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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Greatest of These is Love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bob's Books - Conan the Raider by Leonard Carpenter


Conan the Raider is the second of the eleven novels that Leonard Carpenter wrote in the fifty-book Tor series. In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the sixtieth Conan tale, following Robert E. Howard’s The Man-Eaters of Zamboula (aka Shadows in Zamboula) and taking place before L. Sprague de Camp and Bjorn Nyberg’s The Star of Khorala.

This tale opens up with Conan chasing the man who had stolen a gem, the Star of Khorala from him. Our favorite barbar had obtained the Star at the end of Howard’s The Man-Eaters of Zamboula. While it does take place directly after that story, you need not have read it, as the tie-in to the actual plot is minimal.
This book could more accurately be called Conan the Tomb Raider, and I rather liked it. We get an inside look at the building of a massive pyramidal tomb, which, of course, Conan is going to rob. I liked the shadow that Stygia’s culture cast over neighboring Abaddrah in this book. Carpenter digs into the socio-cultural side of things, which I don’t find too often in the Conan pastiches. The Queen was a bit one dimensional, though.

As in Carpenter’s Conan: Scourge of the Bloody Coast, the hero is awfully forgiving of someone who betrays him. I think Carpenter is showing the practical side of Conan, but, in this book, at least, it seems that Conan will let bygones be bygones (even really, really bad things) if he can make a bit of coin in so doing. I think he undervalues the Cimmerian background too much in this one. Honor and revenge get short shrift.
Where there’s a necromancer, there are undead. I like the horror aspect they bring to this story:  there seems to be more substance to it than there was in Conan the Defiant. “Creepy” seems like  fair description.

Sex is implied with the sultry dancer who has the lead female role, and Conan is rewarded with a woman’s favors at the end of the book. But this one is low on the Conan sex scale.

Readers of Howard’s original Star tale might have wondered what happened next to Conan: this story answers that question, though 98% of the book is really a side trek in the Star’s saga. But it works.
The next Tor book published after this one was John Maddox Roberts’ Conan the Champion. With so many average (or worse) books in the Tor line, Raider and Champion were a rather solid back to back duo.  I found Raider, while not a great book, to be one of the more enjoyable Tor pastiches.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A (Thoughtful) Christian Perspective on the Election

If you watch science fiction shows like Star Trek and whatnot, you’ve probably run across the word “anomaly” a time or two. Basically, it means an odd or bizarre circumstance (hey; I’m not Merriam-Webster. It’s good enough).

I don’t know that we will see a more perfect example of an anomaly during our time than millions of Christians being disappointed that a Mormon was not elected President. I’m not sure you can fully appreciate the unlikelihood of that. In any election year other than 2012, several million Christians rallying behind a Mormon in a campaign against a professed Christian, would be Twilight Zone-ish.

Mormons are not Christians. The very root, the one, fundamental thing that makes a Christian a Christian, is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and, quoting John 14:6, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Period. If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you are not an actual Christian (I mean, look at the root of the word!). Barrack Obama has presented himself as a Christian since before his run in 2008. Unfortunately, his actions and don’t bear out his professed beliefs. At best, he’s a misguided Christian.
So, Christians found themselves choosing between a pseudo-Christian and a faux-Christian. And millions chose the one who, admittedly is not a Christian. I’m reasonably sure this is because, the ‘Christ as savior thing aside’ (talk about ignoring the elephant in the room!), Romney better reflected Biblical values than Obama did. So, many Christians voted for someone who is diametrically opposed to their most fundamental belief. I get it: I voted for him.


Hey: when else am I going to get to use
an Ace Frehley album cover? I like Kiss. Which  may
be an anomaly itself...
But you want an anomaly? THAT is an anomaly.

There seems to be much gnashing of teeth, wailing and beating of breast among Christians with Obama’s re-election as President. 

The separation of powers built into the US Constitution is the bell weather of democracy. I assert that the single greatest power of the Presidency is the ability to nominate Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court has more influence on the morality and foundation of this county than any other entity.
It was the Supreme Court that instituted the separation of church and State (it is NOT in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Look it up). And it was the Court that allowed abortion (do you think the Founders built in the murder of unborn babies?). And it is the Court that decides the balance of power between the national and local governments. So, the most enduring impact of Obama’s re-election will be related to how many Justices he gets to nominate in the next four years.
To the Christians who are morose, distraught and feel crushed that their candidate (again, a Mormon..) didn’t get elected, you  need to turn to your Bible (which is pretty much ALWAYS the right option).

Romans 13:1 says, Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.

And in verse 4, The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good.
God’s plan, right now, is for Barrack Obama to be President. I don’t know why. I don’t know why it’s his plan for my son to have asthma. I don’t have to understand: I just have to accept and to believe.

Psalm 27:1 tells us, The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom I shall be afraid?

The President of the United States is the leader of this country. But he is not the leader of your life. And his relationship with God and the actions he takes are between him and God. But the Lord of your life is Jesus Christ. And events are proceeding according to God’s plan. Keep that in mind as we move on in the next four years.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Meet Sherlock Holmes - Doyle

I proposed a non-credit course on Sherlock Holmes to the University of Texas when I lived in Austin. It almost came off. So, this is a general overview of Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with some interesting tidbits thrown in. And, we're off.


Arthur Conan Doyle
Ø       His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an illustrator who spent much of his latter life in mental asylums.
Doyle’s father provided some terrible drawings for the first stand-alone edition of A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes story.
Ø       Doyle created Sherlock Holmes while waiting for patients at his doctor office. Business was terribly slow.
Ø       Doyle always felt that Holmes was a lesser work and kept him from better things. He believed that his historical fiction was going to be his legacy.
“He keeps me from better things” quote.
Ø      Doyle wrote total of 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring Sherlock Holmes, plus two short parodies. Those 60 stories are referred to as ‘The Canon.’ Holmes stories written by other authors are known as “pastiches” and have been ongoing for over a hundred years.
Ø      He received a knighthood in 1902 for his detailed history of the Boer War.
1902 also happened to be the year that Doyle revived Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Did that play a part in the awarding of the knighthood?

Bob's Books - Conan the Buccaneer by L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter

Conan the Buccaneer, by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter is the sixth book in the Ace series by  de Camp and Carter (and that Howard fellow…). In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the seventy-fifth Conan tale, following Robert E. Howard’s The Pool of the Black One and taking place before Howard’s Red Nails.

When I read one of these books from the De Camp/Carter corpus, I try to remember that these were unusual. The glut of pastiches available to us today weren’t written yet. Fans of Conan only had Robert E. Howard’s original tales. The sword-swinging Cimmerian wasn’t yet quite the fantasy icon he is today (now THAT is understatement). So they were doing something new. The library of Conan tales was small and they were plowing relatively virgin soil.

Interestingly enough, he’s not a pirate this time out, and his buccaneering activities as a privateer for King Ferdrugo don’t really come into play much, except that he has a ready crew and ship available (which is certainly handy).

A nice aspect is the inclusion of Zarono and Thoth Amon, characters from Howard’s tales. Also, Sigurd and Juma are characters that appear in other de Camp and Carter stories. Bearing in mind that there weren’t very many Conan tales and the now prolific cast of characters, this was a treat to the fan.
On the Conan sex scale, this one is pretty modest. He becomes the love slave of an amazon queen (yes, seriously), but that’s about it.

What we do have is the standard quest for treasure and a damsel in distress. Basically, it’s a chase book. Conan chases a boat. Then he is chased. Then he chases it some more. Then he chases somebody else. There’s also a hurried voyage that is sort of a ‘chase after the fact.’ If you like Conan hurrying to and fro, you’ve got it here. Combat-wise, I’d say, for 90% of the book, it’s got the lowest body count of any novel-length tales in the entire saga. Possibly so even after the climax.

I rather enjoyed Conan the Buccaneer, though it isn’t a standout. Perhaps because it reflects a time before a relentless publishing schedule buried us in plot-thin Conan books (my last review was the execrable Conan the Indomitable). And, it does fill in Zaronos’ background. The fallen count is key player in Howard’s The Black Stranger, which was renamed (for the better) The Treasure of Tranicos by Carter/de Camp.

This one is definitely worth a read, but it doesn’t quite feel ‘weighty’ enough; though that certainly does not make it unique in that regard among stories of the muscle bound barbar.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bob's Books - Conan the Indomitable by Steve Perry

This is the third of the five novels that Steve Perry wrote in the fifty-book Tor series. In William Galen Gray's chronology it is the fifth Conan tale, following Sean Moore's Conan the Hunter and taking place before Perry's Conan the Free Lance. Since events in Indomitable directly follow those in Defiant, and include his trollop of the moment, Elashi, it's odd that Gray inserted Conan the Hunter in between those two Perry books.

So, a hermaphrodite, a nymphomaniac sorceress, a slutty desert babe, a sarcastic fool, a cylopes, a giant worm and Conan go into a cave...Sounds like a bad joke, eh? Well, it is. Conan The Indomitable is a direct sequel to Perry's Conan the Defiant: I gave that book a good review. This effort, however, is TERRIBLE. I haven't read every Conan pastiche yet, but this is the worst of those I have read.

One of the protagonists has all the depth of a teenage geek's imagination (and I was such a geek). The others don't offer much more. And you could see the demise of one character so far ahead that there was no suspense building for when it finally happened. I forced myself to finish this book so I would be qualified to review it. It was that bad. The alliance between two of the villains' lieutenants was the only interesting part of this story.

This is the last Conan book I would re-read. Stay away.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Anger in Parenting

I read a daily devotional, Parenting by Design. Today's message, was related to anger. I think my temper with Sean is my biggest failure as a dad so far. It's certainly the most common.

"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  - Ephesians 4:26-27


Anger is not always wrong, but what we do with our anger determines whether we are acting righteously or sinfully. We should be angered by acts of ungodliness, unrighteousness, injustice, and inequity. These things anger God as well.

But if you are angry because someone has disturbed your pride, self-sufficiency, status, prestige, or power, your reaction will likely be sinful. And sinful anger is often expressed in harshness, cruelty, bitterness, and a lack of control.

We must examine our hearts when our kids make us angry. If it is righteous anger, let it motivate you to take action and deliver consequences. Sin needs to be addressed, and we honor God by delivering those consequences with empathy and love. If it is sinful anger, pray for the courage to confess it, repent, and resolve it.

Examine your anger to determine the motives behind it.


That's one of the most insightful thought provoking devotionals I've read so far in the series (I'm on day 68 of 260. My anger with Sean is almost always sinfully based.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Christians: an excellent little reminder



In a little over five minutes, the video above relates one of the best messages I have heard in years.

I believe that perhaps the biggest reason Christians seem to be at war with Society is because they don't read the Bible regularly. We have concepts from the Bible, or snippets we remember or hear, and then 'humanize' it and twist the whole thing up. One example: a Christian who reads the Bible is opposed to abortion. No discussion. But just as plain, said Christian does not fire bomb abortion clinics or murder abortion doctors.

John 3:17 tells us: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

As Casting Crowns sings in Jesus, Friend of Sinners:

Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
...
Nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like You did?

We Christians all too often are looking down our fingers. If you really read the Gospels, you get a view of Jesus that is greater than your view of Christianity. Because, for most of us, they are not the same thing.

Of course, there is much more to the Bible. But for me, the core of it is the actual story of Jesus and what he said and did. Christians would better live up to their name if they read the Bible more.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not In America...

Tens of thousands of Christians gathering at a sports stadium on Saturday, September 28th, to pray. Wonderful. Hopefully it won't be beset by legal challenges and protests that would arise from such an event here.


"And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, "Why has the Lord done this to this land and this house. Then they will answer, 'Because they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt and embraced other gods, and worshiped them; and served them therefore He has brought all this calamity on them." - 2 Chronicles 7:21

"Then, if my people who are called by my  name will humble theselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. - 2 Chronicles 7:14

 "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24:15


Monday, September 24, 2012

42 - The Movie Decades Overdue

How in the world it has taken Hollywood SO LONG to make a film like this is incomprehensible to me. Jackie Robinson is one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century and this is a story that every American should see.




Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nationwide Arena? Yeah, that was a great purchase

'Franklin County taxpayers have little on the line in hockey lockout.'

“It turned out to be an excellent deal for the taxpayers,” Riggs said.

A misleading headline and quote in today's Dispatch. Little is on the line because millions of dollars in casino revenues are already obligated to the Nationwide Arena purchase. That money is GONE whether or not they play hockey. If you've ever heard of the term, 'sweetheart lease deal,' this is one. For the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets and Nationwide were the winners in the arena sale (I guess you could say it's nice the Blue Jackets can at least win off the ice) The County and City gave up the casino moneys, meaning central Ohio residents were the losers. Public bailouts of multimillion dollar corporations don't just happen in Washington.

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/09/19/whats-the-impact.html

And something that I didn't see the Dispatch mention: The owner of the Blue Jackets voted to support the NHL Commissioner locking out the players. So, the public buys the hockey arena, then the team's owner votes not to play hockey.

This is the same owner that threatened and bullied Franklin County and the City of Columbus into buying Nationwide Arena, freeing his team from an onerous lease agreement that ownership willingly entered into. In an arena that was built privately  because Columbus taxpayers voted NO to public funding of it.

Wow. A solid citizen who clearly wants what is best for Columbus and central Ohio.

Make sure you visit the Columbus Casino, source for the government bailout of the poor Columbus Blue Jackets

Thinking from The Iliad

"Life is a struggle each person will ultimately always lose; the question is, how one acts with that knowledge."

I came across that sentence (from Profesor Richard Martin) in a commentary on Homer's Iliad. It struck a chord within me. But immediately, I also realized that, as a Christian, it's only half the statement. Death is not THE end; it's a new beginning. And that knowledge should affect how you live.

If you've never read the Iliad, it truly is one of the greatest works of literature. It is what fired my imagination for swords and sorcery books and Dungeons and Dragons. It's truly an epic tale. If you don't know, Homer's The Odyssey is a direct sequel and Virgil's Aenied tells another part of the story after The Iliad ends. They form sort of a trilogy.

Now, the translation you get is important (this thing was written, in Greek, somewhere around the 8th century): at one extreme, it can be near incomprehensible. At the other, pure modern prose has none of the majesty of the original poem.

I recently came across the Robert Fagles translation and it strikes a good balance between the original poetic form and being understandable. 

If the Brad Pitt movie Troy is the extent of  your familiarity with the Trojan War, go ahead and read the book. It is much, much, much  better.


Achilles battles Hector. It's kind of a big scene...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bob's Books - The Friends of Richard Nixon by George Higgins


I have not read George Higgins’ highly acclaimed crime novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I suspect, if I had, and had I liked it, I might have better appreciated his take on Watergate, The Friends of Richard Nixon. Though, since I didn’t particularly like the latter, it’s possible I might only have better understood the style, while still not caring much for it.

Higgins likes to be clever. This book oozes clever. It screams, “Look how witty I am. I am clever.” Here is ONE sentence on page four:

“To those bereaved by the works of murders; to those raped, robbed, mugged, dispirited by the loss of their possessions, or enraged by the violation of their children, or unalterably convinced that untrammeled traffic in dirty books, pictures and films will certainly proliferate rapists and child molesters: to that vast popular majority which fears that legal cession of a monopoly on the use of force, to the government, under the social contract, is not in fact a matter of unanimous consent, too – sedulous attention to the rights of those accused is not a welcome course of conduct.”

Throughout, Higgins’ book cries out, ‘I’m a good Boston lawyer and let me tell you about those bad White House people from California. And know lots of big words, too.’ I’m no Nixon fan, but Higgins’ writing makes one think of the ‘Eastern Establishment’ types that Nixon was always railing against. 

Higgins was a lawyer, including a US Attorney for Massachusetts and there’s no denying his insights into the system bring something to the table; they certainly give a unique look at Earl Silbert, who was the US Attorney for DC and led the initial Watergate investigation. He paints a more positive picture of Silbert’s efforts than most.

But, literally every page has at least one sentence like this: “It constituted recognition that the existence of additional defendants, one of them placed fairly high in ostensibly respectable circles, implied the possibility that one or more unidentified people might have it in mind to balk the orderly processes of justice.” 

Higgins should have spent less time trying to write highbrow prose and just put together sentences that a reader didn’t have to parse and try to understand. His opinions on the justice system and law enforcement are sometimes insightful and sometimes just condescending. I enjoyed some parts of this book, but on the whole, found it to be annoying. And that’s not usually a good thing to say about a book.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

President Obama said he was a Christian

I find this to be an interesting piece from President Obama from 2008:



Especially at the 1:07 point, when he talks about living out what it means to be a Christian. If you are a Christian, and you read the Bible, I cannot see any possible way you could come to the conclusion that today he sincerely believes what he said in 2008. It's easy to say that one is a Christian. I know quite a few people who say they are, but have really created their own personal religion. And they'll realize what they've done when it's too late.

It takes a genuine effort to actually live as a Christian and to follow what the Bible tells us. Obama is the only one who knows whether or not he has truly accepted Jesus as his savior. But words and actions can be seen by all, and the man is not living as a Christian follower of God.

I voted for Obama in 2008. I find it disheartening that just four years later, as a Biblical Christian, I view a Mormon as the best choice for President. To give Mitt Romney credit, he is honest about what he believes in. And his beliefs are a lot more rooted in the Bible than Obama's.

I have never said this before, but I miss Ronald Reagan. Change Russians to radical Islamists and try to picture President Obama making this speech: http://www.nationalcenter.org/ReaganEvilEmpire1983.html

Now, someone recently said that Obama couldn't live out his Christian beliefs as President because "that's why separation of church and state is in the Constitution." You know what, No, it's NOT. 'Separation of Church and State' is a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote. He was referring to the First Amendment as a tool to keep government from interfering with religious practice. It was the Supreme Court under Earl Warren that turned the phrase on its head so that the restriction would be on the citizens, not the government.

What the Constitution does have is:



The Establishment Clause - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."; which is immediately followed by

The Free Exercise Clause - "...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Separation of church and state is a general term used to describe a concept. It is NOT a concept written in the Constitution. Go look up the first amendment. BTW, the founding fathers didn't even include those two clauses in the original Constitution. James Madison got them added in the Bill of Rights, passed AFTER the Constitution was ratified.

When Congress tries to pass a law establishing a national religion, then it will be violating the Constitution. Supreme Court decisions regarding church and state have been used by uninformed individuals to create their own version of the Constitution (just like the personal religions mentioned above). Those decisions are part of the law, but they are NOT a part of the Constitution. Just semantics? I don't think so.

In 2008, it served Obama's presidential aspirations to say that he was a Christian. In 2012, he believes it furthers his chances to take actions that fly in the face of the Bible. The pilgrims (who seem to be forgotten today) came to America to found a Christian nation. In 2012, we're a far cry from one.

Friday, August 3, 2012

One Take on the End of the World

Someone says he believes in the Bible and it sparks nationwide protests: such is America in 2012. And speaking of 2012...

Last year, Harold Camping pegged the end of the world: twice. It comes as no surprise that he was incorrect. The  ancient Mayan Calendar says that we're due for the lights to go out on December 21 of this year.

The Bible contains quite a few vereses related to Jesus' second coming and the end of the world. Just two days before he was betrayed and arrested, he spoke on this topic. It is referred to as the Olivet Discourse (because he was on the Mount of Olives at the time).

Wrong Judgement Day.
Man, HHH is built



An awful lot of Christians don't study (heck, or even read) their Bibles. It's from that group that you will find the people who guess what day the world will end. Harold Camping and Jehovas Witnesse are among the many who thought they figured it out. Regarding Christians, it's especially disappointing, as Jesus SPECIFICALLY tells us we cannot know the day or hour. Yet Christians keep guessing.

What Jesus tells us is that we are to live our lives in a way that we will be prepared for the day and hour. That's the point.

The link below goes to a commentary I wrote on the Olivet Discourse. I'm going with Jesus' words on the subject. I'll use my calendar for pictures of Kate Upton...er.....The Buckeyes.

http://solarpons.com/Missive_Olivet.pdf

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bob's Books - High Fives, Pennant Drives and Fernandomania by Paul Haddad

My earliest baseball memories are of the 1974 Dodgers. So I was excited to sit down with Paul Haddad’s High Fives, Pennant Drives and Fernandomania. A look at the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1977- 1981, these were the men in blue I grew up watching and reading about in box scores. Though the west coast games often didn’t make the east coast newspapers the following morning; I often found “Late Game,” instead of the Dodgers’ results. In those pre-internet days, it wasn’t uncommon to go a full day or even two before finding out who won!
Fernandomania totally
swept America in 1981
But my elation was short lived. In the introduction, Haddad states, “…I am not a professional baseball writer. I am a fan.” And this book is absolutely not written by a real writer. Haddad recorded Vin Scully broadcasts during the time and made his own highlight tapes, incorporating his own commentary. So, he had a lot of firsthand information from that period. And he decided to throw them together into a book.  

The Dodgers had not won a World
Series since 1965; and had lost
their last two to the hated Yankees
There is a six page section on why he thinks The Bad News Bears is the best baseball movie ever. We are also treated to a sample of the Dodgers newsletter that he created at the time. A cowriter might have helped him shape this fan reminiscence into some semblance of a viable book. Instead, it’s kind of like reading through a scrapbook. He picks five games from each season to serve as representative of the year, with other miscellaneous stuff thrown in, like his thoughts on the movie, The Fan.


While I loved the subject matter (the 1974-1981 era in Dodgers history is woefully underreported), this is just about the worst book on the Dodgers that I have read.  It did wistfully remind me of my baseball card collecting days, but it just isn’t a very good tome. I hope someone else decides to delve into the Jimmy Wynn to Fernando Valenzuela days.

Glenn Burke 'invented' the high five as a
celebratory greeting to Dusty Baker.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ron Santo in the Hall of Fame: Really?

Ron Santo is going into the Hall of Fame. The long time Cubs third baseman and announcer, who lost both legs below the knees to diabetes, has been championed by many for years and is finally going in, selected by the Veteran's Committtee. That's the group that keeps picking marginal players who couldn't get into the Hall through the initial voting.

Sabermetrics, the 'new way' of looking at baseball players, offers a slew of statistics that supposedly are much more useful than the traditional measures, such as batting average, strikeouts, etc. While they have a place, what they are regularly doing is allowing an analyst to pick one or two measure favorable to his subject, then show how much better that player is than people think.

Ron Santo was a good player. His 162 game average (a measure NOBODY talks about), was a .277 batting average, 25 homers and 96 RBIs. And while he won five gold gloves, he doesn't rank in the top 100 fielding third basemen of all time (he wasn't Brooks Robinson). If the Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the greats of the game, then Ron Santo doesn't belong.

I'm not saying some players who don't deserve to be there aren't in the Hall of Fame already. But that doesn't mean we add to their number. Ron Santo was a good player; not a great one. Several years ago, Bill James (father of Sabermetrics) wrote a book called, "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?" That's still a good question today as the Veteran's Committee (which is actually divided into seperate groups these days) continues to water down the Hall.


BTW, I don't dislike Santo. My first baseball glove as a kid was a Ron Santo model. I just don't agree with the voices ringing out right now that Santo's induction was long overdue. I don't think it was due at all.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bob's Books - Witness to Power by John Ehrlichman

Memoirs from those involved in Watergate and the Nixon Presidency are a dicey proposition. Now, those involved in events have knowledge and insights not necessarily available from others. But, as we’re dealing with illegal and unethical activities, you can assume that the author is trying to look as good as he possibly can.
In Witness to Power, John Ehrlichman writes a very interesting biography that gives an inside look at the Nixon White House. In fact, Watergate is just a relatively minor portion of this book. And some of it is undoubtedly accurate. But, in light of what we know from the tapes, transcripts and other books on the subject, most of this tome should be taken with a grain of salt. Subtitled The Nixon Years, he breaks out several chapters based on his experiences with different areas, such as the Nixon Cabinet, the Congress, the President’s two brothers (oh, that Donald!) and such. The first three plus quarters of the book are not about Watergate. As such, it gives an awful lot of insights on the Richard Nixon Presidency. With so many books solely about Watergate and related matters, this makes the book stand out. Much of what he has to say is quite interesting, such as the Cabinet chapter.

George Romney was a popular Michigan governor and 1968 Presidential hopeful. He also fathered the Mormon 2012 Presidential candidate, Mitt. In 1970, he was Nixon’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, announced a cut in his own salary to help balance the budget. Nixon disparaged it as “an ineffective grandstand play,” and said he wanted Romney fired. While Nixon juggled cabinet members, he played it like a fantasy baseball game, talking endlessly about various moves before actually doing it: Romney didn’t leave until 1973. But two days after blasting Romney, he asked Ehrlichman how they could reduce the President’s salary by $25,000; while increasing his pension by the same amount. That’s a pretty good snapshot of the type of man Richard Nixon was.

Nixon’s dealings with his cabinet member make one think of a bully. He had little respect for most of them, yet hated confrontations, so he tried to appear that he appreciated them yet refused to actually meet with them. He ran an administrative presidency, where Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were more powerful than his Cabinet members. His preferred tactic was to disempower Cabinet Secretaries in hopes that they would quit, rather than force him to fire them. Ehrlichman was often the man in the middle and recounts several instances of this sort of thing. Including two near revolts from Cabinet members who resented the barriers the President had erected before himself.

To quote Nixon on the Cabinet: “I’ve wasted a lot of time on the Cabinet problem. We should put more emphasis on the subcabinet and the Administrative wives (wives of appointees)….The boats and Camp David – that has now been done, as afar as the Cabinet is concerned. No more. The Cabinet has no divine right to such things.” Nixon was a petty and power hungry man.

We also learn of Nixon’s active attempts to get rid of sitting Supreme Court judges so he could appoint his own ‘strict constructionists.’ Those early nominees are largely forgotten today, but the names Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell do not reflect well on Richard Nixon’s character.

Ehrlichman, not known for a sharp wit, displays such in his writing. However, his justification of his confrontational approach to the Senate Watergate Committee rings hollow and (justifiably) he clearly feels bitterness towards Richard Nixon. Nixon, who was pardoned for any crimes he might have committed, escaped Watergate scott free (having to quit your job and head into a cushy retirement because you did illegal things isn’t exactly cruel and unusual punishment) while many of his underlings, carrying out his orders and policies, went to jail. And as you might have guessed, he’s not much of a John Dean fan.

I think Ehrlichman is more culpable than he relates in the book, and he soft soaps many of Nixon’s actions (Nixon demanded the resignation of hundreds of his employees after being re-elected in 1972: nice reward for hard work. Ehrlichman dismisses this with the same gravitas as if the President didn’t like his salad dressing and sent the order back). But I also think he did work hard on domestic policy issues and did the president’s bidding, which earned him jail time and loss of his law license. This is a good look at one man’s experience working for the Nixon White House.
His lasting image as a combative
witness at Senator Ervin's
Watergate Committee Hearings

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Freeh Report...and Your Heart by Chris Tomlin

As baseball season resumes today (MATT KEMP IS BACK!!!!!), sports radio is all about the Freeh Report. Things like the Penn State and Catholic priest scandals make me think of King David and 1 Samuel. David rose to great heights and fell to great depths (you think you've got family problems...). Unlike Penn State, the Church and Cain, when confronted with his sins, David turned to God and repented.

That's what Psalm 51 is about: begging God for forgiveness. It is one every Christian should read and study.  'a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.'

If you're not familiar with the story, God forgave David but punished him Mightily, including the death of his son born of the adultery with Bathsheba.

I like this Chris Tomlin song about David, with its refrain, "At the end of the day, I wanna hear people say, that my heart looks like your heart"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bob's Books - A Year at a Time by Walter Alston with Jack Tobin

Walter Alston managed the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers for twenty three seasons, beginning in 1954. He replaced the popular Chuck Dressen, who had demanded a multi-year contract after three consecutive first place finishes. (1951 was actually a tie for first). Team owner Walter O’Malley thanked Dressen for his services and pushed him out the door. The headline in the New York Daily News after the introductory press conference read, “ALSTON (WHO’S HE) TO MANAGE DODGERS.”

Alston brought Brooklyn its only World Series title in 1955 and would finish with a total of seven national league championships and four World Series wins. In 23 years. The Dodgers have won two World Series in the thirty-six years since he retired. And one of those was largely composed of players he had in his final season of 1976. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983; a year before he passed away.

Walter Alston is a small town man who was a genuinely nice guy. Leo Durocher is famously (mis)quoted as having said ‘Nice guys finish last.’ Well, in this case, nice guys write bland autobiographies. Alston writes about his life in Darrtown, OH (where he lived his entire life) almost as much as he does about managing the Dodgers. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but not as much as you might think.  He offers some insights into his pennant seasons in Brooklyn, but not a lot of them.


As a player, Alston played 13 seasons in the Cardinals minor league chain. He did get to bat once in the majors; for the Cards in 1936. He struck out! But he spent several years as a player – manager in the minors, which prepared him for his future career. Alston was a Dodgers rarity: he was a Rickey man whom Walter O’Malley took into the fold. As poorly as Harold Parrott thinks about the Irishman, (see my review of his book, The Lords of Baseball, for a very negative view of O’Malley), Alston thinks well of the long time owner.
The skipper does talk about Lou Johnson bailing out the 1965 season, and how unbelievable Sandy Koufax was even as the lefty’s arm was disintegrating from arthritis. But there’s just not as much information on his Dodgers teams as you would expect. Alston mentions that he believes if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Unfortunately, that makes for a rather boring book.

Tommy Lasorda had a heart attack partway through the 1996 season and had to retire. For forty-two and a half seasons, only two men managed the Dodgers. And both are in the Hall of Fame.  Since Lasorda stepped down, the Dodgers have had seven managers, none of who made it to the World Series.
Walter Alston was a symbol of the stability of the Dodger organization for parts of three decades. This book takes us through 1974, so he had two more years left as a manager. So, there is no discussion of Tommy Lasorda’s taking over the team after the 1976 season. Though I doubt Alston would have written anything negative, anyways.

Walter Alston was a Hall of Fame manager and a very good man.  I am a fan. This just isn’t a very interesting biography.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bob's Books - Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years by J. Anthony Lukas


I first read J. Anthony Lukas’ Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, a couple of decades ago. Though details faded as I aged, I retained the impression that it was just about the best book on Watergate I had come across. With my collection now inching towards a hundred volumes, I decided to revisit Lukas’s tome and see how it actually stands up.

This book from the two time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author grew out of articles which he wrote for the New York Times Magazine (two full issues consisted of only his writings on Watergate): plus a third that was commissioned but scotched when Nixon resigned the Presidency.  Lukas sets the stage with the unsuccessful (for the Republicans) 1970 midterm elections and the state of civil unrest in Washington in 1971. Then he leads us into, and out of, Watergate.

Lukas’ comprehensive but not overwhelming look at his subject matter is well laid out, as evidenced by the chapter titles: Fear of Losing, State of Siege, Leaks and Traps, Plumbers, Dirty Money, Dirty Tricks, Break-in, Cover-up, Uncover, Houses in the Sun, Tapes, Agnew, Firestorm, Operation Candor, Impeachment and Resignation. Watergate was not simply a ‘third rate burglary.’ It was an event that grew out of the Nixon administration’s increasing combativeness and declining respect for the law.

Bob Haldeman (L) and John Erlichman (R) were Nixon's
'Palace Guard' and went to jail for their illegal actions:
something Nixon, the chief architect, was spared.
Some books use Nixon’s flawed character development to show how the operating culture of his White House evolved. And certainly, other Watergate volumes provide information and theories not included in this book. But Lukas takes a direct path approach, from point A to point B (or to Z) and it works. By the middle of Chapter 3 (Leaks and Taps, which is about the wiretapping of employees and enemies, both real and perceived), you recognize that the Nixon White House viewed governing as one hundred percent “us against everybody who is not with us” and that the end (getting our enemies) justified the means (whatever possibly or blatantly illegal methods we used). While this is serious stuff, there are some Keystone Kops type moments: such as discovering that the Secret Service (presumably at the direction of Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman) wire tapped the President’s brother, Donald Nixon because he was a cause of embarrassment.

But things got less amusing as the paranoia and arrogance of power grew. Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh Jr. (who did jail time related to the Plumbers’ activities) is quoted in 1971 as saying, “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.” As Lukas explores the Plumbers unit and campaign finance shenanigans (that’s a soft word for unethical, illegal actions), it’s clear that the Nixon Administration has lost both perspective and any kind of moral compass (you can argue Nixon lost that years before).

Lukas’ narrative leaves the reader wondering if things would have reached such critical proportions if Henry Kissinger hadn’t convinced Nixon that the leaking of The Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg was devastating to national security; for Early on, Nixon realized that it was the prior administration of Lyndon Johnson which would look bad on Vietnam, not his. It is in the response to Ellsberg’s actions that we see the seeds of Nixon’s downfall sprout into towering trees. Though, as you dig deeper into the book, you realize Nixon’s flawed personality was as fatal as Achilles’ own heel.
The President, the Attorney General, the White House Chief of Staff, special counsels, the Domestic Policy Advisor, staffers at all levels; all the president’s men broke the law and/or acted unethically time and time again. It’s shocking to read, decades later. Lukas paints a picture of all the president’s men doing everything they could to make sure the truth of the Watergate break in did not come to light. And this was in large part due to all the other illicit and embarrassing activities that would be exposed to the light of day. And that includes his lack of ethics regarding his personal taxes and willingness to spend public money on his private properties.

Nixon's net worth went through the roof during his Presidency.
This is part of one of the two 'satellite offices' he established (in
San Clemente, CA; the other was in Key Biscayne, FL).

Richard Nixon had three priorities, from least to greatest: the American public, the presidency and himself. Nightmare paints a vivid picture of an administration that believed it could do anything it wanted, however it wanted. After his resignation, Nixon famously said, “Well, if the president does it, then it’s not illegal.” That’s a pretty good epithet for his presidency. Nixon did not have a disdain for the law: he had an utter contempt for it. And he was willing to betray his oath of office and sacrifice the office of the President for his own interests.

If you buy into the misleading mantra, “it wasn’t so much the crime, it was the cover-up,” you need to read this book. It was a staggering combination of both. Thirty-nine years after its first publication, Anthony Lukas’ Nightmare remains perhaps the finest account of Watergate and the events surrounding it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

DON'T PARK AT THE STATEHOUSE!

Last night (June 28) I attended the Summer Movie Series at the Ohio Theater. As I have many times in the past when attending that magnificent place, I parked under the Statehouse. It was my first visit since the new parking payment system was installed. A quote from the Ohio Statehouse.org website:

'The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board operates a parking system that dramatically improves the speed of exiting the parking garage. The automated Pay-on-Foot payment machines provide customers with a quick transaction speed.'

That is a blatant falsehood. I can't imagine how the CSRAB approved this asinine system. I was fortunate to be the third person in the payment station line. It only took five minutes for the first person in line to get his ticket, so I didn't have to wait that long. By the time I got to my car to leave, there were over two dozen people standing in the line.

And there was still a person standing at the exit gate, taking the ticket and putting it into the reader there.

I'm hoping that the lot under Columbus Commons isn't using this new system so that I can park there on future visits.

I can't imagine attending a CSO show and waiting with hundreds of other folks to use the machine. Yes, I know there are a few stations: but people will go to the one near their car.


My first hope is that CSRAB gets enough negative feedback that will result in a change in the system. My second is that, if the option of converting other lots to this inefficient and annoying system comes up, that a modicum of intelligence will prevail and that the CSRAB says "no."

Who in the world reviewed the system and thought, "Yes, having people stand out in line in a parking garage is much better than being queued up in the comfort of their own cars? Can't wait until it's cold outside....

Truly, inexplicable. I worked at the Riffe Tower during the renovation of the Statehouse. It's an amazing building. Too bad such inspired leadership didn't apply to the parking garage payment system.
On to share my thoughts on facebook and my blog. No need to reply to this email.

And while I detest this system, I still wish you a good weekend,

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Forbes Field - A cathedral in Pittsburgh

Unlike with any other sport, baseball fans identify with their team and the game beyond their own personal experiences. The Dodggers left Brooklyn well over a dozen years before I began following them. But they are as much a part of my baseball fandom as Kirk Gibson's 1988 World Series home run, which I remember in minute detail. As much of a Steelers fan as I am, I don't identify with the 1945 squad. But I know all about Nap Rucker, who peaked in 1911.

Another example of this bond is the nostalgia for bygone ballparks. Football stadiums don't generate the same nostalgia and fondness as lost baseball parks. And on that note, my meandering path has a point. Today, in 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates swept a double header from the Chicago Cubs (who still stink). It was the last day for baseball in Forbes Field.

The Steelers played their first 30 seasons at Forbes, but will always be the longtime home of the Pirates. Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss bought some land at a discount from his friend, Andrew Carenegie. Drefyuss was ridiculed because the area was a whopping TEN minute trolley ride from downtown Pittsburgh! Can you imagine?

Roberte Clemente running down a fly ball
in Forbes Field. The beauty of baseball

Opened in 1909, it was a marvel of the day. It was the first concrete and steel stadium, with three tiers. It was pretty much considered the finest baseball stadium in the majors upon its completion. The Pirates would play there until June 28 (See? Now this Note makes sense), 1970. They opened Forbes Field with a loss to the Cubs. They closed it with a victory of the Cubs after losing the opener of a double header.

Home plate was dug up and helicoptered over to shiny, new Three Rivers Park, where it was in place for the first game. A few elements of Forbes have been retained/recreated on the University of Pittsburgh campus, which now covers the area. And fans still gather annually at the site to celebrate Bill Mazeroski's World Series winning home run in 1960.

Forbes Field, a grand old dame, has not been forgotten in Pittsburgh.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bob's Books - Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957 by John Norden, Jr.

Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive, 1957, is a Kindle ebook by John Nordell, Jr. The book is essentially a  look at the season's box scores, with a short summary of the various games. I am a devoted Dodgers fan and love reading about the Brooklyn years. But this book, quite simply, is dull. It reads like someone, well, summarizing box scores. Without any of the numbers that give box scores their magic.

There’s not really much else for me to add. It’s the first book about the Dodgers I’m certain I’ll never re-read. This is one of my shortest reviews ever, but I don’t have much  more to say. If you want a good book on the subject, give a look at The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together by Michael Shapiro.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bob's Books - In Nixon's Web by L Patrick Gray III with Ed Gray

In Nixon’s Web, by the late L. Patrick Gray III, with Ed Gray (his son), is another memoir by a Watergate Era figure. I hesitate to call Gray (all uses of that name will refer to the elder) a “participant,” as he was never convicted of any wrongdoing. Of course, neither was Nixon..

Many of the major figures in Watergate have written memoirs, including G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, Jeb Magruder, Bob Haldeman, John Erlichman, Maurice Stans, Nixon himself, and quite a few others. And there are plenty of books by journalists, experts, hacks, et al. Gray has come off poorly in most accounts and set out to ‘set the record straight’ (the name of Judge John J. Sirica’s book on Watergate).

To summarize, Gray was a successful naval man, actually commanding a submarine. He went to work for Nixon, was on a successful path at the Department of Justice and was selected by the President as acting director of the FBI upon the death of J. Edgar Hoover in 1972. It did not turn out to be the career move that he hoped for.

Mark Felt (Deep Throat) played
an integral role in Gray's time
at the FBI
It’s no surprise to find that Gray was viewed as an outsider. Several inside the Bureau hoped to take over: especially Mark Felt. Gray relied heavily upon Felt and refused to believe White House accusations that the career FBI man was actually ‘Deep Throat,’ Woodward and Bernstein’s secret informant. In fact, Felt’s revelation that he was Deep Throat came only a few weeks before Gray’s death from pancreatic cancer. The book offers “proof” that Felt could not have been the source, which is worth looking at, but not conclusive.

I believe that Felt quite likely was providing information to Woodward, and that information that the reporter received from other sources was included under the Deep Throat moniker, in addition to Felt’s stuff. Which would address Gray’s objection.

Presidential Counsel John Dean gave two files to Gray, in front of John Erlichman in the latter’s office. The files were from E. Watergate burglar’s E. Howard Hunt’s White House office safe and Dean told Gray that they contained national security information, had nothing to do with Watergate and should “never see the light of day.” Gray kept them for several months and then burned them. He felt that he had been ordered to do so with the President’s tacit approval, via Erlichman’s presence.


Gray also provided FBI files on the Watergate investigation to Dean, which he felt obligated to do since the FBI was an executive office. Dean was “the desk manager” for the cover up. Uh oh.

Unlike many of the memoirs I’ve read, Gray comes across as a man of integrity. Like other Watergate figures, he was used and tossed aside by Nixon. He was under extreme fire during his Senate Confirmation hearings to become permanent FBI director. While being told to his face that the White House supported him, behind the scenes they were stabbing him in the back. Erlichman was speaking of Gray when he said, “Well, I think we ought to let him hang there. Let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind. “ In typical Nixon fashion, one of his people would be sacrificed for the White House’s own purposes.

Gray was an outsider at the FBI, dealing with the after-effects of Hoover’s reign of intimidation. And he was an outsider among Nixon’s Palace Guard, sacrificed for self-preservation. Both the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and the Department of Justice investigated Gray, but all charges were dropped and he was exonerated of any wrongdoing. But Gray’s legacy is tarnished by the accusations of John Dean and Woodward and Bernstein. He did destroy the Hunt files, which certainly appears naïve, if not an obstruction of justice. But I would believe Gray’s account of events before that of just about any other Watergate figure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bob's Books - Bums No More by Stewart Wolpin


Bums No More, by Stewart Wolpin, is about THAT season. In the first forty World Series’, the Brooklyn Dodgers were 0-2.  And they were bad for a lot of those seasons, usually finishing in the second division. Larry MacPhail moved into the front office and righted the ship, with the team losing the 1941 World Series. A fellow named Jackie Robinson joined the team in 1947 and the Glory Years of Brooklyn baseball were underway. Between 1947 and 1956, the Dodgers appeared in six World Series. All were against the cross-town Yankees, and all were losses. Except for one. As the beloved once-Bums annually came up short in the Fall Classic, Brooklynites cried out, “Wait ‘til next year!” 1955 was finally Next Year.

Johnny Podres won 136 games for Brooklyn and Los
Angeles, including game two on his birthday. But none
were bigger than his complete game outing in the finale.
Subtitled The Championship Season of 1955, this book recounts the year that Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Johnny Podres, Robinson and the other Boys of Summer won that elusive World Series. The first chapter gives a primer on the Dodgers. The stage is set for spring training in Vero Beach and the magical season is under way. First and foremost, this relatively slim book (130 pages, counting the index) is jam packed with photographs. The surfeit of pictures alone makes this book worthwhile for the Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

Ebbets Field, Jackie Robinson watching the Giants celebration of Bobby Thomson’s ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ as Ralph Branca walks away, head hanging, Duke Snider leaping in center field, lots of clubhouse shots, Sandy Amaros’ catch, fans in line for tickets, parades, celebrations: there are over 100 illustrations (all black and white, of course). It is a treasure trove of Brooklyn and the Dodgers in their lone season as World Series champs. If you believe in the magical aura of baseball in the ‘old days’ before overpriced superstars, and you have a feeling for the bond between fans and their home town teams back then, the picture of Ebbets Field on Pee Wee Reese night will give you goose bumps.

After a LONG run, Sandy Amoros grabs what might be the most important
catch in World Series history. Manager Walter Alston had just inserted
Amoros into the game as a defensive replacement that inning.

The writing does not come up short, either. You get a look at Walter Alston’s relationship with the team (he and Jackie Robinson were not friends). And you sense the looming storm as the Dodgers receive permission to play seven games in Jersey City. Only two seasons after Johnny Podres records the last out in game seven, the team would be the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The book contains many comments and remembrances from Brooklyn fans, most notably, Larry King. You get a sense of what the Dodgers meant to community and how Brooklyn lived and died with ‘Dem Bums.’ It ends with borough president John Cashmore talking about a new stadium and saying, “The Dodgers must never leave Brooklyn.” Well, they did.
As a fan of Dodgers history, I really liked this look at the 1955 season.  It’s an easy read and doesn’t take very long. But it captures the relationship between Brooklyn and the Dodgers and gives a look at the year the heartbreak ended: For a little while, at least. And you absolutely cannot beat the photo library.

Here’s a link to the New York Times story on game seven. The first sentence sums it up well.

Quite possibly, there has never been a more joyous
moment on the baseball field

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey


On June 13, 1973, Steve Garvey, Dave Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey  took what would become their familiar positions across the Dodgers' infield. They would play together for eight and a half years; the longest of any infield in major league history.

Second baseman Lopes would be traded to the A’s before the 1982 season, with first baseman Garvey (free agent to the Padres) and third baseman  Cey (traded to the Cubs) heading out of town for 1983. Shortstop Russell played in LA for all eighteen seasons of his career and had a (short) stint as manager.

The Dodgers won four western division titles and national league pennants during this time, going 1-3 in the World Series, losing to the A's in 1974 and the Yankees in 1977 and 1978 (Reggie Jackson INTERFERED!). The unstoppable force that was Fernandomania resulted in a win over the hated Yankees in 1981.