Monthly Archives: August 2010

How do you respond?

I’m finding it tough to read about Stephen Strasburg‘s recent elbow injury. I find it tough to…

[1] …accept the messianic tone used by so many writers, commentators, and fans when they talk about this kid (e.g., “Strasburg’s Reality Almost Unreal” and “Thrill on the Hill: Strasburg Wows”).

[2] …feel sorry for this kid, even though I want to and can sympathize with the trauma of being injured and having to go through surgery and rehabilitation.

[3] …justify spilling so much ink on this kid, before he joined the Nationals and since, when, despite his 100-mph fastball (or his “terror-inducing curveball”), he’s just another guy who plays baseball.

[4] …and I could go on…

“Baseball’s Arm of the Future, Headed for Surgery”

The most sane and sober account of Stephen Strasburg that I’ve read (and you can hear) since yesterday’s barrage of articles about his injury comes from NPR’s Scott Simon, “Stephen Strasburg, Meet Tommy John.” Am I missing something? Is this kid really so important? Maybe my unease with the coverage of Strasburg is just a product of some untimely catching up on the news?

Generation B(owdlerized)?

bowdlerize, [v. trans.] : To expurgate (a book or writing), by omitting or modifying words or passages considered indelicate or offensive; to castrate (OED).

The institution that employs me likes to post pictures and stories on its website that demonstrate any number of things: the beauty of its campus; its efforts at outreach with and in the local community; student achievements; sports events; concerts; public lectures; faculty research; and so on. Someone in the communications department heard that I did some work over the summer in Europe, and so I was recently asked to write a few words about my research and submit a few photos that they could use for alumni outreach and advertising. Sure, I complied. Coincidentally (or not), in most of the decent photos from the trip that included me in them I had a drink in my hand. (Really, really, it was a work trip.) So I sent in a blurb and a few snaps. Some time later, I got an email saying a “story” about me and my research has been posted on the institution’s website. It’s nice and all. But upon close inspection of the photo that accompanies the story, it’s obvious that someone in the communications department photoshopped the image. See for yourself. The original photo is on the left, and the photo they published online is on the right. Can you tell what they did? Check out what’s in the glass!

As I’ve tried to understand why they might have made this change to the photo, the most reasonable answers I can adduce have to do with an effort not to promote, in any way, the consumption of alcohol in an environment that annually suffers from alcohol saturation among a population that often cannot handle alcohol saturation. Maybe there’s a better explanation. Perhaps insurance is involved somehow. But c’mon, if you’re going to bowdlerize beer into “water,” then at least take the sudsy head off the beer!

This all made me think about how college aged men and women today might be different than they were when I was in college lo so many years ago. Would a beer have been erased from the hand of one of my professors when I was in college? Honestly, I don’t know. But there might be something to the comparison in terms of maturity levels for twentysomethings today and twentysomethings in the past. Last week the NY Times ran an article, “What is it about 20-somethings?,” that speaks to some of the possible differences. While the tone of the article is perhaps overly judgmental, it’s an interesting read on the effects of the economy on “growing up” (insert Springsteen melody here).

Postscript: The Dirty Deeds-style eye bars were added by photoshop fuhrer, Herr Louis Frederick. Thanks!


The other day, Bobby Thomson died.  He hit the most memorable home run in baseball history in 1951.  With the Giants 14 games back of Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers in mid-August, they staged the most improbable comeback in baseball history and tied the Dodgers for the pennant, leading to a three game playoff.  With the series tied and the Giants down by two runs with two on in the bottom of the ninth, Thomson strode to the plate.  Well, the rest is history.

My old man was a sophomore at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City at the time and, like his father before him, a rabid Giant fan.  Friends of his offered him a ticket for the game, but he opted to go to class instead.  After class, he and many others stood by a taxi in Journal Square listening to the game on the radio (remember – TV was virtually non-existent then).  He had seen Thomson play numerous times for the Giants AAA affiliate, then located in Jersey City – across the river from Manhattan.  The memory of the event summons equal parts joy and regret for my dad.  That his fellow Giant-lover and father died shortly before Christmas that year only adds to the sweet/bittersweet element of the memory.   Dad later ran into Bobby Thomson in the 80’s while working a trade show; somewhere in his house is an autographed polaroid of them. 

I’ve seen this replay a thousand times with my dad, so I’ll share some of his recollections.  Leo Durocher was the manager and third base coach for the Giants at the time.  The way pitching coach Allie Reynolds practically molests him is one of my dad’s favorite elements of the play  (dad saw the video later of course).  Also, when you watch the video, you’ll see a rear shot of number 24 – Willie Mays, then a rookie.  That the Giants went on to lose the Series to the Yankees in six games in no way overshadows the magic of this moment.  Other than Al Michael’s call of the 1980 US-USSR hockey game, this is probably the most memorable broadcasting moment in sports history (though, I think this is the best). 

Could the ghost of Thomson propel the current Giants on their quest to win their first World Series since 1954?

The Cost of War: The old “in-out” and Afghanistan

For obvious reasons, Obama’s recent statements on the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan have been all over the news lately. Where have we heard discussions of the “old in-out” dilemma before?

Nah, but seriously folks, the question for Obama and his administration today is: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” We all know the virtues of both positions, don’t we? Thanks, Joe.

But really, will the 100,000+ U.S. military personnel play only an “administrative role” in Afghanistan by the summer of 2011? Just this morning an article in the NY Times covers General David Petraeus’s opposition to any scheduled withdrawal of U.S. military in Afghanistan by the summer of 2011, a position that he apparently defended on the Sunday morning politico-talk shows yesterday. Astonishingly, in this article Gen. Petraeus, who took over the helm in Afghanistan after Obama sacked Gen. Stanley MacChrystal for giving lip about U.S. civilian military leaders in a Rolling Stone interview (such as, to name just one, Vice President Joe Biden), claims that it’d be unwise to withdraw in the near future because only in the last three weeks have he and his troops received the stuff they need to make progress in Afghanistan.

The last three weeks?! This war started on 07 October 2001, didn’t it? What have they had, or been using, for the past nine years? And why has it cost the U.S. so much to supply the apparently wrong stuff?


In the news from an Indian weekly, Frontline, Vijay Prashad weighs in with an essay on the topic, “In Denial Mode.” Prashad writes a regular “letter from America” in Frontline (à la the late Alistair Cooke’s weekly BBC Radio 4 broadcasts), presumably to present the South Asian community with a firsthand desi view of the U.S. sociopolitical scene (Prashad teaches South Asian History and International Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut). He has his own agenda and political leanings in this piece, of course. But what’s useful for the American community to read in this article is the attention Prashad gives to the complexity of the U.S.’s actions in Afghanistan for India-Pakistan relations, and the tensions that arise between these two at times uncomfortable South Asian neighbors because of the instability in Afghanistan.

Finally, while you consider the pros and cons of military involvement in general, and the U.S.’s military involvement overseas, here’s a running tab kept in the Rochester City Newspaper of the number of casualties in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (as of 04 August 2010):

IRAQ TOTALS – 4,413 US servicemen and servicewomen, 318 Coalition servicemen and servicewomen, and approximately 97,143 to 105,994 Iraqi civilians have been killed in Iraq from the beginning of the war and occupation to August 2. There were no reports of American servicemen and servicewomen, killed after July 21.

AFGHANISTAN TOTALS – 1,216 US servicemen and servicewomen, and 766 Coalition servicemen and servicewomen, have been killed in Afghanistan from the beginning of the war and occupation to August 2. Statistics for Afghani civilian casualties are not available.

Ken Vandermark’s Powerhouse Sound @ Newport!

Yeah man! is letting those of us who couldn’t be at the Newport Jazz Festival this year eavesdrop on entire sets from the festival. Most righteous indeed. There’s so much to choose from. But I’d like to bring to EMP’s readers’ attention the always excellent stylings of Chicago’s very own Ken Vandermark. The guy is extremely prolific and a veritable polyglot in all things reed, so that everything he spins out sounds fresh. And yet he has a certain unique force to his playing that’s unmistakable. He’s powerful, à la Peter Brötzmann powerplaying, and he always surrounds himself with excellent musicians.

Ken Vandermark

Peter Brötzmann

Sidebar: Check out the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet — live or on vinyl they’ll amaze. It’s a truly all-star lineup featuring, alongside Herr Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ken Kessler, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jeb Bishop, Michael Zerang, Per-Ake Holmlander, and Jahannes Bauer. The music these cats create is intoxicating. Live, they are unexcelled.  But I digress.

Yesterday at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ken Vandermark’s Powerhouse Sound ripped the roof off their tent (?) and NPR has the show posted for everyone to enjoy, here. This roughly fifty-five minute set demonstrates the artistry and downright innovation of Vandermark and the other exceptional musicians in Powerhouse Sound. This show is heavy indeed. Lots of scorching guitar thanks to Jeff Parker (of Tortoise acclaim and sundry jazz and blues outfits). But man, they swing, too. And of course, they also confuse! Chicago jazz scenesters will know well all four of Powerhouse Sound’s established crew.

Powerhouse Sound’s lineup:

Ken Vandermark, tenor saxophone

Jeff Parker, guitar

Nate McBride, electric bass

John Herndon, drums.

Sunrise over Erie Canal cornfields

The hound and I veered a few steps off the canal this morning to catch the sunrise over the cornfields that roll along the canal on this side of the village. It was early enough that the sun wasn’t yet above our line of sight, so many of the forms still looked like silhouettes. The only wildlife we saw were some crows, pigeons, sparrows, and a rabbit. If you turn up your speakers to eleven you can hear a crow or two and some insects on the video.

En route to Vondelpark

Following the workweek in Bonn, I had the good fortune to spend four nights in Amsterdam. I’ll not belabor EMP’s fair readers with a gallery of photos from that stay (there are lots of good ones, though!).

Instead, I’d like to share a short video clip of a couple talented buskers I stumbled upon while ambling toward Vondelpark (picture on the left) to have a look at the sun worshipers. Doesn’t the musician on the left look a bit like a huskier, left-handed version of Slowhand? Fifty bucks goes to the person who can identify the instrument that the guy on the right is playing.