Thursday, August 20, 2009

Layoff notice

Well, I'm back in Vegas. We left Minnesota on Monday a.m. and pulled into town Wednesday at 10 p.m., with stops in Kansas City and Frisco, Colo., along the way. I knew we were getting close to "home" when I saw a billboard featuring an AK-47, pimping a local establishment where you can go and fire said weapon. As we neared the Strip, the billboards flying past my face became even more symbolic of this den of iniquity -- beer, adult superstores, personal injury lawyers. Add it all up, and nothing says Vegas quite like deadly weapons, alcohol, sex, and frivolous lawsuits.

Which leads me to my next point. This blog might be in for a name change, because our future in Henderson is currently in doubt. Kris returned to Vegas in early August, two weeks ahead of the rest of the family, to get back to work. The next day, she was laid off.

I can't remember who I've told about this, either in person, over the phone, via e-mail or Facebook, etc., so I'm just putting it down in this blog post and asking you all to keep us in your thoughts. We've got a few months to work with thanks to severance and unused PTO, but in this job market, you never know how quickly things will move.

Actually, I'm far less concerned with my wife finding suitable employment than I am with selling our house in this foreclosure-saturated market. Talented people don't stay unemployed for long, and Kris is the most talented person I know, so I'm fully confident she'll find something even better soon enough.

But her job was the reason we came to Vegas, and even after four years, it's pretty much the only thing tying us here. Sure, we've made some good (great!) friends, gotten involved in our church, found a wonderful school for our kids, and enjoyed the mild winters. But when we look at what we truly value, it's pretty clear that we're ready for a return to Minnesota.

We're not in the position to be terribly picky right now, of course, so we're exploring opportunities in all major metropolitan areas (major-league sports is a must this time around, so I can jump-start my sports reporting career). Still, the Twin Cities offer all of the tangible benefits we're looking for (proximity to family and friends, pro and college sports, good schools, summers that don't reach 115 degrees for three months, lakes, biking trails, a vibrant arts/music scene) and the one intangible that Vegas never seemed to represent to us: Minnesota is home. It just is.

We're never going to regret moving here. It's been a wonderful four years in so many ways. Kris learned a lot and gained invaluable experience in her career. We've learned a lot about ourselves, our values, and what family means to us (both extended and nuclear). I wrote my first book here. I started my first blog here. Our beloved cat, Twilight, lived out the last of his 16 years in the warm, dry air here, prowling our fenced-in back yard with a freedom he'd never experienced before. I completed my first triathlon here. Fiona became a soccer star here. Nora lost her first tooth here. Kris started running half-marathons and also completed her first triathlon here.

No regrets. It's been a great run. But change is in the air. We'll keep you all posted.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Almost perfect

From ESPN's Buster Olney:

"There are still weeks to go in the pennant race, there are pennant races and World Series games to come, but there will not be a better moment this year thanks to Mark Buehrle and the good folks in the Metrodome on Tuesday night."

Tip of the hat to Buehrle, and to Twins fans who, like the rest of their Minnesota brethren, can often be a provincial bunch. Last night, they showed that they get it and can be classy when they want to be. Kudos all around.

Monday, July 27, 2009

TBBBC Book 4 review

We're four months into the baseball season, and I'm four books into my summer-long one-man book club. July's book of the month was The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America by Joe Posnanski.

Most baseball fans know the story of O'Neil, a former Negro Leagues player and manager who was the first black man to coach in the Major Leagues. Of course, he could have played in the bigs if not for the rampant racism that stained the game through the late 1940s when Jackie Robinson broke the color barier, and he could have managed in the bigs if not for the still problematic racism that stained the game through the mid-1970s when Frank Robinson shattered that glass ceiling.

But O'Neil carried on and became one of baseball's greatest ambassadors and the most notable historian of the Negro Leagues. He came to national prominence when his commentary was featured heavily in Ken Burns' baseball documentary that aired on PBS in 1994.

Posnanski, a Kansas City Star columnist, got to know O'Neil over the years and always thought there was a book waiting to be written about O'Neil and the Negro Leagues, but he never could figure out just how to approach it. Finally, he came to the realization that spending a year traveling the country with the great story-teller would be the best way to capture the essence of the man.

And I'd have to say, he was right. There are so many lessons to learn from Buck O'Neil. I've always been amazed that he wasn't bitter, because he had so many reasons to be. He was kept from doing the one thing that he most loved to do because of "my beautiful tan," as he liked to put it. But O'Neil lived his life 180 degrees from bitter. I think this book gets to the heart of that question.

I won't spoil it for those who want to read the book, but basically, O'Neil wasn't bitter because he got to play baseball, travel the countryside and befriend literally thousands of people whom he wouldn't have met if not for the Negro Leagues. He didn't view the league as sub-standard or a lower level of the game. It was different, yes, and the accommodations weren't as nice, but he also was given the opportunity to experience joys he wouldn't have likely seen in the bigs. For example, he tells the story of the time he and Duke Ellington entered a jazz club on 18th and Vine in Kansas City (now the home of the Negro Leagues museum, his great passion in his post-retirement life) and stumbled upon a kid playing the saxophone like he'd never heard it played before. Turns out the kid was Charlie "Bird" Parker, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century.

"People feel sorry for me," he said. "Man, I heard Charlie Parker!"

O'Neil's life is an object lesson in appreciating what you have, which is different than just blind optimism. O'Neil was no pollyanna. He saw the dark side of life and understood it for what it was -- hatred. That's a word that comes up a lot in this book. O'Neil often said racism comes directly from hatred, and bitterness comes from the same source.

"Where does bitterness take you?" he said when asked about how he can avoid being bitter. "To a broken heart? To an early grave? When I die, I want to die from natural causes, not from hate eating me up from the inside."

O'Neil approached the changes in the game the same way. Throughout their journey, he and Posnanski ran into many people who said they were disillusioned by the big salaries and ticket prices, the steroids, the superstar attitudes that they say have changed the game. But his response was always the same: "It hasn't changed," he told an older fan who said he hadn't been to a game in years. "We've changed. We got older. You ought to go see a game. You're a baseball fan, man. Do your heart good. Help you get young."

The point being, there's always an upside, and the game is bigger than all the petty problems that crop up in every era. The game survives. The human race survives. And life is good.

One of the blurbs in the book compares it to Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie, and I'll admit that when I read that blurb I shuddered a bit. But then I remembered my initial reaction to Tuesdays. I loved it. I blubbered like a baby. It changed my attitude about life, for a while at least. It stayed with me. I think the backlash came only after Albom's succeeding books proved him to be something of a one-trick pony. You couldn't hlep but wonder how much he gilded the lily in his story of Morrie, given that the rest of his books were couched in so much overwrought schlock.

So I guess if Posnanski follows The Soul of Baseball with a string of books about one-eyed Olympic archers who run three marathons a month to raise money for Costa Rican orphans, maybe I'll re-think this review. But The Soul of Baseball hit me hard, right where I needed it. It'll stay with me. And the lesson of Buck O'Neil will help me the next time I'm feeling sorry for myself.

TBBBC rating: 5 fungoes (out of 5)

Now batting: The Dixie Association (Voice of the South) by David Hays

On deck: October 1964 by David Halberstam

See also:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 3: Boogie wonderland

We're here. The cross-country trek, or at least the first half of it, is over. Will I have the energy to blog the return trip in late August? Hard to say, but this has been a pretty fun way of capturing some memories.

Today we awoke in Council Bluffs, packed up and headed out for some brunch. Naturally, my Midwestern instincts kicked in and brought us to the nearest Perkins, where we feasted on omelets, pancakes, french toast, fresh fruit and so-so coffee. Needing a stronger caffeine kick for the final leg of our relay, we began a search for a coffee shop.

Well, here in the heartland, or at least in Iowa, you won't find a Starbucks on every street corner like you might in a major metropolitan area. In fact, Fiona related the hard lesson she'd learned as we cruised along the highway near the river: "They've got all these casinos here but no Starbucks?"

Eventually I spotted a sign for Western Iowa Community College, and we quickly did the math: college students = need for caffeine. We still didn't find a Starbucks, but we did come across a quaint mom-and-pop-and-dog joint called the Coffee Stop that had everything we wanted: coffee and wi-fi. Plus Nora got to play with the dog while Fiona and I checked e-mail, so everybody won.

Later on the road, Nora notified me that a pit stop for bathroom-related reasons was relatively urgent, so we pulled off at the next exit in search of a gas station. Five minutes later, as we were nearing the lavatorial oasis, came the Backseat Exchange of the Day:

Nora: "Dad, I really have to go. I'm dancing back here!"
Dad: "I know, I know. We're almost there."
Nora: "Well, can I at least have some music to go with my dancing?"

Stifling my laughter, I turned off the audiobook I was enjoying and cranked up a CD for my dancing daughter.

North of Des Moines, Fiona surveyed the landscape and let loose a contented sigh. "I know we're not in Minnesota yet, but this just looks like home to me."

Amen, sister. And here we are.

Day 2: A logical progression

Sorry today's update is late -- the hotel in Council Bluffs last night had a crappy wifi setup -- pay $6.95 for 24 hours of access and the web site granting said access didn't work. So here we are.

Also, I misplaced the cord that connects the camera to the computer, so I can't upload today's photos. Some pretty good shots of Nora in there -- she put on an Austin Powers-type show with a series of wacky facial expressions on camera. Not funny faces, mind you -- these were complex, well-planned visages on her part.

We covered the second half of Colorado (Vail to the border) and all of Nebraska today, hitting Council Bluffs at 11 p.m. local time. I have to say, Colorado is a big state. Once you get past Denver you think you're through with it, and then you're driving for about another week. Everything east of Denver should just be named Coloraska, because it's virtually indistinguishable from the Great Plains. I can only imagine what the first Anglo settlers in the region must have thought once they saw the Rockies for the first time. "They told me the earth wasn't flat but I was starting to doubt it until now."

That stretch of the drive did produce the Day 2 Backseat Exchange of the Day:

Fiona: "Ugh, what stinks? It smells like poop!"
Dad: "Well, we are in farm country now ..."
Nora: "I tooted."
Dad: "... or there's that."

We got more than our share of foul farmland odors on the drive through Nebraska, but I'm not complaining -- it's just good to be back in the Midwest.

Also, I saw quite possibly the stupidest sign ever on the side of the road in eastern Colorado: "Gov. Ritter Welcomes You to TAXORADO"

This is an epic FAIL for a couple of reasons. One, it was in eastern Colorado, but faced an eastbound road, meaning everybody who could read it was actually leaving Colorado, not being "welcomed" into it. Turn your sign around, genius.

And two, you can't just throw "TAX" into any word and make the pun work. "Taxachusetts" works because "tax" and "mass" sort of rhyme, and of course Massachusetts has a long tradition of liberal politics, which naturally means "big tax bill" in the minds of most conservatives, whether it's true or not.

I'm not up to speed on the tax policies of the Colorado governor or how much impact he's had on the bottom line of Joe Colorado, but after living in the West for the last four years, I've got a pretty good idea of who the sign guy is: He calls himself a Libertarian, wants the damn gummint to get out of his life and let him keep everything that's his, but is the first guy to bitch when any government service doesn't work efficiently enough to suit his needs -- i.e., there's a pothole in front of his house so the DOT is corrupt, his kid's school didn't fare well in national testing so they're incompetent, not underfunded, etc.

I know our country has a rich history of tax protest, but if you bother to read your U.S. history, the colonists were protesting taxation without representation. These newfangled "tea parties" are filled with right-wing miscreants who have plenty of say in how their tax money is spent, via their elected officials. But go ahead and think you're a 21st Century Paul Revere when you call into Rush's show and call the President a monkey.

Wow, not sure how we got from here to there, but I promise to lighten things up the rest of the trip. Day 3 takes us through Iowa and into God's Country, so a trio of happy campers will report back tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Day 1: A sight for sore butts

Well, Day 1 of our journey back to Minnesota is in the books, but before I lay me down to sleep here in Avon, Colo., let's quickly review our big day.

We got off to a rousing start when I had to lock up my brakes no more than 10 minutes into the trip as some guy in front of me decided to nearly stop in the left lane of I-15 near the Strip. At least I know the brakes work fine.

We actually made it three blocks from home before Nora fired up the DVD player. She is a big fan of the Johnny Depp/Willie Wonka remake, so on Monday I picked up a copy of the original version for her, and she couldn't wait to watch it. She spent two hours calling out differences between the two movies ("This Violet Beauregard isn't as big as the other one!" -- which led to a discussion of CGI vs. old-fashioned special effects), and she enjoyed it so much that when she got the DVD player back two hours later, she watched Gene Wilder and the orange-faced Oompa-Loompas again.

Fiona watched a Harry Potter movie during her turn with the DVD player and mostly read or texted with one of her friends the rest of the way. She was also such a big help, volunteering to take Nora to the restroom at lunch and patiently helping her get set up with coloring or adjusting the blanket just so in the back seat. I was very proud of her positive, can-do attitude.

The highlight of the trip was this backseat exchange, about four hours into our drive.

Fiona: "Ugh, my butt hurts!"
Nora: "Everybody's butt hurts. Lift your butt up!"

I also enjoyed paying $2.84 a gallon at the Sinclair station in Salina, Utah. That's 20 cents more than I paid in Vegas before we left, mostly due to the fact that Salina is literally the last place you can buy gas for the next 111 miles. Luckily I drove the extra 300 feet to the Sinclair, rather than paying an extra nickel per gallon at the Shell station, which is literally the first thing you see after you get off the freeway exit. You won't catch me complaining too much though -- last year on the same trip we paid $4.59 a gallon at the same station. (Yes, I'm one of those nerds who jots down that kind of thing in a notebook that I keep in the glove box. So sue me.)

As evening fell, the full moon was our constant companion in the southern sky, and the temperature dipped a bit, too. When we left Vegas, the car's thermometer read 100. When we parked for the night here in Avon, it was 55. Crazy, but blissful as well.

See you tomorrow with more Tales of the Road from lovely Council Bluffs!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Words of wisdom

I've had the occasion to meet Matt Birk a number of times. I wrote a couple of lengthy profiles on him for Viking Update and interviewed him for countless smaller stories, and I always walked away impressed with his compassion. He's smart, yes -- a Harvard grad and all -- and obviously a great athlete, or at least he gets paid to play a game and he plays it very well.

But Birk has always stood out for his desire to help other people. Some guys come across as phonies (hi, A-Rod!), while others talk a good game but if you do a little digging, there's no there there. Not Birk. Whether it's his HIKE Scholars program or his dedication to the Boys and Girls Club, Birk is the real deal. He walks the walk.

This week, Birk pinch-hit for Peter King on SI's Monday Morning Quarterback column, and it's nice to know that football fans around the country now know what I've known for the past seven or eight years, that Matt Birk is, once again, the real deal. He writes at length about the need for current players to stick up for retired NFL veterans who are struggling to make ends meet due to the catastrophic physical toll their bodies absorb during a life of football.

He also shows his sharp wit, common sense and even some family values that only a fellow father of young daughters can fully appreciate: "I am blessed to have three daughters. However, the older they get the less thrilled I am about cheerleaders at football games."

Check out the rest of the column, and check out the Baltimore Ravens' games this fall when Birk is showing the Vikings what a mistake they made by letting him go. And even if his body falls apart and Birk's best days are a distant memory, he's still got a lot to offer the game. I don't think he's particularly a political sort, but if he can stomach the in-fighting and back-stabbing, he'd make a great NFLPA president.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Review: Wilco (The Album)

"Since Wilco unceremoniously dumped Jay Bennett after the recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, frontman Jeff Tweedy has continued in his attempt to carve out a unique identity for the band."

Click here to read the rest of my review of Wilco (The Album) in the latest issue of Las Vegas Weekly.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TBBBC Book 3 review

Here comes your long-awaited TBBBC Book 3 review. In June, I read Crazy '08 -- How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy. I don't know too much about Murphy -- her bio in the book indicates that she's a big baseball fan, a trait passed down by her father, and she's an editor at a financial magazine. She's also obviously a history buff and she's created one of the finest odes to baseball that I've ever read.

Those rare baseball fans who are aware of the 1908 season most likely know of it because of the famed "Bonehead Merkle game," in which the New York Giants were denied a crucial late-season victory over the Chicago Cubs when rookie Fred Merkle failed to touch second base after what appeared to be a game-winning hit.

But as Murphy points out, 1908 was about so, so much more than that one game. As the subtitle indicates, she introduces us to quite the cast of characters along the way, and in doing so she brings to life old ballplayers who were to me little more than a list of names in the record book. Among the central figures of the 1908 season were John McGraw, Christy Matthewson, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance, Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Addie Joss, Napoleon Lajoie, and even Cy Young himself.

The best part of this book was how she illustrated the story of the season with the backstories of these players' lives, their significance not only to 1908 but their entire careers. I also loved how she examined how baseball fit into the fabric of society at the time, why it captured the imagination of the post-industrial revolution country that was still coming to grips with the emergence of city life as the norm.

Murphy spins yarns about baseball, of course, but she also manages to educate the reader about the nascent labor movement, corrupt Chicago politics, race relations, anarchists, and why it's ludicrous to believe that Abner Doubleday invented baseball. And though she writes from the position of the studious academic -- the book includes a 21-page bibliography and 38 pages of citations and endnotes -- Murphy's voice is clear, lively and anything but stuffy. Anybody who wonders how baseball became the game we're watching in 2009 should give Crazy '08 a read.

TBBBC rating: 5 fungoes (out of 5)

Now batting: The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski

On deck: The Dixie Association (Voice of the South) by David Hays

See also:

It's here

My validation has arrived, in the form of a CBS Late Show mousepad.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

He likes me! Dave really likes me!

It's been a rough week for David Letterman. Oh yeah, he had that little kerfuffle with Alaska's Governess, but the media missed his biggest blunder ... he thinks I'm funny.

Well, maybe not Dave himself, but somebody on his staff -- probably an unpaid intern, or a junior associate assistant writer or maybe Alan Kalter. You see, the Late Show runs a weekly Top 10 contest in which it throws out a topic and lets its viewers suggest possible jokes for inclusion in a web-only Top 10. I've been doing this off and on for a couple years, sending in my lead balloons and imagining them falling flat in NYC.

But this week, the magic happened. I finally got noticed.

From the Top Ten Complaints of Jon and Kate's Kids

6. Cameras make potty training a bit awkward
Patrick D, Las Vegas, NV
Number 6! Not bad! Number 6 is one of the key mid-list jokes -- it has to have enough jazz to regain the attention of viewers who thought, "Hey, this might be kind of funny," but have grown bored after the first few jokes. And it has to be sharp enough to convince viewers they should stick with the bit the rest of the way.

Now that I've been discovered, I can only imagine the bounty that awaits -- book deals, standup gigs, my own HBO show? Or perhaps I'll just settle for a Late Show mousepad. Either way, it's good to be discovered.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Same song, second verse

In 1998, Ensign was the first member of Nevada’s congressional delegation to call for President Bill Clinton’s resignation over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Speaking on the Senate floor in 2004, Ensign called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, saying, “Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded.”

In 2007, Ensign was among the most prominent Republicans calling on Idaho Sen. Larry Craig to resign, calling Craig a “disgrace” for his arrest in an airport men’s restroom on disorderly conduct charges.

On Tuesday, Ensign indicated he would not step down, saying, “I am committed to my service in the United States Senate and my work on behalf of the people of Nevada.

Read on: Ensign admits affair with ex-campaign staffer

So here in Nevada, we've got a Republican governor and U.S. Senator who can't keep it in their pants when their wives aren't around, yet they
are happy to tell you who you can and cannot have sex with or marry. God bless whoever invented hypocrisy ...

Monday, June 1, 2009

TBBBC Book 2 review

Time for TBBBC Book 2 review. The May entry was Frank Deford's The Entitled, a Tale of Modern Baseball. It's a bit of a lofty title, but then again, Deford is a bit of a lofty writer. One of the true living legends of the sportswriting biz, Deford has dabbled in the fiction world before, most notably with Everybody's All-American, a tale of a college football hero's rough transition into the real world. And much as that book was about characters who happened to play football, The Entitled is another character study that just happens to be set in the world of Major League Baseball.

The two central figures in this book couldn't be more different. The protagonist is baseball lifer Howie Traveler, a guy who parlayed a minor-league baseball career into a comfortable life as a major league coach before finally landing his first managerial gig as the skipper of the Cleveland Indians. His star player is five-tool outfielder Jay Alcazar, a cosmopolitan celebrity athlete who seemingly has the world by the tail at every turn.

The drama centers on an incident that takes place in the first 20 pages -- as Traveler wearily returns to his hotel room, his job hanging by a thread after another string of listless play by his Indians, the door to Alcazar's room flies open. A woman appears to be struggling to leave, but the star player roughly yanks her back into the room and slams the door. Will Howie go to the police? Will he cover for his star player and use the situation to his advantage to save his job?

The rest of the book plays out in a series of flashbacks the tell the backstories of Howie and Jay, how they reached the point where their futures are indelibly intertwined, and a deeper examination reveals that each man is not quite what he seems to be on the surface.

Because Deford deals with real-life athletes in his A job, and because he uses actual MLB teams in the story, it's tempting to draw comparisons to the figures you see on ESPN and in the sports pages on a daily basis. Alcazar has a lot of A-Rod in him -- multi-talented on the field, an enigma off it, a man obsessed with his image and endorsements who doesn't really know who he is when you strip away the uniform and sportscars and mansions and designer sunglasses. The incident at the hotel has overtones of the Kobe/Colorado case, although sadly, it's probably even more common than we know.

Traveler reminds me of a cross between Tom Kelly and Joe Madden -- TK in that he had a cup of coffee in the majors before making it back to the bigs as a coach and manager, and Madden in that he didn't get his first shot a running a club until he was well into his 50s, so he swore to do it his way no matter how unconventional his methods appeared.

I found it to be a quick read -- lively prose, an engrossing story -- and Deford's characters are far from the one-dimensional stereotypes that we imagine professional athletes to be. If you're looking for a good beach novel this summer, The Entitled should work for you.

TBBBC rating: Four fungoes (out of five)

Now batting: Crazy '08 by Cait Murphy

On deck: The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski

See also: TBBBC Book 1 review, The Last Real Season

Month of Mauer trumped by Tex?

It's pretty much a given that Joe Mauer will get the AL Player of the Month award, right? I mean, he came back on May 1, so his season stats are his May stats -- .411 BA, .500 OBP, .838 SLG, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 1.338 OPS.

Not so fast my friend. The Yankees' Mark Teixiera had himself a good May -- .330 BA, .391 OBP, .748 SLG, 13 HR, 34 RBI, 1.138 OPS. Now, to most of us there's still no comparison -- yes, Tex had two more HR and two more RBI. But you know he has a chance, not just because of the East Coast bias but because of the Yankee bias.

MLB is desperate to get fans into those expensive seats at the new Stadium, and I believe they'll do anything to drum up positive publicity for the pinstripers. And given Teixiera's crummy April, there might be a few fans who assumed he was another free-agent bust and turned their attention elsewhere.

The Yankees are already playing a ton better -- No. 2 in the Yahoo! Power Rankings, a half-game up on the Red Sox in the East -- but giving Tex the AL Player of the Month would be something they could use in their marketing and ad campaigns as they try to sell tickets. So, if it happens, remember you heard it here first. Or, if you are in the greater NYC area, you probably heard it here first.

You just gotta love the self-absorption of the insulated Yankee media and fan base. Not even a mention of Mauer, or even Morneau, whose month rivaled Teixiera's. Then again, they probably know something we don't -- namely, that the Yankees always get their way. We'll see soon enough ...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Original conservative thought, and other myths

You know those lame e-mails that miscreants send around about your favorite politicians? Those screeds filled with "facts" -- most of which are easily debunked -- that clog your inbox during election season? Of course you do. You probably got more than your share of them about Obama or McCain or Palin last fall. I even wrote about the phenomenon, and did a little research that indicated that Obama was the target of about six times as many false attacks as McCain in the accountability-free world of e-mail land.

I recently got another one of those screeds from one of my most reliable right-wing trolls, purporting to compare the "gaffes" of Obama's first 120 days with the record of one George W. Bush. You might have received this e-mail too. It's been posted repeatedly on right-wing websites and in online discussion forums the past week or two.

Well, apparently the editors of the Las Vegas Review-Journal don't get out much, or they don't have any right-wing friends, or they don't read right-wing political sites, because they just printed the very same comparison as a letter to the editor on Friday. Some local genius named Warren Willis Sr. did the old cut-and-paste thing and sent it almost verbatim to the R-J, and the paragons of journalistic virtue ran it as the top letter in Friday's editorial page.

I'm not even here to debate the content of the letter -- it points out some of Obama's inevitable and regrettable missteps, blows a few others out of proportion, but seems to endorse the idea that Bush's record of incompetence, corporate cronyism, fiscal malfeasance and utter disregard for the truth compares favorably to four months of Barack Obama in the White House.

My point is that either the R-J can't differentiate between a recycled e-mail rant and legitimate, original political criticism, or they didn't have anything better to run in its place. Either way, it's a sad statement on the journalistic ethics or competence of the R-J's editorial board and opinion page staff. Nice going, Sherm.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

30 years

Note: I posted this to all my cousins on Facebook today. I'm the second-oldest of 18 cousins on my dad's side, and I was 10 when my grandfather died on May 24, 1979. As such, most of my cousins didn't really get to know him all that well, if at all. So I felt compelled to write this and share it with them today. RIP, Grandpa.

My cousins -- today is the 30th anniversary of the death of our grandfather, Thomas Patrick Donnelly Sr. If you get a chance, give your parents a quick call because he will probably be on their minds today.

I know most of you don't remember him much if at all, but I was lucky enough to have had him around for the first 10 years of my life, and I kinda feel like I owe it to you all to let you get to know him a little bit better.

From my little-kid perspective, he was a HUGE man -- he might have been only like 6-foot-2 (not sure, ask your parents!) but his personality was massive. He had a deep, booming voice and a loud, roaring laugh, and with that thick shock of white hair and a perpetual twinkle in his eyes, he was the center of attention in any room he entered.

From what I remember, he loved kids and cats and crossword puzzles, not to mention trains and painting and of course Grandma. He had countless friends and seemed to make new ones every day. And when my dad got MS, Grandpa was the one who kept him from sinking too low, from completely giving up. It was Grandpa who told my dad he had to keep fighting, no matter how hard or painful it got, because he had a wife and two young sons who needed him. It was Grandpa who basically said, "You WILL recover, dammit, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise." If you ever wonder where you got your stubborn streak, it was from Grandpa.

It certainly was a shock to lose him so young, just three weeks before his 64th birthday. I know he would have enjoyed spending time with you all -- buying you comic books, sneaking a cookie from the jar with you, pretending to pick you up by your ears just to get a rise out of Grandma, all the things he loved to do with my brother and me. And I know I would've loved to have gotten to know him as an adult too.

I never knew my other grandpa, and thus have always felt at most somewhat ambivalent toward him or his memory, so for those of you who didn't know TPD Sr., I wanted to share my memories today so that maybe you can feel a bit closer in some way to your grandfather. He was a great man and I still miss him, and today's the perfect time to ask your parents -- his children -- about him if you can.

Happy Memorial Day,


Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the head

Great piece by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post this week, commenting on the Obama speech at Notre Dame's commencement ceremonies. You really should read the whole thing if you're interested in how the left and right can find common ground on cultural issues, but if you've only got time for the highlights, here's one:

Obama was as explicit in talking about his faith as George W. Bush ever was about his own but with distinctly different inflections and conclusions.

The former president often emphasized the comfort and certainty he drew from his religious beliefs. Obama said that "the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt."

"This doubt should not push away our faith," Obama preached. "But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness." It was a quietly pointed response to his critics.

To me, that perfectly summarizes what has always bugged me about the born-again crowd -- to them, religion = certainty. But if you are certain of something, is it really a matter of faith?

In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance." And that's what faith is about to me -- it's about hope, the promise of salvation, not a smug sense of certainty that I'm right and the rest of you are going to Hell if you don't believe what I do.

I know I don't have all the answers, but I have faith that I'm on the right path. It's a long road to where we're going -- let's hope we all get there together.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"However, I AM in line to the throne ..."

Overheard this evening as Kris was trying to get Nora to bed:

"No, I'm NOT the Queen of Dawdling!"

I'll let you figure out which one said it.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Me likey the McHale

Joel, that is . Here's a trailer for his new comedy series, coming to NBC this fall. Even Chevy looks funny in this! I also love me some John Oliver.

Friday, April 24, 2009

TBBBC: Book 1 review

The end of April is upon us, and I've finished The Last Real Season, Mike Shropshire's account of the 1975 MLB season, gathered from his notes and stories he collected on the Texas Rangers beat for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The book offers up an extremely jaded view of MLB, which doesn't surprise me given that baseball writers are an extremely jaded bunch, as far as journalists go. Anybody who has to spend seven months with the same group of people, day in and day out, is going to find more than his share of warts and foibles and idiosyncrasies to write about. And there are plenty here, from Billy Martin's various psychoses to Willie Davis' "dude from another planet" act to the writer's own press box debauchery.

The problem is, we've pretty much heard all of this before. If the book had been released on the heels of the 1975 season -- after Ball Four, but before The Bronx Zoo -- it would have been a revelation. At the time, Jim Bouton was basically the only insider who had pulled back the curtain and revealed the seedier side of professional sports. Prior to the mid-70s, sportswriters were to athletes as the White House press corps were to the Bush administration. Their relationship was cozy, their secrets were safe, and all the power was on one side of the table.

But once Bouton -- and later Lyle -- exposed the American public to the travails of their heroes, nothing was taboo. Now, you can't swing a broken fungo at Barnes and Noble without smacking into a tell-all tome from the likes of players (Jose Canseco), managers (Joe Torre), umpires (Ron Luciano), sportswriters (Jeff Pearlman), minor leaguers (Matt McCarthy) and even baseball groupies (Alyssa Milano).

Thus, Shropshire isn't telling us anything we don't already know. There's little shock value here, even though it kind of feels like that's what he's going for. The most enlightening aspect of the book is its discussion of how the baseball world differed pre-free agency. The season is question fell on the cusp of a sea change in MLB -- Charlie Finley had begun to dismantle his Oakland A's dynasty, Catfish Hunter had signed a five-year, $3.5 million contract with the New York Yankees, and in a few months the whole financial structure of the game would be forever changed by wholesale free agency.

I'd have preferred to read a more detailed look at the roots of the free agency movement and how it changed the game, rather than more anecdotes about how many beers or how much tequila Shropshire swilled in the press box while banging out stories about the Rangers. For instance, he pointed out that after the A's failed to reach their fourth straight World Series, pitcher Paul Lindblad said he'd have to work on a Christmas tree lot that winter to make up for the $25,000 World Series bonus that he was counting on as part of his salary. These days, the postseason bonus is mere pocket change to most players, and certainly doesn't have a make-or-break impact on their financial bottom line.

If you're looking for a book filled with fun, surprising, even shocking stories from behind the scenes of a baseball season, check out Shropshire's first go-round, Seasons in Hell. If you've already read that, then I guess The Last Real Season might be the way to go. But don't expect much beyond a fluffy beach book that you'll forget the minute you set it down.Link

TBBBC rating: Two fungoes (out of five)

Now batting: The Entitled: A Tale of Modern Baseball by Frank Deford

On deck: Crazy '08 by Cait Murphy

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Strange bedfellows

I find myself feeling oddly sympathetic toward Miss California in the latest Miss USA kerfuffle. Not because I agree with her stand on same-sex marriage -- I don't -- but because I have no idea what that issue has to do with one's qualifications to serve as Miss USA.

Perez Hilton is gay. And he wants to see people like him have the same civil rights as the rest of the planet. I get that. But there comes a point where you have to pick your battles. And the Miss USA contest is not the place for this battle to play out. I understand that it's important to get this issue on the front burner, but this kind of attitude is just going to alienate people who have yet to form a concrete opinion on the issue.

Beauty contests attract a pretty traditional audience, so I guess Hilton figured he'd be reaching a group of people who hadn't thought much about same-sex marriage. But to basically admit that he wouldn't vote for Miss California because of her answer to his question about the issue sends the wrong message. Hilton comes off as just as intolerant as the Yes on 8 crowd in California.

Now, Hilton has given the right-wing bloggers, radio hosts and pundits all kinds of fodder for their fake-outrage cannons. Nicely done, you old queen.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Pulitzer happens

Huge kudos to the Las Vegas Sun for winning a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of unsafe working conditions at Strip construction projects. Man, a friggin' Pulitzer! That's huge, people. Only one other Nevada newspaper has ever won a Pulitzer, and that was in Reno back in 1977.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Isn't it ironic? No, it just sucks

By my conservative estimate, there are perhaps four nights a year when a band I want to see actually comes to play a show here in the greater Las Vegas area. I've been here three and a half years, and here's who I've seen so far:
  • The Decemberists at the House of Blues
  • The Hold Steady at the Beauty Bar
  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Jillian's
  • Beck at Vegoose I
  • Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins at Vegoose II
  • The Drams at some cool theater downtown that's now closed
I also missed a Rilo Kiley show at the HoB because I was out of town, and skipped a couple of shows that I might have enjoyed -- Morrissey, Reverend Horton Heat, and a few arena tours by bands like U2 and the Dixie Chicks.

But that's it. Six shows and maybe six more missed opportunities in three and a half years. So naturally, when the Hold Steady makes its triumphant return to Vegas tonight to play again at the Beauty Bar, I've got an ocean of mucus flowing from my cranial orifices.

Alannis Morissette might call it ironic. I just think it sucks.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ah, the Grand Canyon!

What a ... grand ... ... canyon ...

I've always loved these WPA-era signs. They remind me that there once was a time in this country when people cared about something bigger than their own self-interest. How quaint.

Nice view from the South Rim.

Afternoon shadows.

Mesas and plateaus as far as the eye can see -- a geography teacher's dream.

The happy family pauses for their moment in the sun.

Kris and her parents.

Mom and Nora, hand-in-hand.

Dinner in Williams at a cool, Route 66-themed brewpub.

The day ended with ice cream, as usual.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Baseball Bunch Book Club

Do you remember The Baseball Bunch? It was a syndicated show that ran (in our market) on Saturday mornings during the summer, often as the lead-in to This Week in Baseball, followed by the NBC Game of the Week. Johnny Bench and a weekly special guest star offered instructional tips to apple-cheeked Little Leaguers, highlights and bloopers got their share of airtime, and Bench tried to hone his acting chops in some amazingly awkward skits with the San Diego Chicken.

Ah ... memory lane. Anyway, I thought I'd spend the summer of 2009 resurrecting the spirit of The Baseball Bunch right here on WHIH. Of course, now that I'm an adult, the idea of laying about on a Saturday morning watching aging Hall of Fame catchers and grown men in mascot suits doesn't really appeal to me. But reading baseball books does. So I'm starting The Baseball Bunch Book Club.

I've picked out six titles for the inaugural TBBBC, and I welcome anybody to join me in this pursuit. I'll read one book per month and discuss it here on WHIH. Or on your web site. Or on Facebook. Or in a bar. Or on a train. Or in a plane. Or on a boat, with a goat. Just not on Twitter -- we're going to get a little deeper than 140 characters will allow.

Here's what's on tap for TBBBC this summer:

April -- The Last Real Season by Mike Shropshire -- I absolutely loved his book Seasons in Hell, which chronicled his time covering the Texas Rangers in the early 70s, back when Ted Williams and Billy Martin made for more interesting copy off the field than Mike Hargrove and Toby Harrah made on the field. The Last Real Season is a look at the 1975 baseball season, so dubbed because it was the final year before free agency blew up the entire economic structure of the game. I started it today and the intro, by Earl Weaver, is a great read. I hope the rest of the book follows suit.

May -- The Entitled: A Tale of Modern Baseball by Frank Deford -- Hard to go wrong with Deford, and I wanted to mix a little fiction into the syllabus. The Entitled is the story of a Tom Kelly-like manager (minor league lifer who gets his shot at managing in the bigs, although much later in life than TK) who has to handle a superstar who sounds like a mix of A-Rod, Barry Bonds and Albert Belle. Don't know much about it, but it's gotten good reviews.

June -- Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy -- This book got crazy-good reviews when it came out a year ago, and I suppose I should have read it last summer as it was the 100th anniversary of this seminal season in baseball lore. From the World Series champion Chicago Cubs (!) of Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance fame to the New York (!) Giants of Christy Mathewson and John McGraw and beyond, this is a book every baseball historian should enjoy sinking his or her teeth into.

July -- The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America by Joe Posnanski -- Again, if Posnanski's name is attached, you know it's going to be a good read. And Buck O'Neil has always fascinated me, because if anybody had a right to be a bitter, angry, sour old man, it was O'Neil, who missed out on fame and fortune because of the color of his skin. But he was always the classiest, most gracious ambassador the game has ever had, so when he and Posnanski spent the summer of 2005 traveling the country together, exploring and ruminating on baseball, it had to produce a compelling narrative.

August -- The Dixie Association (Voice of the South) by David Hays -- I don't know much about this one either. I was looking for another novel and since I've read most of the big ones (I did my senior thesis on baseball fiction back in my salad days at the U of M), I'm taking a flier on this, based on Amazon's description: "Meet the Arkansas Reds, the oddest, craziest, wildest bunch of sluggers ever to step out of a dugout. An ex-con first baseman named Hog chronicles a season with the Reds as they travel from one seedy southern ballpark to another--always one step ahead of the small-town sheriffs and right-wing evangelists who think the Reds are an insult to 'America's game.'" Sign me up!

September -- October 1964 by David Halberstam -- A true literary lion, Halberstam looks at the dying days of the Yankees dynasty as the Bombers battle the upstart St. Louis Cardinals, the first team with led predominantly by African-American stars. I love books that look at sports within the context of society, and nobody was more up to the task than Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize winner who got elbow-deep in every major news story from Vietnam through Iraq. I think I'm saving the best for last, plus it will be a good teaser for the World Series.

So there you have it: the inaugural TBBBC syllabus. Please let me know if you're interested in reading and discussing any or all of these books with me. If you're not, too bad -- you're going to get my unexpurgated thoughts and opinions whether you like it or not. Or you won't, if you ignore my posts. But that's not what WHIH is all about, right?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dance like no one's watching

That's Nora's philosophy. Actually, she does crave an audience, but has absolutely no qualms about breaking and popping, shucking and jiving, and shaking her booty anywhere, any time, in front of anyone. Some of our fondest memories are of sneaking up to Nora's doorway and peeking into her room while she's dancing, entirely oblivious to our presence. The pure joy in her face and in her movements is one of the highlights of parenting.

So, with that said, check out these videos of Nora's first school dance performance. They've met once a week for two months and came up with these two routines -- High School Musical and some hip-hop number. It was a gas. (She's the kid in the UNLV jersey, for those who haven't met her.)

#1 High School Musical

#2 Some hip-hop thing

Friday, April 3, 2009

Go Iowa!

Never thought I'd say that. Then again, I never thought I'd see such clear, uncompromising support for civil rights in the heartland. Here's hoping this is a movement that spreads.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Drew Carey and March Madness

In my most recent Weekly article, I took a look at March Madness from the fan's-eye view at local sports books. It was a lot of fun and a great excuse to watch hoops with some friends ("I'm working! Swear to God!"). And I got to witness the sublime become the ridiculous, when Drew Carey interfered with the festivities.

Check out the article.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Nevada in a nutshell

This just struck me as the perfect example of how Nevada is different from the rest of the country. I saw this on a blog called The Hazean. It's a recap of a recent poll regarding the length of the NFL season. There's a push to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games by eliminating two preseason contests and starting the regular season in late August. ESPN did one of its patented state-by-state polls and here are the results:

You might have to click on it to enlarge the text, but basically, Nevada is the only state whose citizens (that is, those who voted in this poll) approve of the expansion in the NFL regular season. Why? Of course, because it gives us two more meaningful NFL weekends in which to gamble. And two more weeks in which I can hit my patented five-team parlay.

Hey, in these tough economic times, you can't blame us, can you?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

BCS strikes again

In case you were wondering why I posted such angst about Saint Mary's on my Facebook page, I've made no secret of my affinity for the West Coast Conference. I write the annual previews for each of the eight member schools for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook (download the 2009 tournament update here!). I covered the recent conference tournament here in Las Vegas. I even contemplated writing a book about the conference this season, but I couldn't find a publisher for it.

So I'm probably biased toward Saint Mary's. And I'm OK with that. They're an exciting team with an all-world point guard in Patrick Mills, a bunch of talented role players, the two-time all-WCC Defensive Player of the Year in Diamon Simpson, and a likable, quotable coach in Randy Bennett. So when the Gaels got stiffed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee on Sunday, I'll admit it, I was ticked.

But it's not so much what the committee did to Saint Mary's as what it's done and likely will continue to do to midmajor schools -- also known as schools from non-BCS conferences. This year, out of 34 at-large bids available in the 65-team pool, the committee only alloted four of those to non-BCS schools: Brigham Young, Dayton, Butler and Xavier.

Meanwhile, Saint Mary's (26 wins), Creighton (26 wins), Davidson (26 wins), Niagara (26 wins) and San Diego State (23 wins) all had strong cases for NCAA bids, but were all relegated to the NIT. Some of them were knocked off the bubble when teams such as Mississippi State and Southern Cal won their conference tournaments, but even if those automatic bids had gone to NCAA-worthy teams, somebody would be grumbling about an NIT berth today.

Saint Mary's had the strongest case of all the castaways, I believe -- they were 18-1 and leading Gonzaga by 6 late in the first half at Spokane when Mills broke his right wrist. The Gaels went on to lose that game and three of the next four before rallying to win their last five, including a victory over WAC champ Utah State. Mills returned for the WCC tourney and while he wasn't sharp, he was healthy, meaning the Gaels were much closer to the 18-1 version of their team than the Mills-free lineup.

CBS dutifully trotted out some pasty-faced old member of the selection committee to explain why the small schools continue to get the shaft, and his argument was less than convincing. He kept talking about the schools' "body of work" -- i.e., how they performed throughout the entirety of their schedule.

But of course, therein lies the problem. Most midmajor schools can't get the big boys to play them in their home arenas, so they have to settle for neutral-site games or playing on the road if they want to beef up their schedules. That's because the big boys have nothing to gain by beating a midmajor and everything to lose by losing to them. Sure, Gonzaga plays an extremely challenging schedule, but after numerous strong showings in the NCAA Tournament, the Zags now can get on anybody's schedule because a loss to the Zags doesn't hurt the big boys. But in order to build up that kind of a reputation, those midmajor schools have to get to the NCAA Tourney, a Catch-22 if I ever heard of one.

Meanwhile, we get stuck with BCS conference schools like Arizona, Wisconsin and yes, even my beloved Golden Gophers, all decidedly mediocre teams in the second tier of their mediocre conferences. My problem with these schools making the tourney is that we know what we're going to get from them. They've had all year to show that they're good enough to play with the top teams in their leagues (who are now the top seeds in their brackets) and they proved that they don't measure up. And if one of those teams should happen to get hot and reach the Final Four or win the whole thing, then what do we say? That the NCAA field is so watered down that a mediocre team like Arizona, Wisconsin or Minnesota can go on a run like that.

Some of our fondest memories of past NCAA Tournaments come from exciting, Cinderella-type teams that pull off big upsets. Nobody cares if Arizona, Wisconsin or Minnesota beats Duke, North Carolina or UConn. But if Davidson, Santa Clara or Valparaiso pulls off the stunner? That's memorable basketball. And that's what makes good midmajor schools such an attractive alternative to the mediocre middle-class BCS teams. We don't know what we've got in them. In a sense, their weaker schedules actually should work in their favor, because they haven't had a chance to prove themselves against the big boys. That's what the NCAA Tournament should provide -- a chance. Not another game or two for the seventh-place teams in the Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-10.

My wife pointed out another flaw in the selection committee's logic. So, they have enough respect for Gonzaga to give the Zags a No. 4 seed, but nobody else in the WCC is worthy of a bid? Maybe all they were looking at was the Zags' nonconference schedule, but again, if nobody wants to play you, doesn't that say enough about how much respect your school has in the basketball world?

Of course, it all boils down to money. Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota have far more alumni who will travel to the games. They play in much bigger media markets, meaning bigger ad rates for the local CBS affiliates who broadcast their games. The committee can blather on and on about just looking at teams and stats and bodies of work, but we all know what's driving this. It's been done this way since the beginning of time, and it's not about to change.

Sure, I'll still watch the tourney. I might even wager on a game or two. But I refuse to accept that it's a better event with Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the bracket while Saint Mary's, Creighton and Davidson are stuck in the NIT.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I have the cat from 'Memento'

Actually, I don't know if there even was a cat in 'Memento' -- probably not, because the Guy Pearce character would have forgotten to feed it, so it eventually would have run away. But if they're looking to make a sequel -- 'Memento 2: Feline Boogaloo' -- I've got the runaway leader for the starring role living under my roof.

In January, we adopted two black cats, a brother and sister who we named Nokomis and Minnehaha (obviously a nod to our Minnesota roots). Minnie is a pretty sane cat -- laid-back, a bit reserved, but when she decides to cuddle with you, she'll make your lap her home for the night.

Nokomis, on the other hand, has issues. He spent the first week at our house under our bed. You'd think maybe he was scared of little kids, because the friends we got them from have two kids, age 6 and 3. But Nokomis loved Nora from the start and will allow her to pick him up and lug him around from room to room like a duffel bag. He's a little less giving with the lovey-dovey where I'm concerned. Once he emerged from under the bed, Nokomis employed a strategy of staying at least two rooms away from me at all times. Whenever I'd enter a room, I'd hear a little jingle from the bell on his collar (his is green, Minnie's is pink, the only way we can quickly tell them apart) and see a black tail exiting the other side of the room.

He's warmed up to me a bit, but that's where the 'Memento' connection comes in. It's like Nokomis has no short term memory. He'll hop up on my lap, nuzzle his head against my leg or beg me for food, and everything's kosher between us. But the next morning, the first time he sees me, his eyes get huge and he sprints out of the room. The next time I see him, he'll be a bit calmer but he'll look at me like, "Who are you again?" Eventually, he's letting me pet him, I'm scratching his back, he's purring, and we're buddies.

And the next morning, he sprints out of the room and the whole process starts over again.

It might be time for me to get a Polaroid camera. Come to think of it, that could be a black cat in the photo, couldn't it?

Friday, March 6, 2009

A 'Wonderful' night

Just got back from Fiona's school performance of "Wonderful" -- a retelling of the whole Dorothy/Wizard/witches story using the music of "The Wizard of Oz," "The Wiz" and "Wicked." Fiona -- age 11 -- played Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and speaking as the most biased observer in the audience, she was magnificent.

For an elementary school play, she had an extremely challenging role, donning green makeup and singing "Defying Gravity," a song that honestly most high school kids would have trouble pulling off. She and her friend Skyler (who played Glinda) practiced together for hours on end over the last month, and it paid off in spades. Here are a couple of clips from their performance:

Part 1:

Part 2:

As a parent, it's incredibly rewarding to see your child succeed at something she loves doing and worked hard to perfect. And it's a bit humbling to see an 11-year-old surpass your own limited theatrical accomplishments, which of course happened at age 18, not 11. Suffice it to say, I couldn't be prouder of her.

Here's a few more photos from the evening.

Fiona and Skyler (Elphaba and Glinda)

Elphaba and Glinda candid

Fiona and Nora (honorary munchkin)

Positively wicked ... a preview

Fiona is making her off-off-off-off-off-Broadway debut tonight, playing the role of the Wicked Witch in her school's version of the Wizard of Oz, a pretty cool play that mixes the music and story lines of the original movie, "The Wiz" and "Wicked."

I'll give it the full Rex Reed treatment after the show, but here's how she looked when she left for school today.

Scary witch.

Happy witch. It looks cooler with the hat, trust me. You'll see what I mean in my next post.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

As promised ...

... the long-awaited (by me, anyway) review of Middle Cyclone, the latest release by the Divine Ms. Neko Case. I wanted to give it five stars, but I recognize that 31 minutes of frogs and crickets might not be everybody's aural cup of tea.

Still, I love it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spending time with Neko, not Bono

It's pretty ironic -- no, wait, that's what Alanis Morrisette would say, so let's go with coincidental -- that Neko Case and U2 both released new albums on March 3. U2 was my favorite band from about 1984 through the late 90s, only to be usurped atop my personal CD mountain by the divine Ms. Case, who's currently the reigning champeeen for a decade running.

My buddy Tim asked me over on my Facebook site if I was spending more time with Neko or U2 on Tuesday night. The answer is quite simple -- Neko, all the way. But the circumstances dictated that more than my tastes. I got an advance copy of Middle Cyclone last week because I'm reviewing it for the Weekly (embarrassing fanboy gushing to be posted on Thursday), so I listened to it pretty much nonstop for about five days in order to decide whether it was a great album or the greatest album ever.

I also am a firm believer in paying for my favorite music, doubly so with artists who literally might go broke if not for fans ponying up for the right to enjoy their tunes. So I planned all along to purchase a copy of Middle Cyclone once it became available. I also have a slew of gift certificates thanks to a reward program through one of my credit cards (better to get books and music than frequent flier miles for airlines that are going under faster than banks these days), so naturally I pre-ordered Neko's album from Amazon.

I needed to get my purchase up to $25 to get the free shipping, so I added U2's No Line on the Horizon to my order, hoping that Amazon would get pre-ordered content to its customers close to the actual release date. And it came today, one day after I could have purchased it online or in a record store.

So now it's time to dive into Bono and the boys' latest effort. Looking forward to it, but I can confidently say nothing's gonna knock Neko off the mountaintop any time soon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Never too early to start your Christmas shopping

Just found out that my book is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Feeling kinda weird right now ... I mean, I knew this day was coming, but to see it out there after all the work we did is very, very rewarding. It certainly adds a new dimension to my egosurfing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Two new Weekly stories for yours truly

This week, readers of the Las Vegas Weekly are treated to not one, but TWO articles by noted freelance writer P. Donnelly. One was right up my musical alley -- a review of the new disc by Mark Olson and Gary Louris, the dudes who founded one of my all-time favorite bands, The Jayhawks. The other article was a fun sports piece about two guys who got pulled out of the crowd at a UNLV basketball game to show off their shooting skills during a timeout. Both were really nice guys and as you'll read, they both cleared the bar they'd set for themselves.

Read more Mark Olson and Gary Louris: Ready for the Flood ...

Read more Shooting Stars ...

Friday, February 13, 2009

One step from the nursing home

Friday delivered a double-barrel reminder that I'm old and getting older (although it beats the alternative, no doubt about it). My eldest daughter, who recently turned 11, attended her first school dance.

And it was an 80's dance.

I mean, it's not bad enough that I have to begin pricing out shotguns, lest any of her prepubescent classmates start getting funny ideas. But to denigrate the very decade in which I began sowing my wild oats ... the irony was thicker than Oscar Goodman's liver.

The girls (her best friend flew in from Minnesota for the weekend, with her mother, the godmother of Kid No. 2) had a great time getting ready for the dance. My own mother sent a package of 80s skinny ties that I actually used to wear, and she chose my favorite one to accent her getup. The moms helped with the hair, the kid sister looked on in amazement, and here's what they came up with:

The front view

Reverse angle

We found an 80s stream on Pandora before dinner, so we prepared for the bash with a steady diet of Madonna, the Cutting Crew, Journey and Belinda Carlisle. Oh, girls just wanna have fun! And they sure did.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why yes, our mayor is a delusional, self-promoting windbag!

No, not Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson. He seems like a decent, well-mannered, professional person. You know, an adult.

Of course, the headline refers to Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who proves the old axiom: the bigger the village, the bigger the idiot. This week, hizzonorless has demanded an apology from none other than President Barack Obama (man, it's still fun typing that!) because according to the gin-soaked former mob lawyer, the Prez overstepped his boundaries when he suggested that companies that have received taxpayer bailout money should refrain from using that money to send senior executives on lavish junkets to Las Vegas.

President Obama's direct quote, from a town hall meeting in Elkart, Ind., reads as follows: "You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime." Goodman, whose Bombay-addled brain distills every message down to a single question ("How does this affect meeeeeeeeeeeee?"), took the Obama quote as an attack on Las Vegas tourism in general.

He must have missed that whole "on the taxpayer's dime" thing, or else he's intentionally ignoring it because he knows that any publicity for the city is good publicity as long as they spell the name right. That's "Goodman" with two o's and no dignity.

And believe me, I know from undignified politicans. I come from a state that elected a former professional wrestler as governor. But Oscar Goodman makes Jesse Ventura look like Pierce Brosnan in the suave department. This is a guy, remember, who famously told an elementary school audience that his one indispensable, desert-island accoutrement would be a bottle of his beloved Bombay gin (stay classy, Oscar!).

His delusion was on grand display last summer when he proposed that the city build an 80,000-seat football stadium so Las Vegas could play host to the Super Bowl and be the permanent site of Monday Night Football. Putting aside the obvious gambling hurdle, why would an NFL owner agree to give up a Monday night home date and the financial windfall that accompanies a prime-time game, not to mention 1/8 of its home schedule?

Because it would be good for Las Vegas. I kid you not -- that's what he said. "Believe me, they need us more than we need them," Goodman said of the NFL.

That's right, Oscar. You and the showgirls keep on telling each other that the world needs Las Vegas more than Las Vegas needs the rest of the world. And watch the world keep on passing us by.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A simpler time

My youngest is a devotee of all things Scooby. I swear, if I could find a "What Would Scooby-Doo?" lunch box, she'd bring it to school every day. She went trick-or-treating dressed as Velma two years ago, and is planning on being Daphne this year. She's used "jinkees" in casual conversation. She's into it.

So on any given day you'll find about 35% of our DVR space taken up with Scooby-Doo episodes and movies. Not that I mind all that much. I loved the Mystery, Inc., gang when I was a kid too, so watching the old "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" reruns with her is kind of a kick for me. It's fun to relive some of the thrills and chills of my childhood, not to mention having a shared experience with Kid No. 2.

Sometimes, I even get a glimpse of a simpler time and realize how far we've come -- for good or ill -- as a society since the late 60s-early 70s. Today, for example, we were watching an episode described in the DirecTV guide as follows:

"The Harem-Scarum Sanitarium: The gang investigates a haunted mental asylum."

Ah yes ... because as we all know, mental illness is comedic gold, baby! I kept waiting for an appearance by McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, or The Chief, but all we got was this guy:

Friday, February 6, 2009

SI cover line FAIL

I'm a reasonably creative and sports-minded individual. I get puns, frequently use metaphors, and can crank out a simile like Bill Simmons cranks out podcasts. (See what I did there?)

But even for me, this SI cover line is an epic fail. If I have to take a full 60 seconds to figure out what "That's Six for the Sixth" means, I'm guessing the meaning sailed way over the heads of the average reader.

If you still haven't figured it out, "Six" refers to the touchdown, which is also known as "six" because it's worth six points. And that "six" gave the Steelers their sixth Super Bowl title.

Come on, SI. Don't make us work too hard. You're already about to get a flood of "cancel my subscription" mail with your upcoming swimsuit issue. Don't piss off a nation's worth of composition teachers too.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Aaron Francisco keeps Kurt Warner ouf of Canton

I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again every year -- the endless debates over who is worthy of induction to various sporting Halls of Fame drives me loco. Because the qualifications are 100 percent subjective, it makes for perfect talk-radio fodder, but all that noise and wasted breath is as meaningful as a breeze in the forest.

So last week, a theme developed among NFL talking heads -- some believed Kurt Warner was a lock for the Hall of Fame thanks to his three Super Bowl berths, two NFL MVP awards, one Super Bowl ring (with another one possible) and the fact that he took the Arizona Freakin' Cardinals to the big game.

Meanwhile, the anti- side of the debate said that Warner still had more to prove, and that he needed to beat the Steelers on Sunday to get into the Hall of Fame.

Fast-forward to Sunday, and Warner throws his third touchdown pass of the game to put the Cardinals on top 23-20 with just over two minutes remaining in the game. And as Warner watched from the sidelines, the Steelers launched a thrilling, captivating drive that culminated in Santonio Holmes' TD catch in the corner of the end zone, one step in front of Cardinals safety Aaron Francisco.

As you know, Warner's last-ditch attempt at rallying the Cardinals fell short, mainly because he had a mere 30 seconds to work with. So, Warner didn't win the game, meaning all those anti-Warner guys must still believe he's not worthy of the Hall of Fame. But if Francisco had been able to push Holmes out of bounds, or if Ben Roethlisberger had thrown an interception, or Heath Miller had fumbled, or a sinkhole had opened up at midfield and swallowed the Steelers whole, I guess Warner would be HOF-worthy? Even though he did nothing to affect the last drive?

This points out the silliness over these debates. You especially can't look at wins (for a quarterback or a pitcher in baseball) because those guys can only be judged on what they did to put their team in position to win. If your bats fall silent, or if your defense gives up a game-losing touchdown, you can't blame the quarterback or the pitcher.

But if Kurt Warner is never enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame, I guess he can FedEx a box of dog doo to Aaron Francisco.