Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trying to stay positive for the Chiefs, Royals

Rough night (what's new?) Saturday for Kansas City sports fans. The Chiefs and Royals both lost to teams from Seattle.

But even through what's become a sad, sad trend in Kansas City, I'm trying to stay positive.

First, the Chiefs. The bad news is they're terrible again. The worse news is Matt Cassel got hurt in Saturday's game and his return is questionable.

And there ain't much good news. But for me, personally, a ray of hope. Circumstances prohibited me from seeing the Chiefs' first two preseason games this year. Tonight, I was able to watch. And even though I said some nasty things about the Chiefs a couple weeks ago on this blog, I'll say this now: seeing the guys out there in those bright red uniforms on a beautiful Arrowhead night made me feel better. It's football season. So I'm going to embrace it. I'm going to cheer for my Chiefs.

Now, the Royals. Gil Meche got rocked tonight. And the Royals are just as bad as the Chiefs (although they'll probably have a significantly higher winning percentage this year). Normally I don't root for teams to lose. In the words of Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game!" But sorry Herm, I'm hoping the Royals only win every five games - when Zack Greinke is on the mound - and lose everything else. I hope they finish with the worst record in baseball this season.

Because if they do, in next year's draft we'll be able to get this guy. And then we got ourselves a ballgame.

-- Matt Kelsey

Friday, August 28, 2009

Unsocial networking, untwittered, unfacebooked, disconnected and .... dare we think? Happy?

I look forward every fall to the first editorial columns in the student newspaper. They're interesting because the ideas have built up across an entire summer when students haven't had a venue for expressing their opinions. In addition, nothing much has happened at school to write about and they aren't tuned in yet to watching the news for ideas.

So I find something fresh about their ideas every fall. Usually their ideas are a little bit more personal. It’s a chance to glimpse the student mind.

Two student columns this year caught my attention. Two of the columns were about social networking. One was about Twitter. This student talked about not “getting” Twitter at first, then discovering some of its more powerful elements. For example, the student talked about the ability to follow international events through Twitter, how it was infinitely faster and more deeply local than CNN. I experienced some of those advantages myself following the terrorist attacks in Bombay.

The other student wrote about Facebook. His column was more troubled. He looked at Facebook as an activity which drew him away from other people. He talked about the difference between getting to know someone on Facebook then trying to get to know them in real life. He said he had taken a Facebook vacation during the summer turning his Facebook page off for two months, and he talked about how refreshing it was. But his Facebook is back on now.

Both columns were smart and worth reading. Both provided significant insight into the social networking world. But I saw something else in those two columns and it disturbs me to some degree. If you read those two columns carefully you might actually see a plea for help.

I'm sure neither of those students thought of their writing as a plea for anything. But it's there nonetheless. They're enjoying, and utilizing, this brave new world of social networking, a world where MySpace is so over already, but they’re uncomfortable with it. They're uncomfortable with the amount of time they spend doing it. They're uncomfortable with the anonymity of it. They're uncomfortable with the way it removes them from what they know is real social interaction, and puts them into a realm of social interaction that is social only in the broadest definition of the word.

Sure, a century ago people wrote voluminous letters to each other and thought of letter writing warmly as social interaction. But they could hardly write more than one or two good letters a day and they couldn't expect to get more than a few letters back on the best day. But modern students -- I'm not saying this is true of these two columnists -- Facebook for hours, and Twitter constantly. If they're in class for 50 minutes with their Twitter untwittered and their Facebook closed they begin to look like pack-a-day smokers stuck at a family dinner in a smoke-free restaurant.

I also caught a glimpse of frustration and, perhaps, fear, in their words. They seemed a bit weary about social networking. I wondered if deep down they wanted to get out of the chase to be right on time for the next big thing and not stuck in the last big thing when all else who are hip have moved on.

I could be wrong about this. These are two bright students who certainly know their own minds. But somehow I can't help thinking their columns, while praising the virtual life, reveal serious trepidation about it. Of their praise, you might say, the lady doth protest too much.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's less than zero?

Matt, do you remember in the newsroom the value we attached to anonymous comments?


If you get through Box Socials, you're a better man than me. But Philip Roth's Great American Novel would be worth of your skills.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

End of the line?

I've pretty much exhausted my baseball fiction library, and I'm looking for direction on what I should do next with my baseball novel review series.

I'm down to the last book on my shelf: "Box Socials," by W.P. Kinsella. I thought I had a copy of Ring Lardner's "You Know Me Al," but I can't find it.

So what should I do after I finish "Box Socials?" I guess there would be some harmony in ending the series with that book, since I started it (way back in February) with Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe."

At least one reader wouldn't mind seeing me hang it up. "Anonymous" made this comment on my review of "It Looked Like For Ever" -

Bad review, of a bad book. Matt, you reached a new low with this mess of a blog.

To which I replied:

Sir or Ma'am, you insult me! How dare you say I've reached a new low! I've reached MUCH lower lows than this!

I could also start reviewing non-fiction, but I don't really want to at this point.

I think I'd rather keep it going, though, with other baseball novels not on my shelf. And I wouldn't mind expanding my personal library in the process.

So here's the deal. I'm open to suggestions on what baseball novels I should review next. If I can't find them at the good ol' KCK Public Library, I'll try to track them down at Half Price Books or Amazon. Leave me any thoughts you have in the comments section. And remember, for right now I'm only interested in reviewing baseball fiction, not player biographies or histories.

"Anonymous," I'll take your suggestions, too, although keep in mind I don't live near any bridges off of which I can throw myself.

-- Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chocolate(y) goodness

I can't find any other rants and raves about this online, but I'm bothered by something. Has anyone noticed how food manufacturers are using the word "chocolatey" instead of "chocolate" these days?

It kind of reminds me of how Pringles have to be called potato crisps because they're not technically chips, rather a product made of pressed potato flakes.

Obviously these manufacturers are using the word chocolatey because their product fails to meet some sort of government standard to be called chocolate.

Just seems a little disturbing to me, and it looks like it's passing by the American consumer without any question.

-- Matt Kelsey

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why aren't catchers like this anymore?

Today I caught the last ten minutes of the Tim McCarver Show. Tim's guests were Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola.

Talk about a tradition of great catching all in one room. Yogi, of course, is one of the finest catchers to ever put on a uniform. Garagiola made a name for himself by playing out of his mind for the Cardinals as a rookie in the 1946 World Series. And McCarver was a two-time All-Star who played big-league ball for 21 years, an amazing feat for a catcher.

All three are just as well known for what they did after their baseball careers. Berra was a successful manager and coach with the Yankees and Mets, and perhaps the most highly regarded funny man in baseball history. Garagiola developed a following as a broadcaster and even made it into the Hall of Fame for that. McCarver too became a broadcaster, and although many people have a love-hate relationship with the man, there's no denying that he's become the Voice of the Playoffs over the past few decades.

What happened to all the good, witty catchers in Major League Baseball? Now all we have is guys like Joe Mauer, who is an amazing catcher, maybe one of the best ever, but seems to be completely free of any personality. And, we have guys like A.J. Pierzynski, who is quite possibly the biggest asshole in baseball since Ty Cobb.

I don't want to see either one of those guys becoming broadcasters.

And, for that matter, who will be the next generation of players who become managers? In the past it's always been catchers. (Current catchers-turned-managers include Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, A.J. Hinch and Mike Scoscia, to name a few.)

Maybe it's gonna be pitchers. They seem to be the heirs to the baseball personality throne. I could see Brian Bannister becoming a manager.

And, on that same note, who will be baseball's next player-manager? I think it's time for another one. How about this scenario: in a couple years, when the Yankees drive Joe Girardi out of town, they name Derek Jeter player-manager.

Hey, stranger things have happened.

-- Matt Kelsey

Friday, August 21, 2009

I almost forgot: one last great reason to read "The Universal Baseball Association"

Happy Friday, everyone.

I had planned on mentioning this earlier, because I think it's important about "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop." by Robert Coover. But looking back over my review of the book and my earlier notes, I realized I left it out.

Here it is, my one last great reason to read the book:

"The Universal Baseball Association" has two of the best, most erotic sex scenes I've ever read.

No joke.

-- Matt Kelsey

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The bomber and the Nike swoosh: Compassion or stupidity? Cable news builds a case desperately

Photo: Danny Lawson

llow me to briefly build on Matt's astute comments about carelessness and local news.

This morning I tuned into the cable coverage of the flight to freedom for the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. This character was the only person convicted of the murder of 270 persons in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Because he is dying of cancer, the courts in Scotland agreed to let him go home to wife, children and family. Was the decision unspeakable compassion or unspeakable stupidity?

The cable outlets -- MSNBC, CNN, and Fox -- all traded on the pathos of the moment. Perhaps something was betrayed in their over-the-top attempts at making this release appear monumental. I'm not saying it wasn't monumental: I'm just saying sometimes we betray our true intentions when we go over the top in news coverage (and humor...but that is another story for another time...).

Here's an example: on Fox news, the news talker attempted to describe the hurt and anger the families must feel today. Fair enough. Then he said they would carry that anger, "into the next life."

He's a reporter, so you have to wonder where he gets his information about what we carry into the next life. He was stretching for something and as a thoughtful viewer you have to ask why.

But over-the-top reportage was not limited to Fox, for once. All three news talkers seemed driven to build the case with deeper and deeper emotional gut wrenching against this release. Have you ever been in one of those conversations where friends or family members are attempting to convince somebody how bad their recent ex-lover was for them?

Are we afraid our viewers, our society, has grown jaded to terrorism? Are we afraid terrorist acts have become commonplace in our world?

Or are we just tugging at the heart strings of higher ratings?

One last image of this situation to put in your crop and mull over. Close-up photographs of the Lockerbie bomber boarding the flight to freedom show him dressed all in white -- irony is such a bitch -- and on his head? On his head is perched a white cap with a Nike swoosh. You can imagine the PR staff at Nike must be drinking Maalox by the bottle this afternoon.

-- Lofflin

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The carelessness of the local TV news

Local television news shows have always depended on newspapers to get their information. But now that newspapers are disappearing, what are local news programs going to do to make sure their news is accurate?

Nothing, apparently.

Last night I was watching a local news broadcast (I think it was Channel 9,but I'm not 100% sure - they all seem the same to me). During their short report on the Royals' win over the White Sox, the sports anchor made not one but TWO mistakes about players' names. Now, I'm the last to criticize simple proofreading errors made by reporters - God knows I made more than my fair share during my career (like the time I wrote that the Civil War took place in 1962). But these mistakes were just plain dumb.

First, the anchor said Billy Butler hit an RBI double off White Sox pitcher Freddy Sanchez. The White Sox pitcher at the time was Freddy Garcia; Freddy Sanchez is an infielder for the San Francisco Giants. Just seconds later the anchor reported that Butler scored on a single by Esteban German. This is a little more plausible since German actually did play for the Royals at one point. But now, he plays for the Texas Rangers. The guy who drove in Butler was Alberto Callaspo.

Maybe the anchor just has difficulty with Hispanic names. But it would be nice if our local TV reporters knew enough about the Royals to at least get the names right.

-- Matt Kelsey

Monday, August 17, 2009

Irony is such a bitch... Mom2Mom is such good reading. No, really.

"Irony is such a bitch"

So says Jennifer Brown. Now what I'm going to say next even surprises me. I discovered that some of the best, most interesting writing on the Kansas City Star's website is in, believe it or not, mom2mom.

You read that right.

The folks who write there write with passion, strong voice, and surprising honesty. If you are interested in people, what they think and what they fear, in the difficult ways they are trying to solve this mystery of life, mom2mom is a good place to lurk.

I have been a journalist for a long time, and I’m a hard-boiled guy, so the very idea of mom2mom made me snicker. I mean, what in the hell does this have to do with journalism? Where is the reporting? Who are the sources? Where's the objectivity? Have the editors gone asleep at the switch? Will this just be more soap opera silliness?

Okay, I admit to misogynistic thinking when it came to mom2mom. And I should know better. After all, I find women far more interesting than men. When I'm writing fiction I'd much rather write in a woman's voice, explore the world from a woman's point of view. I love women. Some of my best friends are women. My wife and my daughter are two of the most complex people in the universe. And that's saying nothing about my sister.

But mom2mom just seemed so phony. In the throes of disaster, the Kansas City Star was trying to reach out to young women, coincidentally, a group big-ticket item consumers. And that may well have been the Star's idea.

But, boy, was I wrong about what women would do with mom2mom. Take, for instance, Jennifer Brown's wonderfully honest blog on mom2mom where she shares her guilt about finally dropping off her youngest child for kindergarten and being, in her words, finally free. Free at last.

Here's how she puts it: "It's hard for me to even comprehend, really. I have NEVER been completely and totally free. I went straight from high school to full-time job, then to job and college together, then to job and college and mothering together, then to Real Job and mothering together, then to full-time mothering."

That's a novel. You’ve got the plot now all you need are the characters and the dialogue.

(As an aside, it might be interesting to write the male counterpart to that paragraph. Maybe I'll take a crack at it in a later entry.)

I love this: "I've not been a good summer mommy. I've been working too hard, sleeping too little, letting them watch TV too much, and not having enough fun. And now that it's really almost here I feel guilty as hell. I mean, what kind of monster gets this excited about having all the kids gone all day long?"

My answer of course, is a human monster. That is to say, not a monster at all. It is human to enjoy solitude. It is human to enjoy spontaneity. It is human to want adult companionship sometimes. It is human to pray for one -- just one, dear Lord -- clear thought each day.

But Jennifer Brown knows this. Nobody could write with such wisdom and not. As she closes, she gives us this insight: "I suppose this is just a process I must go through. A feeling that I'll never have done enough for my kids. A guilt that there was more of me to give, and I selfishly kept it. A wish that I could go back and be a better mom, because that's what they deserve."

Well, Ms. Brown is not alone. And, some of us fathers are haunted by the same feelings.

But they’re human, these feelings, and they're not unique to us.

They may be unique to our prosperity, however. We do live in a time when we can focus on our children as no generation before. We can, if we like, indulge in the cult of the child. If we are in a two-parent family, we may be able to focus entirely on our children, though such luxury is almost always reserved for women. We live in a time when most of our food comes from the grocery store -- where we push the children around in a shopping cart shaped like a racecar -- rather than from the ground. In an earlier time, we would have tilled or gardens with our hands and our children would have been forced to weed them so we all could eat.

Freedom from want, breeds angst and guilt. As Ms. Brown says, “Irony’s such a bitch."

-- Lofflin

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book review: "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop."

Matt Kelsey has won five consecutive Cy Young Awards. He is, by all accounts, the finest pitcher to throw a baseball since the retirement of Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux and quite possibly one of the greatest baseball players of all time. A perennial All-Star, Kelsey is almost certain to make it into the Hall of Fame. At 31 years old, he is on the last year of a 4-year, $100 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, and he's hopeful for a $200 million payday on his next contract.

But Matt Kelsey the unemployed writer and wannabe novelist is growing bored with Matt Kelsey the pitcher, who exists only as ones and zeros in the confines of the SD chip inside my PlayStation Portable and the software of the game "MLB 08: The Show."

I created Matt Kelsey the pitcher in the game and set him off on his now-illustrious career. But as I mentioned, it's getting a little boring. My pitcher has achieved as much success as is possible, and the only upcoming milestone I have to look forward to is signing the next big contract. After that, I'll just be waiting for the Hall of Fame.

In "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop." by Robert Coover, the title character faces a similar problem with the fictional baseball-dice game he has created. The game has become boring to him.

The novel opens, though, with something that could save the league. A brilliant rookie pitcher named Damon Rutherford is "pitching" a perfect game. Of course, the perfect game, the pitcher and the entire league only exist inside Henry's mind.

Rutherford's greatness injects new life into the Universal Baseball Association and gives Henry a reason to continue, but in his next start Rutherford falls victim to an unfortunate dice roll and gets killed by a bean ball.

We get to know Henry best in the aftermath of this disaster. Not only does he mourn the loss of a great player; he also struggles with how to continue with the baseball league and, oh yeah, how to keep his actual, real-life job as an accountant.

You really don't get a clear picture of how involved Henry is with this league until you read the novel. It's incredible detail on every single player throughout the fifty-plus season history of the organization. Here's Henry's description of a backup third baseman for one of the eight teams in the league:

Six foot two, 168 pounds, thirty years old, seven years in the Association. Dazzling fielder out in center, good throwing arm. Smooth-swinging choke hitter who sprayed to all fields. One big year in LII [year 52 of the Association] when he punched out a .281, just missing Star status. Hair sun-bleached blond, skin tanned, cigarette-ad smile. Played pro tennis in the spring.

Henry knows all that and more about every player in the league throughout the league's history.

And it's not just what happens on the field. There's an entire political structure, since the players vote on who becomes the league chancellor. There's folk history, complete with folk music. There's mythology. And there's a plethora of activities in the offseason. Although Henry memorizes most of the info, all of it goes in "The Book," a multi-volume index of league history and news.

It's that incredible detail that makes "The Universal Baseball Association" a bit bogged down in the middle. When Henry is having fictional conversations in his head between players and managers who don't really exist, the book can be a little overwhelming. I compare it to the book "Flowers for Algernon," about a mentally handicapped man (and the narrator of the book) who has an experimental brain surgery to improve his mind. The surgery works and his IQ jumps from 68 to genius level. When the main character, Charley, is at his smartest, the book is difficult to read because Charley is speaking at an ethereal level. It's the same thing in "The Universal Baseball Association" when Henry is plunging depths of the Association to which the reader isn't privy.

But it's a fascinating novel, if only for the examination of one man's utter psychological breakdown.

"The Universal Baseball Association," large part mythology, psychology, psychiatry, ethics and math, is perhaps the greatest example that baseball novels are usually not at all about baseball.

--Matt Kelsey

Friday, August 14, 2009

Henry Waugh ain't so crazy after all

I haven't had much time to blog lately. Fortunately, John's posts have been timely and insightful as usual.

What's been keeping me away from the blog is my novel-in-progress, which I've mentioned in passing. I've been working on this thing for over six months now, but only since mid-June have I actually been writing the book. If that doesn't make any sense, I'm not surprised. It didn't make much sense to me either at first, but I'm glad I spent those first several months researching, taking notes and just plain ol' thinkin'.

By mid-June I felt I was ready to actually start with Chapter 1. And all my pre-research and notetaking has helped me fly through it so far. I've tried to keep myself on a fairly regimented schedule of writing at least 1,000 words a day, and on August 2 I started keeping a log to chart my progress. Looking back on that log, I only missed my goal twice, once when I had out-of-town family visiting and I didn't write at all.

Here's a peek at my book log:

Sunday, Aug. 2: 1,163 words.
Monday, Aug. 3: 1,980 words.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: 958 words.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: 2,122 words.
Thurdsay, Aug. 6: 1,060 words.
Friday, Aug. 7: 1,222 words.
Saturday, Aug. 8: No work done.
Sunday, Aug. 9: 1,334 words.
Monday, Aug. 10: 1,932 words.
Tuesday, Aug. 11: 1,384 words.
Wednesday, Aug. 12: 1,648 words.
Thursday, Aug. 13: 1,102 words.
Friday, Aug. 14: 1,130 words.

When I started keeping the log at the beginning of August, I had written 10,473 words in my novel. Today, two weeks later, my count is 27,508.

My goal for the book is between 40,000 and 50,000 words. That means I'm on the downhill slide, and I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But a strange thing has happened to my subconscous since mid-June when I pretty much made myself a full-time novelist. The characters I created have started to become real to me. I think about them all the time. The other night I had a dream about one of them (he was inexplicably talking on the phone with Pete Rose!). I've run across numerous situations in my writing when I say to myself, "No, that character wouldn't do that."

I'm beginning to understand Henry Waugh a little better. Waugh is the title character of "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop." His life revolves around a fictional baseball game he's created. Eventually, the game takes over his mind.

A review will be forthcoming, I promise. But I'm gonna keep plugging away at this book. If I can keep to my goal of 1,000 words per day, I think I can have a first draft completed by my birthday, Sept. 15 (which happens to be a milestone for me - 30 - and a damn sore subject now because my wife keeps picking on me about it). But I've given myself a little bit of leeway for unexpected circumstances. My ultimate goal for having a first draft finished is Oct. 17, which is my wife's birthday (she won't be turning 30).

If the characters in my head don't take over, I'll try to post again as soon as I can.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The silly season of politics returns, just when you thought it was safe... Swift Boats and death planels

We have certainly entered the silly season in politics. Just when you thought it was safe to come out of the bomb shelter, after the crazy months of primary campaigning, just a few months into Barack Obama's first term, the honeymoon ends and the silly season begins, yet again.

It's enough to make you wonder if American politics will ever be serious again. The very notion that somehow the American system could be coerced into creating something like death panels, or death counselors, is absurd. But absurd, in the silly season, sells.

Somebody in America will go for anything. And if that somebody has access to a blog, let alone radio waves, others will go for the same malarkey. And then the damage is done. You can refute absurd claims until you're blue in the face. They stick. It's amazing, but they stick.

I read a poll a couple of years ago which suggested nearly half of New Yorkers believe 911 was a setup. These are, presumably, the same people who think government can't possibly run any portion of health care. Let me get this straight; the same government which can engineer something as spectacular as 911 can't get your doctor paid for your colonoscopy.

I interviewed a fellow once who was the supreme commander of some strange political sect which didn't believe in paying taxes but did believe they have the power to make citizen arrests. He was a believer in the old Tri-lateral Commission conspiracy. I talked with him about it for two hours, took notes, listened attentively, did my best not to betray amusement. It is difficult to be amused when the person you're interviewing has a shotgun within arm's reach and a German shepherd is lying at your feet in the very space you figure you might make your retreat.

When it was finally time to conclude the interview, and we stood up to shake hands, he looked me in the eye with genuine sincerity, and he said this: "John, if you ever get into this, I mean really get into this, be carefully, because it can take your mind."

I think he meant that as a sincere warning. What he meant was that the deeper you got into conspiratorial thinking the farther you got from reality, and the more terrifying the world seemed. That's where we are headed, just as fast as we can run.

Perhaps this current mania is reaction to the election of our first black president. For many, this has turned the world upside down. This is not necessarily racism; it may just be a reaction to the earth shifting beneath their feet. And unfortunately, Swift Boating candidates -- good American candidates -- and Swift Boating ideas -- sincere American ideas -- is nothing new for us, but finds a much greater, more gullible perhaps, audience in the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle.

The good thing is the semester will begin soon. The only hope, lies in education. At least in the classroom, we'll be doing something to combat yet another silly season.

-- Lofflin

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Three strikes and you're Oat! 2004 Cards lose to 1912 Pirates!

If you’re reading "The Universal Baseball Association," and you should be, then you must see this video about the APBA on the New York Times Website:


Monday, August 10, 2009

Strong performances

Beautiful photo, John. It's such a strong image.

The photo, as well as some great movies I've been watching lately, have been inspirational to me. I thought I'd post today about some of those movies, particularly performances by certain actors in those films.

In my humble opinion, these are the strongest performances by actors in movies. You know what I mean - roles that haunt you for days after you leave the theater or watch the DVD. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. In no particular order:

Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York." He was captivating on screen, probably the most riveting performance I've ever seen. Honorable mention goes to Liam Neeson in the same film; he was only on screen for maybe ten minutes, but he stood toe-to-toe with Bill the Butcher.

Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius in "Doubt." Incredible performance. Yesterday my wife and I saw Streep in the new film "Julie & Julia." Check it out. Streep was terrific as usual, but "Doubt" is her best in several years.

Paul Newman as Hud O'Bannon in "Hud." Newman is great in everything, but as the evil Hud, he reached new highs - or should I saw lows? Newman also gives terrific performances in "The Verdict," "The Hustler," and my personal favorite, "Cool Hand Luke," plus the two films he did with Robert Redford: "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting."

Heath Ledger as The Joker in "The Dark Knight." This might be a trendy pick, but seriously, Ledger was phenomenal in that movie.

Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett in "Philadelphia." And really, everything else he's been in. There's a great scene in the movie "Road to Perdition" where Hanks' character kills Paul Newman's character. Right before, though, Newman says to Hanks, "I'm glad it's you." Watch that scene and tell me that's not Newman, in one of his last roles, passing the torch to Hanks.

Gosh, there's so many more. Please, please add your own in the comments section. I'd love to get a long list going.

One last thing I might point out - notice how several of the roles I listed above are villians? Bill the Butcher, The Joker, Hud O'Bannon were all the "bad guys" in those films. Interesting...

-- Matt Kelsey

Saturday, August 8, 2009

This is MY Hummer; aren't you jealous

Photo: John Lofflin

This is MY Hummer. I made this image last August, and, right on time, she's back this year.

This is the joy of my summer. Listening to all the static about health care mobs (free speech is sometimes ugly -- live with it), John Bolton on why we should have let the two journalists stay in jail (who didn't know he hates journalists? -- if only these two had worked for FOX news instead of the dreaded Al Gore...), trials of dissidents in Iran (Will get fooled again), the Manny and David show, well-crafted (boiler plate?) confessions of football player thugs, and, don't forget, daily broadcasts of the 2009 Kansas City Royals nightmare (Nightmare on Brett Avenue, coming to a theater near you), after all that, standing at the window or sitting on the front porch and watching one of these magnificent creatures dart through the air is an instant reminder we are probably not the best adapted species on the planet.

All intellectualizing aside, it is just glorious to watch them at work, and at such close distances.

This Hummer, by the way, moves like a dart in all directions, has no competitors, and exhibits perfect fuel efficiency.

-- Lofflin

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Don't miss the PPS added at 6 p.m. -- Bill Clinton brings home freed journalists from North Korea; a reminder of other hostages, other times

Back to the real world from the world of sports, briefly.

Watching the dramatic images this morning as former president Bill Clinton brought the two American journalist back to their families in California. Laura Ling and Euna Lee had been sentenced to 12 years hard labor behind North Korea's rusted shut Iron Curtain. Thank God, this time diplomacy won.

I'm reminded of a journey three local people made in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis. The three people were Norman Forer, Charles Dillingham, and Muriel Paul. Forer led the group. Forer, a University of Kansas social work professor, had embarked on similar missions before but this mission was particularly difficult given he and the others had no official backing from the White House. Unlike the former president, they took on this mission simply as concerned citizens not knowing what charges might be leveled against them when they returned.

I was working on the story under tremendous deadline pressure. My sister was a student of Dr. Forer and she arranged an exclusive interview with three travelers who had just returned home. Hostages were still being held. No other Americans had yet visited. I was writing for City Magazine at the time, and covering a breaking story on a magazine deadline is a difficult. So difficult, that when I finished writing the story I dictated it to a typesetter in Denver, with my editor on the line editing in real time.

I learned one important journalistic lesson right way in the story. If you can help it, never interview more than one person at a time. This interview happened on a Thursday night. We met at Dr. Forer's home in Lawrence, Kans. If I remember correctly, I brought two yellow legal pads to take notes, and filled them both, including the cardboard backs. I remember slipping into the bathroom occasionally to splash water on my face to try to stay awake.

I went home with my notes, never quite sure who said what in the interview, and worked feverishly without sleep to put the story together. I was working against a Saturday night deadline. I slept about four hours when I finished writing and I got up full of hope and no small measure of ego. I would actually be able to file this story early, maybe even by noon Saturday if the editing went well.

Was I in for a rude awakening! The story I had written in a fever was limp as a child when her fever breaks. It was full of politics, it had plenty to say, but , as a story, it was dead. It was one long polemic. I was so angry I tore up the manuscript and I went out for a drive. I may, or may not, have stopped for a beer. When I come back I looked through the story again and I realized the lede was burried on page 14 of the 19-page manuscript.

In fact nothing on the first 14 pages made it to the final version.

On page 14 I had the trio of Midwesterners careening through the streets of Tehran in a Jeep driven by a 14-year-old Revolutionary Guard with an M-16 strapped to his back. The Jeep delivered these private statesmen -- traveling without authorization of the United States government -- to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, where they told me they discovered the telephone in the elevator was plated in gold, a reminder of the extravagant dictator Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi , who had been deposed by the Revolutionary Guard.

Across the street, they said, tours were being given of the torture chambers of the Shah's secret police.

Here, dear reader, insert the lyrics to The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." You know the line: "Meet the new boss / same as the old boss..."

Let's see. That 14-year-old Jeep driver is 42 years old today, if he is still alive. If he is still a member of the Revolutionary Guard, and if recent news reports are correct, his comrades are now the ones dealing out brutality on their fellow citizens.

One thing we see playing out in Iran is this: No revolution is safe from itself. Brutality exists, in the same way locusts return every summer and famine is always somewhere. We are, at rock bottom, a brutal species of animal.

The three Midwesterners did not free the hostages, as Bill Clinton did. However, they did, through my story and stories written by others, offer Americans more perspective on how and why the Iranian revolution happened. When I think of Iran, I think of the support we gave the Shah, its cruel dictator. When I think of Iraq, I think of the support we once gave Saddam.

And, I'm left to say we will probably be fooled again.

Meanwhile, It's ok to shed a tear for Hannah Lee, reunited with her mother after 140 terrible days.

--Lofflin -- more on this later this afternoon

I want to add a few quotes from the article I wrote in 1980 that are still important today. This is what Dr. Forer said to me about the trip. What he said is significant because Bill Clinton's trip was private diplomacy only in name. Dr. Forer, Mr. Dillingham and Ms. Paul went toIran on their own dime, unsanctioned, and certainly concerned about what might happen to them when they returned home.

This is what Dr. Forer said:

"I feel that if I never do another thing in my life, I will have justified my existence on earth. We were the first rational voice for a peaceful settlement at a time when there was total madness.

"You have to remember that at the time we left (Iran, 1980) no one was talking peace. Our ships were steaming toward the Persian Gulf. The question being asked was not 'should there be intervention,' but 'what sort of intervention should there be?' That's what the debate was. And the response from the other side was, 'well I guess we have to arm 20 million people.'

"At that point we figured, as insignificant as we were, that we either could become passive victims of this idocracy, or we could do something, because it couldn't be worse. It was a long-shot, but there has to be a voice raised for peace.

"If you see a man drowning and you know how to swim, the most natural thing is to jump in and swim and grab that person. Not to do it would have been an indecency. It would have haunted us."

Lofflin again, peace. out

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Novel notes: "The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop."

"The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop." by Robert Coover is a book that I think probably resonates in some way with every male in the universe. And probably a lot of females, too.

If you've ever been so caught up in a video game that you couldn't wait until the next opportunity to play, this book is for you.

If you've ever created any kind of fantasy world for yourself, this book is for you.

If you've ever had a conversation with a voice in your head, this book is for you.

I've been guilty of all of those things. "The Universal Baseball Association" is the story of a man - J. Henry Waugh - who creates an extremely detailed fictional baseball universe through a dice game of his own invention.

Maybe more than any book I've reviewed so far, it's a bit of a simplification to call this a "baseball novel." In fact, Henry doesn't even like baseball that much. If anything, I'd call this a "math novel" or an "accounting novel." But don't let that turn you away from it.

What's striking to me about this book is how invested the reader becomes not only in Henry, but also in the "players" Henry creates in his game. It's sort of like a play-within-a-play situation.

It's a pretty fascinating book. The review is coming soon.

--Matt Kelsey

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Chiefs' new philosophy

Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed that the Kansas City Chiefs are being run by a bunch of assholes?

Now, I don't know any of them personally. But Scott Pioli and Todd Haley seem like incredible jerks. I don't know Clark Hunt either, but he hired these guys.

A football team run by assholes may not necessarily be unprecedented in KC. I get the impression Carl Peterson was in that category. Lamar Hunt had the public persona of being a sweet old man; maybe he was a jerk behind the scenes, though. I don't think anybody could rightly call Herm Edwards or Dick Vermiel by that name, but maybe Gunther Cunningham and Marty Schottenheimer.

But these new guys are a different breed altogether. Not only are they assholes; they're arrogant beyond all reasonability.

Todd Haley has never been the head coach of an NFL team. Scott Pioli has never been a GM. And Clark Hunt was never the owner before Lamar died. They're all new at this. Their arrogance is completely unearned.

As much as I hate to criticize reporters, the Kansas City sports press corps is carrying these guys around like they're infallible, conquering heroes (with the exception of Jason Whitlock and a few others who have called them out in the past). Come on, guys! They haven't proven anything yet!

I guess I would classify myself as a serious Royals fan, but my passion level for the Chiefs is lower, falling somewhere between serious and casual. It would be nearly impossible for anything to prevent me from rooting for the Royals (although I think all Royals fans are being tested this season). It's not likely that I would stop rooting for the Chiefs, but not impossible.

Watching this team run by Todd Haley and Scott Pioli is no longer fun. It doesn't really even seem like the Chiefs anymore, if that makes sense. It's like some strange group of guys came in to town, stole all the Chiefs jerseys and started parading around in them. Maybe that's a good thing. The old Chiefs kinda sucked. But at least they were a team I felt like rooting for.

These new guys... I just don't know.

--Matt Kelsey