Tuesday, December 29, 2009

For New Year's Eve haters, tune in Toast of the Nation with me and swing in 2010


New Year’s Eve is my least favorite holiday. I can count on one hand, comfortably, all the successful New Year’s Eves in my life. I run out of fingers quickly counting all the boring, sub par, and downright dangerous New Year’s Eves in my life including at least one memorable trip to the emergency room at midnight.

So, I’ll spend this New Year’s Eve at home again. And I’ll spend it doing something I highly recommend to you, dear readers. I’ll be tuned into Toast of the Nation.

If you are a jazz lover, and you aren’t up for venturing out in the streets to support your local musicians, Toast of the Nation is for you. Like its predecessor, Jazz Coast to Coast, it begins on the East Coast and travels west, welcoming in the new year in all four time zones while broadcasting live performances in some of the finest jazz clubs in the nation.

And with the advent of Internet radio, you no longer have to hope and pray your local left side of the dial will pick up the broadcast. You can listen at WBGO or WBGH, or many other NPR radio stations streaming to the Web. The show will also be broadcast on Sirius XM.

And if you want a break from jazz during the evening and you've got Sirius XM you can also catch a live performance by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. Southside Johnny is the Danny Edward's Old Smokie of R&B -- in other words, his music is just dripping with flavor. He's Springstein without celebrity. Wayne Cochran (and his CC Riders) without big hair.

This year kicks off at 7 p.m. Central from the Berklee Performance Center in Boston where Anat Cohen will wail on sax and clarinet. At 8:30 p.m. John Pizzarelli takes over from the Kennedy Center and at 10 p.m. the party moves to the Village Vanguard in New York for The Bad Plus and the first countdown of the evening.

Then the music moves west to Minneapolis to ring in the new year in Central time with Irwin Mayfield, and on to Mountain Time and Pacific Time with one of my favorite modern jazz outfits, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and their tribute of Cab Calloway, the Hide-Ho Man. VooDoo Daddy will count down the new year twice then play until 3 a.m., when the Anat Cohen set will be rebroadcast.

For some reason NPR likes to keep this great jazz party a secret. I searched the NPR Website two days looking for an article on the event and a lineup of players, to no avail. Google didn’t help either. All I could find were articles about last year’s show. I finally hit on the right descriptor and found an informative article with a good timetable.

So, if you’re like me and you just want to get through New Year’s Eve without landing on the DL or losing your license to drive, you’ll find Toast of the Nation a far better way to close out the year than watching the big ball drop on television and listening to a lot of lip-synced performances by groups you’d rather went into another line of work. A little pop corn, a nice couch to stretch out on and some good jazz is hard to beat on amateur night.

Lofflin

Saturday, December 26, 2009

After the snow, a wish for baseball again...





"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring..."
-- Rogers Hornsby

--Lofflin

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jeff Bezos is Santa, or maybe Santa is Jeff Bezos...



With Christmas coming,
a funny idea (among many) coursed through my head.

Where do you think the idea for Amazon.com came from?

Whether Jeff Bezos knows it or not, he got the idea from Santa Claus.

Just imagine what it is like tonight at the various Amazon distribution centers and at Fed Ex and UPS. Why, it's just as you always imagined the North Pole, is it not?

Amazon has morphed into the exact idea of the North Pole. I ordered everything from books to a basketball goal at Amazon this year. So did a lot of other people. And, just like Santa, Amazon always comes through.

In fact, Amazon works from "wish lists" just like the letters kids have always sent to Santa.

And, in these modern times, why, you can't get the job done with a sleigh and reindeer. You've got, instead, a fleet of trucks and planes. Same concept, different vehicle. Who would have imagied you could order a basketball goal one day and receive it the next? Only Santa can pull off such a trick, right?

The inspiration for Fed Ex and UPS? You got it... Santa Claus.

So, if you go back a few years and you imagine the young entrepreneur sitting around a table in a local tavern with a few buddies trying to come up with the next big thing, well you might as well imagine Jeff Bezos thinking, hey, Santa Claus. Now that's the business I should be in.

(BTW: Amazon just sent me a message as I was writing this telling me a very important present from Santa is on the way... guaranteed to arrive on Christmas Eve...)

You know, maybe Santa Claus is Jeff Bezos. Or, maybe Jeff Bezos is just a front for Santa Claus. I mean, how else do you fund all these toys?

--Lofflin .... stuffed full of Christmas cookies, ham sandwiches and redskin peanuts and hoping Santa has a new ball glove (maybe a Nokona infielder's mitt ... I have plans my manager doesn't know about...) in his bag.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tales of government silliness

This week I started a new, temporary job with the U.S. Government, the second such stint I've had this year. I can't say much about the job itself, but I did want to relate one funny tale from my first days at work.

In every job, you have to fill out pages and pages of paperwork on Day 1. But with the government, the paperwork is utterly overwhelming. Thousands of pages, no joke, have passed across my desk in the first three days, much of it repetitive and pointless.

The silliness was summed up in one particular document, the nature of which is not important. The document is three pages long. My supervisor told me the 2008 version of the document was only two pages.

What, you ask, was added to make the document run over onto a third page? One single paragraph, which outlines the federal government's Paperwork Reduction Act.

I shit you not.

-- Matt Kelsey

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thoughts on citizen journalism, twitter journalism, facebook journalism and the big waves of the 2009 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau


John Updike scribbled the outlines to his novels and short stories in the margins of Episcopalian bulletins during Sunday services. Those ethically wrenching books and stories no doubt reflect his moods as he sat on those hard New England pews.

I'm outlining this blog entry during a graduation ceremony. This blog entry will no doubt reflect the increasing triviality of communication -- Rabbit, Run has devolved into the brief musings of the Henry Wiggen Blog. It will also probably reflect my mood, which you will no doubt find hopelessly cranky.

Here’s what I have written:

· What difference does it make if journalism students don't know the difference between student's -- possessive -- and students -- plural -- if their readers don't either?

· If you can take a pretty good to very good picture with a digital camera and a trip to Walgreen’s, why learn to use PhotoShop or start from scratch and learn to make images the hard way with film and chemicals?

· I have colleagues who send me articles about the demise of of journalism as I have known it. Generally, these articles tell me journalism, and the way I have taught it, are both dangerously lost in the past.

Some send articles because they think I’ll be interested. One article sender does so because it is her nature to disseminate information – and peanut brittle at Christmas – and she does it with a happy heart. Another – an alumnus – sends me articles because we enjoy imagining the future and brainstorming how journalists might find a way to get paid in it.

But one -- I sense this because I don’t know -- sends me articles as a warning.

It is as if I am standing in the sand at the edge of the ocean at Waimea Bay and the historic waves of last week's "Eddie" are about to break over me.

Academics are terrified of being on the wrong side of the wave.

These warnings hurt. This is, after all, how I have interacted with the world for nearly half a century. It is what I have labored to teach... a labor of love to be sure. Journalism has been a proud way to make a living and contribute to the community of man throughout my lifetime. It is not easy to read about your profession dissolving.


Let me be clear. I have loved journalism but I have never liked the business of journalism. I have known a few publishers who understood their readers and knew why, as publishers, they were placed on this planet, but not very damned many. If any industry was apt to be caught with its collective pants down, it was journalism.

But now, it seems from all the articles I've been sent, there's really nothing much to teach. Journalism is now an "anything goes" profession. Get yourself a place on the Web and write what you please. Or, what pleases you. Those old farts at the university, why, they're just a bunch of eight-track cassette players. If I did what those articles typically suggest, I'd get out of the way... take a long walk off a short pier, as we used to say. Declare myself the dead wood some people think I am and start a fire.

Listening to the graduation speaker talk about his trouble staying inside the lines in first grade, it came to me that I don’t mind living outside the margins so much. Being marginalized, dismissed as hopelessly unaware, as dead wood, a na├»ve traditionalist, is the reward you get for staying alive and believing in doing what you do the best you can.

Asked to define “art” by a student once, I said art is anything you do that you care about doing right. If you really cared about designing that Coke can, then that design was art. If you really cared about adjusting that carburetor perfectly, then you are an artist with grease under your fingernails. It’s a simple test. Now, if you just designed that Coke can to get the job done and please the boss, or you were too busy listening to the radio to hear the sound of the carburetor when you adjusted it (my uncle, who raced stock cars on dirt tracks, could time an engine purely by sound and beat any car timed by machine) you are not an artist. You’re an employee. Nothing wrong with being an employee. It’s just life inside the margins and it usually works better than taking on life as an artist.

Same goes for teaching journalism. If you design a curriculum to make you look like you’re on the right side of the wave at a national conference, well, you’ll make a good showing among your buddies but … you’re not an artist. And, that’s what’s really happening to the art of journalism and the art of teaching.

OK, that's more than enough crankiness for one entry. Besides, I can hear the wave now. And it's a big mother.
--Lofflin



Image courtesy of The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Website

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book review: "The Veracruz Blues"

I feel like a fool.

That's not an uncommon condition for me, but particularly today. I finished reading "The Veracruz Blues" several weeks ago and put it on the shelf, thinking about what I'd write in my review. It's the second time I've read it and this time around I didn't necessarily love the book, but I didn't have anything bad to say about it either.

Finally, today I told myself to buckle down and write the review, even if it's terrible, just to get it out of the way. And I did. I wrote nearly a full review on "The Veracruz Blues," calling it a slightly-above average telling of a far-fetched fictional baseball league, much in the same vein as Philip Roth's "The Great American Novel." But then I stumbled upon a page at the front of the book that says "Although the events in this novel are based on things that really happened, this book is a work of the imagination."

Surely not, I thought to myself. Surely this ridiculous story of a Mexican baseball league couldn't be real.

Of course, I was wrong. The Mexican League was (and is) very real, and the characters in Mark Winegardner's novel are also quite real. I feel foolish for not knowing about this fascinating chunk of baseball history.

With one keystroke I deleted my previous review. This novel is so much more intriguing now that I know the story is not as far-fetched as I first thought.

"The Veracruz Blues" tells the story through the eyes of (fictional) aspiring novelist-turned-reluctant sportswriter Frank Bullinger, Jr., who is called away from his job covering the sad-sack St. Louis Browns to be the press agent for the Mexican League, operated by Jorge Pasquel (real). The story of the tumultuous 1946 season is told through a series of interviews with some figures important to the Mexican League, including Bullinger, players Danny Gardella (real), Roberto Ortiz (real) and Theolic "Fireball" Smith (fictional, I think), as well as Maria Felix (real), a famous Mexican actress portrayed as Jorge Pasquel's girlfriend (I think that's fictional).

During that '46 season, Pasquel and his brothers (real) try to entice several big-name American major leaguers to come play in the Mexican League for a lot more money (real). They offer big contracts to the likes of Ted Williams and Stan Musial (real) to no avail, but more than a few prominent ballplayers do "jump" to the Mexican League, including Sal Maglie, Mickey Owen and Max Lanier (all real, and all really jumped to Mexico).

Danny Gardella, one of the major characters in the book, seems to have a fascinating real-life history of being a bit of a clown prince on the field and one of the founding fathers of the free agency system in baseball, setting the stage for Curt Flood and others to give ballplayers the right to play for whomever they wanted.

And as I mentioned before, this is one of the few baseball books that is told, at least in part, from the perspective of a woman, Maria Felix.

So I'm gonna think about this book a little more. I may or may not write more about it. But now that I realize it's almost all true... wow. Fascinating.

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And in Missouri a four year degree in three

The guy who ran Sprint into the ground wants to talk about a three year college degree at MU.

The Star termed it a "no frills" degree. Forsee (his name does not necessarily indicate an ability to see the future -- ask former Sprint employees) actually talked about people not wanting to "waste" money and time on a four year college education. Waste!

Let me tell you this. As a college educator we are damned lucky if we can prepare a student for life beyond college in four years. And, that's not because we are wasting time, or the money we don't have. It is because, most importantly, students often come to us right out of the eighth grade.

Read their e-mails and you'll know what I mean.

So, I take offense at his language. If he thinks the University of Missouri is wasting money, he needs to look at the salaries and expense accounts of its administrative employees, and it would be good to start with his office. I don't know anything special about his office. It's just that I've had occasion to see the work product of some college administrators.

But, If I am offended by his language, I'm not beyond considering the idea. However, judging from the reactions to the story from "readers" (and in some cases, I use the term lightly), I would take a different route to a three year degree.

I would actually include more of the dreaded liberal arts courses. In fact, for a three-year degree that's all a student at my university would take. I'd eliminate majors and minors -- and departments and textbooks -- and just spend three years helping students learn to ask and answer questions. They might be a little unruly when they graduated -- a little less willing to accept the status quo without asking those troublesome questions -- but they would be thoroughly educated and certainly capable of learning how to push the buttons and work the levers of any profession short of engineering or medicine.

They'd be the kind of employees you'd love if you wanted problem solvers and not robots. They'd understand the big picture so well they could shape the little picture themselves. They'd be excellent graduate students, if that's what they wanted to do. If you wanted a doctor who would ask you the right questions rather than read you the protocol, they'd be the perfect candidates for the job.

If you wanted journalists who would not only be able to adapt and conquer but innovate, they'd be the ones you wanted. If the next big medium is, say, delivering news by hologram in the sky, they'd be the reporters you'd need to figure out how to get the most information to the hologram viewers in the shortest time.

Ah, well... I'm pretty sure that isn't what the brain trust at MU has in mind. Or, KU for that matter, so don't go there...

--Lofflin

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Canadian health care system? At least you could get a flu shot there...

Matt's bookmark story illustrates nicely one of the joys of reading. When I pick up old copies of the Henry Wiggen novels I often find airline tickets inside, bookmarks I used out of convenience when traveling. I look the ticket over and suddenly some little piece of the trip comes back to me. Depending on the airline, the ticket may even smell like chocolate chip cookies.

I've only been to Canada twice. I went to Winnipeg to do a story. I found it a lot like Fairfax. Not, Fairfax, Virginia. The Fairfax of Sunshine Bakery, Certain-T-ed, and Chevrolet. I went to a conference in Toronto. Toronto is so international, its international-ness seems completely natural.

I've been laughing all day about Wanda Sykes' monologue last night. She said she'd like to ask Obama a few questions. One: "Where's my universal health care?"

Well, I was listening to jazz on the computer -- a wonderful radio station in Toronto -- yesterday. I've been steaming ever since about a public service announcement they broadcast between tunes. It was from the much maligned Canadian health care system. If you believe Fox news, this is the worst health care system in the history of the world. The announcement: "Everyone in Ontairio can have an H1N1 vaccine now. Call this number to find the clinic nearest you."

Everyone! Hear that Mr. President. Hear that congress. Hear that Fox News.

And here in the states, in the health care system the Republicans would like for you to believe is the best in the world -- "please, Mr. President, don't touch it" -- you can't even get a regular flu shot. I'm going without now because I missed my opportunity two months ago, which turned out to be the only opportunity I'll have this winter.

Now, if I lived in Ontario...

--Lofflin

Monday, November 30, 2009

The things we find (literally) inside books

One of my favorite places in the entire world is the clearance section at Half Price Books (any Half Price Books, really, but the clearance section inside the Westport location is the best around). I love used books and used bookstores. Not only can you find amazing deals (no book over $3 in the clearance section!), but it's fascinating to flip through books that have been owned and read by somebody else. I'm sure somebody could write a whole book on the inscriptions found inside the front covers at a used bookstore (hey, that's not a bad idea).

Oftentimes I'll find things inside the books. Little scraps of paper. Matchbook covers stripped of the matches. Receipts. Postcards. They help to date and place the book and assign it in my mind to a specific reader.

Just now I'm cleaning up the wreckage in my study from one of my cats jumping on the top shelf of a bookcase and knocking the contents on the floor (that's for another post). One of the books that fell off was Mark Harris' "Diamond," which includes selected baseball writings by the author of the Henry Wiggen series. It even contains the complete screenplay to the movie version of "Bang the Drum Slowly." I bought it several months ago and stuck it up on the shelf.

As I prepared to slide the book back in its place, a long, narrow piece of paper fell out.

Across the top are the words "WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES." It's a customs declaration form from the Department of the Treasury, U.S. Customs Service.

The form was printed in 1995, but that doesn't really help to "date" the reader. The Customs Service might still be using this form. But it helps paint a picture of the reader. He or she is obviously an international traveler. The form is blank, so who knows if he declared anything at customs or if he just picked up the form to use as a bookmark. The book itself, which I purchased for $2, is in pristine condition, so the traveler either took good care of his books or he didn't read this one very much.

So I'll tuck the customs form back in the book, where it belongs. To me, the customs form is part of the book now. Maybe when I get around to reading it, I'll use the form as a bookmark.

To me, that customs form makes the book infinitely more valuable. And it makes me eager to go back to the clearance section and find what else is tucked between the pages.

--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Novel notes: "The Veracruz Blues." Plus, a great book on a terrible war

A couple months ago, I mentioned on this blog that I'd exhuasted my personal baseball fiction library. Not long ago I discovered I was wrong. I was overlooking a baseball novel, and a good one at that: Mark Winegardner's "The Veracruz Blues."

In John Lofflin's baseball fiction class, this book was an "optional" read, but in the pantheon of baseball fiction "The Veracruz Blues" holds a special place in that part of the book is narrated by a woman - the only baseball book, to my knowledge, with this distinction.

More about "The Veracruz Blues" later. But now, truly, I HAVE exhausted my baseball library, and once again I'm open to suggestions on what to read next in the series.

In the meantime, I'll mention another great book I recently read: Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman." As you may know, Pat Tillman was a football player for the Arizona Cardinals when, after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, he became an Army ranger. A few years later he was killed in Afghanistan, and his enlistment and heroic death were held up by conservative pundits as a model of patriotic glory.

The truth, though, is far, far different. Pat Tillman vehemently refused to let the Army and the Bush Administration put him on a pedestal (even though they did anyway, both before and after his death). What's worse, Tillman was actually killed by friendly fire, a fact the Army tried to cover up so as not to sully the fabricated story of their most well-known fallen hero.

It's one of those books that makes you sad and pissed off and furious all at once. The book is not only the story of Pat Tillman's amazing life but also a scathing critique of the Bush administration. As such, I consider it a must-read.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"It's more fun to win a game than it is to win an award" -- Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke won the Cy Young award yesterday.

He gave us all chills during the season as we watched him carve up hitters like Thanksgiving turkey. And, the more we knew about him, the more we tried to guess along with him because we realized his very original mind was always at work, never content with just striking out the side.

We learned he sometimes toyed with base stealers, showing them a particularly slow first step to the plate to lure them into running because he wanted to see them test Miguel Olivo's arm. We already knew he could get bored in the middle of a game... or the middle of a count. We knew he prized hitting and probably believed he was the best shortstop on the club.

But he gave us a gem in an interview this morning, a gem we should all turn into posters and mount on our walls. Pressed to express SOME excitement about one of the most prestigious awards in any sport, he looked into the camera with disarming honesty and said:

"It's more fun to win a game than it is to win an award."

I'll be honest. That's instructive to me. I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten I once felt that way about newspaper awards. Heck, I'd forgotten I once felt that way about playing ball. I'd forgotten it was more fun to win a game than go four-for-four and lose. In my job as a teacher, I'd forgotten how to say what I still felt -- that it was much more fun to be part of a great classroom session than to "exceed expectations" in my hopelessly contrived annual review. Much more fun.

Thanks, Zack. Again...

--Lofflin

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A self-imposed Palin embargo

I'm resisting the urge this week to click on links, read stories and watch videos related to Sarah Palin. And I certainly have no intention of buying her book.

I figure if people stop paying attention to her, she'll go away. The only reason I would read stories about her at this point is to find new ways to dislike her (and isn't it amazing how many possibilities there are?). But even doing that fuels the fire.

So I've quit. Cold turkey. And I encourage you to do the same.

Let's relegate Sarah Palin to the lunacy of the late 2000s right next to Octomom, Jon and Kate and the Balloon Boy.

(I guess that means we should stop paying attention to those three things as well...)

--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Indefensible Position: for breaking news and event coverage, Fox News is the best

As much as I hate to give any praise whatsoever to Fox News, but I have to admit: when there's breaking news, like the recent Balloon Boy fiasco, or a big, live event, like today's Fort Hood memorial service, Fox News offers the best coverage among the cable news stations.

Usually when a big event happens and I'm home to watch it, I find myself flipping between the cable networks to find the best coverage. More often than not I land on Fox. For the memorial service today, Fox was being by far the most respectful. MSNBC featured Brian Williams interviewing some no-names who added nothing to the dialogue, and over at CNN Wolf Blitzer, perhaps the dumbest person among the big-time names in TV news, was blathering on in his idiotic manner.

Fox News let the images tell the story. For several minutes leading up to the beginning of the service, Fox News anchors stayed silent while the cameras panned over images of soldiers in mourning. Powerfully effective, it was.

But breaking news and live events are the only times I'll turn to Fox. I can't stomach their biased and ignorant coverage the rest of the time.

--Matt Kelsey

Monday, November 9, 2009

How far LJ has fallen

The Kansas City Chiefs released Larry Johnson today, ending the drama surrounding a player who has been almost nothing but trouble since he was drafted in the first round six years ago.

I say "almost" because, of course, at one time Larry Johnson was the undisputed star of this team and one of the two best running backs in the whole National Football League, division rival LaDanian Thomlinson being the other.

But now... this has gotta be some kind of rock-bottom for the guy.

I don't at all agree with the Chiefs' decision to release him. Yes, he said some boneheaded things (definitely the homosexual slurs were uncalled for, but what he said about Todd Haley really ain't that far off the mark, is it? Still, he shouldn't have said it) and he should have been punished for them. But the best punishment for LJ is to make him continue playing for the Chiefs. I think Jason Whitlock said it best a few weeks back (and I'm paraphrasing): Let LJ run the ball 35 times a game the rest of the season. We aren't gonna win any more games, so why not just let him grind away? Get every penny's worth out of him.

Now I'm sure LJ will sign with another team, where he'll be running with that famous "chip on his shoulder." He'll probably run for a thousand yards this season wearing somebody else's uniform.

--Matt Kelsey