Category: media

Shorter: Die of heat stroke for the planet

With excessive heat warnings and heat advisories in southern Wisconsin today and Saturday, surely Penelope Green of the New York Times knows better than us:

Modernity was born 116 years, 11 months, two weeks and two days ago, at a printing plant in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, when a junior engineer named Willis Carrier devised a contraption that blew air over water-filled pipes to dry out the humidity that was gumming up the pages of a humor magazine called Judge.

And in that moment (well, within a few decades), entire industries and geographies were transformed, and new technologies made possible, including, terribly, the internet: Without cooling, there would be no server farms.

Nearly 90 percent of American households now have some form of air-conditioning, more than any other country in the world except Japan, though that will change as global warming alters more temperate zones, and swelling populations and rising incomes in hot zones mean the folks there will clamor for AC, too.

On an overheated planet, air-conditioning becomes more and more desirable, solving in the short term the problem it helped create.

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What is not funny

Facebook Friend Michael Smith:

I was running today and was streaming iHeart radio on my phone and heard a statistic I had to check out.

There was a discussion of how our society and culture has lost its ability to laugh and it was suggested that a measure of that could be the revenue realized from comedy movies vs. all other types.

I didn’t hear the number they quoted, so I went to look for myself and dug up some interesting numbers.

It was 7.24%.

Versus 12.5% in 2016, 13.5% in 2008 and 19.6% in 2000.

Of course, some of the action and adventure movies had comedy in them but for the pure definition, 92.76% of all movies in 2018 were NOT classified as comedies.

And it looks like America is about 64% less humorous as we were in 2000. In 18 years, we have lost two thirds of our funny.

I was surprised but not surprised – surprised that the number was that low but not really after looking at the comedy movies that were released in 2018.

They all pretty much sucked.

The leading revenue generator was “Night School” with Kevin Hart.

Given that there are almost no TV comedies (at least none that don’t bash hetero men, have a stereotypical gay character or have a political agenda) that are even mildly interesting or funny and SNL is truly awful in so many ways, there is a distinct lack of comedic production in the United States.

I didn’t think a lot about how to quantify it but I could feel it. Back about 6 months or so ago, I wrote what follows, titled “What Happened to the Happy?”:

“Over the past couple of weeks, few random thoughts and observations have been ricocheting around in my quite spacious empty skull like a marble in an empty paint can.

– If America is not to be allowed to judge the cultures of others, then other cultures are not to be allowed to judge America.

– If you think policies pursued by former presidents are now bad because they are pursued by the current president, the problem isn’t the current president, it’s you.

– America seems to be losing its sense of humor, and while it is appropriate to be serious about truly serious things, what many in America consider serious are ridiculous. It seems a minority of our country believes they have a solution and spend all their waking hours looking for problems that solution can solve…and in the process, making most Americans 100% miserable.

To me, the first two are sort of basic logic and reason. It’s the last one that really bothers me – and at the risk of a double entendre – it’s not even funny.

Losing our sense of humor is something that seems unusual in American history – one of the interesting aspects of the most difficult and dangerous times in American history, wars- and particularly WWII, gave rise to great comedians, actors and musicians – Bob Hope, George Burns, Red Buttons, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, the Andrews Sisters, Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Richard Burton, Kirk Douglas, Clark Cable, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart – and Ronald Reagan to name a few…

Our entertainment industry has bought into the idea that they need to push the postmodernist agenda…and therein lies the problem. If everything is serious enough to be an issue, then nothing is funny. Many established comedians have stopped playing college venues due to this very fact – and as a result, the comedy institutions are producing young comedians who just aren’t funny, at least not to the majority of America.

Where are people like the original SNL cast, “The Not Ready For Prime-Time Players” – Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase (even though Chevy Chase has turned into a bitter old man) or the original SCTV cast – John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis, and Dave Thomas? Where are comedians like Cheech and Chong, Richard Pryor, and Eddie Murphy?

Where is the new Mel Brooks – for Christ’s sake, this man made arguably the funniest movie of all time, Blazing Saddles, a movie based on lampooning racial stereotypes. He even made a movie called “The Producers”, the central plot of which revolved around putting on a Broadway musical titled “Springtime for Hitler”.

Can you even imagine a film like “Blazing Saddles” getting green lit by Hollywood today?

Never happen.

As I told one of my kids, when you succumb to the postmodernist idea that there are no objective standards, that truth is relative and that opinions are equal in weight to facts, it should come as no surprise that people will be offended by anything and everything can be construed to fit any narrative. It just so happens that most of the narratives today are negative and designed to punish.

This is not to say America doesn’t have serious problems – because it does – but the attention given to issues created by the social justice postmodernists is taking time away from working on the real issues and without humor, the relief needed to deal with the true seriousness is missing.

What we need is a healthy dose of MAFA – Make America Funny Again.”

It seems the quantification agrees with the feeling I had last year.

If you’ve lost NPR …

Kira Davis:

The news cycle recently has been nonstop talk about Trump’s “racist” tweets and the fallout that ensued. A lot of arguing has been going on about what exactly makes them racist, with many of the usual subjects complaining that the Right is defending a “white supremacist” and even many on the Right denouncing the tweet storm as unacceptable.

One NPR opinion writer raised a few hackles when he suggested that those journalists reporting on Trump should refrain from using descriptors like “racist”.

Keith Woods is Vice President of Newsroom Training and Diversity at NPR. After the outlet made a corporate decision to use the term “racist” when describing Trump’s tweets, Woods felt the mandate violated journalistic practice and penned an op ed explaining why he thinks journalists should refrain from using the term.

I understand the moral outrage behind wanting to slap this particular label on this particular president and his many incendiary utterances, but I disagree. Journalism may not have come honorably to the conclusion that dispassionate distance is a virtue. But that’s the fragile line that separates the profession from the rancid, institution-debasing cesspool that is today’s politics.

It is precisely because journalism is given to warm-spit phrases like “racially insensitive” and “racially charged” that we should not be in the business of moral labeling in the first place. Who decides where the line is that the president crossed? The headline writer working today who thinks it’s “insensitive” or the one tomorrow who thinks it’s “racist?” Were we to use my moral standards, the line for calling people and words racist in this country would have been crossed decades ago. But that’s not what journalists do. We report and interview and attribute.

Or as Limbaugh puts it, be of good cheer

Gregg Easterbrook has some nice Monday observations:

News, commentary and academia are all-negative all-the-time. The latest Gallup poll shows only 36 percent of Americans are “satisfied with the way things are going,” versus 71 percent 20 years ago. Yet in the main, the United States has never been better off.

Across the globe there is horrible war in a few places, and backsliding regarding liberty in China and other nations. Yet in the main, the world has never been better off.

How do we reconcile such conflicting realities?

My book It’s Better Than It Looks comes to the counterintuitive conclusion that the world shows positive trend lines in nearly all major areas.

The reason I wrote this book is that evidence of a better world is beginning to accumulate. Our understanding of life ought to be based on observation of the new factual evidence, not on old doomsday assumptions or political scare-mongering.

Because academics, politicians, pundits and cable news are inclined to embrace pessimism, a feedback loop is created: we keep telling ourselves things are terrible, even as evidence of the reverse accumulates.

Is it really better than it looks? Crime, disease rates, discrimination and pollution (other than greenhouse gases) are in extended phases of decline. Longevity, education and living standards have been rising. Unemployment and inflation both are near historic lows; supplies of food and resources are high. Technology grows steadily safer rather than more dangerous.

Though there are heartbreaking exceptions such as Syria, incidence and intensity of war are in a quarter-century cycle of diminishing. During the last 25 years, the chance that a member of the human family would become a casualty of war has dropped to less than a tenth of what it was in the century before.

Most striking, freedom from want, one of the Four Freedoms sought by Franklin Roosevelt, draws ever-closer. In 1990, more than a third of humanity endured what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty. Today that share is down to 10 percent — despite about 1.5 billion people added to the global census during the period.

Just before leaving office, Barack Obama said, “If you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born, you’d choose now… the world has never, collectively, been wealthier, better educated, healthier or less violent than it is today. That’s hard to imagine given what we see in the news, but it’s true.”

Does optimism lead to complacency? Far from it: optimism offers the strongest case for the next round of reform.

The reason pollution, discrimination and violence are declining, while longevity, education levels and economic output are rising, is that social, business and regulatory reforms have worked.

More reforms are needed now to counter climate change and inequality; address shortages of affordable housing; treat refugees properly; close the racial and gender pay gaps. Embracing the positive worldview leads ineluctably to favoring such reforms.

Of course there are men and women with serious problems. But as It’s Better Than It Looks says, “Most people across the world live better than any generation in the past, and trends of improvement are likely to continue.”

Accepting the accumulating evidence that most global conditions are improving means rejecting the reactionary claims of the world’s declinists and autocrats. We need to snap out of the pessimistic mindset — and get down to work on making the world even better.

“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

The New York Daily News:

Ex-Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton was a 20-game winner, won two World Series games, spent 10 years in the big leagues — and made a bigger impact with a pen in his hand than a baseball.

The author of the groundbreaking hardball tell-all “Ball Four” died Wednesday following a battle with a brain disease linked to dementia, according to friends of the family. The Newark, N.J., native was in the Massachusetts home he shared with his wife Paula Kurman after weeks of hospice care. He was 80.

Bouton, who made his Major League debut in 1962, threw so hard in his early years that his cap routinely flew off his head as he released the ball. By the time he reached the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, the sore-armed Bouton reinvented himself as a knuckleballer.

Bouton spent that season collecting quotes, notes and anecdotes about life in the big leagues for his acclaimed book “Ball Four.” Released amid a storm of controversy, the account of Bouton’s tumultuous year was the only sports book cited when the New York Public Library drew up its list of the best books of the 20th century.

In “Ball Four,” Bouton exposed in great detail the carousing of Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, the widespread use of stimulants (known as “greenies”) in Major League locket rooms, and the spectacularly foul mouth of Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz.

“Amphetamines improved my performance about five percent,” Bouton once observed. “Unfortunately, in my case that wasn’t enough.”

But the book caused most of his old teammates to ostracize him, and he was blackballed from Yankees events for nearly 30 years until the team in 1998 invited Bouton to the annual Old-Timers Day event.

Bouton, across his 10-year pro career, posted a mediocre lifetime record of 62-63, with an ERA of 3.57.

But for two seasons, on the last of the great 1960s Yankees teams of Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford, Bouton emerged as a top-flight pitcher.

In 1963, he went 21-7 with six shutouts and lost a 1-0 World Series decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Drysdale. A year later, Bouton’s record was 18-13 with a 3.02 ERA and he won a pair of World Series starts against the St. Louis Cardinals.

And then he developed a sore arm in 1965 that derailed a promising career that started just three years earlier. Bouton’s career ended after the 1970 season with the Houston Astros, although he returned for a five-game cameo with the Atlanta Braves in 1978.

Post-baseball, Bouton became a local sportscaster with WABC-TV and then WCBS-TV on the evening news, enjoying ratings success at both stops.

Ball Four was a book unlike any other in baseball until it was published, but you knew that.

How the truth is no fun

Readers have probably heard the line that the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

Well, not always, if the word “sense” involves in some sense truth. Author Ron Franscell claims that what crime fiction connoisseurs believe about crime may not be accurate:

Between your gullibility, urban legends and Hollywood, you’ve swallowed a lot of, um, bull about crime, cops, and courts. You’ve consumed so much crapola that I’m surprised you aren’t on Ducky’s slab. But here are some fabrications, fables, and fairy tales about forensics and felonious foolishness (not to mention wrongful alliteration) that you’ve accepted as gospel since the first season of “Starsky and Hutch.”

MYTH #10: Serial killers run rampant

FACT: Every year, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are murdered in the US. Of those, only about 1% are committed by serial killers, according to FBI statistics. By comparison, four times as many murders are committed by spouses. The lesson is clear: You’re screwed if you marry a serial killer.

Myth #9: You have a right to one phone call

FACT: Not necessarily. You have certain constitutional rights when you’re arrested, but not a phone call. At last count, only 11 states grant an arrested suspect either a right to one phone call or to communicate with a lawyer or loved one upon booking. In other states, it’s a decision left to a city or county to set its own policies. And that goes for texting, too. And definitely for sexting.

Myth #8: Cops are laid back and indifferent—even glib—at horrible crime scenes

FACT: It makes for interesting TV when a detective or medical examiner blithely sips his Starbucks and wisecracks with his partner while surrounded by dismembered corpses. But cops are people, too. No matter how many bloody crime scenes they’ve worked, the horror of slaughtered people—especially kids—always affects them. Crime scenes are grisly, murders are ugly. No matter how many crime shows you’ve watched, nothing on TV can compare to the real thing. Good cops learn to compartmentalize the revulsion, but that doesn’t mean it has no effect. Think you’re tougher than all that? Take a whiff of a decomposing body and keep your lunch down. I dare you.

Myth #7: You might wake up in a bloody tub missing your kidneys

FACT: You’ve heard the story at a cocktail party, right? A friend of somebody’s cousin’s hairdresser got drunk in a crowded bar and met a hottie. Things get randy and they get a room. Then the guy wakes up in the hotel bathtub, immersed in icy water, with a note on the toilet: “We’ve taken your kidneys. Call 9-1-1 or die.” It’s an urban legend. It has never happened to anybody. A hoax. And everybody knows your heart is worth more in the global organ black market.

Moreover, according to Hannibal Lecter, your liver is tastier, particularly served with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Myth #6: Cops have fabulous computers, databases, and fancy war rooms

FACT: No, they don’t. Maybe their computers are better than yours, but they still freeze up. Nobody has the glitzy, big-screen murder boards and super-databases where, with a few clicks, they can learn what toppings you had on your pizza last Friday. It’s a TV fantasy. Sorta like the quirky TV forensic chicks who can zoom in on surveillance video to see the species of bugs on a passing car’s windshield. Almost no law enforcement agency has the cash or tech savvy to do what you see on a typical prime-time cop show. Just imagine how Barney Fife’s life would be different today if Mayberry had an Abby Sciutto.

Myth #5: Criminal profilers catch bad guys

FACT: TV has really messed up crime-fighting. It treats profilers as half clairvoyant and half SWAT team. Profiling ain’t anywhere as glamorous or involved in busting bad guys as “Criminal Minds” would make you believe. Profilers never finger actual bad guys; profiling merely helps investigators narrow the pool of suspects—a little. It’s more like this: Some former psych majors who know something about criminology drop in to the squad room, deliver a list of traits their “unknown subject” (UnSub) probably exhibits, then leave. The real work is done by real cops with real guns.

Is profiling magical? Nope. Some recent studies show that Joe Blow is almost as good at it. Hey, a wisecracking, beer-drinking TV profiler named Joe Blow…

Myth #4: Medical examiners can tell pretty precisely when you died

FACT: Nope. “Time of death” is a best guess. We often see TV coroners and medical examiners doing some quickie liver poking, which results in a fairly precise determination of when the death happened. TV has only 47 minutes or so (with those annoying commercials) to solve a case, so the writers can’t waste precious seconds with science-y stuff. There’s just no time for the real ways to determine a body’s expiration, such as body temperature, rigor mortis, lividity, decomposition, stomach contents, cloudiness of the corneas, potassium levels in eyeballs, insect activity, and crime-scene artifacts.

Myth #3: DNA is precise and infallible

FACT: It’s pretty cool but reports of DNA’s effectiveness are greatly exaggerated by … wait for it … TV. The illusion is so complete that there’s something called the “CSI effect,” which causes a lot of jurors and judges in criminal trials to believe DNA is incontrovertible evidence of guilt (or that its absence is a major forensic and prosecutorial failure). Fact is, fewer than 1% of all major crimes like murder, rape, and assault are solved with DNA. Old-fashioned fingerprints actually provide slightly better evidence.

Myth #2: Lie detectors detect all lies.

FACT: Nope. Too many factors prevent polygraph examinations from being infallible. The questions, the skill of the examiner, even the quality of the machine all play a role. In fact, even if you know nothing about beating a lie-detector test, you have better than a 1-in-10 chance of passing when you’re lying your ass off.

Myth #1: Typing your PIN backwards at the ATM will summon the cops

FACT: Nope. Another urban legend. Think about it: if somebody’s holding a gun to your head, how likely are you to even remember your PIN frontwards, much less backwards? Even if your ATM alerted cops, the bad guy would likely be long gone with your money and you’d be dead before they arrived. And wouldn’t robbers get wise about all that fumbling around? Here’s a test: Thumb-type on your iPhone the last four digits of your Social Security number backwards … then text it to me.

Now that you’ve had your gullibility, urban legends and Hollywood beliefs shattered, I’ll add one: Journalism is boring to watch take place.

 

Trump and the Times

James Freeman:

This column has been hoping for a few years that the discourse conducted by the President of the United States would always remain above that occurring in the pages of the New York Times. But such hopes seem unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon.

Times publisher A.G. Sulzbergerwrites in a Journal op-ed [Thursday] about the latest reckless rhetoric from Donald Trump:

First it was “the failing New York Times.” Then “fake news.” Then “enemy of the people.” President Trump’s escalating attacks on the New York Times have paralleled his broader barrage on American media. He’s gone from misrepresenting our business, to assaulting our integrity, to demonizing our journalists with a phrase that’s been used by generations of demagogues.

Now the president has escalated his attacks even further, accusing the Times of a crime so grave it is punishable by death.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump said the Times had committed “a virtual act of treason.” The charge, levied on Twitter , was in response to an article about American cyber incursions into the Russian electrical grid that his own aides had assured our reporters raised no national-security concerns…

Treason is the only crime explicitly defined in the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers knew the word’s history as a weapon wielded by tyrants to justify the persecution and execution of enemies. They made its definition immutable—Article III reads: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”—to ensure that it couldn’t be abused by politicians for self-serving attacks on rivals or critics. The crime is almost never prosecuted, but Mr. Trump has used the word dozens of times.

This column agrees with Mr. Sulzberger’s message and hopes it will be amplified and advanced by better messengers.

There also remains the hope that Mr. Sulzberger’s employees will consider living by the standards he demands of the President.

“Trump, Treasonous Traitor” was the headline on a Times column by Charles M. Blow in July of 2018. Wrote Mr. Blow:

Put aside whatever suspicions you may have about whether Donald Trump will be directly implicated in the Russia investigation.

Trump is right now, before our eyes and those of the world, committing an unbelievable and unforgivable crime against this country. It is his failure to defend.

The astounding argument was that even if the Russia collusion conspiracy theory fell apart—as it did eight months later with the completion of the Mueller report—it was still reasonable to accuse Mr. Trump of treason because his administration was insufficiently tough on Russia, in the estimation of Charles M. Blow. With sledgehammer subtlety, the Times columnist added that “America is being betrayed by its own president” and reiterated that “Trump is a traitor”.

Treason has been a recurring theme at the Times. “Already, Trump has flirted with treason,” wrote Timothy Egan shortly before Mr. Trump took office in January of 2017. By July of that year columnist Maureen Dowd seems to have concluded that the Trump administration had gone fully medieval:

Wicked siblings willing to do anything for power. Secret deals with sworn enemies. The shock of a dead body. A Wall. Foreign bawds, guns for hire, and snakes. Back-stabbing, betrayal and charges of treason. Little birds spying and tattling. A maniacal mad king and his court of scheming, self-absorbed princesses and princelings, swathed in the finest silk and the most brazen immorality, ruling with total disregard for the good of their people.

The night in Washington is dark and full of terrors. The Game of Trump has brought a pagan lawlessness never before seen in the capital.

Perhaps readers were gratified to see a Times columnist go on record against pagan lawlessness, but the talk of treason continued. “When the President Isn’t A Patriot,” read one 2017 Times headline. The story now appears online under the headline: “Odds Are, Russia Owns Trump.” “The Real Coup Plot Is Trump’s” was another 2017 Times doozy.

Times Columnist Paul Krugman has been peppering his screeds with treason references for years. But instead of simply assailing the President he prefers to accuse tens of millions of other Americans of being willing to sell out their country.

In a 2017 Times blog post entitled, “The New Climate Of Treason,” Mr. Krugman wrote that “essentially the whole GOP turns out to be OK with the moral equivalent of treason if it benefits their side in domestic politics.”

In another piece that year the Times fixture wrote that his partisan opponents appeared to be willing to betray their country not just for power, but for money as well. In “Judas, Tax Cuts and the Great Betrayal,” Mr. Krugman wrote that “almost an entire party appears to have decided that potential treason in the cause of tax cuts for the wealthy is no vice.”

By 2018, Mr. Krugman was so busy making separate accusations about the millions of Americans who disagree with him that he almost didn’t have room to include an allegation of treason. But he somehow managed to find the space:

For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what they got, with corruption, incompetence, and treason on the side.

Treason on the side. Just a casual step across the line that the Times publisher rightly scores the President for crossing. Mr. Krugman has so thoroughly convinced himself of the wickedness of people who disagree with him that he now asserts that one of America’s two main political parties “will do anything, even betray the nation, in its pursuit of partisan advantage.”

Here’s hoping that both the President and the opinion writers at the New York Times will choose their words more carefully.

When old sports announcers get together

I just finished four weeks of announcing spring sports on the radio, with two games in the WIAA state baseball tournament in Grand Chute.

The word “spring” should be in scare quotes, because in several games the weather was only spring-like because the calendar says it’s spring. Two games featured temperatures in the 40s, spitting rain and high winds. Of course, this being Wisconsin, two days the weather was perfectly fine — partly cloudy and in the 70s.

The state baseball tournament was highlighted, if that’s what you want to call it, by a seven-hour rain delay between games on day two, which forced two Division 2 semifinals to move to first thing Thursday, with one of them being played at Appleton West. That is what can happen when you try to jam six baseball games into one day. You hope for no rain, but this spring that has been a forlorn hope.

I’m glad I got the work in, not merely for financial reasons, but because baseball and softball are two sports in which I have done relatively little work, and therefore probably need to improve the most. I still do not really have a home run call, though those are possibly overrated. (Marty Brennaman is retiring this year after 46 years announcing the Cincinnati Reds, and he’s never had a consistent home run call.) I did get to use a phrase from the late Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell (which may have pleased the stations’ market manager, a Michigan native), when an opposing pitcher struck out looking: “He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched it go by.”

We got to use the home radio booth at Fox Cities Stadium, though we shared it with another announcer (more about him presently) and TV people from Eau Claire and Rhinelander. The TV kids (they were young enough to be our sons) had to sit through an aspect of the game identified by Bob Costas, that baseball is the best hanging-around sport there is. In the majors and minors, people hang around the batting cages, watch batting practice and shoot the breeze. At state between games, announcers sit in the press box and throw out top-this stories with other announcers and media types.

My contribution, as readers would expect, was what I call The Wauzeka Incident (fellow announcer takes on press box stairs, and everyone loses), which involved someone who was at state, who before Wauzeka failed to follow the teacher admonition to not lean back on your chair, with predictably injurious results, during a game. A discussion about worst weather to announce in included, on my part, announcing a football game on the roof of a press box in 50-mph winds, followed by a baseball game during a tornado warning. (Which was then delayed for two days.)

I also mentioned my one radio soccer experience, which included a not-great performance by myself and the high school goalie/color guy, who doubles as my oldest son. I think we were bailed out by the fact the game went to overtime and penalty kicks. Once again in my case, a not-great announcing job got bailed out by the quality of the game. (Kind of like my first radio volleyball experience.)

The announcer who followed us Thursday got to call a tight state championship game, which included this seventh inning. The previous night, their team’s top pitcher threw a five-inning no-hitter. The next afternoon (with his broadcast running against his need to get home for an important 5 p.m. dinner date), his team’s pitcher ran out of pitches in the seventh inning. (High school pitchers have to stop pitching after 100 pitches, a rule that is supposed to prevent arm injuries, but also leads to unintended consequences.) The team’s third pitcher came on, with the score tied and runners on base, but only threw a few pitches before he grabbed his pitching elbow and had to leave with an injury. So the team’s fourth pitcher came on, in a tied state championship game in the top of the seventh inning. Six runs later, the road team won the title.

The story I can add to my yet-to-be-published unauthorized autobiography includes the first night in a hotel, in which I was awakened at 2:45 a.m. by someone retching somewhere outside our room. That’s 2:45 on an early Wednesday morning. (Presumably outside the hotel too, but I didn’t feel like getting up to check.)

One thing I managed to do was to get my father’s old band, of which you have read here, mentioned on, of all things, a rock radio station’s Facebook page. The morning show asked listeners to give a weird fact about their father in five words. It should have been “Southern Wisconsin’s first rock band’s first piano player,” but editing required “First Wisconsin rock band pianist.” That may have made people wonder who in the world that was. We also discovered, to our chagrin, that the Appleton pizza restaurant we visited last year (with me bringing back a pizza for our family) and wanted to visit this year was closed due to lack of employees.

If you ever wanted to know what sports announcers do between games, you just read what we do between games.

 

Our man Wick

One feature of college basketball team bus rides is their movies.

Most of the movies I’ve seen on their road trips were movies I wouldn’t have chosen to watch (if you’ve seen one of “The Hangover” movies, you’ve seen them all), but most were entertaining enough. The road trip movies also allowed a father of pre-teen children to screen movies the kids might see before they saw them. “The Wolf of Wall Street” was an excellent movie that, I vowed, there was no way the kids would watch.

On one UW–Platteville men’s road trip, I saw the movie “John Wick,” which broke a Hollywood convention identified by film critic Roger Ebert: (Spoiler alert!) The hero’s dog died early in the movie, which propelled the plot. (Possibly ironically I saw the movie the day after our Siamese cat, Mocha, died. It didn’t generate any more emotion than fiction usually does since I usually can tell the difference between real life and fiction — the latter is supposed to make sense.)

John Wick is played by Keanu Reeves in a role that made Reeves an older action star much like Liam Neeson suddenly became an action star through “Taken.”

Sonny Busch explores Wick further:

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is something out of a fairy tale. Literally: He is referred to as “baba yaga” or boogeyman. When his exploits are whispered of, the stories are both ridiculous yet seemingly plausible — killing three men with a pencil in a bar sounds absurd at first, but when you consider the possibilities that a small sharpened implement offers for harm, is it that crazy?

The simplicity of Wick’s story — he seeks vengeance against those who stole his car and killed his dog, which was a gift from his dead wife — combined with his skill with guns and knives (and writing implements) foreground his legend. However, in the background of the “John Wick” films, writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski have crafted a world of mythical references and religious symbolism that suggest Wick harkens to a line of legends and folk heroes. His is the latest face of the monomyth. And the charmingly goofy Keanu Reeves, whose accidental virality on social media has turned him into a different sort of legend, is the perfect actor to portray him.

Much has been made of the world-building in “John Wick” and its sequels. There are the gold coins the assassins trade with each other, which represent not fiscal but social currency, favors made solid. There’s the chain of Continental hotels, on the grounds of which no “business” (i.e., murder) can be conducted, and the High Table, a collection of the heads of the major crime syndicates. Wick’s world has been salted with other symbols, however: older, more primal notions.

His wife was Helen (Bridget Moynahan), whose best-known namesake launched a thousand ships. Note that the concierge of the New York Continental is named Charon (Lance Reddick), who students of mythology will recognize as the ferryman for the River Styx, the guide between the worlds of the living and the damned. The mute murderess in “John Wick: Chapter 2” is Ares (Ruby Rose), the Greek god of war who backed the wrong side in the conflict over Helen. The name of Sofia (Halle Berry), who helps Wick learn the path to the man above the High Table in “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” derives from “wisdom” in ancient Greek.

Similarly, there are echoes of Christian theology throughout Wick’s adventures.

Wick’s initial nemesis, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), posits that the bespoke-suited killer cannot get out of the business because he is the literal manifestation of God’s wrath. “In the end, a lot of us are rewarded for our misdeeds, which is why God took your wife and unleashed you upon me,” Viggo says. “This life follows you. It clings to you, infecting everyone who comes close to you. We are cursed, you and I.” In the second film, one of Wick’s victims cuts her wrists in a bathtub before sliding into the position of Christ on the cross — Gianna D’Antonio (Claudia Gerini) dies for Wick’s sins, her murder demanded by a man owed a favor that Wick cannot refuse.

And in “Parabellum,” Wick risks life and limb to obtain a hidden crucifix, a totem he takes back to the Belarusan orphanage that trained him in the deadly arts. He calls it a ticket — like the marker, this ticket can’t be refused — and demands passage to safety. Passage that is granted after the cross is heated over a fire and used to mark his flesh. Passage that eventually results in Wick taking a journey through the desert, past the point of human endurance, past thirst and hunger, to meet with a mysterious force who tempts him.

These mythical allusions and his travel along the hero’s journey are among the reasons Wick resonates as a modern folk hero — but the character’s personification by Keanu Reeves, accidental social media superstar, ensured he would be ensconced in the public consciousness. Reeves has become a modern legend in his own right. He’s a meme several times over: There’s Sad Keanu and its counterpart Happy Keanu; there’s Conspiracy Keanu and Whoa/Woah Keanu. There’s a Twitter account dedicated to Reeves doing things. He’s always happy to take a picture with fans or sign autographs for hapless cinema employees. If you’re unlucky enough to get stuck on a bus trip after your plane makes an emergency landing, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to have Reeves accompany you.

Da Crusher

Mike Hart:

It was the weekly ritual.

You go to church on Sunday and you’re nice and wholesome.

Then you rushed home to watch All-Star Wrestling — sanctioned by the AWA. The American Wrestling Association.

You then sat at the edge of your chair screaming as Milwaukee’s favorite son, the one, the only, The Crusher delivered eye gouges, rammed heads together and beat those bad guys from pillar to post.

As Crusher Fest approaches, lets take a trip down Memory Lane and review exactly why this cigar-chomping grappler deserves a statue as well as a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.

The interviews: You have to admire a gravel-voiced guy who had the vision and courage to make “Turkey neck” part of his everyday vocabulary. Every now and then, he’d blurt out “I’m gonna murder dat bum!” Obnoxious manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who had a habit of interfering in matches, was always referred to as “The Weasel.” And rightfully so.

The training: The Crusher often said that he got in shape by running along the lakefront while carrying a large full beer barrel over either shoulder. And then he’d dance polkas with the dollies all night long. If athletes in other sports used this training regimen, nobody would go on the injured list.

The rivalry: Forget Packers-Bears. If you wanted intensity, The Crusher against Mad Dog Vachon was it. Talk about your action. As the legendary Marty O’Neal used to say, “Fans, this is one you won’t want to miss.”

The gimmick matches: You can’t be a beer guzzler and not challenge guys to a Saloon Match. The Crusher took on a young Dusty Rhodes in this match where wrestlers were stationed outside the ring to throw the participants back in after they flew out or tried to run away. A few times, The Crusher teamed up with his “cousin” Dick The Bruiser and vertically-challenged wrestler The Little Bruiser against Lanza, Mulligan and Heenan. Somehow Bobby The Brain did not game plan for The Little Bruiser.

Acting ability: The Crusher appeared in the star-studded 1974 motion picture “The Wrestler” with such acting luminaries as Ed Asner, The Bruiser, British Empire champion Billy Robinson, Verne Gagne, Ray “The Crippler” Stevens, Harold Sakata as Odd Job and Roger Kent at ringside. The unthinkable happened afterward. This movie was snubbed by dem bums at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He also starred in a Byron’s Tires commercial where he folded a casing in half and yelled “Don’t be a turkey neck! Get your tires from Byron’s!” You know, being a turkey neck was worse than being a nerd.

The music: The Crusher once served as a conductor for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. In a perfect world, the song would have been “Beer Barrel Polka.” As a side note, you never saw Leonard Bernstein in a steel cage. Also, the Novas paid tribute to the wrestler who made Milwaukee famous by releasing a rock and roll song about him. It climbed to No. 88 on the Billboard chart. Maybe The Crusher should have bolo punched it higher. A lot of guys, not wanting to be turkey necks, learned the words and sang it in the shower to impress their significant others.

https://youtu.be/8UQ9bKBnIO4

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