Podcast of the Week: “How Did the Flint Water Crisis Happen?” by ProPublica


How Did the Flint Water Crisis Happen? is an important podcast by the investigative journalism agency ProPublica about one of the greatest criminal acts performed by a government against its people in American history.  This is an important listen for gaining better understanding of this still under-reported humanitarian crisis in Michigan.

Movie Review: Wild Africa (2015)


Title: Wild Africa
Release Date: 2015
Directors: Mike Slee, Neil Nightengale, and Patrick Morris
Summary/Review:

Saw this at the Mugar Omni Theater at the Museum of Science, Boston in IMAX format. It’s beautifully filmed with overhead shots reducing the flora and fauna of Africa to abstract art, then zooming in to immerse the viewer in waterfalls, gushes of lava, and a variety of animal one-on-ones. The volcanic eruptions and crocodiles attacking wildebeest are particularly scary for a four-year-old. Time lapse and slo-mo are also used to good effect. 

There’s a downside, particularly in the cliches Helena Bonham Carter is forced to narrate. The silly sound effects and music choices are also questionable (Coldplay, ugh?!?). Most IMAX nature films have a message about environmental stewardship – albeit heavy handed – but this film chose to ignore human influence on nature entirely, which is mind-boggling. I’ve been watching nature documentaries for close to 40 years and it’s disappointing that the narrative framing can’t keep up with the dramatic leaps forward in visual spectacle. 
Rating: **1/2

Beer Review: Ommegang Three-Eyed Raven


Beer: Game Of Thrones: Three-Eyed Raven
Brewer: Brewery Ommegang
Source: 750ml bottles
Rating: *** (6.6 of 10)
Comments: This is a Game of Thrones themed beer so there was a chance that drinking it would lead to choking, convulsions, and turning a deep shade of purple, but luckily that didn’t happen.  I actually found the beer to be somewhat bland.  It pours out a near black color with a thick head.  The nose is floral with hay, and the flavor is sweet with a bitter chocolate.  It’s not bad, just seems too tame for the story it’s tying into.

Movie Review: A League of Their Own (1992)


Title:  A League of Their Own
Release Date: 1992
Director:  Penny Marshall
Summary/Review:

I can scratch this off the list of movies I never got around to seeing.  This highly-fictionalized movie tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League started during World War II.  It’s a generally entertaining account of an overlooked time in sports history but a few things bug me about.  First, there are a lot of broad comedy devices that seems to undermine the professional aspirations of women athletes by just making them look to silly.  Second, the movie feels bloated with the framing device about the reunion at Cooperstown.  I guess I would’ve found it more interesting if they’d tied it more to actual alumni of the AGPBL rather than having older actors play older fictional versions of the fictional characters.  Finally, I thought Lori Petty played her character far too petulantly (although I was happy that her team won the championship at the end).  Other than that the acting is pretty good – Geena Davis is a strong lead character, for stunt casting Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are actually quite excellent in supporting roles, and I warmed up to Tom Hanks as the angry drunk manager with a heart of gold.  The scene that made me laugh the most is the one where he tries to upbraid a player for missing the cutoff but is unable to find any words.  The thing I get out of watching this movie more than 20 years after it was made is that today we have a professional women’s basketball league and a professional women’s soccer league, but dang it! I just want a professional women’s baseball league, too.
Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: A Couple of Short Films 


Title:  World of Tomorrow
Release Date: 2015
Director:  Don Hertzfeldt
Summary/Review:

This animated short depicts a future when the personalities of people can be downloaded into clones. And a clone travels through time to visit the original person when she’s a toddler.  The depictions of the people in this animated short are childish, crude, and reminiscent of Hyperbole and a Half but set against surreal backgrounds. And the toddler voice behind Emily Prime is just perfect. It’s the type of movie that makes you laugh and then makes you say “hmm…”

Rating: ****

 

Title: The Gnomist
Release Date: 2015
Director: Sharon Liese
Summary/Review:

If you want to cry for 17 minutes this movie will do the job. This documentary tells the story of fairy homes appearing mysteriously in a forest in Overland Park, KS that end up helping the grieving process of a family that lost a three year old child to cancer.   The story of the people behind the fairy houses are equally heartbreaking. 
Rating: ****

The Designated Hitter in Major League Baseball: A Solution 


Recently, there’s been discussion in Major League Baseball about expanding the Designated Hitter rule to the National League. The DH has been the subject of endless debate and speculation since it was introduced as an experiment to in the American League in 1973. While the AL adopted the DH rule permanently, the NL has resisted the DH and so for more than four decades the two leagues have played by different rules. In the AL, a designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher while in the NL the pitcher bats for himself. 

I believe that I have come up with a brilliant solution to resolve the DH debate for good, but before I reveal it, let’s sum up the arguments for against the DH. Arguments for the DH include:

  • It adds spark to the offense, and fans like a lot of offense. 
  • Conversely, pitchers can’t hit and fan wants to see any easy out. 
  • Allows players who are talented hitters but weak fielders a place in the game. 
  • Additionally, aging sluggers whose defensive skills are eroding can extend their careers a few years by becoming a DH.
  • Pitchers get injured while batting and base running. 

Arguments against the DH include:

  • Tradition and history. There’s a beautiful symmetry to a game with 9 innings, 9 fielders, and 9 batters. 
  • One of the biggest complaints about baseball is that games are too long. American League games on average are longer than National League games and the DH is a major reason for that. 
  • “Pitchers can’t hit” is not an absolute. Pitchers throughout history have a hit and a wise GM would gain a competitive advantage by having their organization develop and maintain pitchers’ hitting skills. 
  • An aging slugger who extends his career at DH often does so by taking the roster spot of a younger, more versatile player. 
  • Injuries happen all the time, on and off the field and the DH doesn’t stop that. If anything, cross training to pitch, bat, & run helps prepare the body to resist injury. 

My preference is that the DH be eliminated and the game be returned to its purer roots where all players compete in the field and at the plate. But after more than 40 years and endless arguments, I accept that the DH is here to stay. I also believe that the two leagues should follow the same rules. 

So what is my solution? This will initially sound strange but bear with me because I think it’s the perfect compromise. All 30 teams will be able to use the designated hitter, but only on odd numbered days. 

What this means:

  • In games played on odd numbered days (ex: May 1, 3, 5…) all Major League teams may have a DH bat in place of the pitcher. 
  • In games played on even numbered days (ex: May 2, 4, 6…) all Major League teams play by the traditional rules in which the pitcher must bat to remain in the game. 
  • If a game is postponed it will follow the rules of the day the game is actually played. 
  • If a game is suspended and continues on another day it will use the same rules the game started with. 
  • Both games of a double header follow the same rules.  
  • The odd/even rules will also apply to all postseason games. 

Why this works:

  • Just like under current system approximately half the games in a MLB season will be played using the DH rule, and the other half will follow traditional rules. 
  • Unlike the current system, both leagues will be using the same rules. 
  • Fans of the DH and fans of traditional baseball will have plenty of opportunities to see each style no matter which team they follow. In fact it would be interesting if one style of baseball would gain higher ticket sales/TV ratings, although I expect the difference would be negligible. 
  • All teams would get experience in both types of baseball. Pitchers would have to know how to hit, sluggers would have to know how to field, at least half of the time. The imbalance of interleague games where teams are accustomed to playing under different rules would be negated. 
  • Hitters with weak or deteriorating defensive skills would still be able to use the DH to extend their career. In fact, the number of teams competing to offer then contracts would double. As long as they can play half their games as DH, and half as a fielder or pinch hitter, they should continue to be an asset to their teams. 
  • The full-time DH would no longer exist, but this would not be as big a problem as it appears. Most people think of the DH and think of the likes of Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez, or David Ortiz who played the majority of their career as DH. In fact, in 2015 only 8 American League teams had a player appear in more than half the games as DH: Morales (KC) – 141, Fielder (TEX) – 139, Gattis (HOU) – 136, Butler (SEA) – 136, Rodriguez (NYY) – 136, Ortiz (BOS) – 134, Martinez (DET) – 104, and Encarnacion (TOR) – 85. The remaining teams rotated players among defensive positions and the DH, and would be able to continue to do so under my plan. Most of the players listed above would have no problem playing 30-50 games in the field and the rest at DH. So the change for the AL wouldn’t be drastic while opening up opportunities in the NL. 

So that’s my plan. It’s a bit unconventional but I think it will work. Let me know if you agree in the comments below. Or if you have modifications that would make this an even more effective resolution to the DH, let me know those too. And if you think this is a bad idea but have an alternate solution you think would work, I’d love to hear it. 

Movie Review: Wet Hot American Summer (2001)


TitleWet Hot American Summer
Release Date: 2001
Director:  David Wain
Summary/Review:

This comedy is part parody/part homage to the teen sex comedies of the 1970s and 1980s with a keen attention to period detail.  The humor is kind of hit or miss as it’s basically a series of set pieces and some are funnier than others, kind of like an improv show.  The best running gag is that it is impossible for all these things to be happening in a single day and the characters are aware of the way movies play with time.  This seems like the kind of movie a group of friends who remember the 80s might enjoy watching together, but I’m not sure if it was worth me waiting 15 years (or is it 35 years) to see it.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Case of the Best Pet Ever by James Preller


Author: James Preller
Title: The Case of the Best Pet Ever 
Publication Info: New York : Scholastic, c2003
Summary/Review:

I read this book out loud with my son. This is a Jigsaw Jones mystery and seems very similar to the Encyclopedia Brown books I read as a child – boy detective, girl sidekick, bully arch rival. I have to admit that this book seemed better written and this volume of the series is very funny as well as a clever mystery. 

Rating: ***

Book Review: Civil War on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne


AuthorMary Pope Osborne
TitleCivil War on Sunday 
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2000.
Summary/Review:

In read this book aloud to my daughter who loves Magic Tree House books or “Annie and Jack books” as she calls them. In this story, Jack and Annie travel to the Civil War where they go to a field hospital and encounter Clara Barton, black soldiers, and a familiar looking drummer boy. I was impressed that this book explored the horrors of war and slavery at a level that kids can understand. 

Rating: ***1/2