Month: November 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Hoops: Don’t Hate

It wasn’t that long ago that I abandoned my Friday Links posts. I promised to share interesting links individually, hoping that I wouldn’t get so backed up with things to share and also post a little more often.

I’ve kind of screwed that up. I need to rethink my workflow, obviously, because I keep forgetting about cool things I’ve read.

Anyway, here’s one I meant to share a couple weeks back when the NBA and college basketball seasons began.

Like a lot of former Grantlanders, Mark Titus has landed at Bill Simmons’ new web vehicle, The Ringer. That means the most important college hoops rankings are back for another year! It also means some generally fine basketball writing from the former Ohio State walk-on. He’s had a couple good pieces already. I really enjoyed this one, which addressed the holy war in basketball: NBA fans vs. college fans.

College-Versus-NBA Arguments Are Pointless

Although I greatly prefer the college game, and I have some problems with the NBA game, I agree with most of what he says. Many of the criticisms of the NBA game are based on ignorance and latent racism. It’s the “Blacker” game to many, and thus harder to connect with. Hey, it’s fine if you don’t like the NBA. But being dishonest about what the actually goes on in the NBA isn’t a valid argument against the game. In pure basketball terms, the NBA is clearly a better game. They shoot better, they run better offense, they play better defense, the coaching is better. The skill level is off the charts.

I would much rather watch a college game between two conference rivals on a cold, February Saturday afternoon than just about any NBA game. The emotion on the court and investment by the crowd will almost always be better in a college game. But that’s what I grew up with. I may not love the NBA, but I also don’t hate it.

Thanksgiving 2016

A mostly-good Thanksgiving weekend here. Hope you had a fine weekend as well.

Our actual holiday went off quite well. We were not hosting this year, so only had to provide a couple dishes. I was doing the mashed potatoes and used a different recipe than I’ve used in the past. It became a little problematic as it took longer to get completed than I anticipated. But we were driving exactly two blocks, so we didn’t delay the family meal or anything. Excellent food all around. And the big highlight of the day was it being the first big, family gathering where all three of the new boys in our family were there. The girls loved being around their new cousins.

Friday was our annual tree puttin’-up day. I think I’ve been saying “this could be the last kid Christmas we have” for three years. But based on the enthusiasm level, I think I was finally right last year. Pre-teen #1 is clearly not into anything that has to do with the holidays and spending time with the rest of her family. Pre-teen #2 still seems into things, but I just get this undercurrent to her mood that she’s torn between acting like a single-digit kid and a double-digit kid. And #3, who is the pleaser of the group, is laying it on extra thick to prove to us that she’s still all-in; she’s the only one who seems excited to find Elfie in the morning or watch Christmas shows with me. I’ll admit my excitement for the season has been a little slow to ignite this year because our girls are clearly in a different place than they were a year ago. Maybe their moods will shift the closer we get to Christmas.

Quick question: is there a better day than Christmas card picture taking day?
Answer: Yes, there are approximately 360 days better than Christmas card picture taking day. We’ve struggled with this day ever since we became a two-kid family in 2006, I think. When they’re little, it’s just impossible to get everyone situated properly and cooperating for the time it takes to snap off a few frames. As they get bigger, there’s always one kid who is in a bad mood, which pisses the parents off, which in turn affects the other kids. Yesterday was no exception. One kid was moody. Another kid was hyper. And the other kid kept closing her eyes during pictures.

We’ve farmed out the actual picture taking to others in the past. But this was the first time since M was a baby that I was manning the camera. I shot about 250 or so frames in about at hour at two local parks. You all know I’m not a very religious person. The fact we actually got a couple keepers out of those 250 shots makes me think that miracles are possible. We were pretty happy with the final result, which should be arriving in your mail boxes in a few weeks.

Despite the drama at the parks, the girls were given the chance to pick something fun to do afterward. They selected going to a movie. So we closed out the weekend seeing Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The girls are all way into the Harry Potter universe, S has been watching the movies, and I’m four books into the series myself. The girls liked the new movie a lot. I thought it was pretty solid. I liked how it blends some of the elements of classic comic book-based movies with the Potter/fantasy world. I’m interested to see where the series goes.

There was a lot of lying around and watching TV, reading, and brief visits from friends and family sprinkled into the break as well. Despite the usual stresses and annoyances, it was a pretty good holiday weekend.

A 30 Year Tradition

I realized a few weeks back that this year is the 30th anniversary of my all-time favorite TV episode, Cheer’s “Thanksgiving Orphans,” which first aired on November 27, 1986. I taped the show that night and held onto that tape for years. Somewhere along the way the tape either gave out or I lost it. I recorded it again sometime in the late 90s or early 00s, and it became an integral part of my Thanksgiving celebration. The year we found ourselves without a VCR, I sprung for the Cheers season five DVD collection. Every year in November I say to myself that I’m going to revisit that entire season. Every year, I watch just the one episode.

My love of the episode has become a bit of a running joke for those of you who follow me on Facebook. I usually make an announcement that I’ve poured myself a nice distilled beverage and am about to put the DVD in. Some years I post a few of my favorite lines. One year I “live blogged” my viewing, sharing roughly half of the show.

It’s always been something I’ve done on my own, though. S watched it a few times in the early years we were together. But although she finds the show funny, she doesn’t have the enthusiasm for it that I do. So she’s let me enjoy it in solitude.

This year, though, I’ve decided to bump up my viewing a few hours and will let the girls watch with me. They’ve never seen Cheers before, so are coming in blind. I told them this afternoon that it was my favorite show when I was growing up, we drove by the location it was based on when we were in Boston, and there’s a big food fight. That got them interested.

I’ve always thought my love of “Thanksgiving Orphans” was unique. When I remembered this was the 30th anniversary, I went searching for articles about the show. I found the three I’m sharing below. I was pleased to learn that I’m not the only person who thinks it is likely the best episode of one of the great shows of all time, and stands on its own as one of the finest half hours of comedy.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

A Cheers family Thanksgiving ends in a big mess

Summer sitcom rewind: ‘Cheers’ – ‘Thanksgiving Orphans’

Food Fight! The Messy True Story Behind the Classic ‘Cheers’ Episode, ‘Thanksgiving Orphans’


Saturday evening we were on our way to dinner and my phone kept chirping, notifying me of incoming text messages. A couple college friends and I had been texting about random life stuff before we left home, and that thread continued as we drove. My wife asked, “Is your team playing?” Usually if I’m getting a stream of texts that means a game is going on. I shook my head and answered, “No, they played last night…Well, they’re playing football right now, but that’s not what we’re texting about.”

I know, I know: typical KU fan.

Oddly enough, while we were in the car, KU got a pick-six and kicked a field goal and took a 10–7 lead over Texas. As my two buddies I was texting with both live in Texas – one in Austin – the conversation had turned to football, something I didn’t learn until we had parked at our restaurant of choice.

Fortunately we were home in time for me to see KU tie the game in the closing seconds of regulation, get an interception to start overtime, and then kick the game-winner to get the biggest win for the program since beating Missouri in the 2008 season.

That’s right, beating a crappy Texas team that’s about to fire its coach is field-rushing, goal post yanking worthy win for KU football. Make fun if you want, but I think the reaction to beating a name team that doesn’t measure up to its name these days was entirely appropriate. And I think this was a huge win.

Not because it’s some marker that the program has taken a leap from utterly awful to possibly mediocre. But, rather, this win means there’s no pressure to nuke things, fire the coach, and start over again. Which, believe it or not, I think a certain portion of the KU fanbase was starting to think was the way to go.

That’s mostly because in some small ways, KU doesn’t appear to have made progress. There are far too many silly errors in games that seem to result from coaching errors. Calling a time out then coming out and false starting. Calling a time out and then pooch punting. Guys who have shown, time and again, that they are incapable of hanging onto the ball getting chance after chance.

I’m not saying blaming David Beatty and his coaching staff was correct. You have to look at what they’re working with. Sometimes option A isn’t that great, and there is no option B. When a program has sunk as low as KU’s has, sometimes you just have to suck it up and take the extra pain as you try to turn things around.

Still, though, there were questions about whether Beatty is the right guy for the job. And those questions haven’t been completely answered by one game. Beating Texas means that there’s not going to be a snap decision at the end of this season. I think Beatty, or whoever was hired to replace Charlie Weis two years ago, had to be given at least four years to bring some life to the program. The downward spiral that began with the controversial loss to Colorado in Mark Mangino’s final season was going to take a long time to pull out of. Hell, KU may never pull out of it. But starting over again after two years would be the worst possible decision.

Beatty needed something to build on. He’s got a few good, young kids in the program. Clint Bowen has done a fantastic job with the defense. They should have beaten TCU. They could have beaten Iowa State. Beating Texas doesn’t mean they’re going to go out and sign a bunch of five-star guys this February. But, even though Texas is shitty right now, Beatty has something he can take to the kids he can sign and say, “Look what can happen here.”

I thought Beatty was a good hire simply because of his history with the KU program. He had coached in Lawrence twice before, once during the Mangino era. He willingly came back. He could tell recruits, “Hey, it’s going to be tough, but we can win at KU. I’ve seen it happen.” There is some weight to his recruiting pitch that a coach who had no history with the program could offer.[1]

I do have concerns about whether he’s going to be a great head coach. But I’m still holding my judgment until he can get more talent to work with. If he is still making head-scratching decisions when he has talent to line up against average D1 teams, then it will be time to reconsider. But not now, when the program is just barely above rock bottom.

Beating Texas is a win that’s going to look a lot better in the media guide 10 years from now than it does today. Still, it just might be that spark that finally gives KU football a little momentum down the path toward respectability again.

So, Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. Bowen, who was interim coach after Weis was fired, played at KU, and has spent almost his whole coaching career there, can offer that same weight.  ↩

Friday Playlist

“Blank Tapes” – From Indian Lakes. This song sounds like it could have landed on Bombay Bicycle Club’s most excellent, 2011 album A Different Kind of Fix. Remember when a pack of blank tapes was a must-purchase item on any trip to the mall?
“Video Child” – Many Voices Speak. A melancholy song for melancholy times.
“Come True” – Suburban Living.And now to bring you back up a bit, some lovely dream pop from Philly, USA.
“Julie’s Place” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. I believe I’ve shared an RBCF song before. Perfect Aussie jangle pop.

“I Wish I Was Sober” – Frightened Rabbit. Since FR is filled with art school guys, they often end up with very arty videos. This one is no exception. Not sure I love the visuals, but it remains a fantastic song. I still contend the second verse of this song is way up there on the list of great things they’ve done. And they’ve done a lot of great things.

FRANK & The Jayhawks

Well, it’s been some start to the new college basketball season for the mighty Kansas Jayhawks.

A highly enjoyable and entertaining overtime loss to Indiana in Hawaii on Friday night, and a less enjoying but equally thrilling last-shot win against #1 Duke in New York late last night. Even as an Indiana resident, if KU had to go 1–1 in these games, this is the split I would prefer.

A quick aside about having these marquee matchups so early. Every year college basketball comes up with new areas of emphasis for the referees. Sometimes they tweak or change a few rules, too. And, so, every November-through-early December games can border on unwatchable until the coaches and players adjust, and the refs do a little natural regression. It seems like a waste for KU to play IU and Duke, Kentucky to play Michigan State, etc. while we’re still going through this normalization process. I remember when the first Saturday of December was always the big, non-conference day of the season. But with football conference championship games taking up that day, and college basketball often not wanting to go big as Christmas gets closer, so many of these games are pushed to the worst part of the season. In a perfect world, we bump this Champions Classic, and other non-Thanksgiving week events, back to early December. I think there would be more casual interest in the games, and the product would be better for both the casual and hardcore fans.

Of course, other than all the whistles, both of KU’s games were highly entertaining. So I’m probably just an idiot. As always.

What do we know about the Jayhawks after 85 minutes of ball? I think we have just glimmers of knowledge about them at this point. Bill Self’s teams usually don’t play their best until we get into the heart of the Big 12 season. I think that’s going to be even more the case this year.

My biggest worry right now is the inside game. Simply put, there isn’t a good inside scorer on this team. Landon Lucas, bless his heart, tries hard every minute he’s on the court. He’s going to win the team 2–3 games this year. But he is also so limited on offense that you can’t throw him the ball every time down the court. Even when he’s wide open for a dunk or layup, he puts the ball down around his waist and gets ripped by littles who are cruising by.[1]

A lot was expected of Carlton Bragg this year, mostly based on his high school ranking and his comfort and confidence last year as a freshman. “When he gains 20 pounds, he’s going to be a beast!” was the common refrain from KU fans last year. Well, he gained his 20 pounds. But whether it’s the pressure of not being an energy guy off the bench or just needing to grow his game more, he has not looked good through the first two exhibition and regular season games. I’m hopeful he’ll make strides this year; he has a good basketball IQ and seems to understand his role in the offense. But, man, right now he’s a mess on offense. When he posts, he takes terrible shots. He’s struggled to rebound. Sometimes it looks like he can’t hold onto the ball.

And then there’s the big fella, Udoka Azubuike. You can’t expect much from a very raw, 17-year-old freshman who just dunked on everyone in high school. But I thought he was fantastic last night against Duke. He was aggressive on both ends, he seemed to understand what he was supposed to do within the offense, and he made a handful of extremely important plays. If he can harness that and repeat even 75% of it for 10–15 minutes a night, he makes KU a much better team. Of course, you have to know there are going to be nights when he gets four fouls in six minutes and has no impact. Cheick Diallo looked really good in his first game last year, too, so we’ll see.

All that combines for something really strange: a Bill Self team with no good inside scorer. The past couple years, Perry Ellis was limited when faced with bigger guys, so he often worked away from the low block. But still, you got him the ball inside the paint, you expected a score last year. This year…I don’t think you can trust any of those guys.

So that’s the big concern. What is it balanced by?

A fantastic backcourt, led by the cold blooded assassin FRANK Mason.[2] He almost single-handedly erased a late IU lead and got Friday’s game into overtime. He was pretty much KU’s only offensive option late against Duke and hit the game winner. I’ve always been reluctant to compare him to Sherron Collins, simply because Sherron was a much better outside shooter. But I’m starting to consider whether FRANK is the better all-around player. Dude just will not let his team lose.

Devonté Graham really hasn’t gotten going yet. I expect a huge year from him. Hopefully he can get these cramping issues under control and be a little more consistent.

Josh Jackson broke out in the second half last night, scoring 15 points in limited minutes. Since you always compare players to those who are physically similar, he looks a lot more comfortable and assured than Andrew Wiggins did three years ago. Wiggs was a better athlete and had a different aura to him. Josh, though, seems like a guy who is going to pick everyone up and make them better. Josh, FRANK, and Devonté together is quite a group, both in terms of ability and brashness. Last night was not the last T that trio is going to be responsible for this year.

LaGerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk offer a couple nice pieces off the bench. I’ve been impressed with Vick’s confidence and he is a tough defender. I think Svi is one of those guys who is either on or off, so he’ll look really good some nights, and you wonder why he’s on the court other nights.

Here’s the thing that really struck me through the first two games: it’s the most Bill Self KU team ever. What does that mean? Even Self’s best, most talented teams have gone through stretches within games where offense becomes a slog and you wonder what the hell they’re doing. His goal, though, is always that the guys who can’t shoot straight are also tougher than their opponent on the other end. When the shots don’t fall, win ugly by digging in on defense and getting the tough rebounds.

This team is going to be very, very ugly on offense at times. I think offense will get better, as Self is learning how to run things for four littles rather than three perimeter players and two bigs. He’ll keep adding stuff and the offense should offer more opportunities to score by January. I still think there are going to be a lot of times when we just get the ball to FRANK or Devonté and tell everyone else to get the hell out of the way.

I’m really heartened by the defensive efforts in the first two games. IU and Duke are very tough teams to guard because of how good they are at spreading the court and using movement to create open looks from outside. KU did a fantastic job on IU for about 25 minutes Friday, and the middle 20 minutes of the Duke game. You can always hang your hat on defense, and the young guys will just get better moving forward.

That said, whether it’s an adjustment in philosophy or just a matter of reinforcing that philosophy, KU’s perimeter players have to stop leaking off their men to swipe at guys driving in the lane. KU is giving up nearly 50% from behind the arc through two games. Granted, IU and Duke are both really good from deep. But every time a Hoosier or Dukie got an open look because a KU defender tried to harass a driver in the paint, I had shivers thinking of the same thing happening late in a game in March.

I think this team can be really, really good. They will also balance whatever level of greatness they can reach with moments that drive fans nuts. March is a long way away, and a lot will happen between now and then. For now, I’m going to try not to think of paths to the Final Four and how they can blow it, but rather enjoy a team that’s going to make big strides over the next three months.

You know what time it is…

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. Happened to him twice against Indiana, once against Duke. I’m already sick of it.  ↩
  2. I sent texts saying just “FRANK” so often through our first two games that iOS now autocorrects the lowercase spelling to all CAPS. This is how nicknames are born.  ↩

October Books

I’m woefully behind on sharing my most recent reads. As that has been my habit, I’m thinking about changing how I do my book summaries. I may go back to doing an individual post for each book. I’m getting ready to dive into the Harry Potter series, so doing the individual book posts may have to wait until 2017.

For now, a quick run through the four books I read in October, then I’ll go ahead and knock out my first, pre-Potter, book of November.

The Fireman – Joe Hill. I really enjoyed Hill’s last novel, NOS4A2, which was very much in the spirit of his father’s work, yet still distinct.[1] This one got excellent early reviews as well. I think it was a step back for Hill, though. It felt much more in debt to his father’s canon, and thus was less successful. It was a decent read, but I was often distracted by elements that either felt too close to his dad’s work, or felt like pale imitations of something his dad has written. I also thought it was weird that the character referred to as The Fireman wasn’t really the main character of the book.

The Heavenly Table – Donald Ray Pollock. Man, was this good. I loved Pollock’s debut novel, The Devil All The Time, and could not wait to get to this one. It began with a similar general feel: Midwestern, dark, treading on uncomfortable territory. Then, maybe a quarter of the way into the book, Pollock throws a big twist in style at the reader: humor. This book is very, very funny. I just loved how he takes two pages to run off on little tangents sharing the back stories of secondary characters who stumble into the main story. And he has a wonderful way of creating main characters that are deeply flawed, yet demand our sympathies.

The Hike – Drew Magary. If The Fireman felt like a poor homage to Stephen King, this felt like a very good one. A businessman on a trip goes out for a hike from his rural hotel. He stumbles into a strange, parallel world filled with murderous dog-men, kindly old ladies, talking crabs, and giants, among other things. His only chance to get home to his family is to follow a path that leads ahead through meadows, oceans, and mountains. There’s a lot of classic King in here, but Magary does it all very well. And his conclusion is wonderful.

Cambodia Noir – Nick Seeley. A casual selection from the New Books shelf, this is a deeply dark story of an American journalist working in Cambodia, who gets sucked into the worst elements of the local political and drug rivalries while searching for a mysterious former coworker who disappeared suddenly. He runs afoul of pretty much every side in the local conflicts along the way, and does a shitload of drugs. Didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it.

Outposts – Simon Winchester. I forget how many of Winchester’s books I’ve read in the past. I know I read Krakatoa. I might have read another one or two over the years. But I stumbled across this somewhere over the summer and finally sent off to the good folks at Amazon for it. It details Winchester’s travels, in the early-to-mid 1980s, to the handful of remaining British colonies around the world. He visits Diego Garcia, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island, St. Helena, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, a handful of Caribbean islands, and most significantly, the Falkland Islands during and after the Falklands war of 1982. His mission during his travels is to discover why Britain keeps these few remaining outposts, and what the people who live on the islands gain from being governed from London.

Winchester is proudly British, but also feels pain for those on the islands who have been largely ignored by London and have limited rights of citizenship back on the home island.

What fascinated me about this book was the time in which he traveled and wrote it. In the mid–80s, we were on the verge of what I’ll call the modern age of communications. Satellites were just beginning to be used for regular communications. The smaller, more isolated islands still relied on shortwave radio and underwater cables for direct contact with the outside world. Supplies, newspapers, and mail were only delivered occasionally. GPS devices were not commonly available, either, so sailing to some of these remote islands could be rather difficult. The islands were still exceptionally disconnected from the larger, western world.

That all changed in the 1990s, though. Satellites mean you can live anywhere in the world, and still speak, clearly, to anyone, anywhere. The Internet means newspapers that once took weeks to arrive at these colonial outposts are now shared instantly. While there remains an immense physical gap between Tristan da Cunha, in the middle of the South Atlantic, and London, the technological/informational gap between them has been greatly reduced.

It’s just harder to get lost in the world than it used to be.

  1. Reminder: Hill is Stephen King’s son.  ↩

Last Week Wrap Up

Some week, last week. Not my favorite of the year, I’ll admit. But, to be fair, not the worst, either. Perspective.

Monday got off to a fun start when C threw up in her bed at 3:00 AM. Just when you think you’ve changed pukey sheets in the middle of the night for the last time… So she and I hung out Monday. She was flipping through movies on Amazon to watch and picked A League Of Their Own. When S, who was home between meetings, told C that Madonna was in it, C responded, “Who’s Madonna?” Good grief!

Tuesday was, well, you know. Kind of ruined Wednesday, too. Still pretty upset, to be honest.

Thursday I woke to either whatever C had, or my own ailment. That was fun. Also fun was spending the entire day on the couch in discomfort. I did get a very exciting email sharing news that one of our girls gets to do something very cool in a couple weeks. I’ll share more about that as we get closer to the event.

Friday everyone was finally healthy. The weather was decent. And college basketball officially started. Which means my stomach hurt, although the pain had nothing to do with lingerings from Thursday’s incident. After over 13 years living here, the Jayhawks finally played the Hoosiers on the hardwood. It was a fantastic game, especially given it was the first real game of the year for both teams. Shame about the final result, but that was just a fun game to watch. I got minimal grief from my wife the next morning. I’ll write more about the Jayhawks after they get through tomorrow’s big test against Duke.

Our weekend was pretty chill. The girls got to meet their newest cousin, which thrilled them to no end. They also got to see their other two new cousins before the day was over. They thought they hit the jackpot, seeing three babies in about five hours.

Hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just over a week away. L has her First Reconciliation Wednesday. Her sisters start volleyball tryouts this week. After the lull since fall sports ended, we’re about to get things cranked up again.

Friday Vid

“Carry On Wayward Son” – Kansas. Musician John Roderick Tweeted out a link to this video a couple nights ago, wondering how he had never seen it before. I had the same reaction. How on earth have I never witnessed the beauty and majesty of this performance in my 45 years on this planet?[1]

The conga drums! The keyboards! The lead singer’s outfit! The backup singer! The tambourine! The hair! The jumping around!

Nothing about this video sucks. Everything is absolutely perfect. I hope my Jayhawks use it as pump-up music before they take on the Hoosiers in Hawaii tonight.

  1. Or at least in the 40 years since this song was released.  ↩

The Most Wonderful Link Of The Year!

A little early? Sure. But since over half of the nation could use a pick-me-up, I decided to go ahead and share this.

Christmas TV Schedule

New this year, he highlights what big, traditional shows are debuting each day. Helpful for making sure you don’t miss a show that is on just a handful of times, and early in the season.

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