Month: January 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

⦿ Friday Links

Some links as you waste time waiting for the weekend to begin.

First, this terrific find. Jim Henson produced a series of brief TV commercials for the Wilkins Coffee company in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were designed to run in 10-second windows for station IDs. The primaries are two creatures that resemble others we would become more familiar with 15–20 years down the road. The big difference between these commercials and the Muppets of the future is that these commercials are very dark. But they’re also laugh-out-loud funny.

More background for the commercials here:

Jim Henson’s Violent Wilkins Coffee Commercials

Big 12 basketball fans know referee John Higgins’ face quite well. Seems like the guy does every huge Big 12 game, plus other televised games around the country. Seth Davis profiles Higgins and looks into the suggestion that he works too much.


Craig Calcaterra, one of NBC’s primary baseball writers, is one of my favorite follows on Twitter. He has good baseball insights, has a sense of humor that matches mine, and looks at the world from a similar political perspective as me. He’s also a very good writer and, having escaped a career in law to become a baseball blogger, I enjoy his thought process.

Occasionally he goes long-form on non-baseball topics on his personal site. I really enjoyed his take on how politicians talk to us, and what that means for our society.

We live in the most technologically advanced times in human history. We live in a time when our populace is better-educated than it has ever been. But we also live in a time when actual information and ideas matter less than they ever have. When anecdote and feeling trump information when it comes to determining matters of societal direction and understanding, all of that technology is rather beside the point.

Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and The New Dark Age

Prince, for the first time in his long career, is doing a series of solo performances. Here is a look at his first two performances in Minneapolis last week. It sounds pretty incredible.

Prince gets personal in his first-ever solo show

Jenny Lewis has become one of my favorite artists over the past few years. I first discovered her 10 years ago, when she released her first solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat. I remember hearing many of the songs on the sadly defunct Many of the songs were twangy and country-tinged, and I admit at first I didn’t know how to feel about them. But Lewis, along with Neko Case who also had a huge album out in 2006,[1] helped open a new door in the alternative music world to me.

Here is a lengthy essay on Rabbit Fur Coat, what it meant for Lewis’ career, and how it affected one fan.

Rabbit Fur Coat Turns 10

Baseball writer Stacey Gotsulias on how her dad taught her to love baseball. It might get a little dusty in the room while you read this.

My Dad, and the Yankees

Finally, a couple schools who have a little bit of basketball history associated with them play a game tomorrow night in Lawrence, KS. Kind of amazingly, it’s only the second time that Kansas and Kentucky have played at Allen Fieldhouse in the last 25 years.[2]

The Lexington paper offered up a nice primer on Allen Fieldhouse for UK fans today. One of these days I really need to get back to a game.

Kentucky must beware ‘The Phog’ in visit to Kansas’ basketball shrine

  1. The amazing Fox Confessor Brings The Flood.  ↩
  2. Along with two games on campus in Lexington, over that span they’ve also played in Chicago twice, New Orleans twice, New York, and Indianapolis.  ↩

Friday Vid

“Black Metallic” – Catherine Wheel

Catherine Wheel is one of those great, lost bands that seem to both define a certain time and still hold up well. Being British, with droney guitars as their dominant sound, they are generally considered part pf the shoegaze movement. But their sound transcended that genre. Of their five studio albums, two are fantastic (Ferment and Chrome) and they had a handful of minor hits on the alt rock charts through the mid–90s.

This was the third single they released off Ferment, their debut album, in 1991. It, along with “I Want To Touch You[1] and “Crank” are my favorites of theirs, and should instantly transport you back to the early 90s. The only downside to this video is it offers up the single version of the song, stripping out the lengthy, middle break section that really made the album version soar.

  1. A song seemingly written to be put on desperate mixtapes recorded late at night.  ↩

Changing of the Guard

I like the ambiguity of that post title.

Am I writing about the Big 12 basketball race? We’re only halfway through the season, but it is looking more likely than it has ever looked that KU’s 11-year title streak is going to end.

Or am I going back a few years and writing about the machine that is Apple and how it seems to be, finally, slowing down a little bit?

Or does it have something to do with the stacks of paperwork I’m going through to deal with my stepdad’s affairs?

Turns out, none of those, although I will share some comments about the Big 12 race/KU next week.

Rather, the title is about my own personal thoughts, and how they got a little bit away from me after L’s first basketball game.

As I shared last week, she had a fantastic first game, scoring 12 points and leading her team to a win. The next week, against a team of all second-graders, both she and her team struggled.

Then this past week we played another team full of second graders. A few of them were quite tall. We hung with them early, and were only down by two points with about 8:00 to play in the first half. Then we ran into an age/size issue. The other team chucked up shots, missed, then grabbed the rebound and tried again. And again. And again. Until they finally made it.

I was on the sideline yelling, “Hands up, girls! Rebound!” The only problem was every girl on the other team was taller than all of my girls. And we hadn’t really talked about defensive rebounding in practice. So the other team had three tall girls standing around the basket playing volleyball until they finally scored while one of my short girls stood in their midst reaching helplessly for the ball while her four teammates stood around the perimeter and watched.

A dose of poor coaching in there, for sure, but it was mostly genetics and birthdates that were the determining factor. Late in the half I looked to the scorers table, where a dad from both teams was sitting, and asked, “Are we tracking offensive rebounds? If so, I don’t want to know the numbers!”

We didn’t score again in the first half and were down by about a dozen points at halftime. The second half was more of the same. Our girls couldn’t get shots off, the other team shot and rebounded until they scored. We ended up getting smoked pretty good, losing by about 30. I didn’t really look at the scoreboard much.

After the game I found out that the other team was not only just second graders, but had already played in three tournaments together as well. So even though about half of them couldn’t dribble, they had a general idea of what to do. They guarded. They ran to spots and then made good passes. A couple times they passed out of wide-open shots because they had been taught to pass to someone closer to the hoop.

L. struggled a little bit. She over-dribbled again. She struggled to get a shot off. I think she only scored four points. Once she had a dead layup but decided to throw a bounce pass across the lane to a teammate that wasn’t open. On the one hand, it was a really good pass. On the other, she made it tougher than it had to be. As I told my assistant after the game, “I felt like being the asshole dad who screams ‘TAKE THE SHOT! DON’T PASS THE BALL!’”

Oh well, this whole year is a learning process for our girls. And for me.

Anyway, after the game I laughed at myself. Following our first game, when we played other first graders, looked really good, and I felt like I had an idea what to do during games, I thought to myself, “Man, we are good! We’re going to win the tournament and we might even get asked to play up in the third grade league when they are short a team!”

Looks like I was wrong about that. I should probably wait until I see every team in the league play before I start crowning a champion.

⦿ Sunday Links

Sunday Links

As I mentioned, some of these go back over a month. They are worth sharing despite not being the freshest links in the world.

First up, Complex did a visual representation of the best rapper alive, by year, from 1979 to the present. I disagree with a few of their choices (Chuck D. was never #1????), and I must admit my ability to critique their choices ends at about 1994. But it’s still a cool article to scroll through even if you haven’t kept up with hip-hop.

The Best Rapper Alive, Every Year Since 1979

This article, and others like it, have been making the rounds for the last month. In case you haven’t run across one, it’s a good way to help solve some of the mysteries presented by The Force Awakens from exploring the novelization of the film.

27 ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ questions answered by the novel

Joe Posnanski on the birth of one of the greatest TV memories of our generation’s youth: NFL Fantastic Finishes.

The man who purchased Columbia House out of bankruptcy last month has an interesting plan: relaunch the service as a vinyl-only business. I’m not sure if the demand for vinyl is big enough, or lasting enough, to get the idea to work. But it would be awfully cool if it was successful, since that’s how most of us bought our early vinyl.

Columbia House To Relaunch With Vinyl

I thought I’d link back to this summary of the 2015 year in music from Vice’s music site Noisey. It addresses some of my complaints about last year’s music offerings. If nothing else, it’s good to have it confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who had issues with the year.


(By the way, in a very good sign, the new Shearwater album that came out Friday is freaking fantastic. Better, to me, than everything from 2015 except for Courtney Barnett’s album. There is hope that 2016 will be a much better year for music.)

McSweeney’s is always good for a smart laugh. This journal of a new COBRA recruit is no exception.

Probably the best long-form piece I’ve read in a long time, Adrian Chen with a fantastic profile of Megan Phelps-Roper, who broke with her family’s infamous Topeka church after managing its social media profile and having her views challenged by folks on Twitter. Apparently there is still the potential for good in Twitter.


Finally, I loved Richard Scary books as a kid. I had a Puzzle Town set where you could build up a town and then let Lowly Worm and friends travel through it. I kept most of my books and my girls have enjoyed them over the years, although probably not as much as I did.

Alan Taylor took the original, late 60s edition he grew up on and compared it to the 1990s version his children read. The changes in language over that period are fascinating. It would be cool to see how an edition published now would change further.

The Best Word Book Ever,1963 and 1991.

Friday Link – Re:Rey

I’ll share a traditional links post over the weekend, but I wanted to devote some focused words on one link in particular.

Most of you have probably heard about the Star Wars toy controversy: that Rey is almost entirely absent from the new toys released with The Force Awakens. This article lays out much of the story.

Where’s Rey?

Some of the sources are anonymous, and thus I recognize that we may not have the whole picture.

But, still, W.T.F.?

How do you do this?

I’ve got some thoughts related to the gender aspect of the decision to leave Rey out, but there’s one big factor that overrides pretty much everything: REY IS THE FUCKING STAR OF THE MOVIE!!! Is there any precedent for releasing a huge line of toys around a movie or TV show and basically ignoring the star of the show? Based on that alone, this was an asinine decision. What the hell were those people thinking?

If you want to push Kylo Ren, that’s fine. But in no way can you argue he is the apex character of the new film, so he should not be the focus of the toy campaign. The Star Wars saga is a story of the Jedis, thus Rey is clearly a notch above Kylo Ren in the new character hierarchy.

Now let’s discuss the girl angle.

One justification for this decision is the claim that girls don’t really buy toys that are related to movies and TV shows. As a parent of three girls, I know that’s bullshit. We had at least 800 variations of Dora in our basement at some point. We have Frozen toys, My Little Pony stuff out the ass,[1] and on and on. Maybe, traditionally, girls don’t buy as many movie tie-in toys as boys, but they do buy them. And, as Frozen clearly showed, if you make a movie that connects with girls, they’ll buy the hell out of those toys.[2]

Here’s another important point my friend John N. shared: girls today are a lot different than girls were when all the execs making these decisions grew up. His 10-year-old daughter thought Rey was cool, but she was not as floored by her as we were. Why? Because she’s grown up reading stories with strong female characters her entire life. Rey was only revolutionary to us children of the 70s and 80s, when the female lead was almost always cast based on her beauty alone.

How does that translate to toys? Girls of today are comfortable with – hell expect – strong, independent female characters. They are likely more attracted to Star Wars because Rey fits what they’ve grown up with. Thus, they may be more likely to want Star Wars toys of their own, where 30 years ago girls of our generation were less enthusiastic about them.[3]

That change in gender roles goes both ways. I would imagine most boys are going to ask for Finn, Poe, or Kylo Ren toys first. But I bet a lot of them will want Rey action figures to go with them. Rey is a badass. Boys these days, who think it’s cool to wear long, pink basketball socks, will be drawn more to that badassness than worry about Rey being a girl.

OK, so now that all that’s laid out, let’s assume for a second I am profoundly wrong. Maybe girls really have no interest in buying Star Wars toys, boys won’t want Rey action figures, and any efforts to include her as a key part of the campaign would have been a mistake. The aisle in Target I walked through the other day devoted to Star Wars toys that was completely picked over would look exactly the same, except for dozens of ignored Rey toys hanging on their lonely hooks. There’s another very important angle the toy execs were forgetting: this is Star Wars. There are two generations of adult fans with disposable income who will snatch up just about anything that has the franchise’s logo stamped on it.

There is a guy in S’s office. Married, in his 40s. Last fall he drove two hours to Cincinnati to go to a Toys ‘R Us that had a stock of some rare Star Wars toys that weren’t available in Indianapolis. Trust me, if the kids ignored all the Rey action figures and game sets and shirts and “biographies,” there are tens of thousands of adults who would happily buy them up.

This whole thing makes me sad. Not as a pro-feminist liberal, but rather just as a modern dude who has daughters. This decision was based on narrow, old-time, deeply flawed thinking. When we think like this, it sells our daughters short. When our girls walk through the aisles of toy stores and only see Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, Han Solo, and Luke toys, it sends them a message that Rey is less vital than the cast of men around her. Which tells our girls that they, too, are less valuable than the boys they grow up with.

  1. Horse. Ass. Ha ha! Also, I think the MLP toys came before the shows. But to my girls, they saw the shows first and then wanted the toys.  ↩
  2. Remember the big disaster when, because Brave wasn’t as successful as hoped, Disney didn’t license enough Frozen toys? And for six months it was nearly impossible to find them anywhere as they struggled to catch up with demand?  ↩
  3. I knew plenty of girls who played with Star Wars toys in the late 1970s.  ↩

Friday Vid

“Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas” – Beach Slang

This is the first great New Music Friday of 2016. The first two Fridays of the month were rather slow, lacking both a large number of new releases and a bunch of eagerly awaited albums. But this week there are three new albums I’ve been looking forward to. And based on the review aggregation sites, 4–5 more that I should give some attention to.

With the lack of good, new music so far this year, I’ve been playing the catch-up game with music I missed in late 2015. Beach Slang’s The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us has probably been my most played album of 2016 so far. It’s a wonderful, tight, power-punk album that recalls both fellow Philadelphians Restorations and Japandroids’ epic 2012 album Celebration Rock. Had I paid attention to it when it was released back in October, it may well have ended up as my favorite album of 2015.

This song, as well as most of Beach Slang’s music, is perfect for the heart of winter. They are big, warm songs clearly made for summer. But when our hearts and bodies are cold in January, these help reduce the chill a little.

Hoop Tales

L. kicked off her basketball career a week ago. I wrote a lengthy accounting of her epic debut last Monday but didn’t get around to posting it before I had to leave town. Just because I didn’t share it with the world does not mean I’m not still on the hook for the resulting jinx.

She is playing at the high school where she and her sisters are 90% likely to go to school. The head girls coach there put together a pre-CYO league for 1st–3rd graders for this season. Since the league is new, they’ve kind of scrambled to put together teams. But the St. P’s families turned out in force: we have enough girls for two teams in the 2nd grade league (which 1st graders are rolled into). I watched the first practice as a spectator, but got roped into coaching L’s team once it became apparent we had enough girls to split them up.

So week one rolled around, the girls had once practice under their belts, and I was working with them for the first time. We were playing the other St. P’s team, which made matching up on defense pretty easy since they all knew each other. “Jane, go guard Erin!” We also had the bonus of three second graders while the other team had none.

And we had L.

Girl tore things up. She grabbed rebounds. She dribbled through traffic. She hit shots. She ended up with 12 points and 3 assists and we won 28–15. At one point she hit a runner in traffic and I heard a parent in the crowd say, “Who is that?” Proudest moment of my parenting life!

Then came week two. We played a team full of second graders. And they all seemed to have a clue about basketball. They stole the ball, they passed to the open shooter, they smothered us on defense. We hung close for most of the first half – I think we were down 10–9 pretty late in the half – but ended up getting smoked pretty good, something like 30–13. It could have been worse: the other St. P’s team was getting beaten so badly they decided to reset the score at halftime.

L. did ok. She does a decent job dribbling but since we have no offense, if she can’t get to the hoop or find an open teammate, she’ll just stand there and dribble. Or worse, dribble into a triple team and then stop. Her teammates didn’t help her out much. Despite me telling them to spread out and move around, all four girls would line up at the free throw line then move toward L. when she crossed half court. So all five defenders would swarm her.

In our girls, and my, defense, I missed practice last week so we couldn’t work on what to do on offense when you don’t have the ball. And our defensive awareness needs some work. One girl just ran in circles, never sure of where she was supposed to be. Another girl does an awesome job of face-guarding her girl. Problem is she never rotates behind her player, and if she receives a pass, always has a clear path to the hoop. And there were lots of moments where our girls forgot who they were supposed to be guarding and we gave up open layups while three girls were guarding someone out on the perimeter.

I keep telling myself it’s a learning experience for them. Most of the girls are playing for the first time. The girls who have played before all played on smaller courts. And basketball is pretty complex compared to soccer, the only other sport I’ve coached. It’s hard to articulate to a 7- or 8-year-old how she needs to look for an open teammate, pass the ball, then cut away while you’re on the court with them. I noticed when giving them instructions, some of the girls tend to stop and stare at me and give me their full attention. Meanwhile the defense is stealing the ball.

L. is clearly the best player on the team, but that’s a double-edged sword. She gets herself into trouble by dribbling too much. She could have scored 20 in their first game but kept flinging the ball at the rim from 10 feet on breakaways instead of taking the easy layup. Which, of course, we’ve never practiced so not really her fault.

We play with high school refs. They do a really good job teaching as much as officiating. They don’t call traveling. That’s good as only about a third of the girls remember to dribble. And those who do, like L., are constantly stopping their dribble then re-starting. Rather, the refs will cheerfully say “Keep your dribble!” They make sure teams get back after defensive rebounds. They try to stop double-teams. And they tell the girls “Good shot!” or “Good pass!” when they do something right. It’s all pretty laid back and focused on teaching and learning. But when your team is getting run off the court, it kind of sucks.

I’m hoping the schedule has at least one more team that is heavy with first graders. Otherwise it’s going to be a long season.

December Books

December is always a big reading month for me. Each year I read Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, which only takes a couple hours. I generally squeeze in at least one other quick Christmas read. And then the holiday break at the end of the month allows me to really finish the year strong.

2015 was no exception. I knocked out eight books this December! I think that’s even more impressive given the final book was a nearly 800-page beast that took over a week to get through the first quarter or so. But it was worth the effort.

For the year I ended up with 54 books read.

Rather than full accountings of each December book, I’ll offer just a few words about most of them.

Between the World And Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates.
One of the most discussed books of the year, I found Coates’ memoir, written as a letter to his son, both interesting and disturbing. He makes some important points about race relations in this, allegedly, post-racial age.
A Christmas Story: Behind The Scenes of a Holiday Classic – Caseen Gaines
Full of wonderful trivia about the movie, but too much focus on the modern part of the movie’s legacy like the museum in Cleveland and the Broadway play.
A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd
Required reading before I watch the movie each year.
Finale – Thomas Mallon
Mallon’s fictionalized take on the most trying time of the Reagan presidency: the fall of 1986 when Republicans failed to win several key Senate seats, the Iran-Contra scandal was breaking, and Reagan’s first effort to reach agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev to reduce nuclear weapons failed. I found it far too gossipy. The early glimmers of Reagan’s Alzheimer’s are both frightening – he was president after all! – and incredibly sad.
Music Lust – Nic Harcourt
Music suggestions from all genres by the KCRW DJ, who’s show Morning Becomes Eclectic was a must-listen show in the early days of streaming audio.
The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge – Charlie Lovett
The Tooth Fairy – Clifford Chase
Another personal memoir, this time told in brief fragments that seemed pulled from Chase’s journals. They tell the story both of his sexual awakening – he had a long-term relationship with a woman even as he knew he was gay – and retrace the final years of the life of his older brother, who was also gay and died of AIDS in the late 1980s.
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
Finally this.

Wow, what a book. It is mostly set in Jamaica, and its jumping off point is the assassination attempt on Bob Marley just before the 1976 elections. Each chapter is told in first person by a revolving cast of characters, primarily a series of crime bosses and their underlings, but also through CIA officials, and everyday Jamaicans who get sucked into the plot.

James is Jamaican by birth, and writes as the narrator of each chapter would speak. Especially early in the book, some of the passages are nearly incomprehensible to my Middle America ear. But eventually, with some help from a few online Jamaican slang guides, I was able to understand what the hell some of these characters were saying. And once I settled in, the last 500+ pages raced by.

This book is absolutely brilliant. It ticks every box you need to call it epic. It covers a nearly 30-year time range. It travels between Jamaica to New York. It hits Jamaican domestic politics, US foreign policy, the rise of crack in the 1980s, and the move from a country dominated by crime syndicates to one where violence is much more widespread and random. It hits sexual politics and the meaning of personal identity. It’s deeply funny. Its representation of violence and sexuality is difficult to read at times.

James is beyond ambitious in Seven Killings. But he pulls it off wonderfully. It’s one of those huge books that doesn’t necessarily tie up every loose end as it closes. But I did love who James chose to have the final word, and how that character’s story wrapped up.

Along with Fourth Of July Creek, this was my favorite read of 2015.

A New Beginning

It has not been the best start to the New Year. As I would imagine most of you know at this point, my stepfather died a week ago today. I had mentioned his health issues, somewhat anonymously, in my final post of 2015 and my early posts for 2016. Unfortunately, his cancer had reached the point where there was just no beating it. As much as it hurts to lose him, I’m thankful that he is no longer suffering.

I realized, after talking to other folks who were closer to him, that he never gave me the true story of how sick he was. He hid test results from me. He was not honest about his pain levels. And so on. For some reason he decided he didn’t want to worry me about his situation. Which seems silly, because I was already pretty worried! I just hope that he wasn’t in more pain than he otherwise could have been because he was too stubborn to tell anyone about it.

I appreciate all the support I’ve received from so many of you, whether through text, phone calls, emails, or my friends who attended the memorial service. Honestly that all helps a lot, whether you realize it or not.

So here we are on January 18 and I feel like the New Year never really started for me. I left for Jefferson City the first time on New Year’s Day afternoon. I spent nine of the first 16 days of the year there. When I was back home between trips, I honestly just kind of sat around and waited for the calls I dreaded but knew were coming. I still have cleaning I need to begin from the holidays. There were some projects I wanted to begin after the girls went back to school that are still sitting idle. From the blog’s perspective, I still need to run through my December book list, share a bunch of links that have been sitting around for nearly a month now, and try to get back on a regular schedule here.

Writing here has always been both a way of keeping in touch with my friends scattered around the country and a kind of therapy. I don’t share all my thoughts, concerns, or worries, but I do crank many of them out here. So while it may seem odd to list “posting to the blog” as an item for getting back to normal, it is really something that is important to me.

February 1998 was a really bad month for me. That was the month when my mom died. I had a group of friends who also went through bad patches of one kind or another that month. On February 28, a buddy invited us all to his house. We were going to order pizza, drink a lot, and as the clock ticked toward midnight, we would countdown as if it was New Year’s Eve. We would put the bitch that was February in our past and hope that March brought better times for all of us.

I’m not going to be quite so dramatic about it, but as today is a holiday, I’m going to use it as an excuse to reboot my 2016. It’s been a really shitty three weeks. It’s time for things to get better.

Monday Vid

Among the various Breaking News bulletins on my phone when I woke this morning was the notification of David Bowie’s death.

I think I’m like a lot of people of my generation: not a huge Bowie fan – I really didn’t know who he was until his 1983 album Let’s Dance, which was the poppiest, most mainstream of his career – but I certainly recognized the impact he had on music. I like his bigger hits,[1] but much of his arty work is lost on me.

For the post-Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Who era, he set the model that artists can be whatever they want, whenever they want. It’s a little amazing how many bands, many of whom made music nothing like Bowie’s, cite him as an influence. Not many people sounded like Bowie. But tons of bands over the last 40 years followed his path one way or another.

When I hit shuffle on the iPad this morning, this was the third or fourth song that came up. It’s a song written by Bowie but first recorded by British band Mott the Hoople. It was a huge hit for them in Britain in 1972, and often considered the anthem of the 70s glam rock movement. It was also a favorite of The Clash, who’s “All The Young Punks” was both an updated version for the punk era and tribute to the original.

On a day when lots of Bowie’s originals will be spun, I thought I’d offer up one of his songs someone else made famous.

  1. “Suffragette City,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Young Americans,” “Fame,” “Heroes,” “Under Pressure,” and all the ’83 hits. So I guess I actually like quite a few of his songs.  ↩
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