Second of February

An excellent episode of the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor details the many significances of today’s date, which I found fascinating:

  • cross-quarter day, exactly half-way through the solstice and the equinox
  • the pagan celebration of Brigit the goddess of fire called Imbolc which is the ancestor of Groundhog’s Day
  • the Christian holy day Candlemas commemorating the presentation of Jesus

I’ve previously written on Groundhog’s Day and the all important Groundhog’s Day Carol.  Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil did or did not due today, I predict that winter will end on March 20th barring worldwide cataclysm.  That doesn’t mean we won’t have pleasant weather as it’s been mild and sunny in Boston the past couple of days.

The February Thaw was a staple of my childhood calendar.  I always enjoyed a week in February where we could run around without our coats, although I don’t think we’re there yet.  Of course we always paid for it with cold, wet & miserable weather in March and surprise snowstorms in April.  So winter will return, but that’s all the reason for warming up your vocal chords for the Second Annual Winter Song Sing-a-long which I decreed to start on the first Monday after Groundhog’s Day.  Expect posts on that theme next week.

Back to the Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor also mentioned that February 2nd is the anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses.  In honor of this day I’m going to begin reading this incredibly complex novel via feeds from DailyLit.   Unlike my last expirement with DailyLit reading The Woman in White, I’m going to post periodically about the book as I read it over the course of the year, so, you know, I don’t forget what happens at the beginning.

Book Review: unSpun by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson

unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (2007) by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson is a short guide to finding the facts when confronted by “mixed messages, half-truths, misleading statements, and out-and-out fabrications masquerading as facts” in advertising and politics.  A lot of their advice initially seems obvious (“No duh we should verify our sources”), but upon further reflection it’s very easy to be taken in.  I’m reminded of a bar I went to with some friends that served their own special beer on draft for a low price.  We were impressed that we were getting such a good deal on a tasty home-brew.  My friend later discovered that bar was actually selling Pabst’s Blue Ribbon under another name.  I don’t know if thinking it was a home-brew somehow made PBR taste better, or if PBR’s reputation as a cheap commercial beer makes it taste worse?

The scariest thing about disinformation is how it plays upon our natural human tendency for self-deception.  Politically speaking I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of accepting “facts” that support my political belief without evaluating them although I would really wish that I didn’t.  In addition to tips on how to evaluate and test information for factual accuracy, the authors provide a number of internet sites that are useful in finding the facts. is of course an obvious start since that’s the organization behind this book. is a personal favorite of mine for debunking internet hoaxes and rumors.

Other resources include:

This is a good little book to check out if you want to learn how to avoid deception.

Author Jackson, Brooks.
Title UnSpun : finding facts in a world of disinformation / Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
Publication Info. New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, c2007.
Description xii, 195 p. : ill. ; 21 cm.

Book Review: Connecticut Baseball by Don Harrison

Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State (2008) by Don Harrison collects tidbits of Connecticut’s professional baseball history in one slim volume.  One can chuckle at the slenderness of the book – especially when imagining the tomes that states like California and Pennsylvania would have for the same topic – but Harrison makes a good case for Connecticut’s memorable, if not dominant role in the national pastime. At any rate, I’m from Connecticut and love baseball so I’m the perfect target audience for this book.  Apparently Library Thing Early Reviewers thought so too since they sent me a free copy of this book to review.

The first section of the book sums up the history of professional franchises in Connecticut, mainly the minor league teams in various cities, but reminds readers of the charter National League franchise the Hartford Dark Blues (1876-77).  I’m reminded of how annoyed I was when a proposal for a minor league franchise in Stamford flopped sometime when I was in Jr. High.

The next section is Harrison’s all-time Connecticut baseball team.  The team includes three Hall of Famers: Orator Jim O’Rourke in the outfield, DH Roger Connor, and manager Ned Hanlon (who managed Baltimore in the famed 1897 pennant race documented in A Game of Brawl).  First baseman Mo Vaughn of Norwalk is probably the most recognizable name on the squad.  Tim Teufel (who graduated from the same high school as I did, the name of which is featured on 143), who played in a 2B platoon for the Mets in the 80’s is oddly placed at third base.

The third and longest part of the book features profiles and interviews with 25 Nutmeggers who made it to the bigs.  These are actually articles that Harrison wrote for various Connecticut newspapers over a period of five decades, so they often have a feeling of immediacy from catching the player at a time in the midst of their career.  Standouts in this section include a 2007 article on Jim Piersall who was mistaken for a clown and a trouble maker during his career although he was actually struggling with serious mental health problems.  I’m adding his autobiography Fear Strikes Out to my “to read” list.  I was also fascinated by the story of Mike Sandlock who grew up and retired in Old Greenwich, the neighborhood adjacent to the Waterside neighborhood where I lived in my baseball-obsessed teenage years.  It would have been awesome to know that a former major leaguer lived so close by.  At least I was well aware of Stamford’s Bobby Valentine who played through a injury-plagued career and then sucess as a manager for the Rangers, the Mets, and in Japan (and operates a sports bar cafe in Stamford to this day).

Lots of players for New York’s franchises chose to live in Connecticut’s lush suburbs during their playing days, including Jackie Robinson who retired to Stamford.  The short part IV has profiles of baseball players who made Connecticut their second home including Smokey Joe Wood who took up a coaching job at Yale after his playing career ended.

The book concludes with a tribute to Connecticut-born umpires including Terry Tata and appendices filled with records and statistics for Connecticut’s all-stars. As I suggested at the beginning of this reviews, this is definitely a niche book. It’s not the best of sportswriting but good enough for readers with an interest. I definitely think that public and school libraries in Connecticut should add this book to their collections.

Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State by Don Harrison. The History Press (2008), Paperback, 160 pages

Book Review: Getting Unstuck by Timothy Butler

Getting Unstuck (2007) by Timothy Butler has elements of business literature, self-help, and a slight bit of new-agey-ness, all things that would usually be a turnoff but I ended up enjoying and learning a lot by listening to this audiobook.  I must disclose that I know the author personally and like and admire him so that could have definitely colored my perception.  The book deals mainly with the idea of impasse, which Butler describes as a necessarry process of growth.  The book and the exercises within serve the purpose of getting past impasse to the next phase in life.

The book is definitely geared to the types of folk in business who may best be described as overachievers.  There are a great number of case studies based on clients Butler has helped over the years.  I was surprised how often dreams – as in sleepytime dreams – play a part in the subjects analysis of their own impasse.

I only listened to this as an audiobook, which may have not been the best format since this is kind of a workbook with a number of exercises.  I think I need to listen it to again and work through the exercises myself more carefully.

Author Butler, Timothy.
Title Getting unstuck [sound recording] : how dead ends become new paths / Timothy Butler.
Publication Info. Prince Frederick, MD. : Recorded Books, p2008.
Description 5 sound discs (5.25 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.