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Friday, June 23, 2017

Rant #1,930 : Hot Fun In the Summertime



Yes, that is maybe my favorite song about the summer, from Sylvester Stewart and the Family Stone.

It conjures up such images in my head of days gone by that it is certainly in my personal top 100 songs, period.

And that leads me to this--

It is finally the summertime, and that means, it's vacation time, so this will be my last column for a while.

This year, my family is taking it a bit easier, so to speak, when we go on vacation.

This time around, we are not going on a cruise, and we are not going to Korea (but that wasn't a vacation, that was a trip, so it doesn't count).

We are going down south, so to speak, as these Yankees will be using I-95 and some other roads to move south for a few days.

We haven't had a vacation road trip in some time, and it is always fun to drive to different destinations out of your regular environs, so that is what we are going to do this time around.

One of our stops will be in Georgia, right outside of Atlanta, and we will be participating in some type of tour related to the TV show "The Walking Dead," which my wife is an absolutely huge fan of.

My son and I aren't into the show, but that doesn't mean we can't have fun going on the tour. I think there is a show-related restaurant that we will be visiting, and we have heard that show cast members often visit with tour goers, so it might be quite an interesting attraction to participate in.

We are also planning to go to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a short time. My son has wanted to go there for a few years, and we were going to visit last year, but Korea came up, and we had to scotch that trip, but this year, he is finally going to get his wish.

All told, we are only going to be gone a few days leading up to and into the July 4 celebration, so we actually won't be gone that long this time around.

We are looking forward to rest, relaxation, fun and really, just unwinding from the norm. The past year has featured a lot of high ups and a lot of low downs, and heck, with my work situation, this could be the last real vacation I take for quite a while, so I am planning to enjoy myself, no matter what we do.

This will all lead up to what we hope will be a good summer, with ballgames and concerts still to come after the vacation is over.

And we still have the backyard pool, so we plan on enjoying that this summer too.

And no, I have no idea who the lady in the photo is, but she seems to be having fun, and I guess when you are on vacation, that is all that really counts, anyway.

So bon voyage to my family and I, and I will be back in the saddle here on Wednesday, July 5, to continue to enthrall you in this, that and the other thing.

Have a good weekend, have a good week, and I will speak to you the day after Independence Day.

Classic Rant #584 (September 20, 2011): Mo, Mo, Mo


Mariano Rivera.

The name trickles off the tongue like a good pasta sauce.

Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer the game of baseball has ever seen. He solidified his place in sports history yesterday by recording his 602nd save as the Yankees downed the Twins, 6-4 in a makeup game played at Yankee Stadium.

Rivera has had a truly remarkable career. Coming up through the Yankees minor league system during the dark days of the franchise--the early 1990s were not kind to the team from the Bronx--this scrawny kid with a blazing fastball came up to the Yankees in 1994 as, believe it or not, a starting pitcher.

He was not tall and was lean, but had that mean fastball. Some likened him to Ron Guidry, the Yankees' great starting pitcher who had the same build and temperament.

Rivera was up and down as a starter, but then the Yankees braintrust had a great idea--why not make this kid into a relief pitcher, not for save opportunities, but to set up their closer?

This decision redefined baseball bullpens. Now the setup man was just as important as the guy who closed out the games, and it has been a model used by every major league franchise since then.

The plan worked. Rivera initially set up John Wetteland, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series in 1996. Beginning in 1997, Rivera became the closer, and he hasn't looked back since.

His 602 saves broke the record of another top-flight reliever, Trevor Hoffman, who played mainly for the Padres in the National League--so Hoffman continues to hold the National League record.

What differentiates Rivera and Hoffman are the number of big games that Rivera played in versus Hoffman. Hoffman's teams were only occasionally in big games, playoff games, and World Series. Rivera, playing for a team in New York, is always in the spotlight, anyway, but incredibly, the Yankees are in the postseason just about every year. His exploits on the national stage have made him one of the most dependable--and popular--baseball players ever.

He has more than 40 saves in the postseason, which includes the playoffs and World Series. No one is even close to him on this biggest of stages.

And his regular season percentage of saves made versus opportunities--really the most important statistic--is also No. 1. Anything over 85 percent is phenomenal, and for his career, Rivera--who has at least one save against every team in baseball--is over 89 percent.

That means that 11 times out of 100, he fails to do the job he is on the mound for. Heck, I guess you can say that he is really human.

And he is in incredible shape. He has had some minor arm woes throughout his career, but overall, Rivera has never had a major arm injury as a major leaguer. Having pitched so many years, it is incredible that he has has been so durable.

Rivera was often called the greatest relief pitcher of all time well before he reached save number 602. But now he has the statistics to prove it.

His save record will go down as one of the unreachable baseball records, right up there with Cy Young's 511 wins. In today's world of baseball, it is a record that might be approached, but not topped, at least not in my lifetime.

There are some great relievers out there, but to record 600 saves, you have to save at least 30 games a year for 20 years, or 40 games a year for 15 years. Relievers generally have a short shelf life, and really, anything over 300 saves for a career is incredible. To have more than twice that many, as Rivera and Hoffman have, is just simply unbelievable.

Saves have only been an official statistic since 1969, and some relievers have just now gotten their due as Hall of Famers. Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter were two of the dominant relievers of their time. In those days, relievers pitched two or three innings at a time, not the one that current closers pitch today.

And Gossage and Sutter are, deservedly, in the Hall of Fame for their accomplishments.

Sure, some old-timers still don't get what closers do and what saves really mean, just like the unofficial "hold" category that will probably one day become an official statistic.

But Rivera, and for that matter, Hoffman, have done something that is so unapproachable, so out of this world, that both should also find their way into Cooperstown down the road.

Hoffman is already retired, so his 601 saves are his career total.

Rivera is still pitching, although he is hinting that when his contract runs out next year, he might close it down.

So we just don't know how many saves this 41 year old will finish with.

And that's the fun part about it.

Many of us were not around to see Babe Ruth's exploits, nor Cy Young's. But at least for my generation, I can say that I saw the greatest relief pitcher, bar none, to ever play the game of baseball.

Congratulations to Mariano Rivera. He is the greatest at what he does.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Rant #1,929: Simply the Best



We all have our favorites in various things that we like to do.

We have our favorite movies, we have our favorite music, we also tend to have our favorite people, favorite foods, and our favorite clothes to wear.

One of my favorites is not Rolling Stone Magazine. I find it kind of an anomaly, a popular magazine that has no clue what it really is. Is it a music magazine, a culture magazine, a liberal magazine, an entertainment magazine, or is it a magazine that takes itself far too seriously to be taken seriously at all?

I just don't know.

But I have to say that they just released an interesting list, the Top 25 movie soundtracks of all time.

Now, you are not going to get "The Wizard of Oz" or anything like that on here; you are going to get the Top 25 rock and roll-related soundtracks, or at least the Top 25 rock and roll soundtracks released during the rock and roll generation, and that is about it.

But the albums that they put on the list are actually pretty good, pretty interesting fodder for discussion.

There really is something on here for everyone, and if you collect vinyl, in particular, this list should greatly interest you, because just about every soundtrack named came out during the vinyl era.

The list contains such incredible soundtracks as music from the likes of artists like the Beatles (natch!); Elvis Presley (sort of natch!); Jimmy Cliff; the Ramones; Simon and Garfunkel; and the Monkees.

The list also contains movie soundtracks which are basically compilation of songs which fit the particular movie in question, like "Saturday Night Fever;" "American Graffiti;" "Boogie Nights,;"GoodFellas;" "Easy Rider; and "Trainspotting."

Let's see if you can figure out the soundtrack that topped the list.

I will give you a minute, and no, I don't agree with its ranking, but I can't disagree with its placement, if you get my drift.

Figured it out yet?

No, it isn't "Purple Rain," and no, it is nothing by acts like the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits, or other popular artists who starred in films with accompanying soundtracks, whose movie albums didn't even make this list.

OK, here goes ...

It is "Help!" by the Beatles.

I can't argue with that choice, other than to say I probably would have chosen "A Hard Day's Night," but that's me.

And yes, "Magical Mystery Tour" is on the list, which I don't completely understand, but I also love that album, which was only an album in the U.S., collecting music from the mini-movie of the same name and some errant tunes that would not have made it onto any other Beatles' album if not for this one.

But yes, it is "Help!"

What makes this even a more mysterious choice is that they don't even choose the American issue of this LP, but the British issue, or the version released on CD here some years ago, but not back in 1965, of course.

Here is an excerpt of what they said and why they chose it:

"The Beatles' second movie was a light Swinging London goof, but the real action is on the soundtrack. It was a fond farewell to mop-top sweetness, paving the way for the groundbreaking experimentation of Rubber Soul. … with some of the Beatles' most mind-bogglingly great songs – including the title track, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Yesterday" and "Ticket To Ride" – surrounded by Paul McCartney's R&B burner "The Night Before" and cute, lovely tunes like "I've Just Seen a Face," a still-underrated track … . The truncated American version's second side was taken up by the film's orchestral score, so Yanks had to wait until the Eighties CD reissues to hear what they'd been missing."

Huh? Got that?

The original U.S. soundtrack should stand on its own, and not the CD reissue, but again, this is Rolling Stone, what do you expect.

Neither here nor there, as usual, as I explained up top.

And what's wrong with the orchestral score, and from the likes of Sir George Martin yet?

Well, the list makes nice water cooler fodder, but I can't put too much into it.

Half the stuff I would have put on there is nowhere to be found--how about "The Minx" by the Cyrkle--but that's Rolling Stone for you.

At least "Head" is there, so I really can't argue too much with any list that includes both the Beatles and Monkees.

Check the list out for yourself at http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/lists/the-25-greatest-soundtracks-of-all-time-20130829/help-1965-19691231

Classic Rant #583 (September 19, 2011): Child Abuse Up In Recession?


As if my recent posts about abusive parents weren't enough, now there is a study that may back my personal contention that we are hearing more and more stories about child abuse lately.

According to the study, an increase in such incidents, especially against infants, is being linked to the country's current recession.

The results came from a small study conducted by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of 422 abused kids spread over four states. The children were from mostly lower income families, where I would assume that the risk is higher for such abuse, in both good economic times and bad ones.

Based on the findings, there have been more cases of shaken babies being reported, as well as other brain-injuring abuse.

Evidently, the hospital decided to do this study when it discovered that there was a rise in abusive head trauma cases in its own environs during recession years--in this case late 2007 to June 2009--as opposed to times when the economy is in better shape.

During the recession years, such cases rose 76.5 percent, from 17 annually before 2007 to 30 cases a year during the recession years.

Overall, the rise in the number of such cases in the counties that were part of the study jibed with the percentage rise of the cases at the hospital. In those counties, there were nine cases per 100,000 children in the pre-recession years, to about 15 per 100,000 kids during the recession years--a rise of 65 percent.

Although this is a small study, this is an incredible statistic. You can point to a lot of things that caused the rise--including more teenagers and younger people who are not married and having kids, and people unemployed having children--and you can say that immaturity of the parents caused the numbers to rise.

But can you actually link the recession to the rise? Does a parent shake an infant because he or she can't afford to have an extra mouth to feed?

You really have to wonder. If our economy was better, if more people were working, if people weren't worried about their finances, would the increase be at such a high rate?

I don't know the answer to that. People are going to have children whether we are in good financial health or bad financial health, and that goes for individuals' personal finances, too.

So to sum it up, I don't know if the information in this study is valid or not. Just because someone is on the lower rung of the economic ladder doesn't mean that they will abuse their kids. And can you tie the abuse directly to the financial woes of our country?

But it is interesting that at least the news media is picking up on these abuses. Maybe the abuses were more of a behind-closed-doors type of thing in the past.

Lately, everything has been out in the open. And maybe that's a good thing.

But if the findings of the study are correct, then parents should use a punching bag to get out their feelings of inadequacy, and not babies.

What is this world coming to when infants are being used like lifeless rag dolls?

Again, I just don't know what's going on in this world, I really don't.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rant #1,928: Rest In Peace (Part 2)


My computer has died.

For the past few years, I have been using an Apple iMac computer, dating from 2006 or so, so I guess the time had come for its demise.

But its demise was slow, very, very slow.

This computer was actually the old one I used at my work, which I bought off my company for $100 some years ago, when we upgraded our computers, pretty much out of necessity.

These were the Apple iMacs that had the flaw in them where after a period of use, the screen would start to feature one vertical line, then another, and then another.

By the time I stopped using this computer at work, I probably had about two dozen lines on the screen.

However, I bought the computer as a backup, because the hard drive was still good, I had a lot of stuff on there that I still wanted, and heck, for $100, I could be a sport.

Little did I know how much I would need that computer.

After my PC broke down for what amounted to the final time, I had had enough with the constant fixing of this computer, which broke down about every 18 months to two years.

The motherboard died on this thing, and it really did not pay to fix anymore.

I had the Apple iMac, so I figured that I would look my gift horse in the mouth and use it as my home computer.

That was back about three years ago, and it served me well, even though the lines had increased to probably well over 100 in the interim.

There were also blank patches on the side, so I had to shrink the screen in order to see everything, and anything on the desktop had to be moved to the left side of the screen.

So yes, the screen was a mess, but the hard drive was solid as a rock, and I continued to use this computer for everything, including typing out this column five days a week.

But about 10 days ago or so, right in the middle of doing something, the screen basically went ballistic, so to speak, meaning that a brownish tint crept onto the bottom of the screen, which threw off not only the screen's bottom, but the coloration throughout the screen, making any photos or really anything coming on that screen look like an old photo negative.

Right then and there, I decided I needed a computer replacement, but what to do about it was another matter.

I decided that since I had gotten used to the iMacs, I would get another one, but I don't have a lot of money to spend on a new computer, so I ordered a refurbished model.

It is more like the next generation of iMacs that came out about 2009 or 2010 or so, so it will fit my needs. I really don't need anything too flashy or too costly, and with a warranty in hand, I decided to go for it, and the new computer came yesterday evening.

I have not had the least bit of time to set it up, so what you are reading is being generated from the old, beat-up computer, where honestly, my eyes are straining to see what I am doing.

Once I have a chance, I will set up the "new" computer, with all my files and programs (yes, I saved everything, thank goodness), and away I will go, hopefully.

That old computer really was a great machine, and I will miss it, but it really has been on its last legs for quite a while, the latest blemish pretty much sealing its fate.

So R.I.P. that old computer, and I welcome the new one with open arms … well, fingers at least.

Classic Rant #582 (September 18, 2011): Darn Right It's Butch



Tommy Bond would have been 85 years old today.

Who is Tommy Bond, you ask.

Tommy Bond was the kid actor who played the meanie Butch in all those old Our Gang/Little Rascals short features.

Although Spanky, Alfalfa and Darla got most of the applause, Tommy Bond was probably the best pure actor of the bunch. He started off with the Gang as merely an ancillary player--most notably warbling the adult tearjerker "Just Friends" in one episode--but as the series grew and a protagonist was needed, Bond kind of morphed into Butch, the bully who really wasn't all that bad.

From about 1936 to 1940, Butch regularly competed with Alfalfa for the attention of comely Darla. Although he only periodically won the favor of the Gang's lovely lass, he became the comic foil for the good guys of the Gang, including Buckwheat and Porky, two of the little kids that he regularly threatened, often sending his henchman, Woim, to do the dirty work.

In 1937, still as a kid actor, he was one of the first members of the Screen Actors Guild.

When Bond finally left the series in 1940, he continued to do films. and he served in the Navy during World War II.

After the war, he was the first movie Jimmy Olsen in the Superman serials alongside Kirk Allyn and Noelle Neil.

Bond later turned his attention to television, and worked on many productions behind the scenes. In fact, if you remember Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and all the crazy props they used, you can thank Bond, because he was the prop master of that show.

As one of the last surviving major members of the Our Gang/Little Rascals cast, in his later life he represented the Gang in a number of productions, and he eventually wrote his own autobiography.

Bond died Sept. 24, 2005.

His legacy are those Our Gang/Little Rascals films. Today, where bullies are looked down upon, Bond's characterization seems completely out of touch with today's reality.

But way back when, the character of Butch was a bully, but he kind of had a heart of gold. Although he won many victories over the more popular characters, he never won the war, so to speak.

And he took it, and we laughed at him, with him and against him.

Tommy Bond was a one of a kind actor in a series that has also been proven to be one of a kind, and I salute him on what would have been his birthday.

"Darn Right It's Butch"--and we're all better for it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rant #1,927: Rest In Peace



Bill Dana passed away. He was 92 years old.

I don't think most people know who Bill Dana was, but what they don't realize is that through his acting, his comedy and most probably, his writing, he touched millions and millions of people.

And made them laugh, laugh and laugh some more.

"My name ... Jose Jimenez."

I only have to write that phrase, and I think a lot more people would know who he was.

Dana created a character which could only have been created, and prospered, in the early 1960s.

Jose Jimenez was the supposedly slow-witted individual who took the world by storm in the early part of that decade, being featured first on "The Steve Allen Show" and later on other TV shows and on comedy albums that sold millions.

Using broken English and not always answering questions posed to him as one would expect, Dana created a character who on the outside may have appeared out of his depth in many aspects of life, but who was actually wise way beyond his limitations.

You could make fun of everyone back then in a fun way, and every ethnic and racial and religious group was open to such patter, whether they were black, white, Jewish, Catholic or Hispanic.

Stiller and Meara plied their real-life Jewish/Catholic relationship to stardom; Joan Rivers made fun of her own femininity way back when; and Alan King took his suburban Jewishness to new heights during this period. And there were countless others who poked fun at one group or another, but it was harmless fun, no one got excited, and we all, as a country, laughed at them as we looked both inward and outward at our own backgrounds.

Some might say that Dana's Jose Jimenez made fun of Hispanics, but I think he poked fun, not made fun, of that group.

Of course, Dana was not Hispanic, and this probably upset many people, but his character--whether on the ground, on the sea, or in space--hit the bull's eye more often than not, and in doing so, didn't offend Hispanics or anyone else.

Dana was mainly a comedy writer, and he wrote dozens and dozens of episodes of various sitcoms, including "All in the Family" and "The Golden Girls," and this is where he found lasting fame long after Jose Jimenez became a matter of derision for people who just refused to get the character.

In fact, he wrote what was probably the funniest, and most remembered episode of "All in the Family," where Sammy Davis Jr., through a set of strange circumstances, visits the Bunker household, and ends of giving Archie a kiss.

That was the work of pure comic genius, and that is what Dana was.

But back to Jose Jimenez ... in this PC world, it is hard to believe that such a character existed, but people back then had thicker skins, and could accept such humor, as long as no one was being hurt by it, and Dana infused the character with enough inner fortitude that you could laugh at the character and think about what he said at the same time.

In fact, Jose Jimenez became an everyman, and yes, at one point, we were ALL Jose Jimenez.

R.I.P. Bill Dana, you will be missed.