just a bit more athletic.

For Memphis to win, here's what I think I want to see out of the Grizzlies' roster:

Mike Conley - harass Chris Paul enough to minimize the high-flying circus Los Angeles normally likes to bring to games. Hit enough shots to make Paul work on defense. Don't put up with Paul's mind games.

Tony Allen - cherish the basketball. Minimize the wild forays in transition, and minimize the jump passes that have no clear receiver. Keep playing D, keep the Memphis fans excited.

Marc Gasol - look for that 15-foot set shot and the running-left-to-right hook shot more. Lately, Gasol hasn't been looking for his shot as much as in March.

Zach Randolph - show the energy that came out Wednesday night against Utah. Maybe the numbers won't be "25 points, 19 rebs", but energy on both ends helps the team. And, keep whispering in Blake Griffin's ear to challenge and distract him.

Tayshaun Prince - hit enough jumpers to keep the defense honest. Also continue being that secondary ball handler/point forward initiating offense. Continue being the steadying influence on both ends of the court and in the locker room.

Jarryd Bayless - understand the situation when you enter the game, and give the team what it needs. Some nights, it needs you to pass the ball first. Hit the deck for loose balls like you did against Utah.

Keyon Dooling - be that playoff-tested veteran, on the floor and in the locker room. Be one of the guys in the rotation that gives Paul fits for 4 quarters. And, when Paul tries his intimidation tactics, stand up to him and put him in check.

Darrell Arthur - be that two-way post player, active on the boards and in the half-court offense.

Quincy Pondexter - not only hit threes, but keep your hands up on D, keep getting deflections and keep bringing energy off the bench.

Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Jon Leuer, Willie Reed, Donte Greene, Tony Wroten - be ready. Many guys in the history of the Association have made names for themselves by thriving in unexpected situations, helping their teams win key games or even series in the playoffs. Stay focused on the bench, study up on the Clippers, and be ready if/when Coach Hollins looks your way.

For team success, to me they have to do the following:

a) stop giving up offensive rebounds - 8 or less per game increases Memphis' chances.
b) cut down on turnovers - obviously. L.A. especially loves to run off opponents' turnovers.
c) crisper passing in the half-court - if/when Memphis is 3-to-1 in assist-to-turnover ratio, their offense is more efficient and productive

In addition, the Memphis fans have to come out in full force. Fill FedEx Forum, make noise without waiting for dance teams or PA announcers to tell you, and be that "6th man" that makes a difference late in a game.

I believe Memphis can win this series. I really hope they do. Realistically, they have to do some things a bit better than they have the last couple of months. On paper, the Clippers have the better team, and the Clippers have home court advantage in this series. Good thing playoffs aren't played on paper, huh?

In Dreams - "Run, Man, Run"

I was dressed in running gear. It was a nice morning in a warm climate, probably in the South or in the Caribbean. I had a flip phone in each hand, and I found myself running uphill. My pace was steady, and my breathing was relaxed. The phones never rang.

There were lots of trees along the road, but I had enough visibility to see traffic in front of me. I got to an intersection in a rural area, where I encountered a biker dude with a long white beard. He waved, but didn't say a word. I nodded an acknowledgement. I crossed the intersection behind his motorcycle, and kept running.

Eventually, I got to a fancy hotel. Inside the lobby was an ornate spiral staircase, like you might see in a Busby Berkeley musical. I noted how high the staircase ascended, but did not actually use it.  I jogged through the lobby and exited the building from the back side of the staircase. As I got back outside, I could feel another gentle breeze, like near an ocean. I resumed my running pace and continued uphill.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies versus Utah

It's the end of regular season in the National Basketball Association. It's been a pretty cool journey for the Grizzlies.

The strong start to the season. The Rudy Gay trade. The Speights-Ellington trade. The 14-wins-in-15-games streak. The ups and downs of March. Team records for most wins and most home wins in one season. First time the team gained 20+ road wins in one season. Hollins getting his career coaching record above .500. This is a memorable season in Memphis.

This is a classic situation of how this season will look really nice once the season is over. In the meantime, there are still games to be played. Wednesday night, Memphis hosts the Jazz.

Utah needs this game to get the 8th slot, and they need the Lakers to lose at Houston. The Rockets are the 7th seed, one game ahead of the Lakers, and Houston leads the series 2 wins to 1 over the Lakers. If the Lakers win, the tie with Houston goes to L.A. They have an overall better record in conference than Houston.

Conceivably, Los Angeles could win, Memphis could win, and then a) the Lakers would be the 7th seed and a playoff date with San Antonio. Houston would then be the 8th seed, taking on Oklahoma City in the first round. Utah would be out of love.

My guesses: L.A. is gonna play hard. Houston is gonna play hard. Utah is gonna play hard. Normal rotations, stars getting lots of touches, maximum effort to the last minute. Except maybe for Memphis. What if Coach Hollins decides to play Memphis' bench for half the game or more? Is Memphis' bench enough to be a Utah team down to its last chance for this season?

I hate to admit this, but I could see Memphis resting starters a lot. So, the result is gonna be Utah 100, Memphis 92. Utah's gonna do all they can to take care of business. Unfortunately for the Jazz, the Lakers are gonna win as well.

Let's close the book on the regular season Wednesday night. Brace for impact - here come the playoffs.

After the Game: Memphis 86, Utah 70. Hoo boy, I missed. And, it feels good. Memphis led 40-38 at the half, but won the 3rd quarter 25-13. Hollins played Randolph, Prince and Conley 30+ minutes each. Guess he took it seriously.

For the Grizzlies, it was 34 field goals, 22 assists, 11 turnovers and 7 steals. Randolph had 25 and 19 rebs. Conley had 14 and 5 assists. Arthur came off the bench to add 11 points. Prince and Bayless combined to shoot 2/12 FG/A, however.

Utah made 25 field goals, and added 15 assists, 12 turnovers and 6 steals. Shooting 32% hurt their cause. Jefferson had 22 and 16 rebs, but shot 8/19 FG/A. The rest of the team shot 17/59 FG/A. Tough way to go out, with a playoff berth at stake.

With the Clippers' victory at Sacramento, Memphis opens the playoffs at Los Angeles Saturday night. The Grizzlies and Clippers finished with identical 56-26 records, but the Clippers' 3-1 advantage in head-to-head meetings breaks the tie.

Now, it gets even more serious. I love playoff basketball, because most of the indifferent play from regular season also-rans is banished to the sideline.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Desert and "The Man With No Name"

Spent Monday lounging around, watching Clint Eastwood movies on TCM. The network screened "A Fistful of Dollars", "For A Few Dollars More" and "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" consecutively. I'd not paid attention to them in previous years, but since I had the time (and was feeling \a little run down), it seemed a good time to check 'em out.

Of course, with movies as popular as these, in-depth reviews of characterization, etc., have already been done. Sergio Leone was an artist in directing his series of "spaghetti westerns". Mostly filmed in Spain, using European actors, Leone at once paid homage and came close to parody of Westerns being produced in Hollywood in the late '50s and early '60s.

One thing that struck me in the nearly 7 hours of movies was the starkness of the backdrop. The harsh desert terrain was a key character threading through the films. The desert was an obstacle to overcome, was a tool to punish your enemy or even was refuge from the powers that be.

We all know how unforgiving it can be when the sun is out. We all have heard how bone-chilling cold it can be at night.  To me, there is beauty in the desert. Something about the vastness of it touches me. On a clear day, you can see for miles from certain vantage points. The bits of scrub brush denote a certain persistence  that even in the harshest of climates some things can thrive. On some levels, the desert can be a work of art, as stirring as any other.

The towns that sprung up were usually bare-bones configurations. Not a lot of farming or ranching in most of those towns. Wives and kids endured the hard-scrabble surroundings, while hard-drinking husbands hustled up a buck "by hook or crook".

Eastwood's loner was much like the desert he inhabited. Remote, arid and leather-tough, he had little patience for things that got in the way of his survival. I've not watched enough of his other westerns to know what past events shaped "the Man with No Name", but he seems very much at home in the desert environment. Whether it's bellied up to a bar in a frontier town or walking across the sands at gunpoint, his character reflected his environment.

I don't know if I'll ever seek out the desert as a destination to put down roots (I'm more of an ocean guy), but I appreciate the type of character needed to survive in that climate. The backdrop drew me in as much as the script.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Evil Has Always Been Among Us

I'm ranting.

After waking from a nap, I heard about the bomb attack in Boston this afternoon. First off, I offer condolences to survivors of those killed, and prayers of healing & support for those injured.

Second, I'm frustrated with the hand-wringing. Will we ever get to a point on this earth where terrorists and other evil-doers can be thwarted even more consistently?

I know that these types of murders happen all over the world. And, I admit when it happens in a far-off land, I don't get as frustrated as I do when it happens in my own homeland.

I realize we all wonder "why?" when this happens. How do we get to those disgruntled groups & individual actors who decide that hurting innocents is a legitimate way to air their grievances? How can we head off those actors and at the same time continue protecting people who only happened to be in the wrong place at a particular time?

I know there are cases where such acts have been hindered or even prevented. Our intelligence community has been and continues to be a key resource in protecting our citizens. 100% success may be unreasonable to demand, but for a victim that is small consolation.

Any of us can be a part of the solution. It may be as simple as sharing with law enforcement something we witness that looks potentially dangerous. It may be interacting with someone we know who harbors intense hatred or dissatisfaction towards some facet of our society. It may be us as individuals getting to a helping agency when we feel the urge to strike out at someone to further our own agenda or vent our personal anger or frustration.

I don't have answers. I wish I did. I hate not being able to do anything directly useful to prevent these types of attacks.

In no way do I mean to suggest that we live in fear of "what might happen". And, no, I don't suggest we live in a police state where we spend time looking in each other's garbage pretending to be CSI-style investigators.

It's sobering to consider, but evil has always been a part of life on Earth. Since Cain slew Abel, there's always been individuals or groups who would rather hurt or kill others. Unfortunately, that will never change. In small circles of influence, however, maybe we can be part of a solution going forward. Maybe each of us can be a part of building a better world.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "House of Women"

A 1962 release, to me this is a weird entry in the "women in prison" genre. I never spent a lot of time thinking of that aspect of the genre - "what happens to kids born in prison?"

Shirley Knight stars as "Erica", wrongly accused of armed robbery and sentenced to 5 years in a women's prison. When she's posted to this prison, she's pregnant. She'll deliver her child behind bars.

The usual stereotypes are present, save one. You've the ultra-feminine ladies, the rough-and-tumble chicks, the mousy ladies with virtually no self-esteem, and the ladies who eagerly await parole to get back to the men in their lives. All that's missing is the butch prison matron who rules with an iron fist and a big stick. High cheekbones are everywhere, and many prisoners are in pumps (pumps, while wearing prison smocks?).

One of the prison rules is that once a prisoner's child reaches its' third birthday, that child is turned over to the state for adoption. Soon, Erica's daughter is coming up on that fateful birthday. Erica hopes enough leniency comes her way to get paroled & subsequently get back her daughter. She also sees similar hopes dashed all around her, fellow prisoners disillusioned by the parole process. Nonetheless, she keeps her hopes up.

It's a melodrama, so you can guess the result. Erica surveys the environment and decides her best bet to get out soonest is to play it low-key. If she can get a visible job, and maybe gets on the warden's good side, maybe he will support her in her desire for parole.

Warden Frank Cole (Andrew Duggan) is a harsh martinet who believes 1) all criminals are just that, no more & no less; and 2) children shouldn't be in a prison environment, even with the pain that is caused when moms and kids are separated. Cole has select trustees who cook & clean in his residence, adjacent to the prison building. Erica gets hired by the warden, and soon gets on his good side.

The warden is a lonely, bitter man. He was previously warden of a men's prison, where he helped effect the release of a particular prisoner. That parolee was having an affair with the warden's wife, who left her husband for the parolee. Since then, the warden has held a deep hatred for all prisoners, regardless of gender. However, he shows his tender side to Erica. It's a melodrama, so you know how that turns out.

Soon, Erica has made a good enough impression that parole is all but assured. Her hope grows, and she looks forward to getting back her daughter.

Constance Ford is "Sophie" another mom in prison. She has tragedy cross her path, which causes her to snap. No women-in-prison movie is complete without a hostage crisis, and one shows up here. How will the story resolve itself?

Familiar faces abound in this picture. Jeanne Cooper ("Katherine Chancellor" from the soap opera "Young and the Restless"), Jason Evers ("Captain Coleman" in "The Green Berets") and Virginia Gregg (TV shows like "Cannon", "Adam-12", "Ironside" and "Emergency!"). You'll spend a moment or two thinking, "I've seen that face somewhere before". Duggan is another familiar face, playing authority figures in lots of TV detective shows and cowboy movies.

This film was a movie that made its points. I kinda liked it, but I won't go out of my way to watch it. If' it's on, and I'm housebound due to weather or sickness, I might watch it again.

My Team - Nationals at Miami

Starting pitching -

Monday: Zimmermann versus LeBlanc
Tuesday: Haren versus Slowey
Wednesday: Detwiler versus Sanabia

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

That anticipated home weekend series with Atlanta is over. Washington lost all three games, but voices in the clubhouse are saying all the right things. It is early in the season. They still have confidence in their team. There are so many games left to play. The defense and hitting will come around. It's too early to panic, since there are 150 games left to play. Got it.

Offensively, other than Harper and Span, the regulars are struggling. They're 20th in the majors in batting average. They're tied for 16th in on-base percentage. They're 5th in home runs, so that obviously helps. The team needs to string together rallies that don't involve hitting the ball out of the park.

Defensively, they're plagued with damaging errors that keep opponents' innings alive. Desmond and Zimmerman have combined for 7 errors so far. Things will get better. Now would be a good time.

The pitching has been pretty good. Rodriguez is still struggling to find home plate. Throwing 97 MPH is cool, but his confidence may never recover. There may not be a solution for his wildness.

The rooting fan in me suspects the Nationals will sweep this series, and all the worry from the past weekend will be washed away. Miami will compete, but their franchise is in disarray right now. Can the Marlins overcome the off-field stuff? Will Giancarlo Stanton get pitches to hit this year? Let's watch.

My Team - Grizzlies at Dallas

Dallas won by 18 at New Orleans Sunday night. Now (let's say it together), on the "back end of back-to-backs", they host Memphis. The Mavericks led by 14 at the end of the first quarter, and fought off a pesky Hornets' team. A couple of neat things happened for Dallas in that game. One, Dirk Nowitzki passed the 25,000-point level in his career. He's proven to be one of the all-time greats.

Two, the Mavericks reached the .500 level, record-wise. Recently, the team decided to forego shaving until they reached the break-even mark. There was a measure of attention and even celebration at reaching that mark.

Given all that, I suspect Dallas will be distracted on some level.

Nowitzki is still the "top gun" in that lineup. Shawn Marion and Chris Kaman are capable front-court players as well. That front line will give Memphis fits. O.J. Mayo is a good player, but Allen can win that match-up  Mike James started at PG Sunday, and Conley can win that match-up as well.

Vince Carter and Darren Collison get key minutes off Dallas' bench. Carter his half of his 10 shots Sunday night, which could mean he's due for one of those "3/11 FG/A" nights.

On games like this, you never know how these play out. Dallas' last home game for this season may be one where every Maverick on the roster gets playing time. Or, they may shorten the rotation to win one last time in front of the home fans. It could be a circus, or a slog with playoff intensity. Guys who normally don't get many shots may get trigger-happy.

My guess: Memphis 92, Dallas 88. I have no confidence in this guess. I do know Memphis has a mathematical chance to still gain the home court in the first round. The Grizzlies still have some incentive to win this game and the Wednesday night home game against Utah. I expect them to go for it, to finish the season strong.

As usual my guesses aren't meant for gaming purposes. Given the results, it should be obvious.

After the Game: Memphis 103, Dallas 97. In the first half, the Grizzlies looked disinterested. It wasn't fun to watch at all. The team was settling for jump shots, when they weren't turning the ball over. Coach Hollins went through 12 guys in the first half, looking for a spark. Vince Carter was making plays all over the floor for Dallas - hitting deep threes, getting to the rim for layups, blocking shots. Memphis was down 46-38 at the half. I turned away to news.

Second half, Memphis got after it. Nowitzki got 26, Carter finished with 22 and Mike James scored 14. Otherwise, Memphis pretty much shut down everyone else. The remaining eight Dallas players combined for 13/37 FG/A during the game.

For Memphis, it was 38 field goals, 24 assists, 16 turnovers and 10 steals. Bayless led the team with 19 off the bench. Ed Davis added 11 points, 11 rebs. Keyon Dooling scored 13, and is starting to refine his timing with this team. No starter played over 24 minutes. Prince led the starters with 12 points.

For Dallas, it was 34 field goals, 18 assists, 15 turnovers and 7 steals. One odd thing was Memphis outrebounding Dallas 50-36, and doubling up Dallas' offensive rebounds 16-8. Lately, Memphis had been hurt by giving up offensive rebounds to opponents, so it's a relief to see the Grizzlies take care of that issue in this game.

The season-ending games are coming. On Wednesday the Grizzlies host Utah, who are one game behind the Lakers for the 8th/last playoff slot in the Western Conference. The Lakers host Houston on Wednesday night. Utah needs the win, and I wonder if Coach Hollins will rest starters. If so, how will that be perceived from a competition sense? Does it look like Memphis wants to favor Utah/hurt the Lakers?  I wonder if the media will jump on Memphis' role in the clinching of the 8th slot.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

There's a Squirrel on "Death Row", Somewhere in America

I have an acquaintance/collaborator with whom I work from time to time. Part of her duties include running warehouse operations for her company. Her shop has been plagued by a neighborhood squirrel. She hears him skittering around, but can't quite get her hands on the rodent.

An animal control guy came out to her shop a few weeks ago & effected capture of the furry trespasser. The AC guy took the critter to a nearby park (a couple of blocks or so away from the facility). Squirrels, being smart critters, can retrace their steps fairly well. This one in particular returned to the scene of his crime, making himself a nuisance.

Friday night, my acquaintance put out a cage trap, with some peanut butter to entice the little rodent (Who doesn't like peanut butter? I realize those with nut allergies can't have it, but for those who can consume safely...?). And, yeah, the squirrel took the peanutty bait.

Saturday morning, the captured little animal was noticed in the cage. He wasn't very animated, more sullen than anything else. I think he realized his days are numbered. Several people, myself included, all came by the critter and pretty much trash-talked the squirrel.

"You're goin' down, man."

"How ya like death row, ya little fuzzy-tailed rat?"

"Monday's coming."

The squirrel had no rebuttal, not even a hiss.

So, the AC guy is scheduled to come out on Monday to finish off the little guy.

Hear me out on this - I do love animals. The domesticated ones are a joy to be around. The ones that can cause humans harm, and in fact are pests/dangers to human health, are the ones I have no use for. I'd rather the squirrel go down than my friend have to endure rabies shots.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Most Dangerous Man Alive"

We get this gem from 1961. It's a B-movie, only 80-some minutes long, but it's fun. 

We lived through a post-ironic period where it was hip & cool to make fun of movies like this, with its' dialogue and special effects. Just watch it, and you'll see how much fun it was. It was sci-fi truly steeped in its time. The dialogue is intense, the scenery is beautiful, the cars are shiny and the people move with a purpose.

Australian actor Ron Randell portrayed mob chieftain "Eddie Candell". Eddie is a show-off, flamboyantly carrying on and bringing unwanted attention to the organization. "Andy", the typical ambitious underling (Anthony Caruso) and his well-dressed confederates cook up a plan to oust Eddie and take over the mob in a more sinister direction. The plan works, Eddie framed for murder, sentenced to death and is in the midst of transport to San Quentin when the unexpected happens.

There's an accident, Eddie escapes, and wanders the California desert. Given that this is the '60s, there's always a military base nearby, messing around with those pesky nuclear weapons. It just so happens a detonation test is to occur at the moment Eddie wanders through the restricted area.

(Interesting take on radiation exposure back in that era. No evidence of the dangers of radiation burns, possible cancer effects or other dangerous situations. Back then, exposure was cool. You could get strange powers, like flight, telepathy or super strength.)

Eddie is changed, and uses his new-found abilities to exact revenge on Andy, Andy's girl "Linda" (Debra Paget) and others in the mob. He also encounters his paramour/close friend "Carla" (Elaine Stewart). Each lady snuggles with Eddie at different times, but each lady disregards the risk of getting close to a guy with radiation exposure issues.

There's more gun play, a chase through the desert and some "beat-the-clock"-style urgency.

Paget was in "Stars and Stripes Forever" and the Charlton-Heston-led "Ten Commandments. Stewart was in "Take the High Ground" and "The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond". Both women are gorgeous in this picture. 

If you're a fan of Cold War-era science fiction, you will chuckle at some of the scenes, but overall you will enjoy this one. I did, and will watch it again. 

My Team - Grizzlies versus Clippers

Playoff seeding in the Western Conference gets a bit tighter after every game. That, coupled with another back-to-back for both the Clippers and the Grizzlies, make Saturday's game potentially chippy. Both teams tired, both teams wrestling for playoff positioning. I expect some cheap shots on top of the trash talk.

The Clippers have won their last 4 games, and have already clinched the Pacific Division. Friday night, Los Angeles won at New Orleans 96-93, with the Clippers scoring 39 in the fourth quarter. Chris Paul picked up 14 assists while scoring 17. Griffin got 20, Barnes scored 16 (with 10 rebs) and Crawford scored 15.

The Clippers normally like to run & score a bunch, but how will their legs hold up after playing the night before? The Hornets were competitive, as usual. A hard-fought game the night before may take a little out of the Clippers for this game.

I expect the Grizzlies to try to rough up Griffin, as usual. If he wants to do his high-wire act, he'll pay for it with a bruise or two. I also expect Paul to attempt intimidation tactics against Conley, who's been scoring a bunch lately. Bayless versus Crawford, in a battle of bench shooters, may look like a one-on-one battle at times.

My guess: Memphis 89, Clippers 88. Bad blood all around. A near-sellout crowd yelling invective at the visiting team, with a bunch of "Beat L.A." chants and whatnot added. For Memphis, Gasol, Conley and Arthur need to play well. Bayless must be effective in his shot-to-playmaking ratio.

As it's been stated all season, my guesses aren't for gaming purposes. Look back on my record - I don't want your losses on my conscience.

After the Game: Clippers 91, Grizzlies 87. It's all but confirmed - Memphis is the 5-seed in the Western Conference, where they'll meet these same Clippers in the first round. L.A. has home court in this series.

Memphis led 73-68 after three quarters. Bad 4th quarter shot selection and a propensity to allow offensive rebounds/extra possessions to the Clippers doomed the Memphis effort.

For most of the game, Memphis played well enough to win. A 4th quarter cold spell (they went what, 5/14 or worse in the 4th?) killed their momentum and frustrated the sell-out crowd.

Memphis had 34 field goals, 19 assists, 10 turnovers and 6 steals. Four starters scored in double figures - Gasol (18, with 15 rebs and a team-high 7 assists); Randolph (16, with 12 rebs); Prince (13 points); and Conley (12, with 6 assists). They've won with similar stats recently, but not Saturday. Bayless scored 8, but was 3/10 FG/A. He did add one assist.

For the Clippers, it was 37 field goals, 18 assists, 7 turnovers and 9 steals. They also had four starters in double figures, led by DeAndre Jordan's 16 and 12 rebs. All his points came in the first half, however. Interesting. The Clippers' bench was productive and aggressive.

L.A. is a good team, and obviously they've earned home court for the first round. They won the season series against Memphis, 3 wins to 1 for the Grizzlies.

The Clippers are at home against Portland on Tuesday night, then finish the regular season at Sacramento on Wednesday night. Does anyone think L.A. will lose both games?

Memphis is at Dallas Monday night, then the home finale against Utah on Wednesday night. Does anyone think Memphis will win both games?

For Memphis to get back 4th seed, they must win one more game of the last two than the Clippers do. It's not impossible, but it's highly improbable at this point.

And, with all my naysaying, this is still the best Grizzlies' regular season ever. Will that translate into playoff success? Only God knows.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Set-Up"

Robert Ryan stars in this 1949 release on the dirty side of boxing. It's only 75 or so minutes long, so there isn't time to gently ease the viewer into this world. It's dirty and immediate. It's in your face, right now, in an unyielding way.

Ryan was a great, versatile actor in his day. Between "Colonel Breed" in "The Dirty Dozen", "Reno Smith" in "Bad Day at Black Rock" and numerous other roles, he put together a substantial career in Hollywood.

In this film, he's "Bill 'Stoker' Thompson", an also-ran of a boxer. He never stopped dreaming about that one last successful fight that would earn the money he would need to start his post-boxing life. He knows about the dirty side of his sport, but he desperately hangs on to his integrity.

His wife "Julie" (Audrey Totter) loves him but hates his profession. She too dreams of a life far away from the ring. She knows enough about boxing and its after-effects, and knows she doesn't want her husband to be one more discarded pug. She fears Stoker is gonna end up a drooling, addled shell of the man she married.

The film noir-ish backdrop in this movie hangs over every character. The movie is dark and dank. There is little refuge for anyone, no safe place where a character can take shelter. There are no shining knights in this one.

Stoker gets matched up against an up-and-coming fighter, "Tiger Nelson" (Hal Baylor). The fix is in. Everybody either knows or suspects Stoker is doomed, except Stoker himself. Even Stoker's manager "Tiny" (George Tobias) has bet against Stoker. The fighter goes into this contest fighting for his future, his very self-respect.

The point isn't who wins or who loses the fight. The movie drives you inside the character of a guy contesting the odds. Life is stacked against him, but he refuses to let it change who he is at his core.

This cast is strong. Totter is beautiful, but is she alluring enough to talk her husband out of the fight game? Tobias, one of the all-time great character actors, fits his slick-taking role perfectly. Alan Baxter, as the local gangster running the fight racket, is all smug and sharply-dressed.

Herbert Anderson (who played the father in the "Dennis the Menace" television series) is part of a versatile bunch in the crowd scenes. Also, veteran movie/TV actor David Clarke works as the pug "Gunboat Johnson". What a nickname! We don't seen nicknames like that any more.

"The Set-Up" is a great movie, but it's not uplifting. If you let yourself get into it, you'll feel the grime and sweat on your skin. This wasn't produced for the Disney crowd. It's a grown-up movie, a stark view of a contaminated sport.

My Team - Nationals versus Braves

Friday: Detwiler versus Teheran
Saturday: Strasburg versus Hudson
Sunday: Gonzalez versus Maholm

(starting pitching subject to change)

The Nationals are off to a pretty good start, with the hard-fought sweep of the White Sox this week. The Braves are off to a slightly better start.  Atlanta swept the unfortunate Marlins this past week. 

Sure, it's early in the season, but it's still an interesting match-up. Each team will want to make a statement, namely "we're gonna be in your face all year. You'd better take care of business for 6 months, 'cause we're gonna handle ours".

The Nationals' pitchers weren't quite as dominant against Chicago as many (including me) expected. Atlanta has a competitive offense. Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons are dangerous hitters. B.J. Upton has so much offensive potential, but to this point in his career he's yet to consistently show it. Atlanta will make the Nats' staff work, much like the White Sox did.

On the mound, Atlanta is solid as usual. Their starters throw strikes & work fast. Their bullpen is missing Venters (could he be activated this weekend?), but O'Flaherty and Kimbrel are nearly unbeatable at the back end. What a dilemma for Washington - if you can't get runs against the Atlanta starters, and the Braves' bullpen is "lights out", against whom do you score?

I guess Detwiler pitches well Friday night, Strasburg is gonna do what he normally does on Saturday, and the Sunday game will be a pitchers' duel between two crafty left-handers. I guess Washington wins the first two, and Atlanta wins on Sunday. 

My Team - Grizzlies at Houston

The NBA regular season is winding down. I've been watching the "big 4" American pro sports pretty closely since '71, and I always get this same weird feeling at the end of a season. It's part melancholy because something good is ending. It's part relief because NBA or MLB seasons are loooong. It's part excitement because the playoffs are coming. It's part disappointment because my team isn't going to win the title.

Anyway, with four games remaining, Memphis is a full game behind Denver for 3rd place in the Western Conference, and a full game ahead of the Clippers for 4th place.

(Here's where I seek clarification. If I understand correctly, the Clippers are a division winner, but could lose home court in the first round if they finish behind Memphis in conference. I was under the impression that division winners had first round home court advantage due to winning their division. And, I just don't feel like doing the research...whoops, I actually typed that. Yikes.)

Moving on, Memphis is at Houston tonight. Kevin McHale has quietly guided a cohesive unit in Houston. They're a fun bunch to watch, because they get after it on both ends.

In a 29 March game between the two in Memphis, the Grizzlies won 104-93. That game was impacted by Harden's injury - he didn't play at all in the 4th quarter of that game. Between Hardin, Lin, Asik and Parsons, this is still a productive team. Delfino (flu) and Parsons (strained right calf) missed Tuesday night's win over Phoenix. If those two are healthy, I think Houston wins.

The Rockets have averaged nearly 98 PPG in their last 5 home games. I think that should be enough to beat the Grizzlies. My guess: Houston 99, Memphis 95. A healthy Harden is gonna get his. Asik is gonna keep Marc Gasol occupied enough to make that match-up a a draw. It will be fun to watch, with the contrasting styles. I'll do my errands early so I can watch this one extra closely.

As always, my guesses are not for gaming purposes, but for personal entertainment only.

After the Game: Memphis 82, Houston 78. First Memphis win in Houston since 15 April 06 (13 straight losses since then). Balanced scoring plus playoff-caliber defense equaled a surprising win. At least I was surprised.

Memphis had 29 field goals, 18 assists, only 6 turnovers and 10 steals. That level of play could beat most teams in a particular playoff game. Gasol had 15 points, 12 rebs, 5 assists (his 100th career double-double). Randolph added another 15 and 8 rebs, while Bayless added 13 off the bench. The team didn't shoot particularly well, but good enough to win.

Houston had 23 field goals, 18 assists, 20 turnovers and 4 steals. Ugh. Shooting 31% from the floor, at home no less, will usually get you beat worse than four points. Harden got 30, but went 7/24 FG/A. He also turned the ball over 6 times. Lin added 17 and 5 assists, but had 4 turnovers. Your starting back-court turned the ball over 10 times? Yikes.

It went down to the wire. It felt like a playoff game. It was cool to watch, given the team I root for pulled it out.

It was Memphis' 54th win of the year. The Grizzlies are tied with Denver for third place in conference, with both teams having 3 games remaining.

Next up, a Saturday night fight with the Clippers. I don't think these two teams like each other.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What's (Not) on My iPod - There are Two Songs, So Far

Haven't talked about music much around these parts in a while, so let's get back to it.

I got an iPod a few years ago, like a lot of folk. At the time, I didn't have a smart phone, so my iPod solved my desire for music on-the-go. I dove in with both feet, downloading music as fast as I could. I found many obscure songs, songs that were popular decades before but have been all but forgotten in the present.

There are two songs in particular I've yet to find on iTunes. The first one I'll mention is "Minimum Love" by Mac McAnally. This song was released in March of '83 (yeah, 30 years ago), but it's one I've always liked. It has a great mid-tempo groove, and romantically cynical lyrics. Check it out:


McAnally has had some success as a performer and songwriter, especially in the country world. This song was released as a "soft rock" single, and got a lots of airplay on my local adult contemporary station that year. I remember cruising around town many a weekend afternoon, hearing this song come on and really enjoying it.

The next song also evokes strong memories, but for a decidedly different reason. The Unifics' "Beginning of My End" is the saddest song I've heard in 40 years of paying attention to music.


How many people have had disagreements or arguments with the ones they love, with the expectation that there will be a chance for reconciliation? I'd guess most of us have taken it for granted that there would be a chance to say "I'm sorry", or buy some trite gift that attempts to make everything OK.

Whenever I hear the opening lyric "Up drove the hearse, Cadillac" I still get chills. Who would dare consider such a worst-case scenario after an argument with the one they love?

The first time I heard it, it was the late '60s. I was a 9-year-old kid in the back seat of my mother's car. My mom was taking the four of us kids somewhere (I don't remember where). As usual, there were conversations (read "arguments") going, kids talking like kids do in a car. I was daydreaming, when I heard the swell of strings at the song's intro. It was different than the the majority of Motown and Stax songs I was used to hearing.

Even as a kid, I was interested in the power of words, whether in a book or a song. The right grouping of words, with the right cadence, could take me away from my humdrum life towards something interesting. This collection of words told a story that hit my youthful heart in a way no other song at that time could.

I'd always liked this song, and filed it away as a powerful memory from my past. Twenty-eight years later, I lived a similar circumstance, and this song's effect came back to me in a more profound manner.

Out of the thousand of songs I've heard in my life, none have had such a lasting impact on me as this one. I've heard tons of songs regarding heartbreak, but I've never heard one as poignant and well-crafted as this one.

To say "I recommend it" wouldn't do it justice. But, it may touch you like it touched me.

In Dreams - A Man on the Move

This one was a three-parter.

First off, I was at a gym on a military installation. It must have been a holiday, or that time between lunch and the end of the duty day. The gym wasn't full at all, especially the basketball court. As I walked in, I saw two or three ladies on the far end of the court. They weren't actually playing basketball. They were standing around talking, and sporadically dribbling the ball as if they'd just finished a game.

As I stood around, someone behind me reminded me that I was there to find a certain guy for a certain task. I started walking around to find this guy, but was unsuccessful.

Next scene was me outside. I was at a flight-line, but the tarmac wasn't paved. The dirt was tamped down enough to be almost as hard as asphalt, but not quite. There was enough dust to be noticeable.

There was some sort of emergency declared, and several emergency vehicles emerged from large wooden sheds. It was a cold day, so the response team members were wearing military-issue parkas. Two or three large vehicles rumbled out of their sheds, then an extra-long vehicle came out from some off-site area. The last vehicle looked like several tractor-trailers welded together end-to-end. The welds were quite visible, giving the image of a jury-rigged configuration. The welded parts weren't all painted the same color, either. The whole endeavor seemed thrown together suddenly.

The last scene had me in Greenville, Mississippi. I was on a neighborhood street, in an open lot between two shotgun shacks. The yards were all on a slight up-slope. As I stood in the open lot, a lady drove up from my right. She was in an mid-70s Chevy Impala four-door, painted black. On the car's roof were two floor mats from inside the car. From a distance, they looked like typical cloth floor mats. After she got out of the car, she walked to the passenger side to get the floor mats. As she slid them off the car's roof, I could hear a tinny scraping sound, as if the mats were made of metal.

As she walked away, I looked over my left shoulder. Behind me on the open lot was the remains of a house. The roof was intact, but some of the walls were gone. I had maybe 18 inches of clearance over my head. I went to the remains of the house, and stood under the roof. I could still see outside, and watched the lady as she walked away from her car.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Blue Angels are Grounded

The U.S. Navy's flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, have been shut down for the rest of the fiscal year. The government's crushing debt issues require this drastic move.

I understand the Econ 101 perspective. If money is tight, you have to prioritize. Some items or events have to drop off the list. No argument there.

But, as an aviation fan, it is a dark day. I agree with the perspective that demonstration teams like the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Black Knights aid in recruiting in this era of all-volunteer military forces. Countless young men and women were inspired to serve by seeing what's possible through performances by these teams.

Those young people who don't grow up near a military installation are a group that I feel gain appreciable benefit from seeing these teams live. In many of those cases, the team's performance may be the only day of a particular year where the locals can see up close military capability and talk directly to those operators and maintainers who make the shows possible. When one hears the passion and commitment directly from the service members, it is inspiring.

In my career, I was blessed to work airshows with the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Britain's Red Arrows. It was a joy to share what I did with fellow aviation buffs. In time, the demonstration teams may get back to flying. For now, though, I feel for those people who don't get to see the teams in person this year.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Am I Grumpy? Snow Falls Today

As a kid growing up in the South, appreciable snowfall was rare. My hometown also didn't have snow removal equipment. So, if we got two or three inches, the city was virtually shut down. I loved those days when school was closed due to snow. We didn't get them every school year, but when it happened it was a joyous occasion.

As an adult, my perspective had to change. Kids had to be squared away. No school nor after-school care meant scrambling for short-notice arrangements. At work, we had late-reporting procedures. If you got to work too early, you were in the way while road crews cleared streets, parking lots, etc. The years I flew, snow meant delayed or cancelled takeoffs. That led to lost training opportunities, not to mention increased risk flying in inclement weather. Furthermore, carrying winter gear on the jet meant a little more work keeping track of it all. None of these things were show-stoppers, but added responsibility and effort.

Now, as a retiree, snow is a different type of symbol. Wet, heavy April snow is notorious as a cause for numerous snow shovelling heart attacks. Slush on the roads makes travel a pain in the butt. After a winter of cold, springtime snow is accompanied by a blast of cold air my body just doesn't enjoy anymore. It's not "bracing". It's chilling, down to the bone.

Yeah, we need snow from time to time. It's up to me to adjust. I'd rather near a warm beach, listening to gentle waves flow towards me.

Does that make me a grumpy old man? Probably...

My Team - Nationals versus White Sox

Tuesday: Gonzalez versus Jake Peavy
Wednesday: Zimmermann versus Gavin Floyd
Thursday: Haren versus Jose Quintana

(Starting pitching subject to change)

The three-game series in Cincinnati was eye-opening. The Reds' lineup raked all three games (they also put up a 9-run 9th inning at St. Louis Monday evening). Washington's offense hasn't quite matched the Reds' level of performance.

Harper is mashing early. Span has drawn 7 walks in the first 6 games, aiding a .444 OBP. Other guys may warm up now that the team is back at home.

Defense overall has been okay. The team has 7 errors, but Desmond has 4 of that total. He's as physically gifted as any shortstop in the game, but sometimes he can get a little unfocused. An error in a key situation costs his pitchers more pitches.

For the White Sox, Peavy is healthy again. He's tough and smart. His start may resemble the one Homer Bailey had against Washington last week. Floyd is a slightly-better-than-average starter who keeps his team in games as well. Quintana is a lefty who had a surprisingly good year last year, but got lit up in his first start this season. White Sox starters aren't bad, but aren't invincible either. I anticipate Nationals' hitters attacking early in the count.

The White Sox offense revolves around Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and Dayan Viciedo. No DH in this series, so Adam Dunn will have to play the field to get 3 to 4 plate appearances each game.

Defensively, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham are good turning double plays. Tyler Flowers is a young catcher who throws pretty well. Alejandro De Aza has great range in center field, but not a strong throwing arm.

Gonzalez and Zimmerman should both have strong outings, giving Washington a great chance to win Tuesday and Wednesday. Haren must make adjustments in order to pitch deep into Thursday's game. His stuff has declined, so he has to pitch to the margins of the strike zone. The illusion of throwing strikes will serve him better than actually throwing the ball over the plate.

My Team - Grizzlies versus Charlotte

Five games left in the regular season, and Memphis is in the midst of a transition. The team is becoming more perimeter-oriented. The pace remains the same (scoring in the low-to-mid-90s most nights). As Mike Conley's confidence grows, he's becoming more assertive looking for his shot.

Whether it's Conley, Bayless, Pondexter or Prince, the jump shooter needs to hit those shots. There is nothing wrong with the open man taking reasonable shots. Personally, I get frustrated with a) off-balance jumpers early in the shot clock; b) heavily-contested jump shots when team-mates are open for better shots; and c) "heat check" shots - after hitting two or three in a row, the player starts chucking the ball up almost as a science experiment.

Tuesday, the Grizzlies host the 18-59 Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats have lost 7 of their last 10 contests, and will lose to Memphis.

Charlotte does have talent. Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon can heat up and score from deep & when getting to the rim.  Gerald Henderson is an active wing player who can score in similar fashion. Bismack Biyombo is a pogo-stick defender and shot-blocker. He can protect the rim, but his haste to jump can get him off-balance. Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is active on both ends and is learning the pro game on the fly.

The Bobcats have been trying to mesh as a team all season. They are working towards next season.

My guess: Memphis 95, Charlotte 85. It will be a lackluster effort from the home team. Memphis lately seems to play up or down to its level of competition. It's disturbing, coming up to the playoffs. The true championship contenders play at a high level more often than not, regardless of opponent. Memphis has to get to that point, in a hurry.

After the Game: Memphis 94, Charlotte 75. The Bobcats were in this game through 3 quarters, down 63-57. Jon Leuer came off the bench in the second half to add 11 points, 5 rebs and the energy the rest of the ?Grizzlies seemed to lack.

For Memphis, it was 39 field goals, 17 assists, 6 turnovers and 6 steals. Conley scored 20 and added 7 assists.  Randolph had 11 points, 13 assists, and some labored moments on the floor in the second half. His spring is just about gone, his legs seem dead. Every healthy player played, as the 4th quarter lead got out near 20 points.

For Charlotte, it was 30 field goals, 13 assists, 10 turnovers and 2 steals. The Bobcats were led by Kemba Walker with 19 and Gerald Henderson with 13 and 6 rebs. They played somewhat uptempo, but there was a lot of one-on-one freelancing in their half-court offense. When Memphis finally decided to turn up the heat in the 4th, they were able to take advantage of Charlotte's offensive impatience. Missed Charlotte shots turned into Memphis run-outs or easy shots on the secondary break.

Ho-hum. Letting Charlotte hang in for three quarters was troubling (I admit, I turned over to AMC to watch "A Few Good Men" for a bit at the end of the 3rd.) "They'll have to play with more focus in the playoffs."

Next up for Memphis is back-to-back time yet again. Friday night at Houston, Saturday night at home against the Clippers. After that, Memphis plays on "Tax Day (15 April) at Dallas, then the home closer against the Jazz.

I've said it before: record-wise, this is the best Grizzlies' season ever. Most wins in the regular season (53). Tied for most home wins in team history (31). 13-game home winning streak (second-longest in team history). Why does it feel so unsatisfying? Am I focusing too much on the flaws? Should I just enjoy what's been accomplished up to this point?

It remains to be seen...