Podcast of the Week Ending June 30


Decoder Ring :: Clown Panic

A history of clowns and how they’ve gone from funny to terrifying.

Hidden Brain :: Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present

There are times when a song, book, or tv show I loved leaves me with a feeling of crippling nostalgia, so I was interested in this examination on how our brains reflect on the past.

To The Best of Our Knowledge :: Is Guilt A Wasted Emotion?

Speaking of reflecting on the past, how about an unhealthy dose of regret and guilt.

The Sounds in My Head :: “Hey, the 80’s called…”

A podcast full of current music that sounds like it was made in the 1980s.  But the good New Wave sounds of the 80s, not the crumby songs that actually made the top 40 in the 80s.

HUB History :: Immigration in Boston

Present day anti-immigrant prejudice and hysteria has long historical roots as seen in these three stories from Boston history: the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Chinese tongs in Chinatown, and the destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown.

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Book Review: Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks


Author: Terrance Dicks
Title: Blood Harvest
Publication Info: Virgin (1994)
Summary/Review:

Terrance Dicks has a long association with Doctor Who, writing scripts for the 2nd to 5th Doctors, serving as script editor for 5 years, and writing 60 novelizations of TV stories as well as original New Adventures. He can always be counted on for a ripping yarn seeped in Doctor Who lore. This story sees the Doctor and Ace running a speakeasy in Chicago and rubbing shoulders with Al Capone. Meanwhile, Bernice is left on a planet with a medieval culture and an infestation of vampires, and ends up teaming up with Romana. On top of all of this, evil Time Lords are plotting against the Doctor.

The last two plots follow up on TV stories Dicks wrote, the 4th Doctor story “State of Decay” and “The Five Doctors” 20th anniversary special. With the multiple plots and heavy continuity, this book should be a mess, Dicks does a good job of alternating the first two plots while bringing them together with the third at the end.

That said the writing also reflects Dicks’ old-fashioned mentality and casual sexism. This works well in the first-person portions written from the point of view of a Chicago detective, Dekker, less so in the third person omniscient parts. He also repeats the unsettling idea from Timewyrm: Exodus of alien influence causing human violence. In the earlier book it was the Nazis, here it is Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Still, the Prohibition Chicago story is an entertaining read, and it’s fun to have Benny and Romana teaming up.

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

2018 FIFA World Cup Rooting Preferences – Knockout Stage


After an exciting, weird, and sometimes disappointing group round, the knockout round of the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins tomorrow.  Following up on my picks for group play, here are my picks for the knockout rounds of the tournament.  Remember these are more wishes of what I’d like to see happen than predictions of what will actually happen.  I tend to favor the underdog, so these things are not likely to pass.

Let me know who you think will win this year’s World Cup trophy, and who you want to win it most (if that’s different) in the comments!

ROUND OF 16

June 30 – Uruguay vs. Portugal

I’m kind of partial to both sides, but I’ll lean toward Portugal since they’ve never won a title.

EDITED 7/3: It’s Uruguay, I’m ok with that.

June 30 – France vs. Argentina

Seems kind of early for a matchup of these powerhouses, and I like both of them, but I’ll go for Argentina for Messi’s sake.

EDITED 7/3: Messi needs better teammates.

July 1 – Spain vs. Russia

It will be nice to see a classy side like Spain bounce the hosts out of the tournament.

EDITED 7/3: This was a huge shocker!

July 1 – Croatia vs. Denmark

Hmm…no strong feelings on either team and neither are really a powerhouse nor an underdog.  I guess I’ll go with Denmark since Copenhagen is such a great city for biking, but if anyone has a good argument for Croatia, let me hear it.

EDITED 7/3: Well, Croatia has been the surprise of the tournament so good for them.

July 2 – Belgium vs. Japan

I’ll be pulling for Japan here as the last surviving representative of Asia.  Sadly there will be no one from Africa to root for as well.

EDITED 7/3: Hah, I forgot I picked Japan and was actually rooting for Belgium while I was watching it.  What an exciting game for both sides! Belgium is my favorite surviving side from Europe.

July 2 – Brazil vs. Mexico

No offense to Brazil, but I’m pulling for our neighbors to the south, and based on what I saw in group play, I think that they could pull it off.

EDITED 7/3: The result here was not surprising.  Brazil seems to have the best chance of a non-European side winning the Cup, but they’re not new and exciting either.

July 3 – Sweden vs. Switzerland

Hmm…another match that doesn’t promise to be exciting, but I’ve enjoyed Sweden’s play thus far.

EDITED 7/3: Well, bully for Sweden.

July 3 – Colombia vs. England

Colombia all the way! Perhaps one of the most fun teams to watch and a South American underdog who’ve been bubbling under for some time. And what better team to user England out the door?

EDITED 7/3: The team I most wanted to win lost to the the team I most wanted to lose.  What a bummer!

QUARTERFINALS

July 6 – QF #1: Portugal vs. Argentina

Every tv station in the world is rooting for Ronaldo vs. Messi.  I expect that if Argentina makes it this far, Messi won’t be able to carry the team any further, and Portugal will get a deserved win.  Doesn’t necessarily mean that Ronaldo is better, although that is the conclusion every sports pundit will make.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. France

Leaning toward Uruguay, but like elements of each side.

July 6 – QF #2: Mexico vs. Japan

Sticking with Mexico here.

EDITED 7/3: Brazil vs. Belgium

Cheering for fancy beers and peeing boys.

July 7 – QF #3: Spain vs. Denmark

Spain will win this, although I’ll root for Denmark to be the final surviving Scandanivian side.

EDITED 7/3: Sweden vs. England

Lets go Sweden! <clap, clap, clapclapclap>

July 7 – QF #4: Sweden vs. Colombia

Colombia may my favorite remaining team, so this is easy.

EDITED 7/3: Russia vs. Croatia

Croatians must have some score to settle with the former Soviet Union, right?

SEMIFINALS

July 10 – SF #1: Portugal vs. Mexico

This would be an interesting, albeit unlikely, matchup.  I’ll give Portugal the nod.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Belgium

Should probably go with Uruguay as the last non-European side in this scenario, but I’m really liking Belgium.

July 11 – SF #2:  Denmark vs. Colombia

Still with Colombia.

EDITED 7/3: Croatia vs. Sweden

Keep the Croatian win streak going

THIRD PLACE

July 14 – Mexico vs. Denmark

El Tri for Third Place!

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Sweden

Uruguay gets the bronze.

FINAL

July 15 – Portugal vs. Colombia

Colombia all the way!

EDITED 7/3: Belgium vs. Croatia

The biggest victory since Waterloo!

After writing this out, I know how ridiculous this all looks, but hey, if it actually happens…

Video Replay in Sports


This year the FIFA World Cup is using video assistant referees (VAR) to correct or confirm questionable calls made by the referee on the field.  VAR has already played an instrumental role in several matches, including both of Monday’s Group B games where the referee reviewed plays in the 90th minute of Spain vs. Morocco and Iran vs. Portugal.  One of the joys of soccer that distinguishes it from other team sports is that the clock never stops and excepting the oddity of stoppage time, 90 minutes on the clock is generally close to 90 minutes of real time. So it’s a bit of a drag to see the referee staring at a video monitor for several minutes at the height of a game.

FIFA is not the first sporting body to adopt video replay review. The NFL started using replay review in 1986, adopting their current system in 1998, and many other sports leagues have followed suit. Major League Baseball began using instant replay on a limited number of types of plays in 2008 and then expanded it to greater usage in 2014.  Obviously, it can be very exciting when a call is reversed in favor of your team, especially in a big game, but these instant replay reviews can be interminable, delaying the game and sucking momentum from the action while the officials watch the clips over and over. (I speak for myself in not enjoying reviews, as my son enjoys going to the MLB sight to watch reviews from various different games).

Now, I’m not a Luddite opposed to the use of technology.  There is a place for replay reviews and I’m certain many games in the past would’ve been improved if umpire’s miscues were overruled. Who can forget these famous blown calls in MLB history, all of which were followed with apologies from the umpires in post-game interviews?

1996: Derek Jeter awarded a home run in a playoff game when a fan reaches over the wall to catch the ball.

1999: Jose Offerman called out despite Chuck Knoblauch failing to tag him.

2010: Armando Galarraga’s perfect game is ruined when the umpire inexplicably calls a base runner safe.

(Note that 2 of these 3 plays benefit the Yankees in line with the statistic that 66% of blown calls in MLB history favor the Yankees)

I think there is a place for video replay review when an umpire or a referee makes a call that anyone watching the game on tv (or after an initial replay) is glaringly wrong.  I don’t think it benefits the game when “too close to call” plays are analyzed for several minutes at multiple speeds from different angles to see if the point of a baserunner’s spikes poked the base milliseconds before or after a fielder brushed his uniform with the lace of his glove.

So I propose that all of these sports should use video replay review with a time limit.  The referee would have 30 seconds or 45 seconds tops to watch a replay and confirm or overturn a call.  If a decision cannot be reached in that time, the call on the field stands.  I think that would bring the full benefit of video technology to making sure that sporting games are free of the most glaring errors with out falling down the rabbit hole of full-on forensic analysis of a play that drains that urgency from a game.

On the other hand (pun intended), if there’s no statute of limitations on video replay reviews, I’d like VAR to go back to 2002 and evaluate this play.

Book Review: The Highest Science by Gareth Roberts


Author: Gareth Roberts
Title: The Highest Science
Publication Info: London Bridge (1993)
Summary/Review:

This is the first published novel for Gareth Roberts who went on to write numerous Doctor Who books, audio dramas, comics, and episodes of the revived tv series and the Sarah Jane Adventures including “The Shakespeare Code,” “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” “The Lodger,” “Closing Time,” and “The Caretaker.”  His stories are known for being clever and funny. Unfortunately, Roberts has also revealed himself as a bigot who rants against LGBT people and I believe the BBC has rightly decided to not have him write for the show again.  If it’s any consolation I got this book second hand so he won’t get any royalties.

As to the book, it features the Seventh Doctor and companion Benny investigating a Fortean flicker, a temporal anomaly bringing together beings from different people from different times on one unremarkable planet.  This includes the Chelonians, a militaristic turtle-like species who clear planets of “infestations of humans,” a group of hippie-like individuals traveling to a music festival; people riding an English commuter train; and a galactic criminal traveling with a stolen organic intelligence called The Cell.  Without giving too much away, the book is largely a parody of the elaborate plots and schemes that the Seventh Doctor is known to create, with the twist of this time the Doctor failing to anticipate someone else’s scheme.  But is it worth it to have to keep up with so many different characters and their plotlines, especially since only some tie in with the conclusion while others are shaggy dog stories?

Rating: **

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: The True Flag by Stephen Kinzer


AuthorStephen Kinzer
TitleThe True Flag
Narrator: Robert Petkoff
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2017)

Previously Read by the Same Author: All the Shah’s Men

Summary/Review:

This book explores the strains of American foreign policy which veers over the course of history between imperialist and interventionist goals and isolationism. Kinzer argues that these two positions have a long history, and the tension between them has repeated since at least the turn of the twentieth century.  The imperialist urge emerges with the outbreak of the Spanish American War and the United States taking control of foreign territories for the first time in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. The interventionists argue that the peoples of these lands will find freedom under American control, seemingly at odds with the democratic ideals of our own Revolution.  Anti-imperialists then as now try to get Americans to cling to these principles and restrain their militarist impulses, with Mark Twain the most prominent voice.  Theodore Roosevelt stands as the icon of imperialism in this book, although Kinzer describes Henry Cabot Lodge as the actor working behind the scenes of the imperialist cause, up to and including engineering Roosevelt’s rise to the presidency.

Recommended booksThe Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin and The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Rating: ***

Photopost: Father’s Day on Stellwagen Bank


On Father’s Day, my kids celebrated a whale of a dad by taking me on a New England Aquarium Whale Watch. We were lucky enough to see majestic humpback whales, a mama and a baby, trying to catch a snooze on a clear and calm day. When we returned to Boston, the kids hadn’t reached their fill of nautical adventures, so we took the MBTA Ferry from Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard. There we saw lots of Big Dogs, steel sculptures by Dale Rogers, and played on the playground.

Related Posts:

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 23


Another week of audio delight for my earbuds.

The Truth :: Fish Girl

A tale of a girl and her friendship with a puffer fish.

Have You Heard? :: A La Carte: School Choice, Segregation and Gentrification in an Unequal City

Interview with Carla Shedd on how the “school choice” movement is undermining public education while promoting segregation and inequality.

Album Review: so sad so sexy by Lykke Li


Albumso sad so sexy
ArtistLykke Li
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • two nights
  • jaguars in the air
  • so sad so sexy
  • utopia

Thoughts:

The album title sums it up perfectly as Swedish singer-songwriter sings heartbreaking tunes of romantic entanglings that ultimately end in failure. Stylistically, Li has shifted from indie rock and dream pop to contemporary R&B and electronic dance music.  It’s not a shift that I think works for her, as the music doesn’t sound bad, but it loses Li’s unique style for something that sounds like a lot of other music out there today. I’m thinking that this album will be recognized more as the transition to whatever Li does next than for itself.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)


TitleWon’t You Be My Neighbor?
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Director: Morgan Neville
Production Company: Tremolo Productions
Summary/Review:

I was born into the first generation of children who got to know the friendly, calm, and soothing presence of Mister Rogers through our television sets. As a teenager, I grew to find the show cheezy and a bit trippy.  As an adult, I learned more and more that Fred Rogers was one of the most genuinely good and kind human beings ever to grace the earth.  This documentary reinforces that notion (in case you were worried that this is a “tell-all” documentary that would expose Mister Rogers’ dark side, it can’t because it doesn’t exist) by showing that the Mister Rogers we saw on tv was an authentic expression of the man himself.

The documentary only touches upon Rogers’ personal life, with hints of his childhood explored through dreamlike animated segments featuring his alter ego Daniel Striped Tiger.  The bulk of the movie is interviews with Rogers’ family and work colleagues and lots of spectacular archival film.  We see clips from “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” behind the scenes footage, public appearances, and interviews.

Through the interviews Rogers narrates his own story.  He explains how he was called to use the new medium of television to minister to children (which he did for more than 30 years without ever mentioning God or Jesus).  One interviewee notes regarding his ministry, “He didn’t wear a collar he wore a sweater.” Rogers himself discusses the “holy ground between the tv and someone receiving it.” One of his sons notes that it was “Tough for me to have the second Christ as a dad.” He also talks about the influence of child psychologist Margaret McFarland on his work as well as other leaders in child development of the era such as Benjamin Spock and T. Berry Brazelton.

The history of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” shows how from the very beginning he addressed children directly on dealing with difficult subjects.  The very first week of the show talked about war by showing King Friday building a wall around his kingdom to keep people out (UM, THAT’S A LITTLE BIT TOO ON POINT!).  A few months later he created a special episode for children and their parents to deal with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. When segregationists poured acid into a swimming pool where black people were swimming, Rogers responded with a segment showing him soaking his feet in a wading pool with François Clemens.  By the 1980s the show would spend an entire week on topics such as divorce, bullying, and death. In one episode he finds that one of his fish has died and shows him gently removing the fish, wrapping it, and burying it in the yard behind his tv home.
In the real world, Rogers testified before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee in favor of funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and through his gentle but persuasive explanation, encouraged tough guy Senator John Pastore to award the funding. The film also shows the parodies of  Mister Rogers – such as Eddie Murphy’s “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” – and what Rogers thought of them.  Starting in the 1990s, there was also right wing critique of Mister Rogers’ philosophy of recognizing children for the uniqueness and loving them for who they are as being a cause of children to grow up to be selfish and unmotivated.  Most heartbreaking is the appearance of “Christian” protesters at Rogers’ funeral, some of them bringing their own children to shout hatred at the man who lived a life based in love.  Even Rogers’ loses hope as seen in clips where PBS brought him in to make PSAs after the September 11th attacks and he questions whether anything he can say would make a difference.
There’s a lot of nostalgia for me in watching this documentary, and I’m particularly pleased to remember things I loved like Mister Rogers’ fish, the traffic light next to the aquarium, and characters like Trolley and Daniel Striped Tiger.  On the other hand, I have absolutely no recollection of Lady Aberlin, the only human character who interacts with the puppets in the Land of Make Believe, so it was nice to become reacquainted with her through clips from the show and interviews with Betty Aberlin.  This was a very emotional movie to watch for me, and I know I’m not alone, so if you do go see it I recommend bringing a box of tissues.

Rating: *****

Book Review: The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto


AuthorRussell Shorto
Title:The Island at the Center of the World
Narrator: L.J. Ganser
Publication Info: Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, p2004.
Previously Read by the Same Author: Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
Summary/Review:

Shorto composes a brief, popular history of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, specifically focusing on the settlement on Manhattan island.  He contends that the Dutch colony is often overlooked in American history and what is known about it is generally based on English sources that downplay the significance of the Dutch. A decades-long project to translate and publish Dutch records in the state archives at Albany has opened a new understanding of the times when “old New York was once New Amsterdam.”

The narrative examines the history of the Dutch settlements between English New England and Swedish Delaware starting with the exploration by Henry Hudson of the river once named for him.  Relationships within the colonies, to the Netherlands, with other European colonists, and with the indigenous peoples are explored.  Some familiar names such as Peter Minuit and Peter Stuyvesant pop up, but the key figure is the less well-known Adriaen van der Donck, whom Shorto considers a candidate for the founding father of New York.  He’s remembered indirectly by way of his honorific Jonkheer, became the name of the city built on his former estate, Yonkers.

Shorto argues that what the Dutch created in New Amsterdam ended up having lasting influence on the future United States.  Coleslaw and Santa Claus are just a couple of things that the Dutch colony introduced to the Americas. More specifically, Shorto illustrates how Manhattan became an early center of religious tolerance, cultural plurality, and free trade, all things embraced by Americans, albeit awkwardly in balance with the Puritan traditions handed down from our New England forebears.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

 

Movie Review: The Incredibles (2004)


Title: The Incredibles
Release Date: November 5, 2004
Director: Brad Bird
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

On the flight home from our honeymoon in Italy, my bride and were separated by Alitalia and seated at opposite ends of the economy cabin.  My loss was assuaged a bit by being able to stretch my legs under the curtain into first class, dining on wine and cheese, and watching The Incredibles on tv.   With a sequel released this summer, I thought it worthwhile to watch again. Probably relaxation and wine were my chief accomplishments of that flight because I didn’t remember the movie all that well.

Set in a stylized 1960s, The Incredibles recreates the golden era of superhero comics, but asks the question of what it would be like if superheroes married, raised a family, and tried to live a normal life.  The drama of the movie is inaugurated by Mr. Incredible’s mid-life crisis which draws him back into the superhero game behind Elastigirls’ back.  When he gets in above his head, she has to come bail him out and their children Violet and Dash get to use their powers to fight crime for the first time.  It’s a great movie that works on many levels, and in typical Pixar fashion has a lot of humor and a lot of heart.

For all the retro design of The Incredibles, I find it interesting how much it presaged the boom of superhero comic movies of the past decade and a half. In the interim between The Incredibles and The Incredibles II there has been 3 Spider-Man films (one finishing a trilogy and two from a reboot), 3 Fantastic Four films (including a reboot), Superman Returns, Christoper Nolan’s Batman trilogy, 9 X-Men films, 5 DC Extended Universe films, the entire 19 film run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and others I’m forgetting.  The Incredibles‘ focus on interpersonal relationships within the family, a villain inadvertently created by the hero’s actions, and a society that seeks to reign in rather than celebrate people with powers are all facets that make it a forerunner of contemporary superhero movies.

Rating: ****

City Stories #1 – The Pigeons


City Stories is a new semi-regular feature where I will write short expository pieces and vignettes inspired by cities I’ve lived in and visited in various places of the world. This series is inspired by the writings of Max Grinnell, The Urbanologist. The first City Story takes place in Bay Ridge, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

My grandparents lived in the most boring place in the world.

Correction, my grandparents’ apartment was the most boring place, set in the middle of the world’s most exciting and vibrant city in the world.  My grandparents’ apartment was on the 23rd floor of the western building of the Towers of Bay Ridge, right where the Belt Parkway splits from the Gowanus Expressway.  My sister and I spent many a childhood weekend seeking some escape from the boredom that permeated from every corner of that apartment, including through the plastic-covered sofa.

As a child visiting this apartment – especially when it wasn’t Christmastime when at least there were new toys to play with – entertainment was hard to come by.  Television was the preferred source of diversion, but it wasn’t always available to us as my grandparents were watching their programs, or otherwise forbidden us from watching. Taking out the garbage was always a welcome chore as it meant being able to drop bags of rubbish one by one down a chute to a compactor in the basement.  After disposing our trash, we could keep the door to the chute open and if we were lucky we could see trash falling from higher stories and take the chance of trying to catch some.

Once these options were exhausted, my sister and I diverged on what to do next.  She often ended up in our uncle’s former room, excavating old issues of Mad magazine that were still piled in his closet.  I made my way to the terrace – what my grandparents called the small concrete balconies that clung tenuously to the brick facade of the Towers.  From here I could get a view of  New York City’s famous skyline, bridges, and even a tiny green dot I knew was the Statue of Liberty. I could also see a massive bus yard, where half-concealed by a building, I got a tantalizing view of what looked like red London-style double-decker buses, but could never verify for sure if that’s what they were. *

Eventually, one of our grandparents would have to take us outside. If it was our grandmother, we would typically end up in the Tower’s playground. The centerpiece of this playground was a geodesic half-dome one could climb up and dangle by one’s knees, knowing that should one fall, one’s head would be protected by a thin layer of rubber spread over the asphalt.

I always preferred it when our grandfather took us out. We would escape the Brutalist hellscape of the Towers for a stroll into the more human-scaled row houses and shops along Third Avenue. Our destination was The Three Jolly Pigeons. In the official nomenclature of restaurateurs, The Three Jolly Pigeons is classified as an “Old Man Bar.” True to form, the Pigeons (as my grandfather always called it) featured a long bar of a dark wood with a line of rickety stools, lots of oak paneling, and stained glass windows and light fixtures. The back room was separated from the main bar by a particularly attractive wood-panel and stained-glass partition.

My grandfather was an old man so naturally an “Old Man Bar” suited him. But I’m going to tell you something about my grandfather that I didn’t know. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and a particularly troubled one at that. One of my earliest memories of him was visiting the hospital after he crashed his car on Brooklyn Bridge. The “car crash” and “drunk driving” didn’t connect for me until years later. Children were not allowed to visit the patients’ rooms, so instead we stood outside waving at the window where purportedly my grandfather was waving to us. I was never quite sure that I actually saw him or was even waving at the correct window.

The stories I would later hear of his drunken anger and violence never matched the cuddly old man who’d bring us to this lovely oasis, buy us a glass of Coke, and give us quarters for the arcade games that we could enjoy while he spoke to his bookie. Yes, this is the other thing that I didn’t know at the time. It was not normal for one’s grandfather to regularly meet with a bookie, and I’d learn later that the other adults in our family were not aware of this habit. This is probably because he never said to anything like “Don’t tell anyone I’m seeing my bookie,” because then we totally would’ve ratted him out rather than going along as if it were normal.

But let’s return to those glasses of Coke and arcade games. The Coke was dispensed from a fountain over the rocks into a small glass. I can’t verify this, but it is my belief that the Coke served at the Three Jolly Pigeons was the best tasting Coke anywhere. The bartender would set our Cokes at the end of the bar for us to pick up and from there we made out way through the partition to the back room.

The entertainment equipment in the back room changed from time to time, but the mainstay was a coin-operated bowling game. The shuffleboard-style game was built on a long waist-high table (or shoulder-high table if you were under ten) along which one would slide a heavy, metallic puck. The bowling pins hung from a cabinet at the far end, and the puck wouldn’t actually come in contact with the pins, but you could knock them over if the puck slid over what looked like giant staples under each pin. The surface of the table was very slick and one could make the heavy puck move wickedly fast, smashing into the wall at the far end with a satisfying crash, and rebounding into one’s palm.

Over the years, I got very good at this game. Fueled by Cokes and quarters, I smashed my way into the ranks of shuffleboard bowling greats. Or so I’d like to imagine. I never saw another game like this until about a decade later while in a pub in St. George, Bermuda. I challenged my compatriots to a game and drawing on my skill honed at the Pigeons, I won a round of beer. In another timeline, I may have gone pro as a shuffleboard bowler.

In my memory, it was always daylight when we went to the Pigeons. The late afternoon sun shone through the stain-glassed windows with the multi-color rays tinted by smoke and dust in the air. I can still see the silhouettes of my grandfather and his bookie sitting across from one another at the table by the window in a mostly empty bar. But there’s one occasion I recall being at the pigeons after dark and in a crowded room, on the day after Thanksgiving when the sun sets early. I’ve never paid much attention to college football, but while waiting for another Coke at the bar, by chance I happened to look up at the tv to see Doug Flutie’s famous “Hail Mary” pass. There was some celebration among the assemblage of old men and I before they returned to their beers, and I returned to bowling.

Unlike many places from my childhood for which I have fond memories, the Three Jolly Pigeons still survives in Bay Ridge. Reading the reviews online, it’s hailed as a great place to see rock bands and karaoke, two things I could never imagine in the Pigeons of my time. But I like to think that in the dying rays of afternoon sunlight, the old men still gather to nurse a quiet drink, confer with their bookie, and perhaps buy a Coke for their grandkids.

 

 

* Seriously, this was decades before double-decker buses were used for sightseeing tours in New York City. If anyone could verify if and why these buses were in New York circa 1980-1984, I will love you forever.

Movie Review: Avatar (2009)


TitleAvatar
Release Date: December 10, 2009
Director: James Cameron
Production Company: Lightstorm Entertainment | Dune Entertainment | Ingenious Media
Summary/Review:

Avatar is a movie that has the unique distinction of being one of the top-grossing movies of all time while simultaneously being a movie that no one seems to like all that much.  I decided to finally watch it in small bits over five nights until I drifted off to sleep.  That I kept falling asleep during this movie is more of indication that I’m old and tired than that the movie is boring, but it should be noted that it is excessively long.

The gist of the movie if you’re not aware is that corporate interests from Earth want to exploit the natural resources of a moon called Pandora, but they find that the indigenous peoples, the Na’vi, in the way.  A team of biologists lead by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) negotiate with the Na’vi by genetically engineering Na’vi bodies which they control remotely through their minds.  The protagonist of the film is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled Marine who is called into use the avatar of his deceased twin brother.

The story has Sully gradually question his role in exploiting the Na’vi as he comes to learn more of their culture and falls in love with a female Na’vi named Neytiri.  It’s a message movie, but one that fails to hold the conviction of it’s messages (exploitation of indigenous people, imperialism, environmental destruction), and instead falls into tropes of the “white savior” complex and “explosions are cool.”

This is a very militaristic movie, and curiously the technology and behavior of the military forces in the movie are so similar to those depicted in Cameron’s Aliens, that I wonder if the two stories are set in the same universe.  There’s no subtly at all in this story, and in addition to the other “messages” in the movie the military are depicted basically reenacting atrocities from Vietnam and Iraq.

What stands out from this movie are the stunning visuals of the world of Pandora.  The movie is probably a bit better if I saw it in 3-D on a big screen as intended.  The best parts of the movie are when the narrative slows down and we the audience get to just explore the environment and learn about the Na’vi, even if these scenes add a lot to the movies length.  There weren’t Netflix series in 2009, but I kind of wonder if the whole story would’ve been more interesting if they had time to develop the world and characters rather than falling back on tired cliches to accompany the special effects. On the other hand, I’m not sure if Worthington’s acting would improve any.

Rating: **

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 16


Here’s what’s in my ears for this week so now it may be in your ears too!

WBUR News :: Capuano’s Challenge From Pressley Is Called A Fight For ‘The Soul Of The Democratic Party’

Insight into the inertia within the Massachusetts Democratic Party that holds back new ideas and new blood.

BackStory :: The Camera Never Lies?

The history of the early use of photography in journalism and the challenge for it to get accepted by the public.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: THX Deep Note

The history of THX, the certification process to guarantee a high quality audio experience for moviegoers created by George Lucas. It includes the story of how the famous deep note played before movies was composed.

Upon Further Review :: What if Tom Brady Never Became the Patriot’s Quarterback?

Backup quarterback Tom Brady became a Patriots legend when he took over for injured starter Drew Bledsoe midway through the 2001 season and lead the team to their first Super Bowl victory. This “what if” podcasts takes us to a world where that never happened in the form of a spot-on parody of a Boston sports radio call-in

Planet Money :: Ungerrymandering Florida

The effort to stop partisan gerrymandering and creating fairer representative districts.

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)


TitleThor: Ragnarok
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The third Thor movie (I haven’t seen the other two) and the 17th Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bonkers romp in superhero fantasy tropes. After Odin’s passing, Thor and Loki (kinda) need to prevent Ragnarok, the prophesied destruction of Asgard. They get sidetracked to a planet of garbage that is home to gladiatorial combat hosted by the Grandmaster. There they team up with Hulk and a drunken but still badass Valkyrie to finally make their way to Asgard to fight off Thor’s previously unknown sister Hela and her army of the dead.

This movie is defined by its bizarre tangents and the humor of the unexpected. The regulars – Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Ruffalo – all dive into their parts, enjoying the opportunity to something more with their characters. Jeff Goldblum is hilarious as the Grandmaster, Tessa Thompson is a terrific Valkyrie (I hope she’s a returning character), and Cate Blanchett is appropriately over the top in her evilness, and disarmingly sexy while doing so.

Rating: ****

2018 FIFA World Cup Rooting Preferences


The FIFA World Cup starts today.  I’ve been finding it hard to find the enthusiasm I usually have this year partly because corrupt FIFA is holding the tournament in corrupt Russia.  (Finding out that North America will be getting a share of that corruption, er, soccer excitement in 2026 takes away the sting a little bit).  Of course it also sucks that the USA failed (miserably) to qualify, and my backup squads in Ireland and the Netherlands are also staying home.

With that it mind here is who I’ll be rooting for in each group (I’m not event going to make an attempt to predict the outcome for this thing):

Group A – Egypt is the natural underdog here, appearing in their first Cup in 28 years with their superstar Mohamed Salah.  I also have a fondness for Uruguay, who tend to punch above their weight in the soccer world.

Hoped for outcome: Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia

Group B – No strong feelings in any direction here.  I’ve come to appreciate Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal through reading children’s biographies.  I also like to see African teams succeed.

Hoped for outcome: Portugal, Morocco, Spain, and Iran.

Group C – Peru emerged from the tough South American qualifying group for their first World Cup in 36 years and thus the natural feel-good story for this group.  I also have a fondness for Australia as the antipodean counterpart of the US national team.

Hoped for outcome: Australia, Peru, France, and Denmark.

Group D –  OMG, how can you root for anyone but Iceland!  I’m also hoping Lionel Messi can do something good in what is likely his final World Cup.

Hoped for outcome: Iceland, Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia.

Group E – Costa Rica won hearts and minds, if not quite enough games in 2014.  Let’s hope they bring the CONCACAF Thunder in 2018! And may Brazil atone for their embarrassment versus Germany.

Hoped for outcome: Costa Rica, Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia.

Group F – I know I’m supposed to hate Mexico, but, screw it, I’m rooting for Mexico.

Hoped for outcome: Mexico, South Korea, Germany, and Sweden.

Group G – Panama qualified for their first World Cup at the USA’s expense, so they’d better make it worth it.  No strong feelings on the rest of this group, but it seems deserving for England to make an early Brexit.

Hoped for outcome: Panama, Belgium, Tunisia, and England.

Group H – Colombia was another exciting team in 2014 that I’d like to see go farther this year.

Hoped for outcome: Colombia, Senegal, Japan, and Poland.

 

And if any of this comes to pass, I’ll be the most surprised.

Are you watching the World Cup this year? If so, who are you rooting for?  Let me know in the comments!

2018 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon #BAT2018


On Sunday, June 10th, my daughter Kay (a.k.a. “The Toothless Wonder”) and I rode in the Bikes Not Bombs 31st Annual Bike-A-Thon.  The ride helps raise funds for Bikes Not Bombs’ social justice programs in Boston and abroad.

We met our goal for fundraising (including for my son Peter who was not able to participate), but Bikes Not Bombs is still accepting donations if you wish to contribute.

It was a beautiful day to ride, and except for the steep uphills right at the beginning, it was a terrific ride.

 

Read about our previous Bike-A-Thons in 2011, 201320152016, and 2017.

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)


Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Release Date: April 4, 2014
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

This is the second Captain America movie and the ninth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The MCU works best when it adapts it’s superhero movies to different genres, and this one attempts a political conspiracy thriller, as Steve Rogers and his cohort uncover Hydra’s long-term plot to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. With one of the more streamlined casts in the MCU oeuvre ,Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff  and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury get a whole lot more screentime, and thus more interesting things to do with their characters.  This movie also introduces Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon, an interesting character who in retrospect doesn’t get enough attention in the following movies.  Sebastian Stan returns as the Winter Soldier (aka brainwashed Bucky Barnes) and doesn’t do much more than shoot and punch, but it does give a background to Bucky’s role in future movies. The plot of this movie is well done, but there’s a lot more firing machine guns and blowing stuff up than I find interesting. More isn’t always better even in an action movie, but the Russos have a workman-like approach that lacks the artistry of some other MCU directors.

Rating: **1/2

Comic Book Reviews: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (2016-2017)


Lunella Lafayette is a 9-year-old genius who is bored with school and fears her Inhuman genes.  When a giant, red T-Rex enters her life, she takes her first step into becoming the youngest superhero.

Author:Amy Reeder (Author) and Natacha Bustos (Illustrator)
Title: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF
Publication Info: Marvel (2016)
Summary/Review:  This book slowly introduces Lunella and how she gets acquainted with Devil Dinosaur.  Seriously, this is why I read compilation books because if read single issues with those “cliffhangers,” I’d tear them in rage.  Lunella is an interesting smart kid character, a bit snooty, but with a lot of internal conflict.  Devil Dinosaur travels into the present with a group of cavemen, an historical inaccuracy I’ll overlook, if only because the cavemen then become a street gang known as the Killer-Folk.  Much like other comics I’ve read recently (Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl), a famed Marvel Comics hero makes a cameo appearance to advise Lunella.  In this case it’s Hulk, who apparently can speak in full sentences in this universe.

Rating: **1/2


Author: Amy Reeder (Author),  Marco Failla (Illustrator), and Natacha Bustos (Illustrator)
TitleMoon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties
Publication Info: Marvel (2017)
Summary/Review: Lunella finally succumbs to the Terrigen Cloud and her Inhuman power is not a desirable one (SPOILER: she switches minds with Devil Dinosaur and has no control of when it happens).  In other news, Mel-Varr, a.k.a. Marvin Ellis, a.k.a. Kidd Kree, a 9-year-old trying to prove his place among the Kree by capturing Moon Girl, makes life difficult for her both at school and during her crime fighting activities at night.  Ms. Marvel even has to step in and break up their squabbles.  It’s a good story arc with a lot of humor and a lot of pathos.

Rating: ***1/2