Month: June 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Friday Playlist

“Endless Shore” – Melody’s Echo Chamber. Terrible news broke this week when Melody Prochet’s family announced that in an accident earlier this month, the French singer suffered an aneurysm and broken vertebrae. She had a new album scheduled for release soon, but that has been shelved for the time being as she (hopefully) recovers. Send good thoughts her way as we listen to this song, which landed in my top 10 for 2012.

“Night Moves” – Bob Seger. It may not have moved the needle on most folks radars when Seger’s discography finally hit streaming services a couple weeks back after lengthy negotiations between him and his label. To be honest, I had no plans on listening to any of his songs. Until I looked at his list of huge hits over his career. His peak was in the late 70s, so he was firmly in the circle of my parents’ generation’s music rather than mine. But I do remember how inescapable his music was back then. Oh, and there’s the bonus how the resurgence of Heartland rock over the past few years has brought references to his music. So last night I listened to most of his biggest songs. Not sure why I was surprised, given what I listen to now, but a lot of the songs really hold up and sounded great. “Old Time Rock & Roll” will always be his biggest hit. But this is his best.

“Eyes to the Wind” – The War on Drugs. No current bad owes more to Seger than TWOD, especially in this song, which sound like it could easily have been on one of his classic albums. It just sounds like something you listen to on a warm summer night in a big American car with the windows down as you consider life. As an aside, the early rumors are TWOD’s new album is fantastic. I can’t stop listening to the first two singles. It’s still a long, long way to August 25.

“Summer Breeze” – Las Kellies. Your summer jam for the day.

“Don’t Dream It’s Over” – Flock of Dime (and Sylvan Esso) covering Crowded House.

Stereogum has an ongoing feature called Gotcha Covered, in which they look at covers of famous songs. I was super interested when they tackled my all-time favorite song. This was is by far the best of their selections, and proof that just about everything that Jenn Wasner does is fantastic. I approve.

NBA Draft Notes

Crap. With the NBA Draft on a Thursday going into a busy weekend, I totally forgot to share some draft-night thoughts. Which is a shame, because I probably had a couple really good ones I forgot about over the weekend!

First off, some truth: draft night was a big letdown. There was sooooooo much hype coming into it. It had the potential to be the biggest non-game night in league history. Then Boston traded down, clearing up what had been a murky picture on how the first 3–5 picks would shake out and the air began to go out of the balloon. The Jimmy Butler trade was an absolute stunner, but given how we were all keyed up for something crazy to happen with Paul George, there was still a sense of disappointment when he was still a Pacer at the end of the night.

A few other thoughts from the evening:

  • Markelle Fultz to the Sixers. Man, do they have an embarrassment of young potential on that team now. Of course, my man Jojo may never be healthy enough to play 82 games, let alone do amazing things in the playoffs. Ben Simmons has yet to play a minute of pro ball. And despite all the hype, when I watched video of Fultz, I see a guy that is kind of herky-jerky rather than a dude who blows by you or overwhelms you. Then again, James Harden isn’t the smoothest guy in the world and he’s done just fine for himself. It’s time for the Sixers to start winning some games. No pressure on any of these young cats.
  • I was rooting for the Lakers to pick anyone but Lonzo Ball. Yeah, I’m a hater. At least of his pops. I find Lonzo himself to be a pretty bland kid that evokes no strong feelings either way. And I’m not convinced De’Arron Fox isn’t going to be a better player. This pick made so much sense for everyone involved that I can’t really knock it. But I would have loved to see Ball Sr. pissed off that his kid dropped.
  • Jayson Tatum to the Celtics makes perfect sense as they are currently constructed. He’s likely going to be the best offensive player from this draft and fits right in. But if they sign Gordon Hayward and/or trade for Paul George, his role is less certain. Of course, he could be playing here in Indy if the PG trade goes down.
  • Paul Pierce retired this year, so it might as well be a KU swingman that assumes the mantle of “guy who dropped and makes everyone pay for it.” Granted, Josh’s drop wasn’t nearly as far as Pierce’s, and a lot of folks had him going right where he ended up at #4. But the thing is Josh thinks he should have been the #1 pick. For a guy who loves to play with a fire, that’s all he needs. I really hope he shoots 8000 shots a day and turns into a great all-around player. But even if he never figures out the jump shot, he’s going to have a very nice and long career locking people up on defense, catching lobs, and grabbing rebounds.
  • De’Aaron Fox. I love everything about this guy. Hope Sacramento doesn’t mess him up.
  • As my buddy E-bro in ATX said after the Knicks picked Frank Ntilikina, “What happened to the grainy video we used to get when Euros got drafted?” Ntilikina’s highlights were all in HD! And I was confused by the Frenchman’s excellent English, including the proper use of hoops idioms. We’ve come a long way.
  • There was quite a run of lanky white guys in the draft. Ten years ago your automatic thought on these dudes was, “Uh oh.” Now, though, since they’ll all turn into pick-and-pop guys who hang out behind the arc, they actually seem like decent picks.
  • With that in mind, I hated the Pacers taking TJ Leaf at #18. The franchise is in flux and likely will be rebuilding for the next 2–3 years, so I’ll admit this is a fairly low-risk pick. I’m not sure I buy that his awkward athleticism will translate to the NBA though. His dad grew up in Indy, so nice to see them taking the (quasi) local boy, I guess. I would have preferred Jarrett Allen, although how Allen fits with a team building around Myles Turner is a tough question.
  • I’m not sure how Caleb Swanigan fits in in the NBA, either. My thinking is if he can be a poor man’s Draymond Green, he can stick around. But I’m thrilled that kid got picked in the first round and had a three-year contract. I’m kinda glad it’s not with the Pacers, though. There’d be a ton of pressure on him here, especially if he takes a year or two to find his footing, which I think is fairly likely.
  • OF COURSE John Calipari ends up on the ESPN stage with a platform to himself. It’s always gotta be about him. There were other coaches in the house, but they stayed in the background. But he always finds a way to get in front of the camera and tell the world he’s all about his kids. That’s why he’s the best, I guess.
  • Frank Jackson gets picked to open the second round and ESPN proceeds to ask him six questions. Nice to be a Dukie.
  • While on the subject of the immediate interviews, ESPN’s Allison Williams was not good. But, of course, she is very pretty, which is all that matters. Again, Doris Burke would have asked each kid smart questions tailored to their experience. But since she’s not eye candy, she got the night off while the cute girl said, “I gotta ask you…” and “How does it feel…” all night.
  • FRANK MASON TO SACRAMENTO! My buddy E-bro, a former Sac resident and the only Kings fan outside Northern California, was very pleased. I hope Josh becomes a star. I hope Jojo gets healthy and can dominate for an entire season. I hope Andrew Wiggins learns how to take a smart shot and becomes a legit top-tier player. But my biggest KU NBA wish is that Frank makes the roster this year. I don’t care if he plays five minutes a game, I want that dude to sign a contract and play an entire year in the association.
  • BTW, I totally approved of all the love BIFM got. He was featured prominently in the opening highlights package. Jalen Rose kept saying, as the first round stretched out and other guys got picked, “I’m taking Frank Mason.” And when he did get picked, even more love for him. “He’s too tough not to succeed in the NBA,” said Jay Bilas.
  • Oh, and it was nice that BIFM went before both fellow Big 12 guys Juwan Evans (which was a surprise) and Monte Morris. Those guys were another sign of how the NBA has changed. With the new G-league contract options I think teams are really reluctant to give undersized guys three guaranteed years right off the bat. Guys like this trio, and Frank Jackson, will have to earn that first multi-year contract. 10–15 years ago, all four of those guys were first round picks.
  • The night could have been a lot more fun had Boston stayed at #1, someone in the 4–7 range panicked and moved up, or Paul George been traded. But it wasn’t a bad night at all.

On North Korea

North Korea has been in the news a lot lately. Between the election of a new American president who is incapable of making measured comments or rational decisions and North Korea’s continued efforts to build a nuclear weapon and missile system capable of reaching the US, it feels like we’ve reached a new and particularly dangerous time in how we deal with that country.

Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down among many excellent books) wrote this long piece about the state of the relationship and our options, both diplomatic and military.

How to Deal with North Korea

The tl;dr summary is that there are no good options. Perhaps the best option is to just let them go and hope that, as crazy as the North Korean leadership is, they are still more interested in surviving than anything else. All the experts seem to agree that should North Korea launch a nuclear attack against the US, or Seoul or Tokyo, their country would be wiped off the face of the earth within the hour. They may be nutjobs, but the argument suggests that they aren’t so insane that they would trade one city of their enemies for their entire existence.

I hope that view is right. Regardless, this is a very informative read.

Reader’s Notebook, 5/27/17

I fear these are a little subpar compared to many of my summaries. Since finishing these books, I’ve been knocking out some longer pieces that have been stuck in my Instapaper queue for awhile. And I started a book on Monday that I can’t put down; I’m over 250 pages in as of 5:00 Tuesday. I fear that has warped my memory of these two books a bit.

The Not-Quite States of America – Doug Mack.
How do we define what is American, specifically when it comes to land? What is the difference between being a state and being a territory? What are the reasons Alaska and Hawaii became states, but places like the US Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, among others, have remained official territories of one flavor or another?

Those are the questions Mack tackled as he traveled through the biggest of America’s current territories. How can lands that, at first glance, seem so un-American end up feeling quintessentially American? What are the ethical ramifications of our culture overwhelming the local culture, often with the acceptance of the natives? Can we, in the 21st century, say with a straight face that we aren’t an empire when we hold lands in the Caribbean and Pacific and do not offer its residents full citizenship privileges?

With that paragraph, I’ve set this up to be a pretty deep book. It has plenty of lighter moments. Mack has a lot of fun along the way. He meets really cool and interesting people. One of the best is a DJ in the US Virgin Islands who insists that Mack text his wife in Minnesota, have her tune to his radio station’s web stream, and then dedicates a slow jam to her from Mack. He lays out the history of each territory, how they came to become US properties, and how each territory has grappled with how to balance its indigenous culture with America’s. His style is engaging and fun.

This is a first-class travel book.

Black Water – Louise Doughty
Another book that was highly lauded last year. And one that is a little difficult to write about. It is told in three parts: first during the 1998 Indonesian revolution; second from 1944–1965 in LA, Holland, and Indonesia; and then finally winding 1965 and 1998 together. At the story’s center is John Harper, a half-Dutch, half-Indonesian man struggling to come to terms with his actions in the political turmoil of Jakarta in 1965 and with his own complicated past as he attempts to carve out a new life with a woman.

Parts of the book, especially the opening third, drag terribly. Other parts, particularly the moments of revolution and coup in ’65 and ’98 roar by breathlessly. That balance makes it tough for me to decide how much I really enjoyed it.

At its core, the book is about how accountable we are for our past actions, whether terrible acts can ever be forgiven, and if not, whether it’s possible for people who have done awful things can create new lives free of guilt. That’s some heady stuff. I wish the story had been like 15% better, though.

Friday Playlist

“We Could Run” – Beth Ditto. The former lead singer of The Gossip released her first solo album last week. Her voice is still awesome, and she takes the music in a poppier, more radio-friendly direction. It may lack the rawness of The Gossip’s best work, but it is still mighty fine.

“Somebody Else” – The 1975. I came across this song by accident a week or two back. It sounds like something I would have listened to in 1984-85. Something really good, that is.

“I Ain’t No Joke” – Eric B. & Rakim. The rumors have been strong for some time that hip hop’s greatest original duo may be getting back together after over 20 years apart. This week they announced a show at The Apollo Theater in New York to honor the 30th anniversary of their legendary Paid In Full album. That show will be something else.

“300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues” – The White Stripes. Last week was the 10th anniversary of the Stripes’ final album, Icky Thump. Don’t get me wrong, I love just about everything Jack White does. But none of his post-Stripes work, in its many forms, measures up to the brilliance he and Meg dropped on the world. Interestingly enough the album disappeared from Spotify last week in advance of a deluxe reissue. Thank goodness for videos. Here White shows that even if he just has an acoustic guitar, if he still has an amp and effects pedals, he can still blow the roof off the joint.

Television Notes

I finally wrapped up season five of The Americans last night. With shows that I watch a few weeks (or months) after their original airing, I generally have a folder in my Instapaper account where I stash reviews and discussions of each episode from places like The AV Club, The Ringer, etc. to read after I’ve watched them. I don’t read them when I save them, but I often get a feel for what’s going on from the headlines, blurbs at the top of the page, etc. So I knew there was some dissatisfaction with this season by some folks.

Which I completely understood. This was a slow, sometimes tedious, season. No matter your view of it, it has to be ranked as the weakest 13 episodes thus far. But when I say that, it’s with the understanding that the first four seasons were all spectacular and, arguably, the best drama on television each of those years.

To me, though, it wasn’t a poor season. Rather, it was an intentionally difficult year to set up the show’s final season. It was that dragging middle 30 minutes that sets up a movie’s final, breathtaking 45 minutes. It was just a little harder to take because it stretched out over three months.

While this season lacked a lot of the flash and overt brilliance of past seasons, it also was as psychologically taut as any season thus far. As the season went on, almost every character got pushed deeper into corners that became more difficult to get out of. In the last two episodes, Philip, Elizabeth, Paige, and Oleg all seemed to descend into levels of stress that would destroy normal people. As always with this show, sometimes the best moments were the ones with no dialog, as when Oleg looked at his mother in their kitchen before he left their Moscow home for an evening walk, or when Philip and Elizabeth stared at each other wordlessly at the end of each episode. In these moments I was often thinking, “FUCK, I CAN’T TAKE THIS! SOMEONE CRACK!”

For some this was a problem, as the show was setting up season six without offering nuggets about where it was headed. One critic said the show is a mess and doesn’t see any way it can recover and end with honor. I disagree. The producers and writers have always thought five or six steps ahead. They knew exactly what they were doing this year, and how season six will resolve (or not resolve) each storyline. As I trust them, I was willing to put up with a relatively slow season knowing the payoff won’t come until next spring. It’s a long time to wait. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they wrap things up.

Now I’m on to either Better Call Saul or Fargo, which both ended this week.

With it being summer, the girls are watching a little more TV than usual. We probably let them watch too much to being with, so we’re well past appropriate levels. But I figure as long as we get out and do something active every day, and as long as they aren’t watching for five hours straight, it’s fine.

The girls have, for the most part, graduated from animated shows. L will still watch a Star Wars-themed show, or a few others that are aimed at older kids. And they all still enjoy the king of all animated shows, Phineas and Ferb.[1] But usually they’re watching the tween shows on Disney and Nick.

These shows absolutely madden me because there are always a couple really good ones, and the rest are absolute trash. A couple are so bad that I constantly belittle them. “Why are you watching this show? It’s terrible!” The shows on Nick tend to be a little worse, mostly kids just screaming and yelling constantly, but they have a gem and Disney has its own clunkers.

What makes a good (or bad) tween show? It’s really not much different than adult TV. You need good writing, believable characters, and good actors. For some reason with kids shows you either have all three of those qualities or none. Good Luck Charlie, which ended two years ago but Disney still shows regularly,[2] has been by far my favorite of recent vintage. Writing that appeals to both kids and parents. Parental characters who are both present and not total buffoons. And three really good actors for the three main kid characters. It was one of the few shows that could make all five of us laugh at the same time. And I felt like it dealt with some of the issues that kids go through in an honest, but not overwhelming, manner.

Then there are shows like Nick’s Henry Danger. The stories are dumb. The parents are generally not involved with the kids, and only as cartoonish caricatures when they are seen. The action sequences attempt to be silly, slapstick but come off as ham-handed and stupid. The kids are often cruel to each other. And, as mentioned above, much of the dialog is screamed out. Somehow Nick’s Game Shakers takes all this to an even worse level. I had to tell the girls to stop watching it, it’s so bad.

Nick has one good show, The Thundermans. I think it is saved because the two main teenage actors have some chops, both dramatic and comedic, and carry the rest of the show. They’re also not screaming at each other all the time. Seriously, stop with all the screaming!

Another recently concluded, but still airing, Disney show we like is Liv and Maddie. I hated the one-actress-playing-twins gimmick at first. But it has a lot of the same qualities as Good Luck Charlie: decent stories, good acting, solid humor, involved parents. Joey is the element that really makes the show work; that kid cracks me up.

Stuck in the Middle is wrapping up its first season and has become a big hit in our house. Again, it ticks all the boxes: good stories, talented actors, involved parents, moments of genuine humor. Throw in the Latin family and powerful female lead angles and it’s off to a great start.

Rather than go into great detail about all the shows the girls watch/have watched recently, I’ll wrap it up with some power rankings.

1) Phineas and Ferb
2) Good Luck Charlie
3) Stuck in the Middle
4) Liv and Maddie
5) The Thundermans
6) Andi Mack. L and S really like this one, but it leans drama over comedy so I slot it down a little.
7) Girl Meets World. This one often seemed a little heavy for our girls, and I found it too pleased with itself at times. But in general a solid show.
8) K.C. Undercover. I want to like this, but it comes off as too silly most of the time.
9) Bunk’d. A lazy spin-off from Jessie, which I hated.
10) Henry Danger/Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, & Dawn/Game Shakers. All terrible.

L also watches Crashletes, a blooper video show featuring Rob Gronkowski a lot. It’s harmless and safer than turning her loose on YouTube. She and C watch Walk the Prank, Disney’s kid prank show. I find it thoroughly unbelievable. I mean, no one ever has to have curse words bleeped out when surprised by a fake bear, and instantly calm down when told “You just walked the prank!” Come on, clearly these are staged and actors are involved.

  1. Seriously, greatest animated show ever, right?  ↩
  2. Because they know how good it is?  ↩


Anyway, I’m now officially closer to 50 than 40, which sucks big time. I know, I know, 50 is the new 30, blah blah blah. And most folks of our generation look a lot younger than I remember our grandparents looking when they were in their 50s. But, man, the body just keeps rebelling. It feels like I’ve aged more in the past five years than I did from 30 to 35, or 35 to 40. I think it’s because aging in your 30s is more subtle, where the changes are more dramatic in your 40s.

There are all the lingering aches and pains. The back that is always one wrong movement from seizing up. My right hip has gone a little wacky over the past couple years. Knees that creak. You know, all the typical joint and muscle stuff.

But then there’s my hearing, which was always kind of shitty in crowded, loud environments and seems to have gotten a lot worse. On my last visit to my eye doctor, he said I was a year away from bifocals. I swear as soon as I got home that day my close vision went to shit. When we first moved here, I laughed at how my father-in-law got pissed when they dimmed the lights at a restaurant and he couldn’t read his menu. He was in his early 60s at the time. Now I’m doing the back-and-forth, try to get the menu under the right light and at the right distance, dance at restaurants. And I’m only 46!

Good grief.

And then there’s the medical stuff. As I shared, I got my first colonoscopy a month ago. That was the result of about a year of varying stomach issues. Fortunately, the scope was clean aside from one small polyp that they took out. But I’ve had to make a dramatic change in diet – completely cutting out caffeine – to try to get my stomach to work right again. My symptoms have finally slackened off a bit. But I know if they bubble up again, I may have to adjust my diet in more ways.

When you’re 25 and your stomach hurts, or you have a bad knee, or your muscles are just a little sore for a couple days, you don’t really sweat it. When you reach this stage in life, you start getting a little more worried when your body tells you something isn’t right.

I don’t mean this to be a bummer of a post. I have a couple close friends who are going through much more difficult medical issues than anything I’ve ever experienced. I really shouldn’t complain, and I’m not. But I do admit I’m starting to understand the wave of movies and TV shows in the 80s and 90s by Baby Boomers who were lamenting the carefree days of their early adulthood.

Anyway, thanks to all who checked in yesterday. I appreciate the words. And I’ll try to keep the complaining about my age off these pages until my next birthday!

Getting Together

A weekend of gatherings for us.

Saturday was new nephew #2’s first birthday party. Cake, presents, and the never-gets-old fun of watching a little one have their first experience with cake. Seriously, I love watching the pure comedy that is one-year-olds taking 5 minutes to figure out they can do whatever they want to the cake in front of them before they finally dive in with both hands. Good times.

New nephew #1 came to our house after and started walking. I don’t know if they were his first official steps, but it was the longest he had ever walked. He spent about half an hour advancing from 2–3 steps to moving about 4–5 feet at a time before needing to catch himself. That was fun.

Sunday was the Father’s Day gathering. We didn’t plan on it being a big deal, but since my in-laws are heading to Florida permanently, it ended up being a chance for most of the locals to say goodbye to them. They spent most of the winter in Florida, but returned in April to get their house here ready to put on the market. It’s been a long, grueling two months for them as they’ve tried to reduce nearly 20 years of collected stuff.

Their house went on the market just over a week ago. They got an offer Thursday, accepted it on Friday. Now they just have to wait for the inspections to come back and then they’ll be done. They stayed with us for the past week. They came-and-went a lot, and with the girls in VBS last week, it was pretty easy. There was some sadness this morning as they jumped on the road with no plans to be back until maybe the holiday season. Our girls want to go visit again, but we have at least two destinations on our list before our next return to Florida.

Now it’s time for the girls and I to jump back into our Summer To Do list. Fortunately after a very hot, humid week, this week looks much more comfortable for doing things outside.

A belated Happy Father’s Day to the rest of the dads out there.

Friday Photo

Fujifilm X-T2, 35mm at f/5.6, 1/1250 sec, ISO 200

One irony of my photographic exploits is that I dove into the “real camera” pool in an effort to take better family pics. But my girls are often uninterested in being photographed these days. Plus I only share pics of them in forums that I can control rather than the general public. Thus most of what I share here and on Instagram has nothing to do with that original intent.

I don’t think I have an area of primary interest in photography. I’m not exclusively a street photographer, or a landscape photographer, or an architectural photographer. I just take walks with my X-T2 and hope to come across interesting things. I have a certain fondness for taking pictures of house numbers, though. I’m not really sure why. I just enjoy what you can imagine about the inside of a house based on its exterior entry point.

Here’s one I took a couple weeks ago. The late morning sun had just broken through the low clouds and was bathing everything in harsh light. I converted this to black and white in-camera, and really like how the contrast combined with the bars on the door, the NRA sticker, and the basic, military stenciled house number give this a feeling of a home to be avoided. In reality, it’s probably some nice, old lady’s home.

Friday Playlist

“Lannoy Point” – Ride. Another of the great bands of the early 90s British shoegaze movement returns with a fantastic effort. Along with Slowdive, they really know how to make a comeback.

“Line of Sight” – ODESZA, WYNNE, Mansionair. I often complain about how dance and electronic music has squeezed out traditional guitar-based rock in the indie world. But when a song is this good, I can totally get on board with it.

“No Curse” – Waxahatchee. Katie Crutchfield’s “Silver” is one of my favorite songs of the past couple months. And now this, which is a one-off single for the Shaking Through project, which is also awesome. I’m officially stoked for her new album.

“Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” – James Brown. Happy Father’s Day to all the other dads out there!

“Father’s Song” – Prince. Appropriate for the weekend, another unreleased track from the Purple Rain sessions just hit the nets. The melody of this instrumental track should be immediately recognizable to most of you.

“Feel It Still” – Portugal, The Man. I love it when some indie band that has toiled for years gets an out-of-nowhere hit. This may be the indie rock song of the summer of ’17.

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