Sunday, September 29, 2013

Play ball !

The 1963 World Series started almost exactly 50 years ago - on October 2, 1963. The Series pitted the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ultimately, the Dodgers prevailed, ending the hopes of the Yankees for winning three World Series in a row. It was the third title in franchise history for the Dodgers, and it was the first time in the history of baseball that the Yankees were swept in a World Series in only 4 games.

In 2013, the World Series won’t even start until October 23, and could last as long as Halloween, a full eight weeks into the start of the NFL season. Sadly, the World Series no longer generates the excitement that it did in 1963, which prompted a column in today’s New York Times:

is the game over?

Baseball is no longer “America’s pastime”, and it is now less popular than either professional football or professional basketball. The last eight years have produced the seven least watched Series in the history of baseball.

There WAS a time when baseball was a lot more important to most Americans. As James Earl Jones intoned in the 1984 movie, “The Natural”,

“the memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces .. the one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball .. Americans rolled by like steamrollers …, they’ve been erased, rebuilt, and erased again but baseball has marked the time .. the field, the game .. It’s a part of our past .. It reminds us of all that was once good, and could be again”

The irony of “America’s pastime” is that the balls that are used in play aren’t even made in America, and haven’t been for more than 30 years. Today, they are made in Costa Rica by workers who make $1.60 an hour, and produce roughly 200 baseballs a week.

Baseballs have been made in very much the same manner for over 100 years, but very few of us have seen HOW they are made. The link below (courtesy of YouTube) will let you watch baseballs being born:

how are baseballs made?

The Arizona Diamondbacks are arguably the most successful expansion team in the history of baseball, since the team won a World Series title in 2001, their 4th year in operation. In spite of that fact, though, I have yet to watch even ONE Diamondbacks game, and I’ll probably always be a Chicago Cubs fan, in spite of their years of futility.

One of the most famous play in the history of baseball was the Tinker to Evers to Chance triple play, which happened way back in 1907. However, THE most famous play in baseball was actually performed by another Cub, Rick Monday, in 1976, and should be watched again:

who is Rick Monday?

It’s easy to get caught up with the nonsense in Congress, the strife overseas, and the bickering over Obamacare, but there IS a way to make the world a more enjoyable place.

The smell of freshly cut grass, the crack of a bat, the roar of the crowd, and the taste of a ball park hotdog can chase away a lot of tension, and make you believe, at least for a while, the words used by James Earl Jones:

“life used to be good, and can be again … “

Let’s play ball !

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Injun summer

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, one of the two times of the year when the the length of the day is the same as the length of the night. In the spring, the day is called the vernal equinox.

In the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox signals the start of a magical season called Indian summer. Leaves on trees start changing color, evening temperatures become a bit crisper, and Mother Nature gives us a handful of glorious warm and sunny days before the first snowflakes flutter to the ground. Due to the tilting of the earth’s axis, the full moon at this time of the year appears larger than normal, resulting in what many folks call the Harvest Moon:

Over 100 years ago, a man named John T. McCutcheon published a story in the Chicago Tribune that he titled “Injun Summer”. Some of the terms used in the story might be considered politically incorrect today, but reading the story always brings a smile to my face because it reminds of simpler times a long , long time ago. The full text of the story can be viewed by clicking on the link below:

Injun summer

To celebrate the autumnal equinox, I plan to have a Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer for lunch, after which I’m planning to do a little spelunking in some ancient caves a short drive north of town.

To keep the day fresh in your memory, I’d recommend that you listen to a song called “Shine on Harvest Moon”, that was originally released in 1909, two years after “Injun Summer” was first published. Scores of artists have done covers since that time, but Rosemary Clooney performed what I would consider to be the best version:

"Shine on Harvest Moon”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The secret to a long life

This morning’s Arizona Republic (citing an Associated Press article) reported that the world’s oldest man, 112 year old Salustino Sanchez-Blazquez, died on Friday of this week (Friday the 13th) in Grand Island, New York. Like most of the folks who have lived well beyond 100, Mr. Sanchez-Blazquez did not live an easy life. In his teens, he worked in the Kentucky coal mines, and he later worked in construction and in the industrial furnaces near the Niagara Falls area.

After his wife died, he lived with his daughter until he was 106 years old, at which point he moved into a nursing home. He attributed his longevity to the fact that he ate one banana every day, in addition to six Anacin tablets. His daughter believes the REAL reason he lived as long as he did was that he was an independent, stubborn man.

It is estimated that 30% of America's population accepts the words of the Bible literally. For those folks, the world’s oldest humans were Adam (930 years old) , Noah (950 years old) and Methuselah (969 years old). The specific references to these dates can be found in Genesis 5:4, Geneses 9:29, and Genesis 5:27. After these early humans, the maximum life span shortened considerably at some point in time, and is recorded in the Bible as being 120 years (Genesis 6:3).

For those of us who require factual proof of longevity, the world’s oldest human was a French woman named Jeanne Galmert, who lived to be more than 122 years old. She smoked from the time she was 21 until she was 117, she was a regular consumer of port wine, and she ate roughly 2 pounds of chocolate every week. In her own opinion, she attributes her longevity to olive oil, which she poured liberally on most of the food that she ate, and she also rubbed it into her skin.

Jeanne Calmert is an exception to the general rule that most people who have lived a long time have endured difficult lives, since the majority of them have had some ties to slavery.

Although Ms. Calmert was not particularly athletic, she DID take up fencing when she was 85 years old, and she rode her bicycle until she was 100. In the final analysis, though, it appears that she DID discover the way to have a long life - smoke, drink, and eat chocolate.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

12 Angry Men

I don’t spend a lot of time watching movies, and I spend less time than that watching OLD movies. For reasons that I really can’t explain, I decided to watch a movie last night that was released in 1957, when I was still in elementary school.

I may have seen the movie once before years ago, but I have no memory of when or where. Nevertheless, it was a movie that is worth viewing, and its 96 minute total length flew by in a flash.

The movie was shot entirely in black and white, which somehow added the proper mood to the serious topic at hand. All but 3 minutes of the film were shot in a tiny 24 foot long jury room, which eliminated the distraction of gorgeous scenery shots competing with the story line.

The cast, headed by Henry Fonda, includes a number of well known actors, whose combined performance was good enough to get the picture nominated for Academy Award honors for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing of Adopted Screenplay.

Even though it’s an old movie, “12 Angry Men” has lessons that still apply today. One lesson is how to deal with prejudice, and the other lesson is how to deal with conflict.

More than 50 years after its release, it is still a very popular movie. In 2011, “12 Angry Men” was the second most screened film in secondary schools in the United Kingdom. If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane, just click on the link below:

a night at the movies

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It’s the end of the world - again

In the spring of 2011, Pastor Harold Camping predicted that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. Like so many similar predictions, this one turned out to be another false rumor, and most of the people that were on earth at that time are still alive and well. Further details on Pastor Camping’s predictions can be found at the link below:

I feel fine

More recently, the end of the Mayan calendar, on December 21, 2012, led some people to predict that the world was going to end (again) on December 21, 2012. Not surprisingly, I woke up on the morning of December 22, and I was still here, as were roughly 7 billion other people. As of today, the world’s population (according to the United States Census Bureau) is 7. 108 billion, and is projected to reach somewhere between 8.3 and 10.9 billion by the year 2050. If you’ve read Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, you’ll recognize that there are a lot of people who are concerned about those numbers, but that’s a topic for another time.

This morning, I discovered that Mayans can claim title to another proof of immortality, but in an area that you wouldn’t expect.

I’ve long been a fan of good cigars, but now limit myself to roughly two cigars a year, one on Father’s Day, and one on my birthday at the end of August. For the record, I fired up another one this afternoon on the back deck, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Although it’s unlikely that I’ll ever smoke the most expensive cigar in the world, I occasionally check to see WHICH cigars are the most expensive. Traditionally, a company called Gurkha makes the most expensive cigars. For years, the Gold Standard for cigars has been a product called Her Majesty’s Reserve. Soaked in Luis XIII cognac, a box of this cigar sells for $15,000, which means that each cigar in a box of 20 will set you back a cool $750.

As of today, though, these premium stogies are no longer the most expensive cigar. Gurkha also makes The Black Dragon, which sells for $115,000 per box, or $1150 per “stick”, but they still aren’t THE most expensive cigar.

In April of this year, archeologists from Tampa, Florida found a clay pot in Guatemala labeled “sigars”. In the Yucatan language , the term means “ to smoke rolled tobacco leaves and is the origin of the word cigar”. Although the cigars in the jar are 600 years old, they were deemed to be “smokable”. Although the cigars haven’t been sent to auction yet, the pre-auction appraisal value of this stash is said to be worth roughly $200,000, or roughly twice the price of the Black Dragon.

I’m of the opinion that the world isn’t going to end at any time in the foreseeable future, but not everyone agrees with me. If you think that Doomsday is just around the corner, the least you can do is to enjoy a good cigar,

After all, life is short.