Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Team - Nationals versus Rockies

Proposed starters -

Thursday: Zimmermann versus Oswalt
Friday: Strasburg versus Chatwood
Saturday: Haren versus Chacin
Sunday: Detwiler versus De La Rosa

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

Ian Desmond's 11th inning grand slam prevented a Philadelphia sweep of the three-game series. Washington's pitching has been pretty good lately, but the offense is still struggling. Bryce Harper still leads the team with 12 home runs, and he hasn't played since, what, mid-May? Yikes.

The team got home after the late night in Philly, and starts a four-game set with the Colorado Rockies on Thursday. Colorado is in 3rd place in the NL West, 2.5 games behind San Francisco. Even without Troy Tulowitzki, the team continues to fight hard. Too bad they just got swept in the three games at Toronto.

As usual, Carlos Gonzalez is the guy Washington handles with the utmost care. With others like Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler and Nolan Arenado, Colorado's lineup is strong.

The Rockies have brought up Roy Oswalt to serve in their pitching rotation. He's not the same guy he was ten years ago (as if we were?). His knowledge of his craft will be enough to make him serviceable for this team.

I know it sounds weird admitting that Colorado's scheduled starters could all have quality outings this weekend. But with the Nats' offense this year, would we be surprised if each game was a low-scoring pitchers' duel?

For Washington, their starters are well-known. The bullpen, with Ian Krol and Fernando Abad helping out, has improved. They will again prove to be a key in late-game situations.

Frankly, I expect the Nationals to win Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Zimmermann and Strasburg should put out back-to-back strong starts. I guess Haren will probably have another one of those 5IP, 5ER starts on Saturday, and Detwiler will pitch well Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Cheeseburgers Across America" - It's That Time Again

Yep. It's that time again. I'm getting bored and restless, so I'm hitting the road. Laundry is done, and I am gonna pack in a few moments.

As you all know, wanderlust in in my bones. I'm looking forward to getting out on the road, seeing some of the sights this amazing country has to offer.

Follow me on twitter - @SomRandomOlDude. I'll be posting from the road. The people I meet, the places where I eat. From time to time, I'll also update the blog. I may even learn how to Twitpic or Instagram or something similar, so I can post pics of what I discover.

There's a cheeseburger with my name on it, somewhere across America. See you on the road.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Father of the Bride" (1950)

I watched this on Sunday, and saw it in a different light.

This 1950 release touched me. My own daughter is getting married later this summer, and I found myself relating with the titular patriarch.

Spencer Tracy stars as "Stanley Banks", a lawyer who's doing alright for himself financially. His wife "Ellie" (Joan Bennett) is attractive, loyal and smart as a whip. They have three kids, the eldest being "Kay" (Elizabeth Taylor). She's daddy's girl all the way.

Kay surprises her father one evening over dinner. There's a guy she's serious about, "Buckley Dunstan" (Don Taylor). Buckley, the son of wealthy parents, has a lot of ideas about the future. He wants Kay as a key part of his present and future. He wants Kay as his wife. Stanley is taken aback, over-reacts, then becomes our point-of-view throughout the rest of the movie.

This movie captures many striking feelings - worry, elation, determination, frustration. Watching Stanley navigate through the shifting emotions of his wife, daughter, friends and family is a real eye-opener. Just watching the scene where Ellie figures out which families must be invited is a most complicated calculus, indeed. It's funny, but a very real concern for wedding planners.

One scene that really cracked me up was the wedding announcement party at the Banks home. Stanley has this fancy speech developed, and looks forward to presenting it to family and friends. However, he gets stuck in his kitchen making drinks for the guests. The smart guy he is, he's prepped a tray of martinis. Too bad the guests have varied tastes...

One scene that gave me cold sweats was the dream sequence where Stanley finds himself late for the wedding. He can't quite get a stable path on which to walk. His tuxedo is torn from his body. Scornful faces watch his failure. His own daughter, the blushing bride, is horrified to see her dad in such dire straits during her special day.

Overall, I liked the movie. Elizabeth Taylor's role left me a bit confused. Even as a child actress, she seemed so self-possessed on-screen. For a lot of this film, however, she seemed to be a bit of a one-trick pony. What she wants is what she wants, and she lets everybody know it. Towards the end, though, her character mellows.

As the reception finishes, when Stanley wants to wish his newly-married daughter well upon her departure, I kinda got choked up. Stanley gets close enough to see her and her husband drive off.  A few minutes later, when she calls her daddy from the train station, that was a nice touch. The closing scene, where Stanley and Ellie dance amid the leftover trash from the reception, was another piece that fit well. They were tired, but they survived this monumental day together.

I am sure this movie will come to my recollection when I'm walking my daughter down the aisle later this summer. I love this movie.

What's Your "Ready" Look Like?

This was heartbreaking.

The more I read about it, the more concerned I became.

Understand this, first off. I am not disparaging the deceased. I also offer my deepest condolences to the surviving family, friends and loved ones of the deceased. They perished trying to protect firefighters. The couple did the very best they could do, but died in the effort. How much earlier did they need to start to survive the effort? We will never know.

However, I am reminded of my time in the military. We'd see accident reports, and our squadron commander or flight safety officer would always remind us of one thing. "These reports aren't to second-guess or insult the deceased. These reports are for the living - for those who remain to consider how they go about their business". As sad as it is, it should make us all think "what would I do in a similar situation?"

The Black Forest fire was only a few miles from my apartment. It was much closer than last year's Waldo Canyon fire. During the numerous updates, I tried to keep a brave face, a calm demeanor. But, I had to consider "what if the mandatory evac area includes my neighborhood?" Could I gather my necessities fast enough to get away before the flames got too close?

What about you who read this? Whether you live in an efficiency or a 10,000 square foot palace, one question remains. How long does it take for you to gather your necessities and get out?

Last Saturday, as the news readers reported upgrades in the amount of fire contained, the folks also said that  a select few people were allowed to return to their homes to get "essential medications". I found myself then asking, "when they left home days before, why didn't they take their essential meds the first time? Why are they verbally climbing all over the sheriffs for stuff maybe they should have already gathered before leaving the first time?"

Then I had to wonder: what if their meds were in several places in their particular homes? Maybe they couldn't get all the meds because they had to actually take time to remember where some meds were stored?

So I stood in the middle of my apartment. It's only 1000 square feet total, so I could see most of it from one vantage point. I asked myself if I was to evac, what would I take? What could I leave behind and replace at another time?

Admittedly, I have some items in a separate storage location. Wedding pictures from my first marriage, memorabilia from the kids' baby years, and scrapbook items are all off-site. With that, I don't have a lot here that can't be replaced with time or a few phone calls.

How about you? Take this challenge: start the stopwatch and give yourself 30 minutes. Or, only 15 minutes. How much stuff could you gather in the time you allot and still get out? Where are the important papers, the life-aiding meds, that one heirloom your great-grandfather got from Teddy Roosevelt? Are all the irreplaceable items in separate corners, or buried under less-important stuff?

That leads to a different question. How much stuff do I need? If I had to evac, and I decided a certain item could be left behind, do I really need it when things are calm? What if I don't need a particular thing? Is it just clutter at that time?

And, as I digress further, when fire victims rebuild, how many of the lost items need to be replaced? Maybe a simpler live is easier to manage in the future. Maybe I don't need that extra table or chair.

And, what about this - my son lives with me while he works his way through college. What if he and/or I are away from home when the evac order is issued? Do we have an easy-to-remember way to coordinate during a stressful situation? It's more than just having cell phones. Local cell phone systems were overloaded during the most critical times of the fire's expansion.

As I stated earlier, this situation is heartbreaking. With our ongoing local drought conditions (3 or 4 years, depending on who counts), we are ripe for another local fire. What if we get another wildfire before summer ends? Will I have time to escape the next one? How fast can I "bug out" if I need to? What does my "ready" look like?

What does your "ready" look like?

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Philadelphia

Proposed starters - 

Monday: Haren versus Lannan
Tuesday: Detwiler versus Lee
Wednesday: Gonzalez versus Kendrick

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

Losing two of three this past weekend at Cleveland just reinforced more of the same. The Nationals are a .500 team, still. Key guys like Harper and Espinosa are still injured. Rendon, however, is showing more confidence & surprising power to the opposite field. Will he start pulling the ball with power?

Pitchers like Detwiler and Strasburg came back in the last week, and looked good in short stints. Ohlendorf gave the team a lift in a spot start, and may be a great fit as a middle-innings reliever.

Now, the Nats head into the City of Brotherly Love. Philly just finished losing the last two of a 3-game set in Denver, giving up 15 runs in those two games. The Phillies are one of the few teams missing even more regulars than Washington. Utley, Halladay and Ruiz are huge losses from the lineup and pitching staff. 

Domonic Brown has arrived (19 HR, team-leading .876 OPS), at least for now. John Mayberry and Ryan Howard have also supplied some power, but Howard as 75K. Whoa.

On the mound, Lannan (the former National) gets his first start in two months. His 1.23 WHIP this year isn't horrible. His early numbers are skewed by his last start, 17 April at Cincinnati (1.2 IP, 8H, 6ER). He doesn't strike out many hitters.

Cliff Lee is outstanding. He just might throw a no-hitter against Washington. Lee still throws hard, still mixes pitches well. Get to him early, as the cliche goes, before he gets into a rhythm. Kendrick is competitive, but has had trouble against Washington. In his last start against the Nats (24 May), he gave up 8H and 4BB in 5 innings. 

I really believe Washington can get to Lannan and Kendrick. Lee will be problematic to Washington's chances to win. If these are the actual starters, Washington can/should win Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday? I'm not so sure.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Who's a Daddy?

Yep, Father's Day is Sunday. I am blessed to have two "adult descendants". Can't call them "my kids", since they are both adults.We're all in the same town, and see one another regularly.

As I look back over the years, I can't help but think back to the things I wish I had done better as a father. I meant well, but I let my selfishness or distraction or poorly-handled stress get in the way of being that dad I saw in my head. Lots of parents want to be that paragon of virtue their kids can admire. I can't make that claim. Nor can I go back and fix those missed opportunities.

My two are making their way through life, building for their futures while chasing their dreams. They're finding the right mix between the necessities of the workaday world while holding out hope for those desires just out of reach. I hope they both have as many dreams come true as God will allow.

For me, I'm learning that my role as father has to change. I can see that as generations change, the dad as "wizened advisor" isn't the admired role it was decades ago. There are so many more sources and perspectives on how life works, a wise old dad on a front porch may be an obsolete construct. It can be frustrating to finally have that life-earned wisdom, but no outlet in which to share.

So, as Father's Day approaches, I have to look at my descendants differently. They don't necessarily need me as a confidant; they have other allies who fit that role. They don't need my lasagna; they've learned the recipe I learned from their mom (my first wife). Their lives are their own, and now I only want for them to see the value of a life well-lived.

From my time as a father, I offer these suggestions:

For the younger dads out there, your presence in your child's life is the most powerful thing you can give. It's worth more than ten years' worth of trinkets and toys. Time is so valuable, more so as it slips away. Make the time for your child to see you handle all sorts of situations. Let your child see you handle success, failure, elation and grief. As your child gets older and more inquisitive, be there to answer those tough questions about the meaning and purpose of life.

For the older dads out there, there will come a time when your descendant wants to access your perspective. Don't hold out. Share that life experience you've earned. It's one way your influence lasts beyond your time on this earth.

For the dads who have minimal or no contact with your kids, it's never too late to make that first step. For some, that first step of contact can be a crucial part of putting a broken relationship back together.

I don't care what pop culture says. Being a father is a worthwhile calling, and more than just a punchline for a lame attempt at humor. As a father, you can help make this world a better place by how you bring up your child. On a personal, grass-roots level, you can help solve some of the ills of this earth. How you interact and help rear your kids has lasting benefit for us all.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Cleveland

Proposed starters -

Friday: Gonzalez versus Masterson
Saturday: Zimmermann versus Kazmir
Sunday: Strasburg versus Kluber

(Starters subject to change)

The Nationals took two of the three-game series in Denver, and moved on to Cleveland. The Nats have won 4 of their last 5, have gotten one game over .500, and are barely in second place in the NL East.

Cleveland just finished a road trip by taking two of three at Texas. Their Friday starter, Masterson, is a budding ace. He's a big, durable guy who leads the Indians in wins (8) and strikeouts (92). He's the type of guy who can shut down Washington for 7 innings or so. However, he's given up 11 earned runs in his last two starts (13.1 innings, at the Yankees and at Detroit). I suspect he'll get back into a groove Friday night.

I guess Kazmir and Kluber may get turns as the weekend goes on. Kazmir is a reclamation project (1 game in '11, missed all of '12). His WHIP (1.59) and BAA (.299) allow Washington some hope. Kazmir gave up 4 earned runs in each of his last two starts (at Yankees, at Texas - 6 innings each start). At this rate, Washington might be able to squeak out a win scoring only 4 runs.

Kluber, a tall righthander, has been quietly effective (1.22 WHIP, .265 BAA). He went 8 innings last start at Texas, allowing only one earned run,

Offensively, Cleveland is average to slightly below average. They have some pop, but some guys will strike out. Mark Reynolds, Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher will chase pitches or swing through others. But, they can hit the ball out of the park. With Carlos Santana, Mike Aviles, Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs, they can do damage. Washington pitchers must avoid deep counts and poorly executed pitches.

Defensively, they're pretty sound. Michal Bourn is an above-average centerfielder, with lots of range. Stubbs and Brantley are center-field quality defenders playing corner outfield spots. Aviles can pick it also, but the team misses the spectacular Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop.

I guess Gonzalez gives up a couple of homers Friday night, and Cleveland wins. I also guess Washington gets great pitching Saturday and Sunday, winning both games. As a bonus guess, Washington scores exactly 4 runs each game of this series.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Colorado

Proposed starters -

Tuesday: Haren versus Chacin
Wednesday: Gonzalez (?) versus De La Rosa
Thursday: Zimmerman (?) versus Francis

(Starters subject to change)

The Rockies are two games out of first in the NL West, tied with the defending champion Giants. They have a formidable line-up. Everyone cites home-road splits when it comes to the Rockies, and there is some weight to that consideration. The spacious outfield contributes to many games where the merry-go-round gets started. Guys are running the bases to near exhaustion.

With Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado has a one-two offensive punch to rival any other in the National League. Both players have been healthy so far, and productive. Dexter Fowler seems to finally putting together consistent offense to go with his plus range in CF. Rookie Nolan Arenado may be the answer at 3B. He's slugging OK, but could stand to draw more walks.

Fielding doesn't seem to be a huge problem for the Rockies. Three guys (C Wilin Rosario, 2B Josh Rutledge and 3B Jonathan Herrera) are tied for team lead with 4 errors each. Most of there guys don't have huge range, but they catch what they get to.

On the mound, Colorado is quietly doing better than usual. The team ERA of 4.02 is better than their usual. The team WHIP of 1.34 is a bit much, but again better than in previous years. Chacin had a good April and first half of May, but he gave up 8 ER in a 16 May home start against the Giants. He's struggled since.

De La Rosa leads the team in wins (7), ERA (3.38) and strikeouts (48). He's gotten wins against Washington, but he has a high ERA (4.80) and WHIP (1.53) in five career starts against the Nationals  Francis is the classic soft-tossing lefty the Rockies keep sending out to start. I guess he's a pleasant guy, and the team seems to love him. But, if he doesn't have pinpoint control, he tends to get lit up.

My guess - Haren gets lit up yet again. Good thing Chacin will also give up some runs. Maybe Tuesday is one of those 11-10 Coors Field specials. I also guess the Nationals will have great chances to win on Wednesday and Thursday if Gonzalez and Zimmermann pitch like normal.

For the Washington roster, I understand why they sent out Tyler Moore. He needs at-bats to get some consistency. Chris Marerro brings a power bat to the bench. Anthony Rendon gains more confidence at 2B seemingly with every game. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche are coming around a bit more. Similar to last year's visit to Coors, maybe this three-game set will provide a tonic for Washington's hitting ills.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Imitation of Life" (1959)

This movie has a special place in my memory. Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore are the leads. This version was a remake of a 1934 movie that starred Claudette Colbert and Warren William.

In a "very special" ODOM, I'm writing about this before I watch it. Normally I write after viewing, but I noticed Turner Classic Movies is showing this Wednesday night. Yeah, it's a soaper, a weeper. But here's why I can't insult it.

It was my first wife's all-time favorite movie. Let's take a look back to see why...

Back in the '60s and '70s, before widespread cable, many local television stations used movies from the '30s to the '50s as filler. Lots of local stations had an "Early Movie", a "Dialing for Dollars Movie", a "Late Movie", or even a "Late, Late Movie". In the pre-TCM era, there were many opportunities to see classic film. This movie was in regular rotation, especially down south.

Also during that era, the topic of "passing" was a sore point in the African-American community. For those unfamiliar with the term, "passing" referred to a light-skinned person of color who a) attempted to enter mainstream ("white") society because he/she could almost "pass" for Caucasian, while b) appearing to abandon his/her own culture and heritage. My first wife was light-skinned, with long wavy hair.  So, even if she didn't try to pass, other blacks in her community assumed she would attempt it. Other blacks disliked her without actually getting to know her, solely because they thought she gained unspoken advantage due to her skin tone.

In some weird way, "passing" was a source of envy and self-hatred in the African-American community. The person who "passed" appeared to get immediate, tangible benefit from those who bestowed such (the white business owners and community leaders who would say this black person "isn't like all the other Negroes around here"). Other blacks who didn't receive such favor were mad at the system that perpetuated it, and mad at that light-skinned black person who did receive the benefit. Furthermore, I suspect the blacks who didn't get such largesse may have also had some frustration with themselves, because when that one opportunity came they weren't prepared  to receive it. They hadn't done the life "homework" necessary to be in position to take advantage of that one, rare chance.

As a bit of insight, let's compare that concept to the formal civil rights movement during that time. Leaders like Dr. King told us to aspire to the best we could possibly achieve. Those leaders felt we'd gain lasting equality in large part by maintaining high standards of comportment and accomplishment. However, on the street, if a black person aspired to lofty heights, other blacks would insultingly say words like "Uncle Tom", "sellout" or "he/she's tryin' to act white". Some blacks thought those who dared achieve were also "tryin' to pass". So for folks like my wife, the dichotomy was awkward and nearly impossible to navigate. Most blacks agreed with Dr. King's sentiment as a concept, but how many of us really lived it? How many of us tried to knock down those who did embrace it?

Given her experiences, this movie struck a chord deep within my wife's heart. Whenever she saw it on television, she stopped whatever she was doing to give it complete attention. She hadn't lived the exact life the Sarah Jane character lived, but my wife could relate to the dual pressures. My wife could relate to the feeling of not fitting in either mainstream society nor the black community of which she was a part. She had to function in both, but many times felt like she didn't have allies in either. To cope with it, she was blessed in two ways. One, she had a strong family who consistently rallied around one another. Two, her parents owned their farmland, so they had some direct say in making their livelihood. Other black folk weren't that fortunate back then.

So yeah, the movie deals with uncomfortable topics like race, the pressures of single parenthood, ungrateful children rejecting their parent's honorable sacrifices. the unfairness of life and the heavy regret after a loved one dies. It hits hard. It's supposed to. When the funeral takes place, and the legendary gospel artist Mahalia Jackson sings "Trouble of the World", I can still envision my wife tearing up. Today, I find myself catching a tear or two at the memory.

If I were to post a list of my twenty favorite movies, "Imitation of Life" wouldn't be on the list. To me, and my memories, it's beyond mere listing. It's in a class all its own, because of my experience and the experiences my wife endured.

I know I talk a lot about moving on in my middle aged years and closing the door on the past. Some memories I don't want to let go. This is one of those memories. When you have the time and this movie is on, immerse yourself in this world. It's overwrought, to be sure. But, it says something powerful.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Breathless"

Released in 1960, it's often noted as an influential part of the French "new wave" of cinema in that era.. Jean-Luc Godard directed this film, and it influences film-makers today. Yeah, it was stylish and innovative in pushing the "jump cut" style of editing. And yes, the scenes of Paris make a great backdrop for the story. Fashionable people walking around a beautiful city will grab your attention.

I either didn't get it, or was focused on the wrong things. In any event, I didn't enjoy this movie at all.

Jean-Paul Belmondo stars as "Michel", a small-time crook with no redeeming qualities. But, yeah, he always seemed to dress well. (except for the "tweed jacket and silk socks" thing late in the film). Jean Seberg ("Patricia") is cute and waif-like as an American student studying journalism at the Sorbonne. They have a brief history, and Michel drifts back into Patricia's life like trash blowing down a street.

Michel steals a succession of cars. Michel steals from friends and acquaintances. Michel kills a motorcycle cop, seemingly just because he can. Michel chases after the elusive Berruti (Henri-Jacques Huet), who owes Michel money for some task done in the recent past. Michel idolizes Humphrey Bogart, but misses the point of Bogie.

In his iconic roles, there was a depth of character that Bogart was able to show on-screen. He may have been a bad guy (like in "The Petrified Forest") or broken (like in "The Caine Mutiny"), but there was something about his characters the film-watcher could access. There was something that drew you in to understand better the character. Michel tried to ape the slouch or physical style, but never got near the gravity of the Bogart persona.

I watched it, and it was different than anything else made in that time. But to me, the story lacked heart. I didn't have a reason to relate to Michel. He was a deadbeat and a wastrel. And frankly, Patricia seemed like a lightweight, a cipher character added to provide a simple contrast to Michel's amoral behavior. I didn't care if they got together or if they drifted apart. But yeah, they looked cool.

Yep, I watched this film, watched it close. It's everything critics said it was. I see the media evidence that people closely study this one, and point to it as a "sea change" in the art of movie making. Nearly everyone raves about it. For me, it wasn't enjoyable. I watched it once, but I won't watch it again.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Team - Nationals versus Twins

Proposed starters -

Saturday: Gonzalez versus Correia
Sunday (GM 1): Zimmerman versus Diamond
Sunday (GM 2): Karns versus Deduno

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

Washington's Thursday night game against the Mets and the Friday night game against Minnesota were both rained out. So, we get a Saturday afternoon game and a Sunday day/night doubleheader against the Twins. After Wednesday's 10-1 drubbing at the hands of the Mets, Washington needs wins. What else is new?

The veteran Correia leads the team in innings pitched, wins and ERA. He's durable and competitive, but doesn't blow anyone away. His last start against Seattle, he went 6.2, giving up 8 hits (including 3 home runs). Diamond is a big left-hander with slightly worse numbers than Correia. His last start, also against Seattle, he threw 6 shutout innings (scattering 4 hits, with 1 walk and 3 strikeouts). Deduno is a long-time pro, who's bounced around a bit. His last start, against Kansas City, was also 6 shutout innings (4H, 2BB, 5K). These are the types of starters who may see the Nationals as "get-well" opportunities, since Washington struggles to score.

Offensively, between Mauer, Morneau, Doumit and former National Willingham, they have guys with doubles' power and occasional home run prowess. They're not much different than Washington, in that they have to win games without scoring 5-6 runs every night. Pitching and defense are keys for both teams this weekend.

Defensively, they catch the ball and throw it well. They've turned 190 double plays, while committing only 23 errors. Rookies Aaron Hicks (CF) and Pedro Florimon (SS) are defenders with lots of range.

I have no way to firm up my guesswork in this one. I hope the Nationals win all three. If they don't score, they could get swept. They're already in 3rd place in the NL East. Yeah, injuries have added up. But eventually, the guys on the field have to get it done.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

To the USAFA Class of 2013 - What An Opportunity!

It's graduation season, a great time to celebrate achievement. All over the country, graduates look back over the last few years in appreciation and relief. Administrators and instructors have a sense of completion and transition, as one class moves on and another moves up. Families and friends are filled with joy, as those they love successfully navigate challenging programs in various fields of study.

Last week, I got to volunteer at Falcon Stadium, supporting the U.S.Air Force Academy graduation ceremony.

Here's more pictures & video of the event.

I assume the cynically cool folks would say "this is such a difficult time to serve in the military. Why do it in the first place?" To me, the answer should be obvious, to provide for the defense of the homeland. But for the USAFA graduates, now that they've time to contemplate this, maybe there are doubts. Military adversaries aren't so easy to identify, as back in the days of the Cold War. There is still support from the American populace, but signs of "war fatigue" are cropping up. Programs are being terminated, civilian support workers are being furloughed. It's not the same military as it was five or ten years ago.

To me, as a veteran, this is a great time to be a young Airman. The very challenges that hinder others can be opportunities for young folks to be a part of solving such challenges. Resources are tight, but it's also true in the civilian sector. Generational differences crop up in units, obstructing effective communication. That too happens in the civilian sector. Deployment schedules seem to never slow down, separating the member from his/her loved ones.

The enterprising, smart graduates will see the challenges for what they are, and embrace the opportunity to take on the challenges. There is room for new insight & new energy to overcome the challenges and get the job done.

The job of defending the country is necessary and never-ending. It takes the right men and women to do it well in this unsettled time. I have faith in the new graduates, and look forward to them bringing their talents and passion to bear in solving today's problems and tomorrow's challenges.

In Dreams - "An Argument With a Famous Person"

I was at a summer camp for kids, volunteering as security guy/grounds maintenance guy. It was rewarding work, and the schedule was flexible enough to allow some free time to sit and take in the scenery.

We were in Tennessee, in a wooded area near a large lake. One weird thing was how we weren't overrun by critters. Not a gnat or mosquito nearby. No bears or bobcats interfered with our fun. There may have been fish in the lake, but I didn't get close enough to the water to find out.

One day, as I was taking a break from my duties, Kobe Bryant showed up. He arrived without an entourage, and was in a very mellow mood. He pulled up a stool next to where I was sitting. We started to shoot the breeze about light-hearted topics.

Soon, we found ourselves debating the best way to reach inner-city youth. He strongly believed quieter connections, one-on-one interactions with kids and their families worked best. I felt that big, splashy events not only helped the kids, but they also motivated third-party folk to get involved. He found himself disliking bigger events as he grew older. He mentioned something about the loss of control as more people got their hands on a program.

After an impassioned debate, we respectfully agreed to disagree.

Next thing I knew, we were at a truck stop on the interstate. We picked up the same argument at the point where we left off. It was a bit harder to hear his points with all the diesel engines running nearby.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Women"

You must watch this movie. Especially if you are a man trying to understand women, you must watch this movie. This 1939 release is called a "comedy", but there is big melodrama in the midst of the script.

This cast is among the most star-laden ever assembled. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Marjorie Main and Ruth Hussey are among the ensemble. Hedda Hopper, Cora Witherspoon and Butterfly McQueen are also a part of this team. As some already know, however, there is not one male among the cast. Not a one. Given that, the female characters have the chance to really cut loose. With no men on-screen, one doesn't have to have the customary male-female dynamic. That liberates the script to go into how women deal with other women in a raw, down-to-earth way.

You can go to so many links to read the synopsis. I got a kick out of several things, though.

One, the friendships were enduring. "Mary" (Shearer) and her mother (Lucile Watson) were very close, and the elder had the type of timeless wisdom that applies even today. Mary and "Peggy" (Fontaine) are equals, and Mary is more than willing to support the distraught Peggy when the ladies are in Reno.

Two, the ladies were decked out to the nines. Watch Crawford's "Crystal" throughout the movie, especially in the scene were Russell's "Sylvia" goes to surveil Crystal at work. Crawford is stunningly beautiful, from the curls that gently frame her face, to the sleek black dress. That was one gorgeous woman, and she knew it. Crystal knew she had power over any man who crossed her path, and was eager to use that power to her personal benefit. Yeah, she was a gold-digger, and didn't care who knew it.

Three, the comedy works. From the scenes in Reno (especially the fight between Goddard's "Miriam" and Sylvia) and the party at the end, the physical comedy is well-plotted. The entire script is filled with witticisms, delivered in a crisp cadence. Some characters are catty, others are hopeful.

There is such a wide range of feminine characterizations and reactions. Women watching it should recognize present-day personality types, perhaps even their own. Men should get keen insight on how women are & how women interact with one another.

This is a superb motion picture that stands up nearly 74 years later. I give it the highest recommendation I can muster.

My Team - Nationals versus Mets

Proposed starters -

Tuesday: Zimmermann versus Hefner
Wednesday: Haren versus Gee
Thursday: Strasburg (?) versus Marcum

(Starters subject to change)

(Long sigh). As of Tuesday morning, the Nationals are a game under .500. Over the past weekend, the Braves showed face-to-face that they are better than Washington (at least at this point).

Yep, the Nationals' roster has been hindered by injury and ineffectiveness. The road to getting well starts with this upcoming three-game home series with New York's Metropolitans. The Mets were swept in Miami, on the heels of New York's four-game sweep of the cross-town Yankees.

The Mets do have threats. David Wright is one of the best two-way third basemen in the game. Lucas Duda, John Buck and Ike Davis aren't high-average hitters, but all have plus power. Either can break open a late, close game with a homer if Washington isn't careful. Daniel Murphy is a productive hitter at the top of the order. This lineup is decent.

The Mets catch the ball OK. SS Ruben Tejada leads the team with 8 errors (but he's on the 15-day disabled list). The team doesn't have a lot of range, but they normally catch the balls they get to. They have former National Rick Ankiel in center field, so I wouldn't expect Washington to take extra bases against his arm.

Hefner struggled in his last appearance against Washington. Gee, conversely, has had success against the Nats. Marcum hasn't pitched against Washington this year, but is struggling overall in '13 (1.37 WHIP and .293 BAA on grass).

I guess Nationals win on Tuesday night, with Zimmermann returning to his stellar form. Wednesday, I suspect Haren is the "get-well plan" for the Mets' lineup, with New York slugging its way to a win. Thursday is a toss-up. If Strasburg can't go, his replacement (Zach Duke?) could be called on to shut down New York. It may happen. It might not.

The Nationals need to start taking series, week after week, to get back in the hunt for a playoff spot. It's not "early" anymore. It looks like they're not gonna score much the rest of the way, so pitching and defense will have to carry the team through September. Go get 'em, guys.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - Libeled Lady"

This 1936 release is a fine example of the "screwball comedy" genre. With a powerhouse cast, one would think it would be a can't miss. It doesn't.

Spencer Tracy, William Powell, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow lead an impressive troupe of players in this fast-paced comedy. The movie starts with a wedding. "Warren Haggerty" (Tracy) is the managing editor of a big newspaper. On the happiest day of his life, Warren has a crisis at work. One of his incompetent underlings has posted a libelous front-page story about rich playgirl "Connie Allenbury" (Loy). Connie plans to sue the paper for $5 million dollars, which would drain the paper's resources to near-bankruptcy.

As Warren leaves the church to deal with the crisis, his fiance "Gladys Benton" (Harlow) follows him to the office. She's livid, since it's not the first time Warren has stiffed her on getting married. Warren understands Gladys' frustration, but can't deal with it until he solves his work problem.

Warren's plan to save his paper involves his former employee "Bill Chandler" (Powell), a debonair ladies' man who rarely stays in one place for long. Bill is a bit down on his luck, sees Warren in dire straits, and takes advantage of the situation. Bill can make a healthy salary, and have Warren personally indebted to him as well.

Chandler is to marry Gladys as a ruse, charm Connie, get Connie in a compromising position, then use Gladys in an "alienation of affection" suit against Connie. This plan may get Connie to drop the $5 million dollar suit against the paper. Of course, nothing goes to plan.  The main four characters fall in love and out of love. Misunderstandings about. The dialogue is whip-smart and fast-paced.

Admittedly, I wasn't a big fan of Harlow's work. I was familiar with her status as a "blonde bombshell" (I'm partial to brunettes & redheads, though). In this film, she easily goes from anger to dewy-eyed romantic without missing a beat.  She handles her part well. She holds her own with the more senior actors.

Anyone who knows my love of film knows I am a huge fan of Powell and Loy. Powell can play the smooth talking ladies' man, and is adept at broad physical comedy ("It's a walleye!"). Loy is gorgeous as always, cool under pressure and so self-confident. Bill has to work overtime to hold Connie's attention. Powell and Loy are so natural on-screen as a couple. They make falling in love look like fun.

Tracy is one of the all-time greats, and shows it here. He was such a great comedic talent. He must have had a blast making this film, and it shows on-screen. Warren is energetic but not frantic. He's under control, understands the urgency of his task, but never over-emotes.

Walter Connolly and Cora Witherspoon head up a list of strong supporting players. Look for Hattie McDaniel ("Mammy" from Gone With The Wind) in a brief scene as a maid (naturally).

This is a great movie. If you like screwball comedy and haven't seen this one, make the time to view it. You won't be disappointed.

Furthermore, many sources note that this film was remade ten years later as "Easy to Wed" with Van Johnson ("Bill"), Lucille Ball ("Gladys"), Esther Williams ("Connie) and Keenan Wynn ("Warren") in the lead roles. This 1946 version was fun, but the 1936 Tracy was much snappier in its' pacing.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Public Enemy"

I find pre-Hays Code movies astonishing.  The things movie makers got away with, compared to the mores of the times, really open my eyes. This movie is no exception.

Released in 1931, it shocked audiences of the day with its' brazen celebration of the gangster lifestyle. James Cagney made this lead role his own, and the movie changed his life. His role of "Tom Powers" was a little too graphic, too real for its' time.

Tom and his childhood buddy Matt (Edward Woods) start out as dirt-poor mischievous kids, working their way up to more daring crimes. Tom's older brother Mike (Donald Cook) tries to drag his kid brother to the straight-and-narrow, with no success. Tom aspires for the flashy life achieved with fast money. Eventually, they take up with local bootlegger Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O'Connor). As local "beer salesmen" during Prohibition, that fast money comes in short order. Tom and Matt carry on around town like a couple of swells, flaunting their new financial success.

The two gangsters have access to sharp wardrobes, flashy cars, the best clubs and pretty girls (Mae Clarke, Joan Blondell, Jean Harlow). I can imagine at that time in American history (during the Great Depression), numerous movie-goers focused on these scenes. I'll guess those movie-goers may have thought "wow, that is a good life".

For those movie buffs who have seen this before, the stand-out scenes are familiar. Mike punching Tom during a disagreement about Tom's lifestyle. Tom getting fitted for expensive suits, reflecting his move up in the world. Tom shoving a grapefruit in his girlfriend's face. The graphic ending, probably horrifying in '31.

This movie was stylish, seductive, brash and very violent. The Internet Movie Database cites that in the machine gun attack late in the film, real bullets were used (as was the custom of the day). Holy realism!

I liked it for what it represented - "crime does not pay". When you watch it, you get to see one of the key early movies depicting the flashy gangster, influencing generations of movies that followed. The gangster flies high for a while, but can it last? You get answers here.