Saturday, March 30, 2013

30 Teams, 30 Haiku: My 2013 Baseball Preview

As promised, and for the third year in a row, I present my annual baseball prognostications in the form of a 17-syllable poem. I was tempted to do iambic pentameter this year, but the Bard's tongue could do no justice for Miami or Houston.

(asterisks note wild cards)


1. Nationals. That's a clown question/bro, if you think this team takes/a big step backward.
2. Braves. Hail, Upton brothers!/may you find your swing again/to rescue the arms.
3. Phillies. Revere? Improvement?/and an aging Halladay/means no title run.
4. Mets. D'Arnaud, the next Fisk?/paired with the Wright solution/maybe a sleeper.
5. Marlins. So many questions/but the answer's still "purge"/Loria must sell.

1. Reds. My, what dominance/the hunt for Red October/begins in April.
2. Cardinals*. Dogfight for second/sturdy veterans do help/when they're not injured.
3. Pirates. .500 or bust/a generation of crap/may come to an end.
4. Brewers. The smallest market/will fight for respect all year/alas, Braun's still here.
5. Cubs. This is no shocker/another year of youth rule/or no direction?

1. Dodgers. Hello big spenders/Yankees of the Sunset Strip/the stakes are quite high.
2. Giants*. Champions, conquered?/still strong, but if Lincecum/fades again, who knows?
3. D-Backs. Transparent goodness/but not dominant at all/Eaton will produce.
4. Padres. Someone must be fourth/small market, no direction/there's your punching bag.
5. Rockies. This downward spiral/hits bottom; needs more pitching/Tulo can't carry.

1. Blue Jays. Egad, they've improved!/Canadian invasion/conquers eastern foes.
2. Rays*. Maddon's formula/hot starters, dark horse closers/enough to compete.
3. Yankees. Bombers have fizzled/old, injured, and weary/maybe 80 wins.
4. Orioles. Was '12 a big fluke?/likely reality check/after career years.
5. Red Sox. Hot mess at Fenway/youth movement or saving face?/I don't expect much.

1. Tigers. Simply dominant/the best keeps getting better/though age may loom large.
2. White Sox. Dunn swings at fast junk/the fans sing "Come Sale Away"/but the boat has left.
3. Royals. Bolstered rotation/also seeking .500/ridiculed no more.
4. Indians. Some shaky pitching/overlooked; (thanks, Nick Swisher)/equals same old Tribe.
5. Twins. Mauer and the bums/a star among the so-so/Joe deserves better.

1. Angels. Hambone, Pujols, Trout/on paper, this is just sick/best in wild west.
2. Athletics*. They're young, but no fluke/Beane keeps finding ways to win/soon to dominate.
3. Rangers. Many X-factors/not the same from '11/run production sags.
4. Mariners. Felix, but no bats/so in a strong division/a struggle awaits.
5. Astros. New league, same old pains/Altuve, a unique find/for cellar dwellers.

NL MVP: Joey Votto, Reds
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers
NL ROY: Julio Teheran, Braves
AL ROY: Wil Myers, Rays
First Manager Fired: Bud Black, Padres
2013 World Series: Tigers over Reds in 5

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Prose not required.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Weekly Update #400

Here we are, number 400. My baseball preview is still a work in progress, but because I refuse to let down my regular readers, enjoy these random notes:

+ I'm not sure what to make of Pope Francis. On one hand, being the first South American pope (Italian heritage be damned) in an indicator that the Catholic church is budging itself into the 21st century. He was not considered a favorite for the papacy by the media, either. On the other hand, his political beliefs indicate he's just as reactionary as Pope Benedict XVI, if not more. What's most puzzling is that the former Cardinal Bergoglio seems to have a wildly varying stance on social issues, especially gay rights and same-sex marriage. Francis was quoted in a 2008 interview as saying "gays are the devil's spawn," but there's now evidence that suggests he's wavered on that opinion. (As far as other issues go, I doubt he's pro-choice or a tree-hugger.) Benedict XVI was a hardliner from the get-go, but Francis seems a tad more ambiguous.

+ Over in Illinois, the wheels are already turning on what might be a wide-open race for governor in 2014. Incumbent Pat Quinn has proven too ineffectual and doddering, especially with the state budget crisis, and he is no sure shot for the Democratic nomination. With Rod Blagojevich finally out of the picture, the future of Illinois really is now. The question now is, will the next leader of the state represent a Democratic Party whose leadership that teeter-totters between tolerable and reckless, or a Republican Party that has been splintered and unfocused since the George Ryan era?

+ Finally, as some of you may have noticed, my blog-writing has been a tad erratic of late. I promise weekly updates, but I've been posting about three times a month. Admittedly, these last few months have been very hectic; since October I've been juggling a 35 hour-per-week temp job, improv classes and the accompanying lengthy commute, and three family members with health issues. I don't want to make it sound like an excuse, but it has been time-consuming; I've been averaging six hours of sleep per night for the last six months, and whatever time I spend online is to check e-mail and test material. Things will get back to normal soon enough.

Next week will be the 30 teams, 30 haiku, I swear. Thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1968 (Again)

As I had promised a few weeks ago, I was planning on revising some of my "year in music" lists, but only a select handful. 1968 was the first year I covered and wrote the blog on a lark; where most of my music blogs took two or three weeks of research, I wrote my '68 almost by memory in about six hours. That blog alone was the impetus of a pet project that went on for four years, encouraging me to study the history of rock, pop, and jazz music.

It's easy to see why I choose 1968 first; that whole year is impossibly strong and almost omnipresent in its scope and influence. From a cultural and musical perspective, everything that the '60s built up to hit a crescendo that year. Unofficially this was the second year of the "classic rock" era, country-rock was blossoming, and R&B and soul were as confrontational and immediate as they'd ever been. Only the jazz world struggled to move forward; the death of John Coltrane a year earlier sent shockwaves through the whole scene, and even though there was some classic releases in 1968 the confusion and sorrow were at times too transparent.

(Note: parentheses note original ranking)

1. The Beatles (a/k/a The White Album), The Beatles. (1) Looking at the big picture, this is the Fab Four's most jumbled and splintered effort, and by far the most bloated. Judged on its musical merit alone, it's another masterwork from the '60s most definitive band. Trading the psychedelia of their previous three albums for a heavier guitar sound, this self-titled double-LP finds The Beatles retaining their whimsy and sounding as eclectic as they've ever been. Ignore the great band slowly falling apart and pay attention to the variety of styles and genres the Beatles have seemingly mastered.
2. Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies. (2) As outstanding as it was flukey, The Zombies' third and final album found an audience in the US well after the quintet had broken up and American interest in the band was seemingly tapped out. Indeed, Oracle was intended as a final statement and this soaring declaration is elegant, bold and at 32 minutes, concise. The end result of this band's frustration and disharmony was one of the defining psychedelic pop/rock albums of its time.
3. White Light White Heat, The Velvet Underground. (3) Neither aided by troubled chanteuse Nico nor coddled by "producer" Andy Warhol, the Velvets' second album --their only release with the classic Reed/Cale/Morrison/Tucker lineup-- is a complete assault on what anyone in 1968 would consider "music." Where their first album challenged conventions, White Heat beats those conventions to a pulp. Every song takes the band's inner demons to the hilt, and the climatic "Sister Ray" is basically four instruments at war with each other for 17-plus minutes.
4. Astral Weeks, Van Morrison (9)
5. Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones (7)
6. The Village Green Preservation Society, The Kinks (4)
7. Electric Ladyland, The Jimi Hendrix Experience (8)
8. Music from Big Pink, The Band (5)
9. We're Only In It For The Money, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention
10. Bookends, Simon & Garfunkel. (6) The '60s most notable folk duo were a group that steadily became stronger and more confident with each album, and Bookends is an ambitious effort that pales only to their masterpiece 1970 swan song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. A nation divided --usually figuratively, sometimes literally-- is reflected on almost every track, from the enigmatic journey of "America" to the wry bleakness of "Mrs. Robinson" and "At The Zoo."

11. Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Byrds (10)
12. At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash
13. Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin
14. A Saucerful of Secrets, Pink Floyd (11)
15. Cheap Thrills, Big Brother & The Holding Company. Meet Janis Joplin. San Francisco's best-kept secret brought the house down at Monterey Pop, but legal entanglements kept Joplin and her band from signing a major label contract and capitalizing on their breakthrough show. Luckily, Cheap Thrills delivers and than some, offering all the excitement and energy of their live show on one convenient LP. Janis is the breakout star without question, shredding ears and vocal cords alike with unique urgency, emotion, and desperation.
16. Waiting for the Sun, The Doors
17. The United States of America, The United States of America
18. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival
19. Switched-On Bach, Wendy Carlos
20. Eli & The Thirteenth Confession, Laura Nyro. A criminally under-appreciated singer-songwriter, Nyro is known more for the songs that were covered by other artists (Three Dog Night, the 5th Dimension, Barbra Streisand) than for her own lilting, confessional releases. Thirteenth Confession showcases a musical talent that peaked fairly early yet had a lot to say, augmented by a savvy blend of blue-eyed soul and New York pop. Everyone from Tori Amos to Alecia Keys owes some debt to the late, great Laura Nyro.

1. Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, Chick Corea. In the intermediate period between backing Stan Getz and Miles Davis, Corea's fourth album as a leader proved he was a genius in his own right. Rounding out the trio is bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes, and all three artists never cave into each other. Originally released with five tracks, Now He Sings has been expanded "Leaves of Grass"-style to include 11 original compositions by the piano auteur.
2. Filles de Kilimanjaro, Miles Davis
3. Forest Flower, Charles Lloyd
4. Underground, Thelonious Monk
5. Midnight Creeper, Lou Donaldson

Honorable Mention: A Monastic Trio, Alice Coltrane (12).

"Hey Jude," The Beatles
"White Room," Cream
"Going Up The Country," Canned Heat
"Time Has Come Today," The Chambers Brothers
"Hurdy Gurdy Man," Donovan
"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," The Supremes & The Temptations
"Open My Eyes," The Nazz
"Bend Me, Shape Me," The American Breed
"I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight," Boyce & Hart
"Fire," The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

"Journey to the Center of the Mind," Amboy Dukes
"Livin' in the USA," Steve Miller Band
"Magic Carpet Ride," Steppenwolf
"Elenore," The Turtles
"Lady Willpower," Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
"Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)," John Fred & His Playboy Band
"Grazing in the Grass," Hugh Masekela
"Love is Blue," Paul Mauriat
"Wichita Lineman," Glen Campbell
"MacArthur Park," Richard Harris

Your thoughts?

Next Week: my annual MLB haiku preview.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Empire in Ruins

Early last month, I reached a remarkable milestone and I completely forgot about it for 3 1/2 weeks. February 1st was the tenth anniversary of my registering on TV Tome, the site that proceeded (and begat) Considering how much time and energy I've put into the site over this past decade, one would assume this would be a cause for celebration. Instead, it barely registered in my conscious. What once was a passion now feels like a chore.

If you visit now, it feels like a second-tier entertainment news site, rather than the communal celebration of all things television that it was and should be. The people that built this site from scratch so many years ago are long gone; an anonymous group of corporate hacks are pulling the reins. The community is dying, episode guides aren't being updated, and most of the forums feel like ghost towns. My Level 63 status, high ranking and hard earned, feels increasingly hollow. CNet's presence has been both a blessing and a bane.

So why haven't I left? For the same reason why I didn't leave eight years ago; I had too much to lose. I still contribute information, but not at the same frequency as I did five years ago. I still post in the forums, though fewer people comment after me. Most of my acquaintances keep in touch through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. If the ship sinks, I'm going down with it.  Unlike most of my peers, there's too much of me on that site to just up and leave. That's not to say I haven't been tempted...