Tuesday, March 31, 2009

There's No Fire-and-Brimstone...

…like Catholic fire-and-brimstone.
Father was talking about the nature of sin and what it does to us and what it means to us. The beginning was a rather typical dissertation on sin when he moved on to mortal sin. Softly, he explained how mortal sin, by our own choice, cuts us off from God. Almost in a whisper, he reminded that God longs for us to return to Him and be reconciled with Him. But if we don't "WE WILL SPEND AN ETERNITY IN HELL. ETERNITY! BEING TORTURED BY DEMONS. YES, DEMONS! I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! THIS IS WHAT THE SCRIPTURES SAY. THIS IS WHAT THE CHURCH TEACHES. HELL IS REAL AND IT IS FOREVER!" Then Father returned to a near whisper, "But this is not what God wants."
I didn’t know this kind of stuff would come from a Catholic pulpit. Of course the last time that I was in a Catholic church was at the wedding of the Nightfly and the Ladybug, and that was a much more joyous subject on which to preach.

This subject also rarely comes up in evangelical pulpits. Does anyone think that the above would ever come out of Rick Warren’s mouth? Joel Osteen’s?

My pastor preached a message very similar to the padre’s two weeks ago. He picks a book of the Bible and spends about two years preaching on it, a few verses at a time. When the time came to preach on Luke 16:23-31, he did not ignore it. Like this priest, he knows that it would be pastoral malpractice if he did not warn people of the disastrous consequences of ignoring Christ.

Notice I didn’t say “rejecting Christ”, I said “ignoring Christ”.

H/T to the Creative Minority Report. Yeah, I’m reading Catholic blogs. I’m in so much trouble if my pastor finds out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ich bin in der Liebe..

...mit Angela Merkel.
GORDON BROWN’S carefully laid plans for a G20 deal on worldwide tax cuts have been scuppered by an eve-of-summit ambush by European leaders.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, last night led the assault on the prime minister’s “global new deal” for a $2 trillion-plus fiscal stimulus to end the recession.

“I will not let anyone tell me that we must spend more money,” she said.
It was probably more like, “Ich lasse niemand mir erklären, dass wir mehr Geld ausgeben müssen.

Angela mein Engel, mein fiscally-responsible Liebchen, heiraten Sie mich bitte!

Friday, March 27, 2009

What's Good for the Goose...

…is good for the gander.
Want government assistance? Just say no to drugs.

Lawmakers in at least eight states, including Florida, want recipients of food stamps, unemployment benefits or welfare to submit to random drug testing.

The effort comes as more Americans turn to these safety nets to ride out the recession. Poverty and civil liberties advocates fear the strategy could backfire, discouraging people from seeking help and making desperate situations worse.

Those in favor of the drug tests say they are motivated out of a concern for their constituents' health and ability to put themselves on more solid financial footing once the economy rebounds. Proponents concede they also want to send a message: You don't get something for nothing.
I'm sure these “poverty and civil rights activists” saw no problem with the gummint getting into Big Auto and Wall Street’s business when they took taxpayer cash but now have a problem with the same guidelines applying to their constituencies.

Guys, this is the classic method to deal with drug addicts by holding them accountable for their actions. The Air Force held me accountable for my actions many moons ago and that put me on the road to sobriety. And if you will turn down public assistance because you still want to get high then you have problems no amount of taxpayer cash can solve.

Ain't no montage short enough - AI results

Interesting night ahead: 36,000,000 votes, Ruben sings, Smokey duets with Joss Stone – and Megan was so egregious on “For Once in My Life” that Stevie Wonder himself has decided to take up his own cause. THIS is American Idol.

Medley time first. Allison, Lil, and Megan sing “You Keep Me Hanging On.” The producers have a terrific sense of humor: they give Megan the line “Why don’t you get out of my life, and let me make a new start?” Your lips to America’s ears, sunshine. At least she looks like a normal person tonight. There are two other songs, but it’s impossible to care. The choreography and solo spots are snore-causing, and this is from someone who loves the Motown.

Ford Spot – “Pocketful of Sunshine” – let me guess, they’re gonna drive right off into the picture. Didn’t see THAT coming at all! It’s supercalifordspecificexipobviousis.

Ruben is newly married, and geeks out pointing to the ring on camera. He really is a big teddy bear. The singing was quite fine. Hope the results live up to it.

Adam’s first to stand – after the least suspenseful pause of the show’s history, he’s safe and sits. Matt is safe OH SNAP he’s bottom three. I had it all written up the other way. Complete gobsmack, and Matt looks miffed. Kris with a K then gets his chain yanked by Ryan, but is safe.

Up together, Lil and Mike. Lil gets another chance; Mike takes his well-earned spot on the Stools of Shame next to Matt, who is steaming over this. He will have a good while to steam some more while we get through the entertaining portion of the program: Smokey Robinson and Joss Stone. Joss is buttah, friends; that’s a star right there. Hey presto, Smokey still got it. He sounds barely changed from his heyday. Really terrific duet, very well done.

OK, time to look for our final cut. *cough MEGAN cough* Allison is justly safe. Anoop still looks bored and serious, but he gets to sit back down. Super Saiyen is safe. It’s down to Scott and Megan. Both were among my four contenders but I picked Lil, thus saving her. (The Jinx is powering back up after a bit of a rest.) Aw nertz, it’s Scott. Stinkers. I feared this would happen. Megan looks astounded. If Matt is out, I predict the judges will use the save. (I wish that along with a save, the judges had a strikeout, the ability to banish one contestant.) Randy praises Scott. Matt looks like someone kicked his puppy. (I am loving how annoyed he is with sitting on Reject Row.) Ryan decides it’s cruel to keep Scott in suspense so they send him back to safety. Matt and Mike will continue to squirm.

Wonder time. It’s a medley of his own songs: My Cherie Amour, Superstition, Overjoyed, and something newer yet fairly good… All About the Love? Don’t know the title. He’s doing all right (a little shaky on Overjoyed – his songs are even hard for HIM to sing!) –

UNTIL he decided to yelp “I love you Barack Obama!” for no discernible reason.

I daresay that is the Christian attitude and it does him some credit, but dude, for reals – can’t this be apolitical? Can’t anything be free of it? I don’t care if you love him, or Palin, or Rush, or Franken, or the Lord President of Gallifrey. KEEP IT OUT OF THE SONG. Or wear a button or something, if you must. And…. Uhm…. Are the backup singers actually SINGING “Barack Obama” at the end??? Do I have that right? “Ba-rack O-ba-ma…” or it could be “All a-bout the love, a-bout the love.” I dearly hope it’s the latter. I’ve gone back three times and I hate to say it, but it certainly sounds like Barack’s name is in the lyrics. This is preposterous. I hope I’m wrong. Can’t we go half a day without this pferdkaese?

Matt is still ticked off for being down in the low-rent district, but justice finally prevails. Ricky Bobby is out. He now has to sing himself back in with “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” It’s time to take Smokey’s advice – this is your last chance with your woman television show. “I have to sing after Stevie?” Heheheheh. I really like this guy. He’s much better during the sing-off, but he still has to bail on a not-all-that-high note. He is also doing an odd funky-dance, which is endearing like the rest but not professional grade. 2½ tops, my brother, and at least you go out on a high.

Simon is saying “no” on the panel – over and over, in fact, because it looks like the ladies are trying to pull a save out of Paula’s kooshy skirt. “It was good enough!” Kara is heard to wail. (It wasn’t.) Ryan – “We’ve got another show after this...” Hahahahaha, even he’s trying to cut off Kara’s rambling. It’s too late, the DVR has stopped.

But HAH, remember, I have married the Ladybug, whose awesome is well-documented. She’s got Kara’s number, and has also recorded the following program (Hell’s Kitchen, as it happens). We miss about 30 seconds but we do hear that Mike is confirmed out. “I don’t feel like anything I’ve done is in vain,” he says on the clip. “You can’t go wrong by getting better at who you are.” Very sweet, and very wise. He also gets to tour, so you know, good on you, Mike Sarver. Class act, indeed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Welcome to the Motown Sock-Hop! AI top 10

Simon looks happier this week. Maybe it's because it's Motown instead of Country... or he's laughing at Paula's koosh skirt. Me, I'm wary. I'm armed with the collected Greatest Hits of Smokey, Marvin, the Supremes, Stevie, the Temps, and the Tops. Simon, heh, says, "I'm not looking forward to this, exactly." Cautious optimism, that's us. We're like this.

The Idols got to tour Hitsville, where Smokey Robinson and Gordy Berry personally implore them not to slaughter any of their classics. It's an amazing tour - or at least we get to see the most amazing three minutes of it. Smokey says, "Pretty much every Motown song you've heard was recorded in this studio." Allison - "Papa Was a Rolling Stone?" Smokey - "Right in this room."

Well, they certainly have an embarrassment of riches to choose from tonight, so no more "I lost the coin flip" complaints.

Matt's first. "I never imagined I'd play piano for Smokey Robinson," he says. Yeah, my brain would break if I had to do that. He's going after Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On." He starts alone on the piano and then they pick up the tempo and he jumps up to get rockin'. Started very well but it somehow goes a bit sideways with the full accompaniment. Can't quite put my finger on why. Still good, but there are some off notes. (Nor am I a fan of the shirt/tie/v-neck sweater combo.) Randy likes it, Kara says he's solid and coming out of his shell, Paula likes how he doesn't try to overdo the riffing (quite right), but "you're respectful." It's comfy like old blue jeans, she says. Simon - "You are now one of the front runners in this competition." (But he said the middle was a bit corny. It wasn't just me.) I give Matt three out of Four Tops.

The full performances on iTunes this week will be backed by the original Motown instrumental tracks. In other words - KARAOKE. You're kidding. That is slops.

Next, it's Freddie Prinze III Hal Sparks - er, Kris with a K. He's doing "How Sweet it Is to Be Loved By You." The rehearsal snippet is really great. The performance proper channels a lot of the James Taylor cover, from the tempo to the backup singer's Carly Simon harmony. He sounds excellent, though; a little less on the showmanship but better on the vocal than Matt.

K - not Marvin, not JT.
NF - well, more JT than Marvin. But I agree with her a little on the phrasing. (Alas, I forgot to write down what she actually said about the phrasing, only that I agreed with it. Sowry!)
P - great job, good high-A note at the end, or whatever it was. (HAHAHAHAHA)
S - you're competing well, but you need more self-belief, even how you're standing now. You could be at a bus stop. To be a star you need to be conceited. ("Like Simon!" someone chirps.)

I missed Randy's comment, but I don't care right now. Late, tired, DVR is grouchy. No rewind. 3½ tops.

Scott is "going to the baby grand." Is that like Warner Wolf going to the videotape? First, he has to flee the Coke Toadstools. He's just gotta be me, he says. He's going to take risks without losing the piano. He sings "You Can't Hurry Love." Simon normally hates when the singer grabs a song first done by the opposite sex, but Phil Collins covered this effectively. Rehearsal is way slow. Performance starts the same way, on the chorus, and then sets off. He's arranged it... well... was that arrangement or did he just boof the lyric? He smushed half of verse one with half of verse two. It was probably on purpose, but odd. I like the backup singers out there at the piano. Better in the second half than the first.

P - very enjoyable, like what's in my slurppy cup.*
S - thinks it's the wrong song, the piano sounded "honky-tonk." He's heard it "a million billion times." (Sagan Strikes!) "You're better than that," he says wearily. R agrees, K thinks he messed with the melody and didn't execute. I say 2½ tops.

*I mistyped "slurpy" but then decided the extra 'p' was perfect in context.

Scott says he wants to do a piano/voice piece, no other accompaniment. He also had a different song choice but went back to this. It was "Reach Out and Touch." Simon, immediately - "Much better. Should have done that." Paula, frustrated, says Simon is acting like a six-year old and dives under the table for... uhm... Simon is horrified at this turn of events, and Ryan is like "Uh, we can't show this." She comes back up with coloring books and crayons for Simon. (Maybe he can find a crayon the color of poor Scott's pants.) And when we come back - Megan sings Stevie Wonder. Oh $?#&*^(!^%%e#.

When we return, Paula reveals (ewewew- oh wait, just verbally) that she has an arsenal of kid toys in her Koosh Dress. Kara - "Oh, God." Agreed. I just want her to pass the slurppy cup before we deal with this impending Epic Fail. Smokey has heard Megan's rehearsal, and kindly calls her "original." She's singing "For Once in My Life." Oh, merciful heavens. It knew it wasn't illness, she's doing all the same weird overpronouncing and hitting notes in the key of Q. It's like a dentist's drill boring into my skull. Ugly. Painful. And for crying out tears - how can she look and dress like a normal, pretty woman during the rehearsals and then come out on stage looking like that? The whole outfit is tragic - ugly dress, some wooden toy blocks on a necklace (maybe from Paula's stash), a flower in her hair like Lola from the Copacabana. It's like a thrift store exploded and she simply wore what landed on her. And the singing is WORSE. Simon looks like he wants to flee the premises.

R - train wreck, horrible.
K - should have sung "My Guy." This song dominated you.
P - she looks stunning. [To put it kindly.] But she agrees. Says it was confusing; thought she sang it in too low a key, and then it was in too high a key.
S - whomever is advising you, I would fire. You are in serious trouble.

I told you she should have been sent away. Zero tops. Negative tops, even. DO NOT WANT.

Anoop is next, singing (sigh) "Ooh Baby Baby." Smokey - "Can't wait to hear it!" I love it, he's like a kid at Christmas. One of my songs? Wow, awesome! Ladybug - "Smokey hasn't given a single piece of advice yet, and we're on the fifth person. It's all 'I wouldn't change a thing!'" HAHAHAHAHAHA!

We're off. Holy cow, you know, Anoop is actuall reaching these notes. He took the song down to a great key for him, and he is getting on top of all the high tenor stuff. He saved himself last week and he's making it pay off. He even hit that last high falsetto note. Holy cow. This was not teh suq. In fact it was pretty good.

K - only a very few off notes, you have a skill set, push it more, be creative in the melodies.
P - wow it's tough to sing in front of a legend like this.
S - they do it every week.
P - you're not a legend!
NF - he means the mentors, Einstein.

There's more advice I miss because the Official Puppy decides to audition. There was something about needing to be a recording star at the end, not just a competent performer of musicals. 3 tops.

It's Ricky Bobby Time. Mike Sarver is taking "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" to church; he means he's going to sing it off the cuff. Testify! Smokey actually has something to say about that: "You have a big voice - pound it more. Don't be sweet. This is your last chance with your woman." (Mike should just sing one of his songs. It works.) This is kind of eh. In trying to rough up his voice he's losing his way completely. Odd notes, odd phrasing. Not my style. He doesn't have the voice or the range for a song like this.

P - this was kind of Vegas, sorry. (Boos!) This is hard! You need to drive that song. (She's stealing advice from Kara!) The A-notes were all wrong. (HA - this week's Secret Word is "A-notes." Take a shot!)
S - you can't win with a vocal like that. I couldn't wait for it to end. Forget that rubbish about dominating the songs, just pick something that works for you and sing.
R -not the right song. You're not really an R & B guy. Tried to do too much with it.
K - we need artistry; what can you bring of yourself to the song?

Ricky Bobby isn't tore up about it - "I can turn arown and sang," he says. It's his thing, do what he wanna do. (And hey, no Isely Brothers yet?)

NF - I'm giving him one top, is that all right?
LB - It's OK, I didn't care for it.

Lil is gonna rock out Martha and the Vandella's "Heat Wave." Smokey drops the phone book line on us, and then he and Lil bond over the Detroit experience. Lil just wants to make Martha and Diana and Aretha proud, and even though Aretha's with Atlantic Records I'm sure she appreciates it.

I like the old-school flair of the dress and hairstyle. The actual singing is poor, however. Pitch problems all over, even to my less-than-apt ears. Good energy but the vocal is a great disappointment. Good song choice executed very poorly. She was way better in the rehearsal.

R - should have done a slower song.
K - you should have nailed this song this week. We need more from you. You even screamed a little and you have a powerful voice, you don't need to, you should just sing.
P - disagrees with Randy and Kara, because she's listening to the original on an iPod concealed in her koosh dress.
S - a nice authentic homage - but bad song choice. He suggests "Heard it Through the Grapevine." (I suggest "Nowhere to Run" if she wanted to stick to Martha and the Vandellas.) "You could have had a moment there tonight and you didn't get there. Lest we forget, you're one of the finest singers in this competition."
P - "You could run for President!"
NF - She's not 35 yet. Even Taylor Hicks can't run for President. It's the opposite of the age rules for your program, actually, the program you've been on for more than seven years, in the country you've lived in for six times that long. Two tops for Lil.

Adam's up next, looking like a young Elvis right down to the shiny suit. First, though, the Moheghan Sun hotel and casino would like to rummage through my childhood memories and smash whatever it finds - thanks for Meganizing Toto's "Hold the Line," guys, I'm going right to Foxwoods and you can take a great big flying jump.

OK, at this point, I actually lost my notes, due to circumstances - no, due to my doofusness. Luckily I don't need notes to remember how completely brilliant Adam was. He geeked out in front of Smokey and then sang "Tracks of My Tears." Far and away the best of the night - it's like he was from another planet. Standing O, including from Smokey and Gordy. I'm actually buying the live version on iTunes, and I never do stuff like that. Six Tops and a Temptation. It's not even close.

In a perfectly just world, Megan would be following since she's a dead girl singing anyway. Unfortunately it falls to Super Saiyen Gokay to follow that landmark performance. He's singing "Get Ready, Here I Come," and while it's not bad, of course it suffers a bit in the comparison. Smokey gave him a bit of actual advice in the rehearsal - "You're pausing where the backup singers take over. You should sing those parts too. 'It's all right... It's outta sight.'" Danny agrees with Smokey, and then ignores him during the performance. If I find my notes I'll share the judges' remarks, which at this point had to be compressed. Simon said amateurish, I think. It was nothing to rush out and buy, to be sure. Three tops - I'm trying not to mark the guy down because of Adam's performance.

Allison closes the show - she flubs the lyric in the rehearsal and Smokey warns her to mind the words on the night. She's choosing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," which is rather a bad idea. The song is seven minutes long, and even if you cut the intro there's a lot you lose. She has to smoosh verses together. She flubs the lyric again ("Talkin' 'bout savin' souls, all the time leachin'... Dealing in dirt, and stealing in the name of the Lord.") She concentrated too much on the line leading into it and lost her place. Her voice is still as good as ever but this went off the rail a bit on her. Heh, Simon graffiti'd a moustache on Paula in crayon! 2½ tops for the song, four tops for Simon.

Bottom three -
1. Megan, Megan, and Megan some more.
2. Mike Sarver is also on the block. I'm torn on the other choice. Allison was already in the bottom three (not quite deserved) so closing the show like this may be big trouble, but Scott and Lil could fill this spot. Heck, I'll choose...
3. Lil.

Na na, hey hey, goodbye - oh, how Megan does deserve it, but she is so clearly horrible that she isn't splitting the odious VFTW block. Probably Mike instead, but if I'm wrong, how right it would be.

(You are directed to high-quality snark here. Click it! Go!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I love it when someone else writes my posts

Bill Simmons, this time, on ESPN.com talking about the statistical revolution in sports, and specifically in basketball.

If I wrote that, there would be two major differences:

1. It would be about hockey, not basketball.
2. 7,335,204 fewer people would read it.

I don't begrudge the man his audience of course, but I feel a kinship with the premise, which is that certain sports (baseball, football) are much easier to break down statistically. I think the reason is that they are much less fluid than basketball and hockey. Baseball is easiest because it is the most static - there are innings, and further there are at-bats and individual pitches. Go to the Baseball Analysts and you can find posts describing the various run-creation formulae... and even insanity such as charting certain pitches placed in certain parts of the strike zone with various permutations of outs and baserunners, and how many runs tend to be scored off those pitches.

(Note - not all that insanity is bad, actually; and lest Bill Conlin and Murray Chass start pounding their 1915 manual typewriters in frustration over all this newfangledry, there are also posts breaking down pitchers' mechanics and old-school "I know good baseball when I see it, consarnit" scouting reports.)

Football is an interesting case. It breaks down similarly by play, but there is a wrinkle that baseball lacks: there are people in football whose sole job is to make it possible for other people do their jobs: primarily the offensive lineman and the humble blocking fullback, who are thus tough to quantify. The venerable Paul Zimmerman, SI's Dr. Z, keeps charts to help him rate the overall performance of such players, but it involves watching truly staggering amounts of game film every week, and thus it's very difficult to duplicate and make generally accessible. (Aaron Schatz and the Football Outsiders folks have taken Dr. Z's work to the next level.)

This wrinkle sometimes hurts cold objective analysis. Why are some defensive units extremely effective with few or even no Pro-Bowlers, while a unit with four can be inferior? Or to use Simmons' basketball example - Carmelo Anthony is clearly superior to Bruce Bowen, but the Spurs played better with Bowen than they ever would have with Anthony. They wouldn't have been able to use a guy like Carmelo in Bowen's role as top-flight defender and grit/hustle player. And basketball runs into far more of those difficulties than football - it is much more free-form. However, it is also high-scoring and has a shot clock; it breaks down into possessions of a sort, resulting either in points or a stop, and that gives the nascent statistician an edge.

What then of hockey, the most fluid of the four major sports?

Well, it's so unstructured that play can conceivably continue without a whistle for an entire 20-minute period, so long as nobody takes a penalty or knocks the puck out of play. Baseball is so structured that players can only play on offense one at a time, have rigidly-defined jobs on defense, and cannot return when substituted. Hockey is so loose that both offense and defense require complete team efforts, in which anyone may find themselves crashing a crease or working in the corner, and in which players make substitutions during the play.

The most structured position is that of goaltender. Not surprisingly, the goalie has the most complete set of statistics: percentage of shots saved, goals per game, wins, losses, and shutouts. This doesn't account for the quality of the shots but over the course of a full season such things tend to even out, or are partly reflected in other numbers. Then there's offense. Hockey features the lowest scoring of the four majors, so again, that's a relatively simple matter of who scored and who set up the goal. (Sometimes not even that. The NHL didn't officially record assists for a while.)

But as a low-scoring game, it's the defense that suffers. The plus/minus is a start, but the stat has a lot of "noise" to it. It sounds simple: plus/minus measures the difference between goals a team scores and those it permits while a particular player is on the ice. If my +/- is +5 it means that, while I've played, my team has scored five more goals than it has allowed at even strength. If yours is -10, well, that means the team is fifteen goals "worse" with you out there than it is with me. Right?

Well, not really. A poor player on a good team can float on the results of stronger teammates. A great player on a bad team will tend to have bad numbers. Some players play almost 30 minutes per game while others play only 7 or 8. A team's best defenseman and checking forwards are expected to shut down the opponents' most dangerous scorers while a third-pair defender benefits from playing against lower-skilled foes. You could be expected to handle future Hall-of-Famers for half of every game while I can only be trusted against scrubs for ten minutes here and there.

And it gets more complicated - if I wasn't around for those ten minutes, would you do worse at your job because you wouldn't be as rested during the game? If I sink to even or minus, should I be benched? What if that sinks your rating to -20? What if your rating is so low because you play with checking forwards who aren't expected to score? What if it's because we have a terrible goalie, so you are more likely to be on the ice when he flubs an easy shot?

With most statistics, outliers are a problem - they skew the overall results and aren't reliable. With a stat like +/-, it almost forces the reverse, where an outlier is not an anomaly but a true measure. That indicates something badly gone wrong with the original stat. Sure, the only player with a positive rating on a bad team full of high minuses is probably that team's best defender, but if takes that kind of a result, the stat is not all that useful. We could tell such a disparity without any stat at all; but if a guy is +8 and another is +10 over the course of 82 games, is that a statistical flub or a true indication that one has had a marginally better season on defense?

Attempts to improve hockey statistics are also underway, but much less known, and one big reason is that they're rather like Dr. Z's Pro-Bowl charts - they aren't that accessible and they do some very strange things with the little raw data available. Measuring strength of opponent, for example - sticking with you and I, the two defenseman - you face better opponents, measured in part by their goal and assist totals, in part by their minutes played (thus reflecting what their coaches think of their skill)... But are not my opponents' lower scoring totals due in part to their own lesser playing time? In part, isn't it also because I am knocking them down with a stick? In spreadsheet terms, it's something of a circular formula: the results of the calcuation are part of the calculation itself.

The only way to be really sure of our relative value would be to play me half the game against All-Stars and you ten minutes against shlubs, and see if I can duplicate my +5 while you remain at -10. Good luck finding the team that is willing to do that merely in the name of statistical analysis. Much the reverse - they would want to see some cold facts to back up the idea that I am suited for a tougher role. In fact, that's why the Montreal Canadiens developed +/- in the first place, back in the '50s (the league at large didn't adopt it until 1967, I believe). Absent that they must go with their eyes and their gut. Well and good for the team, but harder for the hockey fan who wants to argue that their favorite guy deserves a larger role, and who wants to appeal to something more than "I really like that guy." (I am your favorite guy, of course... What? My hit counter proves that I'm a bench jockey? Whyioughta...)

The worst thing would be to drag into hockey the ridiculous conflict between stat geeks and harrumphy "because I say so" sorts. Both call themselves the clear-eyed lovers of fact, and the other side is regarded rather as the emissaries of the Devil - either wanting to empty the sport of its soul, or of its brains. I'd rather not be either a vampire or a zombie, thanks all the same. I don't object to good stats, nor to personal observation. They're both simply means to describe and measure performance, and when they are at odds, something is up. What I object to are bad stats and prejudiced observations, which confuse and mislead. We get this a lot with Martin Brodeur, who recently became the winningest regular-season goalie in NHL history. Some people think he's too brilliant for words, others insist that he's only decent and not excellent, both based on their lyin' eyes. Others point only to the numbers to say he's the greatest, while others point to entirely different numbers to insist that he's adequate at best. (Really, I've heard it.) It's almost like he's the Derek Jeter of goalies...

...except, of course, that Jeter is clearly overrated (though still darn good), while Brodeur is in fact a superb keeper. So say my own lyin' eyes, at least until the stats catch up.

PS - speaking of lyin' eyes, your eyes are correct about the different look to the blog. I swapped templates and tinkered with some of the colors during a dull moment.

Still Seeking the Witch of Endor

Our local fish wrap has a front page above the fold story about the economic crisis causing folks to seek help in unconventional places.
Some people ask about their jobs - whether they'll find one or they'll lose the one they've got.

Others fret about making the mortgage or salvaging their 401(k).

"You can just see the look on their face," says Cissy Mercer, a spiritual healer in St. Petersburg. "They're kind of scattered and all uptight, which is normal with the economy like it is.

"They're worried. We all are."

So worried, they're flocking to Mercer and other Tampa Bay area psychics and mediums for guidance that used to come from career or financial advisers.

3000 years ago the King of Israel, motivated by fear, violated his own decree and sought a medium (1 Samuel 28). Apparently nothing has changed, for fearful people still seek out the supernatural.

I do not fully discount this kind of stuff. I had a pal in college who was a missionary to Indonesia, and he saw stuff over there that would be unheard of here in the USA. (Fly, do you remember the guy who came to our dorm and talked about the supernatural as an intro to the movie The Exorcist?)

Now I am sure that 99% of the spiritists, mediums, psychics in the Tampa Bay area have about as much connection to the spirit world as does the Official Puppy of the Hive. But the reason God forbids this is because it does exist.

But if you are going to go this route, make sure you go to a medium registered with the American Association of Psychics. This organization tests psychics, which is important because you want to make sure you aren’t wasting time and money on a fake, but you get a spiritual healer who actually bows the knee to a demon.

Also, make sure they have a permit with Hillsborough County.

I wonder how that psychic test goes. Must one conjure up Elvis before the Association to get licensed?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Watching too much Stargate

Maybe Obama is the Goa'uld System Lord Apophis, because this weekend he sent out his Jaffa to do his bidding.
Volunteers fanned out across the Birmingham area and Alabama Saturday to pump up enthusiasm for President Barack Obama's budget proposal in much the same way they did to win over voters during the presidential campaign.

About 30 volunteers in Birmingham canvassed shopping areas and other high-traffic
locations to talk about the need for health care reform, an education overhaul and environmentally friendly energy development.

"If we don't change these three things in the next 10 to 15 years, America is over as we know it," Chris DeHaven, told the group of volunteers before they went their separate ways.
God help any of these zombies if they come anywhere near me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

THIS... is American Idol - the good eleven

OK, dramatic lighting, tense music, really bad wardrobe choices - Adam looks like he fled a Flock of Seagulls tribute band. Simon, on the other hand, looks dressed-down and uh-tuhly bored. Maybe because it's Country Week. Simon loves him his Country Week. They should throw him a bone and sing a country song by a non-country act, something like Squeeze's "Labelled With Love" or "Diggin'" by the Seatbelts.

Oh, it's restricted to Grand Ole Opry House Members. They play an audio bed of THE MAN, Johnny Cash. That may be the highlight of the night, unless this week's svengali, Randy Travis, can share some of his magic twang. "Well, I can tell you 'bout training horses," he tells Mike Sarver. Too late, Kristy Lee was on last season. Well, if Randy can't help, maybe St. Patrick will intercede for the poor audience on his big day. And there's always snark to look forward to! (SarahK's snark is here, if you're so inclined, and you should be, dawg.)

Mike "Ricky Bobby" Sarver, Texas native, is singing something with a whole lotta words. "Don't lose the words, your chances of jumpin' back in aren't great," RT tells him. He doesn't lose the words, but I rather wish he had, just for kicks. The vocals aren't bad but this song has the range of a nose tackle, and he's not enough of a showman to bridge the gap. He looks like what he is - a genuine country boy enjoying a fun song, and while that's good, it isn't bringing me in.

Randy gets booed for pointing out all of that. Kara misses the big notes from Ricky Bobby, but he's glad he remembered the words. Paula disagrees with me and compliments him on the harmonica player - which is kind of like complimenting your computer screen for this post. Simon couldn't understand the words at all. RB - "The country folks did." S - "It may as well have been Norwegian." Says he didn't come across as a star, but as a likeable clumsy guy who enjoys country music. RB - "If we were perfect, we wouldn't need this show!" S - "Good point." Then he gives him a 1.2 out of 10 (ooof); I'd say it was a 4, which is still not great.

Allison's turn. "Don't do too much, just sing with the pipes you got," RT tells her. She rocks out to "Blame it on Your Heart." Much better than Ricky Bobby. Lively, connected to the audience. Kara, trying to replace the "phone book" cliché, says that she could sing the alphabet. I think that she could sing the periodic table. I think they should think of other things to sing that aren't singable in order to compliment singers. (My brain hurts now.) Paula, still in Reverse World, says that she'd like to see Allison stretch and be more vulnerable. Simon thought she may have struggled a touch with the lyrics (Allison: "No."), but "rock-solid" vocally. Randy calls it "dope." Simon calls it "precocious." It's supercaligroovingsingingexpidoprecocious.

Kris Allen - "Make You Feel My Love" - sitting and singing w/o his guitar. (I know, I typed that whole 80-letter word and then dropped an abbreviation for without. And then typed three lines about the whole situation. It's really late, and I'm punchy.) RT says that Kris is a strong balladeer who makes the song his. True that. He doesn't sound country on this at all. It's a great vocal. P says "vulnerable" as a compliment. "Vulnerable" is her Secret Word of the Week. Take a slug of Guinness every time she says it and you can be as loopy as her by the end of the night. S - "terrific." Agreed. "Great choice of song, completely in control." Randy calls him "tender dawg," and that is kind of offputting, you know? Kara makes it four thumbs up.

Lil Rounds has only heard country music on movie soundtracks. Someone buy that girl Ray Charles' "New Sounds in Country and Western," stat. She sings "Independence Day" and wants to "honor the country" [the genre, not the United States] by keeping the R & B back a bit. RT tells her to slow down and she'll be fine.

The pedal steel is a nice touch, but the verses are middling. Chorus is bigger and better, shows off her power. Her outfit looks a little like she's stuck in a dinner napkin at a nice restaurant. R - agrees with me. Boooooo! "Just keeping it real." Lil wanted to show more than R & B, defends her song choice. K - agrees, but props for standing her artistic ground. P loves all things, from vocals to outfit. (Erin go whaaa?) Should have cut one verse to get to the big stuff sooner. S - "Oh, of course." Heheheheh. He calls her "Little" instead of "Lil," gets corrected seventeen times or so, and says she sang like someone requested a song at a wedding, and she sang like a duty, not because she wanted to. "There are a million billion songs," he says. See, Carl Sagan was right.

It's Lord Emo's turn. Yikes, he's got cleavage, which he's trying to hide with a Chevron gas station logo. He is performing a Zepellin-inflected "Ring of Fire." RT is completely flummoxed: "I don't see too many guys with black nail polish." Ladybug and I are howling. We remember Trace Adkins last year in the Celebrity Apprentice finale: "I had t'go buy black nail polish. Not fer mah wife - fer some DUDE." We're cracking each other up by saying "wheat-grass juice" is a heavy country accent.

The song is very odd - but hear me out - I think it worked. Johnny Cash, remember, sang with U2 on Zooropa, and that worked. I think he'd get behind this performance. The vocal was wonderful, especially the wailing high notes, which are darn hard to pull off. I didn't care for the weird gyrating or camera-mugging, however. K - "Adam does country!" Uhm - which country? This wasn't even from our planet. P - "True to yourself as an artist." She steals my Zep reference. Grrrrr. I should Twitter this. S - "Don't go to Nashville. They're all probably throwing their television sets out the window. I thought it was absolute indulgent rubbish." Heheheheh. R - "Nine Inch Nails does country, it was HOT!" Ladybug likes the NIN reference. RT is aghast in the audience, but still gentlemanly. It's a remarkable expression.

Scott McIntyre - "Wild Angels." RT - "I didn't tell him this, but I thought, 'not good,'" when he heard the song choice. This show cracks me up. He also tells Scott to pick up the pace a bit. His lowest notes are barely in reach, but going up on the chorus helps him. Tough to judge, following Adam LeBon like that. I'm going to say not that good, maybe a 5 or 6. P - "Solid, impressive." She's in Cloud Cuckoo Land tonight. She then adds that the piano is a bit of a crutch, it hides him from the audience. Scott - "Could we move it closer?" Hahahaha! S - "That's stupid." P - "That's disrespectful!" S - "You're disrespectful. He's comfortable back there. Elton John stays back there. Should he come out from behind the piano?" He says Scott just needs to choose better songs. "THAT'S disrespectful!" someone tells Simon, but at this point even pause and play was too confusing. He says that to nearly everyone. So do all the judges. Help, I am confoozled. They end by making jokes about Billy Joel/Bruce Hornsby/Ray Charles Week so Scott can sing without the piano.

Alexis to the rescue! She loves country music, and will sing "Jolene." RT approves. (Alexis does look rather like a pixyish, punkish Dolly.) It's a good arrangement but she is behind the music, trying to catch up. Vocals are somewhat off. I do like her emotional connection to the song. K thought it was flat; R thought it was pitchy. P liked it better than they did, because happy slurpy sippy cup. S - "it was a little sound-alike." Alexis - whut? S - "meaning, it sounded too much like who you were singing; forgettable." Sad but true. She should skate on the strength of previous weeks, but this was a misstep. So much for my rescue.

Now it's Super Saiyen Gokay, singing "Jesus Take the Wheel." [Aside - the song kind of annoys me just a bit. Jesus is NOT your chaffeur, He isn't going to just steer your car when you completely bail out on driving.] RT made him nervous and he flubbed the words in rehearsal... repeatedly. Poor guy. You just want to hug the big ol' goof (if you're the Ladybug). RT - "I hope he's close to 100% on the night." Close? "But he has a soulfulness most of us wish we had." RT = true gentleman. But yeah, will Jesus take the mic if Gokay forgets the words tonight?

Gokay's shaky early - he has the words but not the notes. Hits the chorus and the stage lights up, turning him into a blinding pillar of music. Do not look directly into the performance! It's Touched by a Saiyen. It was a terrific finish after a bleh opening. K agrees with me. P disagrees. (Shocka!) "He set the stage early, Carrie would buy the record." Geez, he could set the stage on key, couldn't he? S agreed with P on the vocal: "It's like light and shade, he can't scream from first to last." But he hates the jacket. "You look like you're on a polar expedition. It's 80° in Lows Anjuhless."

It's our first time watching the show on widescreen (we're not home). Ladybug notices that the bottom bar with the call-in number isn't a rectangle, as we've always believed, but has tapered ends. What else aren't you telling us, American Idol?

Oh, goody - Anoop + country. Impending fail.

We swap out for a moment to see Marty Brodeur clinch his record 552nd regular-season win. He makes a big stop with about four seconds left and beats Chicago 3-2. (And we picked Scott Scissons in 1990. I will now dunk my head in a bucket of bleach and ammonia.)

Anoop and RT are both North Cackalackians... same state, different worlds. RT liked his rehearsal. He's singing "Always on My Mind," another song I'm not down with. Gee, thanks, you thought of me, but not enough to honor our love and lifetime commitment. Yeah, romance!

But then the darndest thing happens and the whole show drops into Paula's mirror universe - the vocals are really good. He's doing very well. Plagues, forty days of darkness, dogs and cats living together... P - "Anoop is back!" (Uh, he was NEVER THERE.) S - "From zero to hero." (Oooh, good idea, they should have a Schoolhouse Rock Week!*) "One of my favorites of the night. You took a well-deserved kicking, didn't whine, came back strong, good job." R - "The arrangement was dope!" (Rugglesqwertyvussencrispenrangementdoprecocious!)

Megan's turn. She looks 40,000 times better at the rehearsal. She's singing Patsy Cline's "I Go Walking After Midnight." OK - first off, lose the dress in the nearest landfill. It's unflattering, ugly, scary. Sadly, it doesn't distract from the dreadful, over-pronounced vocals. This was strange and horrible. Those twin hammocks... egad, what a train wreck.

R - liked it. (What?) Mentions that she was sick during the week.
K - liked it AND the outfit. (WHAT??) Mentions that she had the flu. (It must be catching.)
P - liked it AND Megan was in the hospital and back this week. (Is this a Python sketch? What the blazes is happening?)
S - You should have the flue every night, better than last week. (I dunno, I think that cawing would have improved the vocals.) Surprised he didn't up the ante on the sickness and said she walked to the hospital and back, through the snow, uphill both ways.

Matt is singing more Carrie. Paula is smelling Simon's forearm. This whole night is officially spacebug insane. Matt is playing the piano and singing a song I don't recognize. It's a very good arrangement (just lose the strings), great vocal (last note was a bit off). K - amazing; P - "authentuh, authnopoly, authentic, authenticity... you're piercing hearts." S - "You don't get enough credit for your vocals. You outsang Danny tonight. You're like Michael Bublé." (I hope I got the accent right.) R - fave of the night.

My bottom three are Ricky Bobby, Lil Rounds, and HOPEFULLY Megan. The judges were way too kind to her just 'cause she was unwell. Heck, this morning the radio played her version, and then Patsy Cline's original back-to-back... the difference was unmistakeable. "Iya gow waw-KIN.... ayufter mid-nighTTTT!" Errrrrrrrrgh.

* for funsies, how would you assign the songs for a Schoolhouse Rock Week to our eleven contestants? You can leave off the one you think is going home, if you like. (I'm not picking a song for Megan.) Also - extra snark at the Snark Raving Mad, yo.

Monday, March 16, 2009

People all over the world, join in

So, that yurt stuff? It's officially serious business. We even got a comment from a fellow living in New Zealand. (Welcome, sir, both to the blog and to our virtual hippeh gourmand/ bookloving/ charades-playing/ road show.)

Jayne has baked cookies, Tracey's got a book swap rolling... and I'm making a soundtrack. (We've got to have good music on the new frontier.) I've got a bunch of stuff already, keeping in mind things we've discussed elsewhere - fave bands and guilty pleasures alike. I'll keep some of that as a surprise, lest I harsh your collective mellow. Since this is everybody's goofy old commune, I'm open to suggestions for the rest, in the comments. What would you like to hear?

Cry Me a River!

Like I'm going to be laying awake at night worrying about this.
TAMPA - Youssef Megahed is not charged with terrorism.

But whether the Egyptian citizen was a potential terrorist or just an innocent college student has been a central question since his arrest in South Carolina in 2007, when deputies said he and Ahmed Mohamed had pipe bombs in the trunk of their car.

Today, a federal judge will begin seating a jury to decide whether Megahed, a 23-year-old former University of South Florida student, is guilty of transporting explosives and possession of a destructive device.

Although passions have subsided since the Sept. 11 attacks, experts say it will still be a challenge to find a jury that can fairly judge a Muslim defendant.
What this story doesn't tell you is that Megahed and his buddy (who has pleaded guilty) were near a military base when they were stopped. Also, there probably won't be much in the way of protests; the local CAIR clowns already threw these guys under the bus.

I'm too much of an angry right-wing nut to have a snowball's chance in Gehenna of getting on this jury.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

She Thought I was a Wife Beater.

An update to this post.

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, I was engaged to be married. Actually I was engaged twice (two different women - I have commitment issues, which is also why I have no tattoos) but this story is about Engagement #2.

One day my betrothed asked me out of the blue, “Are you going to beat me after we get married?” I immediately thought of the old Bugs Bunny - Daffy Duck - Elmer Fudd cartoon, “Are you going to shoot me now or take me home and shoot me?” My answer was witty: “Betrothed, if I was going to beat you I’d be beating you now.” Wrong answer.

But I did find out where she got this crazy idea. My betrothed was studying to be a social worker and one of her classes had the director of a women’s shelter as a guest speaker. This speaker gave the class a profile of the classic wife beater. Poverty, broken home, drunk, abusive father.

Well guys, that’s me! And I was a little hurt, because I had exhibited no evidence that I would do such a thing. I freely admit that I’m still not quite right in some areas but beating on womenfolk isn’t one of them. Ladies, if I’m mad at you I just won’t talk to you. That’s not good, but at least it won’t involve law enforcement and the medical community.

And I am still not quite right. But the Lord healed, and continues to heal..

Why didn’t I marry her? I rarely denied her anything. But on the rare occasion I did she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. All she had to do was humor me now and then and be satisfied with “no”. And she couldn’t do it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The First Step In Recovery...

...is admitting you have a problem.
Now … let me discuss the issue that generated the most questions and comments to our publisher. Some readers believe we do a good job of being fair in our coverage and providing a balance of opinions. A few think we’re too conservative. But many more believe that our editorial pages are too liberal and that bias seeps into our news coverage. We have heard you on the bias issue and are taking deliberate steps to address this.

On the news pages, we have several editors who are assigned to look for bias and balance issues in stories and headlines. This has led to fairer coverage — more care in our play of stories as well as more straightforward approaches in headlines and local and wire stories. We continually discuss this issue with our staff and will continue to put an emphasis on critical editing focused on fairness.
How bad must the Atlanta Journal-Constitution be doing financially that they would publically admit to their bias?

I live in Tampa and get the Tampa Tribune. I subscribed for the baseball season; I can't read box scores on a computer screen. They focus on local news, which is fine with me. I don't rely on the newsopaper for news outside of Florida. I'm sure if the Trib had the resources they would be kissing Obama's tush as much as the St Pete Times does.

H/T Newsbusters

Research is my friend

Ricki found a blog about Tiny Houses (called - get this - tinyhouseblog.com). While noodling about this blog I found... well, as background, I should tell you to go to Tracey's and read all about our blog retreat/commune in the Traveling Cosmic Yurt.

THEN you should come back here and click this link. (And don't forget the update link.)

They could ship us a real, factual Traveling Cosmic Yurt to specs. For $40,000 we'd have it all - the "aircraft-grade" skylight; all the pre-fab walls, roof, doors, and windows; even an installation guide! (Hopefully, not in badly-translated English.) Of course we'd have to build it ourselves... but come on, that's a breeze! One snappy montage later, we'd be set for life:

WARNING - actual Traveling Cosmic Yurt is much more psychedelic and groovy, maaaaaan.
The Internet is sometimes such a lovely place, I could cry.

(Also found - the Spite House! Fabulous.)

As seen on Facebook

And now, as seen on SportsCenter - a Philadelphia Eagles day employee got himself sacked via his online activities.

A couple of weeks ago the Eagles bade goodbye to safety Bryan Dawkins. Day employee Dan Leone wasn't happy about that, and went to his Facebook page to grouse. Now, a public dig on one's employer is probably unwise anyway, but in the infamous words of Robert Downey Jr, he went "full retard" - as in, that's what he called the Eagles. They bounced him for it.

Dan has just learned why so many choose a nom de cyber out here in the WWW. On the bright side, now he can blog about the Iggles to his heart's content. On the downside - he's 32 years old and got himself fired via Facebook, which is kind of lame. (Hopefully this was a sideline and not his actual factual full-time work, since 8-10 workdays a year is hardly enough unless one is actually lining up besides Dawkins.)

Irony alert - after this story, the SportsCenter I saw ran an ad with the ubiquitous Billy Mays for their ESPN360 service. "Now you can watch sports right from your computer! The secret is in the Internet connection!" It was a funny spot, but it's odd that a story about a guy getting fired for online activity gives way to an advert where people say "Sports at work is a lot better than work at work!"

Good story on this from Kevin at Barry Melrose Rocks, normally a hockey blog, but hey - it's good to branch out. (Great picture, too... I love how the guy is posing with a keyboard, all serious. It looks like an album cover: This is my axe, and this is my music! )

A Friendly Wager

Here's the setup.
TAMPA - When 2-year-old Gabrielle Randel didn't go to sleep easily Saturday night, deputies say, her mother's boyfriend picked her up, wrapped her in a towel and began to beat her.

As Kenneth Lopez hit the tiny wrapped figure, Gabrielle stopped crying, authorities say. Sometime that night - authorities don't know whether it was during the beating or later - the toddler stopped breathing.

On Sunday, she was pronounced dead.

Lopez, 21, has been charged with aggravated child abuse. The sheriff's office says the charges might be upgraded after an autopsy determines how Gabrielle died.
Let's say we examine the news in our two local fishwraps for the next year. Every time the shack-up boyfriend beats the kid to death you give me a dollar. Every time anyone else beats the kid to death I give you a dollar.

At the end of one year, which of us would have the most dollars?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I'll let you teachers take a crack at this

There is a new curriculum at our local Tampa schools. Some English teachers don't like it because it does away with some of the classics. I am suspicious because the Advanced Placement students (The classes with college credit) are exempt from this new stuff. And I can't get used to the idea of kids watching movies in class (I know how I sound - get off my lawn!)

How did we get this new program? As our Lord would say, "Where your treasure is there your heart is also", and the late Mark Felt (AKA Deep Throat) would add, "Follow the money."
When the Hillsborough County School District tried SpringBoard at four of its 25 high schools last year, teachers balked at giving up favorite lessons and making drastic changes with little training. There was more angst when the district suddenly announced a districtwide rollout for this school year as it jumped at the chance for $30 million in federal grants to pay for the program over five years.
When you take Obama's money, you must do what Obama says. Are you listening, Governor Crist?

That's all I've got on the subject. If you teachers out there want to weigh in, feel free. Here is a comparison of the old and new.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A continuing story - consolations

Monday morning we woke up and prepared ourselves to help Pops say goodbye to his dear wife.

Before we could hit the road we made sure that everyone had a proper formal shirt and tie for the viewings. Then, I had to run a miniature clinic on tie tying. It had been quite a while since my brother had worn one, and Sister's beau had apparently not been required to since his childhood, clip-on days. The poor rabbits had to circle several trees before successfully ducking down the hole, but we got there, and it was a welcome smile to tide us during the next several hours.

The home was very pleasant. They also solved a grammatical issue I've wondered about - there's usually a sign in the lobby of such an establishment directing the visitors to the proper room for their viewing, just in case the staff happen to be unable to greet folks upon arrival. Such signs usually just have a name and room - Bob Smith, Chapel A; Mary Jones, Chapel B. After all, one can hardly say "We welcome Bob Smith" or "Now presenting Mary Jones." This home said "Caring for ________" on the sign, and I found that the perfect tone.

They were, of course, really caring for Pops, and for all of us. Everyone needs to work out their grief, and a public testimony strikes me as a healthy part of the process; not that we should make every step a public occasion (he said on his blog), but this was important. This was good. We all saw members of the family who had been absent for many years, though never too far from our thoughts. Email and cel phones help close the gap, but there's something about being there together.

It's no wonder that in between the two viewings, many of Pops' kids and their families went next door for a large dinner. There was a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of news to share. Pops did not come; it wasn't the right time for him, and a few of the family stayed with him instead. Each was a proper ministering.

All throughout the two viewings, a remarkable assortment of people came to offer their respects - all of the folks Pops knew through volunteering at the firehouse, and neighborhood friends, and more nephews and cousins; even friends he'd known from 35 years ago when he lived on Long Island, who had moved to a different part of Florida and made the trip when they heard.

I've always known that Pops and Grandma love us all; it's amazing and wonderful to see how much they are loved in return.

... developing ...

The Guy in the Glasses with the big ol' Bible...

....is one of my pastors. Pastor H, known on this blog for taking Mrs H to a Rays playoff game as a wedding anniversary present.

He is in SoCal at
The Shepherds’ Conference, which is the biggest gathering of evangelical pastors of which you have never heard.

Who goes to The Shepherds’ Conference? It would be easier to say who doesn’t go. Mainstream Protestants aren’t there. Emergent guys aren’t there. Pastors who sell books at Wal-mart (Osteen, Meyer, Warren) or are being investigated by the government (Randy & Paula White, John Hagee and my man Creflo Dollar) aren’t there.

Now all these folks are more than welcome; they choose not to participate. What goes on there is five days of hard core preaching of evangelical theology. Pastor G (my other pastor, the one from the Bronx) would bring back huge books with big words like modalism and syncretism.

Sadly, many evangelicals have no interest in learning doctrine; the what and why you believe. The Curt Jester and the Creative Minority Report do a great job of chronicling Catholics in public life who misrepresent or reject key Catholic teachings. I would argue that this is a greater problem on my side of the tracks.

But that issue deserves its own post. It will probably the most offensive post I will ever write on this blog.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I am a horrible person

Everywhere I look on the web, there's folks whom I've missed for a couple of weeks since I've been back - and in catching up with them, I find that without exception all of them have lost a family member or suffered some personal setback or work-related outrage.

And of course, this is all about me feeling bad for missing the news and not being able to say "I'm sorry for your pain." My condolences are extra-powerful and without them these poor souls are bereft - bereft, I say!

Oh - don't believe me? Well, why did all this lousy stuff go down when I wasn't around? Huh? Because my preventative powers weren't available, that's why. Because my all-important and oh-so-amazing widdle feewings are THE determiner of other people's reality. I could prove it, too, if those folks with the white coats would just stop sticking me with needles for a few hours.

Worrying more about how I appear to others, rather than how they feel, is what makes me such a horrible person. Simple math, friends. Please accept my honest condolences and well-wishes, forgive me my horribleness, and thanks as always for reading.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A continuing story - information

Sorry for not continuing my continuing story. Look for something more on Friday, I think. Thanks for your patience.

A Belated 50th Birthday Present

I went to the doctor at the VA hospital for a tune up and oil change. He said, "Happy Birthday" gave me an envelope and sent me to the outpatient lab for a prostate cancer test.

The envelope? It was a colon cancer test. I have to mail it back to the VA with samples of my poop. Just a light smear, the instructions say. As if I was going to slap it on like Spackle.

This is what you have to look forward to in about 13 years, Fly.

In the studio with the Barking Spider

This has been in the works for a long time. I have not been allowed to blog about it until now.

The past two Saturdays our church music team has been in a recording studio. We are one of the few churches that has songs which are Bible verses set to music. And since four of the five of us are over 50, we decided that we needed to record these songs for posterity.

The studio had a lot of Styrofoam in the ceiling and the walls. We were set up in the Beatles style. The two ladies, melody and alto harmony shared a mic, and so did the male melody singer (that's me!) and the tenor harmony/guitar player shared a mic. A padded wall separated us. We were circled in towers of foam in which to soak up sound. The other non-singing guitar player was in his own little padded room. Dan Smith, our engineer, chose not to give us headphones in which to hear ourselves. Since we were rookies he wanted to make it as close to our Sunday morning live performance as possible. I'm glad because I don't think I could take hearing myself in the headphones.

We spent about five hours in the studio each day. Boy was I beat! I took some getting used to singing without seeing my fellow singers. While we were listening back to our work, the female melody singer (which is my pastor's wife), was telling stories of when she worked at a very famous recording studio in New York called the Power Station back in 1981. Name dropped a few guys, like this 19-year-old kid who worked there named Jon Bon Jovi.

My work is done
. All that's left is overdubbing percussion and post production. We recorded 130 minutes of music and we need to pick 80 minutes for the CD.

One more thing. On listening back to the recording, I realized that I can't stand the sound of my own voice. I have to take the word of others that I'm not terrible.