Search This Blog

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baker Street Essays - The Norwood Builder

Another entry from Baker Street Essays. This one wonders why Jonas Oldacre bothered to add the fake thumbprint so late in the game.

Why the Thumbprint?
Oldacre seemed to have committed as perfect a crime as possible. Holmes is completely stumped and cannot find any clue that would prove Inspector Lestrade wrong and establish McFarlane’s innocence. After a fruitless day of investigation, Holmes says to Watson, “…but unless some lucky chance comes our way I fear that the Norwood Disappearance Case will not figure in that chronicle of our successes which I foresee that a patient public will sooner or later have to endure.”
Holmes has all but given up. Lestrade has goaded him and is thoroughly enjoying an extremely rare victory over the famous detective. Holmes is now resorting to Lady Luck to bail him out. That’s how frustrated he is with his own efforts. So why does Oldacre plant the bloody thumb mark (not the entire hand, as the Collier’s cover by Frederic Dorr Steele would have us believe) on the wall?

Yes, it was extra evidence that would point to McFarlane’s guilt. But Oldacre had clearly had planned his actions long before, as evidenced by the money he had secretly funneled to dummy accounts. Having carried everything out properly, did he suddenly feel more was needed? Did he lack patience and begin doubting himself? If he was receiving copies of the newspapers in his hidden room, he must have been pleased with events. If not, then he should have just trusted in his plan. If he had originally intended to include the thumbprint on the wall, surely he would have done so in the beginning. Unless he simply forgot? If so, then truly, the devil is in the details.

The thumbprint is the break Holmes needs and leads to Oldacre’s exposure. It seems, by Holmes’ own admission, Oldacre would have gotten away with his plan and that McFarlane would have been convicted of killing him. If only Jonas Oldacre had left well enough alone and stayed in his room. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Parenting as Monty Python

So, the other night, my three year old wasn't too thrilled with his ravioli dinner. Having tasted it, I could understand why. But he needed to eat. So, I tried to get him to take one more bite. He wasn't having any of it. No sir.

I told him he could stay in his high chair for another hour and then go to bed: not a problem for me. I wasn't going to turn the Veggie Tales back on the tv until he took a bite. He repeatedly said no, he couldn't eat any more, he wasn't feeling well, etc. But I wasn't bending. He would take one more bite or stay there (flashbacks to my own childhood here).

Finally, he took one bite. It was Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life.' "Just one little mint, monsieur. It is so thin. What harm could one little mint do?"

Get out the buckets. He threw up a whole day's worth of food. Guess he wasn't feeling well.

I thought the Python bit was disgusting back when I watched it. I didn't find this flashback funny either...

Steelers - The 1940's (1940-1949)

Steelers – The 1940’s (1940-1949)
In 1940, the Pirates were renamed the Steelers through a public contest. Thank goodness. The NFL struggled to fill out rosters during World War II, as thousands of young men joined the military. Perhaps the Steelers’ greatest success was staying intact as a franchise during the forties.

Tag Line – From terrible to bad
40-64-6 (.364 pct)
Winning Seasons: 4/10
.500 Seasons: 1/10
Playoffs: 1 season
Well, they did get better. However, they still pretty much stunk. With World War II draining the supply of athletic-age males, the Steelers were forced in 1943 to combine rosters with the rival Eagles. After a 5-4-1 season (the first winning season in Philadelphia history and only the second for Pittsburgh, Art Rooney joined forces with the Chicago Cardinals for 1944. The Cardinals were 0-10 in 1943. The Card-Pitts (referred to as the ‘Carpits’ because everyone walked over them) went 0-10. It was the only winless season in Steelers history. Fortunately World War II ended and Pittsburgh returned as a solo franchise in 1946, leading to the successful 1947 season.

FIRST PLAYOFF GAME! (sort of…) – In 1947, the Steelers finished tied for first place in the Eastern Division. This meant they would host a ‘playoff game’ against the rival Eagles. The winner would go on to play the Western Division Chicago Cardinals for the NFL Championship. It was the first post season action in team history.Unfortunately, the team lost 0-21, the same score as the first game against the Eagles that year.
BULLET BILL - The decade did see their first real star player: Bullet Bill Dudley. Though he was only a Steeler for three seasons (1942, 1945-1946: he served in the military for two years), he was a two time pro bowler and had a fantastic 1946 season. He led the NFL in rushing, interceptions, punt returns and lateral passes attempted (no, I didn’t make up that last one). This was after leading the league in scoring the previous year.
Unfortunately, the team was only 7-13-1 those two years. Dudley was traded the Detroit Lions before the 1947 season (perhaps Pittsburgh would have been in the title game if Dudley were still around) and went into the Hall of Fame in 1966. Dudley was the first of many who would enter the Hall based on their on-field performances as a Steeler (Prior inductees and short-time Steelers  Johnny McNally and Walt Kiesling were inducted for their play with other teams).
JOCK – A FORGOTTEN LEGEND - The Steelers were coached by Jock Sutherland in 1946 and 1947. The Scottish-born coach had been a college legend, leading the Pittsburgh Panthers to nine national championships (it was quite different back then and multiple organizations declared champions. The University officially acknowledges five of Sutherland’s championships). Sutherland’s combined record of 13-9-1 accounted for the team’s best back-to-back seasons until 1962-1963 (16-9-3). His hiring marked the first time Art Rooney got really serious about the Steelers: he had hired friends and over the hill coaches up to that time, with poor results.
Studying film back in the day
Sutherland died somewhat unexpectedly of a brain tumor in the spring of 1948. It would take until 1972 (.786) for the Steelers to top the team’s 1947 winning percentage of .667. They would only have one other postseason appearance in the next 24 seasons: and that wasn’t even a real playoff game (see the Sixties). It’s possible that Jock Sutherland would have turned the woeful Steelers into a competitive NFL franchise, but his premature death ended the momentum he had generated.
You know what: someone needs to write a biography of Sutherland. He was born in Scotland; became one of the most successful American college football coaches in history; resigned after winning a national championship because the University of Pittsburgh president was de-emphasizing the football program; coached the Brooklyn Dodgers (yep, that was an NFL team) to the two most successful seasons in team history; joined the Navy in World War II and became a Lieutenant Commander; took over the Steelers after the war ended and guided them to their first ever playoff appearance; died suddenly at age 59 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as both  a player and a coach three years after his death. That’s quite a story!
SUMMARY – 1940-1949 saw a bit of growth in the franchise, but the Steelers largely remained losers. Back then, there were no baseball playoffs: just the winners of each league’s regular season meeting in the World Series. The Pirates wouldn’t make the World Series from 1928 to 1969. In 1946 and 1947, the Pirates finished a combined 66 games out of first place. So, fans in Pittsburgh weren’t getting much to cheer for in either sporting season.
TRIVIA – The Chicago Cardinals won the 1947 championship, 28-21. Violet Bidwell (owner via widowhood) moved the team to St. Louis after the 1959 season, effectively blocking the fledgling AFL from placing a team there. It also moved the Cardinals out of the Bears’ long shadow. Her son, Bill Bidwell (who is one of the NFL’s worst owners) would himself abandon St. Louis for Phoenix in 1988.
The Cardinals (on-going) sixty-three year title drought is the longest in the NFL. They were only 35 seconds away from ending that streak when Santonio Holmes caught the game-winning pass in Super Bowl 43. 

This is not THE program, but it's from the same season. And it's memorable.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Baker Street Essays - My thoughts on Sherlock Holmes

I realized today I haven't referenced any of my writings about the world's first official consulting detective. I refer, of course, to Sherlock Holmes. I have written extensively about my favorite fictional character: much of it for my defunct website, Sherlock Holmes on Screen

My sporadically ongoing Holmes efforts (excluding those in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine) are for my own free, online newsletter, Baker Street Essays (BSE). Click on the link at the bottom of my Solar Pons website. Below is a sample from issue one of BSE. I'm overdue for a fourth issue, but I do enjoy writing about Holmes when the mood strikes.

BLACK PETER: Whither the Missing Securities?
John Neligan’s father had set off with a tin box full of securities that he had taken from his bank. Black Peter Carey sold some of the missing securities in London. After everything has been cleared up, Holmes tells Hopkins to return the tin box to John Neligan, noting that the securities that Peter Carey had sold were lost forever. Can this be taken to imply that the remaining securities were in the tin? If they weren’t, wouldn’t Holmes have commented on them as well? And perhaps contributed something more profound than explaining that the securities already sold are gone?

But if the missing securities were in the tin, how would they become the possession of John Neligan? It would be a strange case of law that granted ownership of stolen securities to the son of their embezzler. Shouldn’t the recovered securities be returned to the banking firm they were taken from?

But perhaps the missing securities weren’t in the tin. Of course, Patrick Cairns would be thoroughly grilled about this since he stole the box and admitted he opened it. In addition, wouldn’t Hopkins wonder about their location? Why wouldn’t Holmes or Watson broach the issue? A thorough search of Black Peter’s cabin would be in order, likewise wherever Patrick Cairns was staying. Did everyone simply assume that they were lost forever?

A third option that we will not explore further here is that Neligan senior sold some of the securities before encountering Peter Carey. Carey sold the remainder; thus, there were no securities left in the tin box. Speculation on this aspect would significantly extend the length of this entry.

So, either the remaining securities were in the tin and John Neligan was going to attempt to restore his father’s name, or: they weren’t in the tin and no one was overtly interested in them. Did Sherlock Holmes have an ulterior motive regarding the missing securities…?

Have You Read....The Hole in our Gospel

Matt Maher sings “Your Grace is enough for me.” But is that enough for God? Is our being saved the end of the story, or do we owe more? Richard Stearns, head of World Vision U.S., tackles this issue in The Hole in our Gospel.

Stearns opens up his book recounting the tale of visiting Richard, a thirteen year old boy in Uganda. Stearns sat in a small hut, listening to a boy who was trying to raise his two brothers alone, their parents having died of AIDS. His mother and father were buried in the ground right next to the doorway; the children passed by the graves constantly. When Stearns asked if Richard had a Bible, the boy ran into the other room and returned, saying “I love to read the Book of John, because it says that Jesus loves the children.”

Only two months before, Stearns had been the CEO of Lennox, makers of those fancy plates. He lived in a ten-bedroom home on five acres outside of Philadelphia. He sat on his church board, ran a multi-million dollar company, drove a Jaguar and flew first class to Tokyo, Paris, etc. Now he was the new head of World Vision, a global, Christian non-profit organization. And he was in an African hut talking to Richard. Word Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce, had said “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Richard Stearns truly understood these words now.

The crux of this book is Stearns asking the question, “What does God expect of us?” Is being faithful, studying the Bible and going to church enough? “Have we embraced the whole gospel or a gospel with a hole in it?” He then tells his story in the context of the issues that World Vision tackles. The book has lots of statistics and numbers. For example, about 9 million people die every year of hunger or related causes. Every day, 904 children die of an AIDS-related illness, while another 1,150 become infected. Stearns breaks down what some of the overwhelming numbers mean on a more understandable level. He also relates some of his personal experiences since joining World Vision. Be prepared to hear God’s heart breaking.

Stearns greeted God’s call to move to Seattle and run World Vision with about as much enthusiasm as Jonah headed off to Nineveh. He even initially refused the job before realizing that God was guiding him and accepting the call (no whale needed). There is an incredible amount of content in this book that makes Stearns’ call to compassion and justice just plain common sense. Though he’s not a preacher, he knows his Bible and uses verses effectively.

We are saved by Grace: I’m not about to open up the ‘Grace vs. Works’ debate. But during my Catholic upbringing, I learned Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by Grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the Gift of God - not by your works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Read that last sentence again. Stearns believes (as do I), that we are saved by Grace, but as saved, God expects more from us.

This is reflected in Vineyard Columbus' vision statement, “To be a relevant church that does not exist for itself, but for Christ and the World.” Vineyard didn’t build a Community Center for the membership: it was built for the central Ohio community, to do the work of Christ. The Hole in our Gospel is about being a relevant Christian.

We started with a contemporary worship reference so we’ll close with one, from Casting Crowns’ If We Are the Body:

“If we are the body, why aren’t his arms reaching? Why aren’t his hands healing? Why aren’t his words teaching? And if we are the body, why aren’t his feet going? Why is his love not showing them there is a way?”

Richard Stearns’s arms are reaching and his words are teaching. If you enjoyed reading The Hole in Our Gospel, there is a free, six-week group study guide available for download at World Vision’s website. I was profoundly impacted by this book and recommend it unreservedly.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Steelers - The 1930's (1933-1939)

And today we kick off a series of posts that should take us through the off season and get us to preseason. Assuming we'll be having the latter somehwere near it's usual time. Hopefully you'll find some interesting stuff and get a better understanding of how fortunate we are as Steelers fans. It's a bit grim through the sixties. But starting with 1970, I'll break this down into five year blocks. The numbers are really impressive. The posts will vary in length, but I can assure you a lot of research went into the numbers and the stories. we go!

Steelers – The 1930’s (1933-1939)

On July 8, 1933, the Pittsburgh Pirates were born: No, not those Pirates. This was an NFL franchise, founded by Art Rooney and playing home games at Forbes Field. Yes, the Forbes Field that was home to the baseball Pirates. In fact, both franchises would play at Forbes from 1933 through 1957. The Steelers split their home games between Forbes and Pitt Stadium from 1958 to 1963 before abandoning the baseball stadium altogether.

Tag Line – Pro football comes to Pittsburgh

16-49-1 (.242 pct)

Winning Seasons: 0/7

.500 Seasons: 1/7

Playoffs: 0 seasons

The people of Pittsburgh had professional football; albeit, bad football. The 1936 team managed to go 6-6 under Charlie Bach. This high water mark was the only non-losing season of the decade. But when the team lost the season finale to the Boston Redskins, Art Rooney fired Bach.

THE WHIZZER – Other than playing their first game (a 3-22 loss to the Giants), the thirties were pretty much a wash. However, one notable event did occur. Byron ‘Whizzer’ White was an All-American halfback for the University of Colorado. Coming off a 1-7 season (real momentum builder after that .500 year), the Pirates signed White to the biggest contract in the history of the sport ($15,800). He paid immediate dividends, leading the league in rushing and giving Pittsburgh football fans a rare gift: something to cheer about.

White was a Rhodes Scholar but had put his education on hold to play for the Pirates. After one season he went off to Oxford and returned to the NFL for the 1940 season: as a Detroit Lion. He led the league in rushing, played one more season, went into service for World War II, graduated from law school after the war and ended up as a Supreme Court Justice. The Pirates/Steelers are a footnote in the story of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable men. Of course, it was also a kick in the teeth, which summed up the Steelers’ fan experience for decades.

JOHNNY MCNALLY – Nicknamed ‘Blood’ because he played for Notre Dame on Saturdays under his real name, and for pro teams on Sunday as Johnny Blood, McNally was a hard-drinking, hard-partying halfback and head coach. He won six games in almost three full seasons in charge. To give you an idea of how different the game was back then, he was the team’s leading passer in1937: 10 completions for 168 yards. Passing was unmanly in the thirties. McNally is in the Hall of Fame, but for his earlier work, not his Steeler accomplishments.

SUMMARY – 1933-1939 was exciting in that Pittsburgh received a franchise in the still young and developing (read: struggling) National Football League. The Pirates were simply bad. They were coached for two-plus seasons by future Hall of Fame running back Johnny ‘Blood’ McNally. He was succeeded by another Hall of Famer, Walt Kiesling (who had three stints as head coach). Unfortunately, neither man won very many games.

TRIVIA – The common belief about the founding of the Steelers is really a myth. Legend says that Art Rooney had a particularly good day at the Saratoga horse track and used his winnings to buy the NFL franchise. That’s not true, as it happened several years after he obtained the franchise (for a buy-in of $2,500!), although it is generally agreed that he helped keep the team afloat in the lean years with his gambling earnings.