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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Solar Pons Gazette and an introductory essay

My sixth Solar Pons Gazette is online.

If you aren't familiar with Pons, who is the closest successor to Sherlock Holmes we will ever get, here's an essay from the first issue of The Gazette.

Why Solar Pons?

Why Solar Pons? What is it that attracts us to the 70-plus stories that August Derleth wrote featuring ‘The Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street?” Aren’t the Pons stories just imitations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation? Why read a copy when the original 56 short stories and 4 novels are readily available? And if one tires of the Sherlockian Canon, there are Holmes tales unnumbered written by other authors. Stories featuring Holmes and Watson are plentiful, so why bother with Solar Pons and Doctor Parker?

When deciding upon the style of the Solar Pons stories, Derleth immediately rejected parody, “that ridiculing imitation designed for laughter” and chose instead the less widely practiced form of the pastiche, which he decreed “fond and admiring.” This approach laid the foundation for Solar Pons’s success.

Thus, Pons is August Derleth’s own literary portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is retired and London has changed when we meet Pons. An example that shows how adeptly Derleth managed these changes relates to automobiles. Pons uses them, but they are unobtrusive in the stories. The reader does not stop and consciously make the distinction that Pons is riding in a car, rather than in the classic horse-drawn carriage of Holmes’ prime. The atmosphere is the same: Similar to Holmes, but different. Variations on a theme.

Holmes was critical of the police: especially Scotland Yard. His general feeling was that they were tenacious, but plodding and unimaginative. He uses the term ‘imbecile’ more than once, and he tells Watson that (official) local assistance is either biased or worthless.

Pons is also frustrated with the official force, but he is less harsh than Holmes and generally speaks better of Inspector Jamison than Holmes does of Inspector Lestrade. The razor-sharp personality is blunted a bit. Variations on a theme.

Holmes has no use for the supernatural in his investigations. “This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply,” he says. Though all of Pons’ recorded cases have conventional solutions (excluding the Derleth collaborations with Mack Reynolds), he is much more open to the possible existence of the supernatural.

 Pons says, “Ought we not to say, rather, we believe there are certain phenomena which science as yet has not correctly interpreted or explained?” Referring to clairaudience, he tells Parker, “Let us just say it goes against what we know of science at this point of development of man.” Pons and Holmes use similar methods of detection, but the former is willing to consider non-scientific possibilities. Variations on a theme.

Of course, some elements of the Pons stories do feature less individuality. In both sets of tales, the doctor (whether Parker or Watson) is an able, dedicated companion, trustworthy in any situation. He is always ready to abandon his practice (and sometimes desert his wife) to assist in an investigation. He attempts to emulate the detective’s methods, with poor results. And he is often slighted, if not outright insulted, by his more intelligent flat mate. Derleth gives us Dr. Lyndon Parker, a narrator and assistant we easily identify with Doyle’s Dr. John Watson.

The lodgings at 7B Praed Street include the comforts of 221B Baker Street. There is the mantle above the fireplace, the window overlooking the street, the detective’s chemical table, the violin; the reader summons up memories of Baker Street and transposes them onto Praed Street. Landladies Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Hudson are nearly indistinguishable and Pons’ army of street urchins, the Praed Street Irregulars, are the contemporary equivalent of Holmes’ own Baker Street Irregulars. Derleth gives us a different version of Holmes, but with familiar elements sprinkled throughout. It is the Hollywood approach to movies: the same, only different.

A reading of the Solar Pons tales shows that he is clearly more than a carbon copy of Sherlock Holmes. There is much that we recognize in the Pons stories, but there is also much that is new. Derleth is a wonderful writer who masterfully blends these similarities and differences to create a vibrant character. Solar Pons sates our appetite for Sherlock Holmes by giving us a similar, but different flavor. Variations on a theme.

We think we want more Holmes. Why Solar Pons? Because August Derleth gives us what we really want: more than Holmes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rudolph's Performance Review

Santa, facing competition from eCommerce and all those megastores, had to make some changes in his labor relations techniques. He didn’t have quite the same kind of monopoly anymore. One of the demands granted (at the insistence of those pesky elves) was an annual review to determine pay increases. Below is the story behind Rudolph’s review the year after he saved Christmas with “his nose so bright.”

Rudolph sat uncomfortably in his chair on his side of the large desk. It was a padded chair, no better or worse than most chairs. Unfortunately, it was built for humans (and elves), not for four-legged reindeer. But when the big man told you to “have a seat,” that’s exactly what you did.

The “big man” was, of course, Santa Claus. The jolly man was seated across from him, his plump hands resting on his ample belly. When he moved, his stomach rolled like a bowl of jam. No, that wasn’t quite right. What was the word he was looking for? Well, it didn’t really matter. Santa looked very business-like in a crisp tie and suit jacket. The red suit was only worn on “THE DAY.” On normal work days he could be seen on the grounds of North Pole Recreational Development dressed like any other CEO of a global business.

However, Rudolph was confident that his Strategic Planning and Performance Review would be a good one this year. Hadn’t he stepped in at the last minute and averted near disaster? He’d shown leadership and execution. Of course, it was poor contingency planning by Santa himself that had led to the problem, but he didn’t see any advantage in bringing that up. No, he’d just stand by his own record and bask in the rewards.

“Rudolph, glad you could make it. You know how I look forward to these chats,” he said with an expansive smile. Santa then shuffled a few papers in front of him and looked gravely at them. “Quite a year we had, eh? Well, let’s get down to business.”

“There are a few key indicators, as you know, that I use to evaluate all of my employees.” He raised one sheet from the rest and held it before him.

“Let’s start with management skills. I’m afraid the results from your team’s survey aren’t very good.”

Rudolph was caught off guard. He hadn’t expected any problem in this area. He had replaced Dancer on Christmas Eve as head of the distribution team. Without him, deliveries would have failed the world over. What was the problem?

“Most of your staff said that you didn’t interact with them enough and that you skipped recreational activities.” Here, he looked at Rudolph over the edge of the paper, with a slight frown.

“But, but, Santa, they wouldn’t let me play in any of their reindeer games,” Rudolph sputtered. He was in danger of losing his composure already.

“Son, you have to be a leader if you’re going to guide my sleigh at night. You can’t wait for them to invite you in, like you’re some kind of intern. You’ve got to be proactive. I’m afraid you’re getting a negative there.”

“Oh no,” thought Rudolph. What was happening? How could Santa be criticizing him because the other reindeers had always ostracized him because of his red nose? I mean, it’s not like Santa’s red nose, which was caused by drinking too much wine all year. Rudolph had been born with his. Abruptly, he realized Santa was talking.

“Let’s move on to your Presents Distributed measure. I see that you reached your goal of 100 percent. I expected no less of you.”

Santa wasn’t exactly smiling, and Rudolph couldn’t tell if he had been complimented for his achievement or not.

“However, I see that you achieved that entirely in the second quarter. Now, does that seem like the most efficient method?”

What in the world was Santa talking about?

“Don’t you think we’d be better off spacing out the deliveries over all four quarters, putting less of a burden on production, and reducing the stress on your team? I’m sure we could find ways to decrease costs with a new distribution schedule. For three quarters distribution is zero. I’m afraid that doesn’t meet my expectations.”

Rudolph was sweating now. His head was spinning. What in the world was going on here? He was being penalized because Santa delivered all of his toys on Christmas Eve? The reindeer didn’t have any say at all in that. He needed to say something.

He stood up and started to speak. Before he got the first syllable out, Santa stared at him and said, “You would like to add something?” The words themselves didn’t seem that threatening. But the way he said them indicated that pointing out that the old man himself made the schedule wasn’t going to help matters at all.

Instead, Rudolph said “But you only put me in charge of the team on Christmas Eve, and service distribution was set. Dancer made up these measures, and he was in charge of implementing them up until the night before Christmas.”

Here, Santa smiled a little and put his checklist down. “Now Rudolph,” he said, holding his hands up, palms facing outward. “You are in his position. You’re performing his duties. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to anyone, least of all yourself, to not hold you to the same standards as your predecessor. We’d have an uneven playing field. I think we need to go with the measurements we have in place. We can change them for next year if you feel the need. We’ll just have to put down another negative check mark here.

Rudolph didn’t know what to do. Arguing with Santa never worked, and he was watching the amazing job he’d done blow away like dead leaves in the wind. Santa was already moving on.

“Now, let’s look at preparedness.” Rudolph felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. The way Santa was going, he didn’t have a chance on this one.

“A foggy night nearly cancelled Christmas. Imagine the heartbroken children everywhere. I’d think that Product Distribution would have coordinated with OEM to be prepared for bad weather. I mean, we know the date of delivery each year, right? We have the finest radar system this side of NORAD up here. Emergency Management would have told you about the impending bad weather, allowing you to take proactive action.”

This was like a bad dream. How in the world could he be blamed for this? On Dec 23, he was working in the petting zoo. The bad weather rolled in the afternoon of the 24th, and Santa promoted him that evening. He didn’t even get a practice run with the team. He felt he had to speak.

“Santa, I wasn’t on the team until you hooked me up to the sleigh. How could I have done anything about this?” He noticed his voice was quavering.

Santa stood up and walked over to the window, his hands clasped behind his back. In a steely but level voice, he said: “You aren’t going to blame Dancer again, are you? I thought we already went over this. You have the fellow’s job. Now you want to besmirch his record and blame your own shortcomings on him?  That’s not the mark of a team player.” He turned to face him now.

What would you know about being a team player, thought Rudolph. Have you ever considered dropping a hundred pounds to help out those of us pulling the sleigh? No, you just eat every cookie laid out for you on the trip.

Something must have showed on his face, because Santa said: “Is there something you want to add, son? This is your review, you know.” The tone didn’t imply he really wanted to hear anything.

Rudolph was in a no-win situation. If he sounded off, he might lose his job. And despite this review, it was a good job. “No Santa, I have nothing to add to your analysis.”

The smile returned to the big man’s face. “Very good. Let’s see what we have here.” He went down the list again. “Oh my. It would seem, from the evidence in front of me, your score is a DID NOT MEET.”

Rudolph blanched at this. The last reindeer that had received this score had been demoted to kitchen duties and was never seen again. Every reindeer at the Pole knew about it and feared such an event.

“Well, you did step in at crunch time and delivered,” Santa said. “That certainly should count for something, and it was your first year on the job. I’m sure you’ll improve on things this year. Tell you what.” Here he paused, and Rudolph looked at him expectantly, hoping not to pass out. “We’ll make that MET EXPECTATIONS. How about that”

Rudolph exhaled deeply. There would be no one-way trip to the kitchen. He muttered his thanks to Santa, signed the form, and hobbled out of the office.

After he was gone, Santa sat at his desk and smiled. That had been a tough one. Without Rudolph, the whole enterprise would have imploded last Christmas. He should have been ready for bad weather. Thank goodness that screwy red nose of Rudolph’s had been around. But you had to stay on top of these employees. Had he received an EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS, who knows what would have happened the next time there was an emergency? Staff might have made demands. Good lord, the elves might even attempt to unionize. Wouldn’t that be a mess! No, the old man had deftly handled this situation. Rudolph would work every minute between now and Christmas Eve, and he wouldn’t cause any trouble. Santa loved the SPPR system.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Poster Thursday - Casablanca and Clooney's The Last Good German

I came across a tidbit for this Casablanca poster in a book I was reading last night. Warners didn't want to tip off the Bogart/Bergman relationship in this poster, so they 'generalized' it. And did so by lifting a picture from Bogie's Across the Pacific, released the prior year. Anybody who has seen Casalbanca (and if you have a pulse, you should have) knows that 'Bogie with a gun pose' doesn't really have anything to do with the film.

But that's really just an aside. Seeing the poster reminded me of my disappointment with George Clooney's The Last Good German. I rented this, expecting it to be a Casablanca type film. It's not. So why did I think that? Because of THIS poster. I think it's a cool poster. It's also a pretty direct copy of the Casablanca one above, wouldn't you say? The Last Good German was an okay film, if a bit slow paced (or even dull). Wikipedia said that the poster was an homage to Casablanca. Which is kinda cool, but certainly misleading. And in my case, it didn't deliver on the promise.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

2013 Steelers' Season Preview - QBs

BEN ROETHLISBERGER whined about Todd Haley replacing his buddy Bruce Arians and seemed to resist changes to the system in 2012. However, he gradually bought in, but then he hurt his shoulder at Kansas City and things went to the nether regions (2-5 down the stretch). He's saying the right things about Haley and the offense this year and he might get a little more help with rookie LE'VEON BELL and the running game. However, Mike Wallace is gone and HEATH MILLER isn't likely going to be ready to play in the opener after shredding his knee in the season finale. ANTONIO BROWN is going to have to really step it up from an okay 2012 season.

Assuming he has recovered from last season's injury (Ben later admitted he wasn't ready and he came back too soon), Ben should still be one of the best QBs in the NFL again this year. It's funny that in a season when he got hit and sacked much less often (due to Haley's system), he suffered a serious injury that destroyed the season (No, that's not funny!). If he can stay healthy, he's got a couple years left as a dominating QB. I think, barring injury, he's going to have a big year.

In my 2012 prediction, I called for 11-5, with this comment: "This team goes as far as Ben carries them this year. More so than in previous seasons." At 5-3 with a big Monday Night win at the Giants, the Steelers were being touted as Super Bowl contenders. Then Ben got hurt and the season fell apart; he wasn't very good after he came back, killing them with key fourth quarter interceptions. Once again this year, with an aging defense, Ben is the key to a playoff season.

Charlie Batch (who was a rookie starting QB for the Lions during Barry Sanders' rookie season), was pushed into unofficial retirement this off season. He had spent the past eight seasons on the Steelers' bench, appearing in 31 games. Though Mike Tomlin favored first, Dennis Dixon, then Byron Leftwich, over Batch, Charlie was a capable fill-in who actually got less injury-prone over the years, and he was always a positive guy on the field and in the locker room. I hope he coaches somewhere: he's a good guy (I'll avoid a Terell Pryor comment here...).

TRIVIA: Who was the first QB taken after Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf went 1-2 in 1998? Good ol' Charlie Batch, in the second round.

Also gone is Byron Leftwich, who spent four seasons (with an aborted attempt to start in Tampa Bay mixed in) in the black and gold. Byron, who took about ten seconds to load up and release the ball, could NOT stay healthy, missing the entire 2011 season and getting injured when he was slated to fill in for Ben R. in two others. An okay QB, he won't really be missed.

The new #2 man this year is BRUCE GRADKOWSKI. Gradkowski was the Tampa Bay starter back in 2006 after Chris Simms ruptured his spleen. He lost the job to Tim Rattay, then in 2007 to Luke McCown. He went on to be a backup in Cleveland and Cincy. And of course, with Oakland in 1998, he was AFC Offensive Player of the Week when he led a ridiculous comeback in Pittsburgh, throwing for 308 yards and 3 TDs. It was a horrific loss, with Ben continuing to lead scoring drives and the D giving up score after score.

(Joe Burnett, who was well ahead of fellow rookie Bryant McFadden on the depth chart, came into the game late and on his first play, dropped an INT that hit him in the chest. The Raiders went on to the winning score. Burnett, who looked to be on his way to more PT in 2010, was cut during that season, instead. You could see his entire career turn on that one play. He's currently in the CFL).

Gradkowski is an established veteran who, at 30, is a couple years younger than Batch and Leftwich. He's also been mostly unsuccessful as a starter, which is why he's a backup. That said, I think he'll be a competent fill in for a game or two if Ben goes down, but I'm not convinced he's an improvement over Batch.

The Steelers took LANDRY JONES in the fourth round. The Oklahoma Sooner was one of the top QBs in the country in 2011 before he had a late season slump. He then had a pretty good (but not Heisman quality) senior season (many projected him as a first round pick midway through the 2011 season). So, he fell to Pittsburgh in the fourth round. The Steelers obviously have a couple years to try and develop him into a quality NFL QB, with Gradkowski manning the two spot in the interim. I liked Dennis Dixon (reunited with Oregon coach Chip Kelly this year in Philadelphia). And I was for Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson last year (he's not on a roster). I'd like to see Pittsburgh find a young guy to try and bring along. Hopefully Jones is the one.

JOHN PARKER WILSON is playing well in camp. However, the former Crimson Tide star hasn't thrown a pass in four NFL seasons and seems to be a long shot.

As always, it's all about Ben. Pittsburgh usually has a solid #2 (though we seem to have to play our #3 guy far too often: Brian St. Pierre?), and I think Gradkowski fits the bill. Certainly, I hope Jones doesn't take a snap this year. If Ben is on his game (and he should be, this is a good unit.



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bogie Marathon on TCM - Thursday!

Bogie had better gangster roles, but
Duke Mantee made him a keeper
Back in 1992, for no reason I can recall, this then-twenty five year old went to the fabulous Ohio Theater to see Casablanca on a big screen. I'd never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie before. I was mesmerized and I now own all but a few of his seventy-plus films.

New York City stage actor Humphrey DeForest Bogart headed west to Hollywood in 1930. He appeared in 12 films with little success and had actually returned to New York, gone back to Hollywood again and given up on Tinsel Town by1934. But Leslie Howard insisted that Bogie reprise his successful stage role of gangster Duke Mantee for the film version of The Petrified Forest in 1936. Bogart received rave reviews in the Bette Davis film and would stick in Hollywood (It's not overstating that without Howard, there would be no "Bogie." Bogart named his first born, daughter Leslie, after the actor).

Starting at 6 AM EST on Thursday morning, Turner Classic Movies is all Bogie, all day. TWELVE movies starring the film icon, a documentary and a couple shorts. If you're a Bogart fan, clear some space on that DVR. If you aren't a devotee, watch a few films and see what you're missing. I've included some trailers so you can check things out. The American Film Institute decreed Humphrey Bogart the greatest American male actor of all time. I agree.

6:00 AM - Bogart: The Untold Story
This one hour documentary is hosted by Stephen Humphrey Bogart, his son. It came out in 1996 as a cross promotion to Stephen's book, Humphrey Bogart, In Search of my Father. It's got some pretty good stuff in it.

7:00 AM - High Sierra - 1940

Bogart would make 28 more films through 1940, some good, some bad, but none making him a star. Then, after George Raft turned down the lead in High Sierra, Bogie ended up playing Roy Earle, the killer with a soft spot. Bogart, opposite Ida Lupino, was a hit in the film with a screenplay by a promising screenwriter, John Huston (son of actor Walter). This remains one of Bogart's finest roles.

8:50 - We Never Sleep
This is an 8 minute documentary from 1956 on the Pinkertons, America's most famous detective agency (Dashiell Hammett was a 'Pink.') I don't believe Bogart is in this. It's just a thematic time filler.

9:00 AM - The Maltese Falcon - 1941

I mentioned that George Raft had turned down High Sierra. Well, he also passed on the Falcon, not wanting to do a remake with a first time director; John Huston. He reminded Jack Warner that the studio boss had promised him that he would only have to make "important pictures." Raft, who had been brought in to Warners as a top dog, was all but finished as a star, while Bogart beacme a legend. Without The Maltese Falcon, it's quite possible that Warners would have continued simply using Bogie as a screen filler. Check out the film Bogart made after High Sierra (The Wagons Roll at Night): Warners still didn't know what to do with him.

A movie everybody should see at least once. Dashiell Hammett's tale of Sam Spade is rightfully considered the finest private eye novel ever written. This, the third filmed version, is the best PI movie ever made. Rivals Casablanca for my favorite Bogart film. An absolute must see with a fantastic cast, including Sidney Greenstreet's film debut.

You can read about Raft's boost to Bogart's career in my essay, How George Raft Made Humphrey Bogart a Star. It's quite a tale:

10:45 AM - To Have and Have Not - 1944

Ernest Hemingway bet director Howard Hawks that Hawks could not make a good film out of his worst novel. Hawks changed some things around, but I think he won that bet. The 45 year old Bogie, in his third unsuccessful marriage, met his future fourth wife, 19 year old Lauren Bacall, during the making of this film. This was the one that took and Hollywood's most famous celebrity couple would make three more films together. One of Bogie's most enjoyable films to watch, with a couple supporting actors from Casablanca. Highly recommended.

12:30 PM - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - 1948

Another John Huston-Bogart production, co-starring Huston's father, Walter. This tale of what greed does to a man features one of Bogie's most compelling performances as Fred C. Dobbs, a down on his luck American who hits the jackpot as a prospector in Mexico. John Huston makes an early cameo and the famous (though misquoted), "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges" comes from this film. Another must see in the Bogart library.

2:45 PM - Tokyo Joe - 1949

Tired of having to take so many mediocre parts (Bogie famously said, "I've made more bad films than any actor alive"), Bogart formed his own company, Santana Productions. Though revolutionary (Jack Warner was furious, afraid other stars would follow suit and gain influence and bargaining power at the studios' expense), Santana was a money-loser and folded after seven films (five starring Bogart). Tokyo Joe was the first of his films for the company.

Bogie plays an ex-serviceman who returns to post-WW II Japan, where he had run a bar before the war. This is an okay film that fails to recapture the Casablanca mystique, but I rather like it. It doesn't make any of my best lists, but it feels like it had the elements to have been much better.

4:15 PM - Beat the Devil - 1953

A screwball caper, filmed in Italy, this was supposed to evoke memories of The Maltese Falcon: it doesn't. Directed by John Huston and co-written by Truman Capote, it's a muddled mess. There are some things worth watching, and it was the last time Bogart and Peter Lorre worked together, but it's quite a disappointing film, which is why it's in the public domain.

6:00 PM - In a Lonely Place - 1950

Ah, that's better. Not one of Bogart's best known films from his star days, this is an excellent one, based on the best selling novel by Dorothy Hughes. Gloria Grahame is delightful as the female lead and Bogart's Dixon Steele is great. For a taut, suspenseful drama, this is just about Bogie's best. If you've never seen this movie, give it a watch. Bogart never quite played another part like this one. Bit of a hidden gem.

7:38 PM - The Luckiest Guy in the World - 1947
An Oscar winning short in the series, Crime Does Not Pay, I don't believe that this has any tie whatsoever to Bogart. Another thematic time filler, leading to...

8:00 PM - The Big Sleep - 1946

Only Raymond Chandler's name stands alongside that of Dashiell Hammett's in the world of hard boiled noir. Black Mask writer achieved literary fame with his world weary private eye, Philip Marlowe. Bogart and Bacall teamed for this outstanding film. Certainly one of Bogie's best movies.

10 PM - Key Largo - 1948

Another Huston/Bogart/Bacall film, with the great Lionel Barrymore and an Oscar winning performance from Claire Trevor. This is one of Bogie's best known films and features what I think is Edward G. Robinson's finest performance. And Robinson was a fine actor. If you've not seen this, you've missed out on a classic. Bogie and Robinson made five films together (four when Bogart was just a supporting actor) and all are worth at least one viewing. Bullets and Ballots is my favorite Bogie gangster flick.

11:45 PM - Stuff for Fluff
Some type of short documentary with no known Bogart tie.

12:00 AM - The Caine Mutiny - 1954

Based on Herman Wouk's novel, and shot with full cooperation from the navy, I love this film. It's got a fantastic cast and the court martial scene with Captain Queeg is perhaps Bogie's finest work. I am convinced that Tom Cruise's A Few Good Men drew on this movie. Perhaps the one Bogart film I most recommend to someone who hasn't seen it. Fred MacMurray is GREAT.

2:15 AM - The Left Hand of God - 1955
His third to last film, Bogart was clearly in ill health during the making of this one. Bogie plays a non-conventional priest in China. Gene Tierney, who suffered mental health issues, never forgot Bogart's support and kindness to her regarding this film. It's not bad and I kinda like it, but it's not one of the better films in this marathon. Worth a watch, though.

3:49 - Four Minute Fever
A non-Bogart related short on breaking the four minute mile barrier.

4:00 AM - The Harder They Fall - 1956

And the Bogart marathon comes to an end with his last film. He would die of cancer a half year after this was released. Bogie plays a boxing reporter who becomes sickened with Rod Steiger and the business. This was a bit of an expose of a popular untouchable sport (based on Budd Schulberg's novel).

A good film: I love Mike Lane's performance as a gentle giant in this one. And it's cool to see the contrasting acting styles of Bogart and Steiger.

SO...there you have it. There are many more Bogart films worth watching: All Through the Night, Deadline USA and Conflict are a few of my favorites among his less well known movies. and TCM's slate doesn't hit on the Warner gangster flicks of the thirties (often starring James Cagney or Robinson).  But you can't go wrong with most of these films.

Really, what do I need to add to this picture?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mouthbreathers United would be a more apt title

So, the protestors outside our church are finally starting to get some attention from the local media.

This group's signs got a lot less hostile and more cooperative about the same time that the press started paying attention to them. Coincidence or being disingenuous? That seems like a pretty easy pick.

I said from the start they were like a little dog, yapping around the paws of a big dog, wanting attention, like that Sylvester the cat cartoon with the little terrier and Spike the bulldog. And that's pretty much what they've said they're about.

They've cobbled together their own doctrine, rooted in the Old Testament (the Gospel need not apply), and attack anyone who dares disagree with them. That's a cult, not "Christian Activists."

Matthew 3:12 says, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Those who bastardize His message like these protesters are the chaff.

Or, as Duke Nukem used to say, "Let God sort 'em out."

They should change their name to "Mouthbreathers United."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sean Byrne - My Son; Not a Choice

As I saw pictures of teens and college students cheering at the conclusion of yesterday's Texas Senate session, I felt compelled to write this:

When Mia was pregnant with Sean, one of the tests came back that indicated he was at risk for Down’s Syndrome. Obviously, this was a jarring report from the doctor. I grew up with a severely mentally retarded sister. She will never be more functional than a two year old: in many areas, she isn’t even that developed. So, I understood better than most prospective parents what having a Down’s Syndrome child could entail.

Some of the advice we received was supportive of Mia having an abortion. I can tell you, not for one millisecond did we consider that option! It wasn’t even an option. God had blessed us with a child to be raised. If it turned out that he needed extra love and care than a “normal” boy, then He had picked the right parents for the job.

Sean was born on December 22, 2007. Within two days, he was so jaundiced that he was rushed to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital. He went into the Nic-U and doctors told us that if his condition did not improve within 24 hours, they were going to have to remove all of his blood and recycle it back into his system. He wasn’t even a week old!

Sean recovered and is a healthy and happy five and a half year old boy. He is the greatest blessing in our lives.
Sean, you were NOT a "choice": you were and are my son and I love you.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chain Lightning - Bogie in the Air

I believe I have mentioned that I LOVE these old posters
I finished watching Chain Lightning, a Humphrey Bogart film from 1950. I actually enjoyed this one more the second time around.
After years of complaining about being forced to make bad pictures, Bogie had formed Santana Productions, so he could call the shots. Chain Lightning, a Warner Brothers film, was sandwiched between two Santana flicks, Tokyo Joe and In a Lonely Place. Bogart plays Matt Brennan, a bomber pilot who signs on to test jet planes after the end of World War II. Chuck Yeager had broken the sound barrier in 1947 and super speed jets were a hot topic around the world. In fact, the film was dubbed and released in eleven countries.

Raymond Massey (seen a few years before in Bogie’s Action in the North Atlantic) played the industrialist looking to make some money, with Eleanor Parker as the love interest. Parker was a popular female lead at the time and would be nominated for an Academy Award in her next film, Caged. Richard Whorf is the idealistic engineer (and romantic rival). Whorf, about to move from acting to a successful career as a tv director, had starred in Midnight, back in 1934. Bogart was a gangster in the last film of his second attempt to make it in pictures. He gave up and went back to Broadway. If Leslie Howard hadn’t insisted Bogie play Duke Mantee in the movie adaptation of the hit play The Petrified Forest, Midnight might have been Bogart’s last film: and there would be no “Bogie.” While almost an important footnote, it's not much of a film.

It’s Whorf who holds this film together. Bogie is rather unlikeable and you wonder why Parker leans towards him and away from the much better man that Whorf is (girls always go for the bad guy!). It’s Whorf that gives the viewer someone to pull for while Bogart and Massey move the plot along.
Chain Lightning is full of experimental innovations (Bogie wears what looks like a B-movie space suit) and daring flight maneuvers. Along with the flashback footage of bombing missions over Germany, the flying scenes are neat, though the JA-3 jet plane looks like something out of a Buck Rogers serial.

There’s a big finish that sets everything right and softens Bogart (who sings in this movie!). With The African Queen coming the next year and only three years removed from Key Largo, Chain Lightning seems rather lightweight Bogart. And it is. But it’s not a bad movie. It slows a bit during the big test flight, but otherwise is well paced. This is in that category of Bogart movies that don’t make any of his “Best” lists, but offer a solid view. It’s not The Enforcer, but I’d put it ahead of Sahara.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Stand in the Statehouse Door - George Wallace

He kinda looks like Edward G. Robinson
On this date fifty years ago, George Wallace stood on the steps of the University of Alabama to deny entrance to black students. Wallace's motto was "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." He was the poster boy of racism in America.

It's less well known that Wallace became a born again Christian and renounced his belief in segregation, admitting that he was wrong. He apologized to civil rights leaders and appointed several black persons to his administration during his second stint as governor in the eighties.

I am in no way endorsing what Wallace did and said in the sixties. But to any who doubt the phrase, "With God all things are possible," George Wallace, the most unlikely segregationist in American history, is evidence of it. In 1963, there was not a person on this planet that believed George Wallace
could, or would, change.

Or look at it this way: if you took God out of the equation, is there any rational way to explain Wallace's change? Movies are about character transformation: the protagonist's journey. Would Walalce's transformation have happened without God?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

'House of Cards' Kicked the Cat

The late Blake Snyder named his massively successful screenwriting empire (3 of the top 16 selling screenwriting books on, including #1) after the principle of ‘saving the cat’. This is the idea that the writer includes something when we meet the hero that makes us root for them or like them (I’m paraphrasing). Think of her holding the door open for a little old lady with an armful of groceries; Or him saving a cat from a tree. The writer wants the viewer to identify with the protagonist and pull for them: Makes sense.

Kevin Spacey is the centerpiece of Netflix’s House of Cards; a remake of a British series starring the under-appreciated Ian Richardson. He is Francis Underhill, a powerful Congressman with bigger aspirations.  In the opening scene, a dog is hit by a car in Underhill’s neighborhood. He is the first on the scene and bends down over the whimpering animal (who remains off screen).

Spacey’s character sometimes speaks directly to the camera in this show. It’s a difficult narrative technique to do well: fortunately, it works. He comforts the dog, and then explains to the viewer that there are two kinds of pain: one that makes you strong, and one that is useless pain; pain that is only suffering. And he has no patience for useless things. A situation of useless pain calls for someone willing to act to do the difficult and necessary thing. So, he strangles the dog. Then he comforts the dog’s owners, who have been summoned by Underhill’s bodyguard.
This is not exactly your typical save the cat scene. Underhill does a mercy killing and assures the owners that he will track down the driver. But the narrative gives a decidedly darker tone to the actions. Underhill is ruthless, not sympathetic. His motives (“I have no patience for useless things.”) transforms what should be a “hey, what a nice guy” moment. He doesn’t really save the cat, he kicks it.

I believe that the theme of this show is Power. Perhaps more accurately, the appearance of power. The tone of the series is set with this opening scene. Our protagonist isn’t exactly a hero. And in fact, much like with Tim Robbins’ ‘The Player’, there’s not really anybody to root for. Christina (played by Kristin Connelly) is nice but she’s really just an aide who slept with the boss: who cares? And while Gillian Cole (Sandrine Holt) is certainly someone to like, she’s barely a second tier character and not that important. Everybody else is some shade of bad.

So, while the characters are interesting, the acting is solid and the storyline is compelling, we don’t really like anyone. Taking the ‘Save the Cat’ concept and twisting is appropriate for the show. It lets us know up front that we are going to have our work cut out for us rooting for the central character. And, as it turns out, for just about every other character as well.  But credit is due here. Just as I am very impressed with The Player, I’m on board for a second season of House of Cards. Even though I don’t like anybody…  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Vineyard Columbus and Servant Leadership

Vineyard Columbus' vision statement is to "be a relevant church that does not exist for itself, but for Christ and for the world."

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, approximately 4,000 members worked all over Columbus in a massive community service project.

Today's society doesn't just ignore servant leadership, it denigrates it. This past Saturday, Vineyard practiced servant leadership. In addition to the "work projects", boxes of supplies for local schools and care packages for overseas military personnel were packed and distributed, as well as mats (made out of plastic grocery bags: you would never have known!) woven and provided to the homeless.

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first - Matthew 19:30

Friday, May 17, 2013

Forever Blue, by Michael D’Antonio, tells the story of why (or perhaps, how) the Dodgers packed up and left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. The Brooklyn Dodgers were as integral part of their community as any baseball team has ever been. The Dodgers provided the borough with a central identity that remains unique among other baseball crazy cities.

After several decades of ineptness, Larry MacPhail came over from the Cincinnati Reds and led the Dodgers to their first World Series in twenty-one years and only the third ever. Branch Rickey succeeded the old redhead and the Dodgers played in six World Series over ten seasons; finally winning their only title in 1955. Then, after the 1957 season, Walter O’Malley ripped the heart out of Brooklyn and moved the team to Los Angeles. It was a radical move that opened up the west coast to major league baseball. Kansas City had been the westernmost team before the Dodgers and Giants arrived in southern California in 1958.

No one denies that Walter O’Malley, who had pushed Rickey out of the ownership picture, was making money from the team. O’Malley was a shrewd operator whose father had been a Tammany Hall official. But Ebbets Field, opened in 1913, was an aging grand dame. Cars had replaced Trolleys (the team’s nickname was shortened from ‘Trolley Dodgers’, referring to the fans who had to avoid being run down at the confluence of trolley tracks outside the stadium) and there was limited parking at the stadium. O’Malley didn’t believe Ebbets Field would be a viable option for his team in the future. He had built a winner: now he wanted a new stadium to play in.

Therein lies the rub: there are two sides to this story. O’Malley wanted the government to acquire land in Brooklyn (at much less cost than he would have to pay privately), whereupon he would fund and build a new stadium. Robert Moses, the most powerful politician in New York City, wanted to use the site for a different purpose. He preferred a site in Flushing Meadows, where Shea Stadium would be built a few years later. O’Malley wasn’t interested.

In their fields, both men largely always got what they wanted. O’Malley had complete control of the Dodger organization and was an influential voice among the owners. Robert Moses was an appointed, not elected official, but he made the decision on highways, bridges and public housing projects. That meant big projects went through him.

Some put the blame on O’Malley, painting him as a greedy millionaire who betrayed a community and stole the Dodgers. Others point the finger at Moses, whose out of control ego wouldn’t let him compromise and forced O’Malley to accept Los Angeles’ offer. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, though the moderate viewpoint seems scarce. This book is very much pro-O’Malley. Which is not surprising, since the author had access to materials in the O’Malley family archives. That’s not to say it’s all wrong. But the reader does come away seeing O’Malley as a businessman, faced with an untenable situation, offering a reasonable solution but being rebuffed by a power mad politico. Essentially, Moses forced him to reluctantly move his asset to California.

Keep in mind this was happening in the mid-fifties and city-team stadium battles hadn’t yet become the norm. This was relatively new territory. Both men used the press and the political process to their advantage. O’Malley threw down the gauntlet when he sold Ebbets Field to a private developer in 1956. The team could stay for a few more years, but there was no doubt a new stadium had to happen. The question became, “Where?” The book indicates that Los Angeles lobbied hard for O’Malley, who consistently put them off, saying he wanted to stay in Brooklyn. But he kept his options open and when he finally accepted that Robert Moses wasn’t going to give in to him, the owner packed up his toys and went to his new home.

All was not easy-peazy for O’Malley once he arrived in LA. The team initially played in cavernous Memorial Coliseum (current home of USC football) and he faced legal challenges that could have left him without a new stadium. Video footage of poor Hispanics being evicted from Chavez Ravine so that O’Malley could have his stadium survives to this day. BTW, this is favorably explained in the book and a good example of the pro-O’Malley view it takes.

One thing I really liked about his book is the look at gives at the pre-O’Malley Dodgers and how he went from a complete outsider to owner. O’Malley and Moses both had it within their power to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. But neither chose a path that led there. In 1957, The Kansas City Athletics (once based in Philadelphia, soon to be playing in Oakland) were the farthest west a team had to go. In 2012, there are ten teams further west than KC (home of the Royals). Baseball was changed when the Dodgers and Giants moved west.

The Giants, owned by Horace Stoneham, are an important part of the story. Baseball wanted a second team to move so that the Dodgers would have a geographical rival, as well as giving visiting teams more games when they flew all the way to Los Angeles. However, the book doesn’t give much attention to the Giants: this is the Dodgers’ story.

Forever Blue is a good book. I’d guess that the picture it paints is rather incomplete, really just giving Walter O’Malley’s side of events. But I believe it does tell a significant part of the story and it does convey what an emotional issue it was. I am looking for another book on the subject with a different slant to get a more balanced overall picture of things, but I liked this one.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Gang of 8 - Heard of the Gospels?

Wow. I understand the needs the need for an immigration system. My wife came over from Indonesia after high school and is now, proudly, a US citizen. She jumped through the (expensive) hoops.

The Gang of 8 has quite a plan there. It's sad that both parties have no concept of a Biblical perspective on immigration.

We can look to Matthew 25 for Jesus' thoughts on social responsibility. Stunningly enough, he does not say we should take away health insurance from immigrants, get the homeless off of our downtown sidewalks and lock up and forget about our criminals. Boy, talk about out of touch with modern society...

35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The same yesterday, today and forever

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” – Hebrews 13:8
In ancient Greece, it was standard practice for unwanted babies to be left outside to die. Either the weather or wild animals killed them. Or, someone would take them and they would be raised as slaves. Those were the lucky ones!

It wasn’t just sickly babies. Unwanted babies of all types, including females, were simply discarded (men got to make the decision on this and girls weren’t desirable in those days). We look back on this horrific practice with disapproval. Really? Today, instead of waiting for them to be born, unwanted babies are simply ripped from their mother’s womb and discarded. It was the law in ancient Greece and we call it barbaric. It is the law in the US and the rest of the world and we call it a woman’s right to choose.
One reason Christianity grew so quickly was because women, not empowered in the ancient world, flocked to it. This was in large part because Christians said, “Don’t kill babies.” God says a life is important (‘thou shalt not kill’). Jesus says children are important (‘If anyone causes one of these little ones…to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’)

Society says it’s okay to murder your unborn children, just as it did several thousand years ago. But the message of the Bible is the same yesterday, today and forever. I am still convinced that many people deny Christianity because at its root, it requires a person to acknowledge there is something greater: it’s not all about them. And today, more than ever, that is the exact opposite of our “Look at me!” culture.

The fact that society insists on framing the issue of abortion as being about a woman’s choice, rather than about the life of an unborn child…. Jesus’ words and the words of the Bible offer a foundation that is unchanging. Society and modern culture blow with the wind. And in today’s reality television world, society says, “It’s all about ME.” That’s not quite in line with Jesus’ proclamation that He came to serve, not be served.
Because millions of babies are being killed each year (in America, almost 3,500 abortions are performed EVERY DAY), abortion is the most visible (and shameful) example of this secular disregard of the message of the Bible: But there are many more. Jesus said to welcome strangers. Modern culture says to take away immigrants’ health benefits and deport them. Jesus said to help the poor and homeless. Modern culture says to ban them from downtown streets. Jesus says that blessed are the peacemakers. Modern culture says to avenge every affront made to you and more guns are the answer. Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth. Modern culture measures success by wealth and how much you own.

Clearly, many Christians don’t read their Bible, don’t know their Bible and don’t live their Bible. The neo-Christians protesting outside of Vineyard Columbus Church (I won’t give them publicity by naming them here) are an example of the extreme fringe who miss entirely the meaning of the New Testament. More common are those who declare themselves Christians and simply leave it at that.
I believe that today, Jesus would speak out against abortion. I do NOT believe that he would stand outside an abortion clinic and insult women going in, or murder abortion doctors. Nor would he hold up giants sign with aborted fetuses where children could see them. 

But the message of Jesus and the Bible remains the same. And the Christians who do read, know and live the Bible, choose to believe in what the Bible tells them, instead of what society tells them. And their compass will always point true north. Society’s compass will constantly change direction and those who follow it will wander along the path.

Friday, March 29, 2013

And Today, the Debt was Paid

On this day in 33 AD, God's plan for man's redemption reached it's final stage. Though one glorious act remained, He who was without sin died for our sins. Isaiah 53:4-6, foretold of the act of our salvation:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,  

stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, 

each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

When Jesus was crucified, the Pharisees and Saducees and Essenes and Romans thought that they had conquered over Christianity. Satan thought that he had triumphed over God. It looked like evil had won out over good. But on the third day, it was revealed to be the very opposite. 

Today, modern culture thinks it has triumphed over Christianity. But just as during those days in 33 AD, Jesus will come again in glory. And the Bible tells us that while He came as a lamb the first time, He will return as a lion this time.

I was a former Christian for a chunk of my life. And I realize now that the main reason was because I refused to accept it wasn't all about me. That I was second and there is something greater than me. That is a humbling realization. And it's Jesus' death on this date that is at the core of it. If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, look deep inside and ask why. It's quite possibly the same reason I had. Easter Sunday is the perfect time to come to that realization and accept the undeserved gift God gave us through His Son. Then you can truly say, "I am Free."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday - The Agony in the Garden

The most well-known event of Holy Week's Thursday is the Last Supper.

But before that, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to his Father. Jesus, he who could call down a heavenly host of angels, prayed in his greatest hour of trial. Jesus gave Christians a blue print for dealing with temptation. I was stunned to see how clear it was when I really dug into the verses.

If you've ever wished you could resist temptation better, it's right here:

And I recorded this as well. At least check out the first slide. It's The Family Guy! Stick with it and you'll get Seinfeld, Monty Python and Animal House, among others.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Actually, it's not in the Constitution

Making NO COMMENT WHATSOEVER on the same sex marriage issue before the Supreme Court right now:

I'm a Christian who believes in the Bible. And I've got a couple dozen books on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the Framers of the Constitution in my library. I happen to think that the US Constitution is the finest model of government that man has created. Every American citizen should read a book about that Convention in 1787 (or at least read the Constitution, which I suspect most people haven't bothered to to do). The two books pictured here are excellent. And 'miracle' in the title of this one refers to the unlikelihood of what the Framers accomplished. It's not a religious look at the Convention.

Moving on to the point of this post: The US Constitution does NOT establish the separation of church and state. Read the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. Heck, I'll type them for you:

Establishment Clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."
Free Exercise Clause - "...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

There you have the actual words written into the Constitution. Separation of church and state is a phrase coined by Thomas Jefferson and used in his letters. The incorporation of that phrase into Constitutional Law has been made by the US SUPREME COURT.

When Congress declares a religion for the United States; or doesn't allow someone to practice their religion of choice, then the government will be violating the US Constitution regarding religion. This public perception that the Constitution establishes a wall between the government and religion is, quite simply, ignorance of the actual Constitution.

If you want to argue that it's the Supreme Court's responsibility to interpret the Constitution and that the Court has decreed that there shall be a separation of church and state, fire away.

But Americans have been misrepresenting and misinterpreting the Constitution up to this day, including saying that it establishes the separation of church and state. No, it does not. It's written right there on the page. Or rather; it's not.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Tuesday - Jesus Tells of His Second Coming

To a Biblical Christian (by this, I mean someone who has accepted Christ as their savior and tries to live their life by the words of the Bible), this is the most important week of the year. Holy Week culminates with Easter Sunday; God's redemption of the promise of salvation.

I have been working on my fourth missive; this one about The Seven Woes. Jesus' unloaded on the hypocritical Pharisees and law clerks in the Temple on Tuesday of Holy Week. His words still ring true to Christians today. However, this one has been much more difficult than my first three.

Holy Tueday was an event-filled day. Along with the Seven Woes, Jesus uttered the famous, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" on Tuesday.

And he took his disciples up on the Mount of Olives and answered their question about the 'End of the Age.' I have a shelf full of books on prophecy: some I consider very good, some the work of quacks (Hal Lindsey, anyone?).

The link below goes to my Missive on Jesus' Olivet Discourse. If you have any interest in predictions regarding the end of the world or Jesus' second coming, here are his own words on the subject.

I have sketched out a part two involving Jesus' parables as part of the Discourse: maybe in 2014..

Happy Easter, friends.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Steelers - 5 Years at a Time (1970-1974)

This is a first

Chuck Noll was hired in 1969 and won his first game. Of course, he lost the next 13. 1970 was the year of the AFL/NFL merger and the foundation of the current NFL. The Steelers moved into the AFC Central, the forerunner of today's AFC North. And, they began playing in Three Rivers.

With a fair amount of Steeler Nation running a little short of perspective in a year when we will quite possibly miss the playoffs by just one game, I'm going to look at the last 40 years (the modern Steeler Era) in five year increments. At the end, I'll provide a bit of an overview of the past 40 years for Steeler Nation. And hopefully show that there's no reason to get worked up about 2009. Things aren't bad.

I was only 3 years old in 1970, so my earliest Steeler memories begin during this block.

Tag Line - The Steelers, after decades of futility, became an NFL power.

42-27-1 (.600 pct)

Close Losses %: 37% (10 of 27)

Winning Seasons: 3/5

Double Digit Win Seasons: 3/5

Playoffs: 3 seasons/3-2 record

Championship games: 2 (1-1)

Super Bowls: 1-0

The Steelers improved on their win total in 1970 and again in 1971, showing progress under Chuck Noll. Then, after only two playoff appearances in team history, three straight trips to the postseason, two AFC championship games and one Super Bowl win. Delirium for a long-suffering fan base that would shortly be known as Steeler Nation.

I define close losses as those by 7 points or less. An offensive play here, a key stop there, and a loss might have been a win. Even if it was a 'bad' game, I'm declaring it a competitive one, based on final score. The Steelers not only had a pretty good winning percentage for the block (about the equivalent of a 10-6 season today), they almost won over a third of their losses, including the 1972 AFC Championship Game.

KEY MOMENT - Many things happened that helped turn the franchise around in this block, but the breakthrough came in the 1974 AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh trailed rival Oakland (who had knocked them out of the playoffs the prior year) 10-3 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Steelers outscored the Raiders 21-3 in the fourth and secured the first of SEVEN Super Bowl appearances. Miami's reign would be over with the Steelers' emergence (the Dolphins had appeared in three consecutive Super Bowls, winning the prior two).

SUMMARY - 1970-1974 was a watershed block for the Steelers franchise. Chuck Noll transformed perennial losers into Super Bowl champions, stocking the roster with pro bowlers and future hall of famers. And this block featured perhaps the most famous play in football history, The Immaculate Reception.

TRIVIA - The Dolphins barely made it to the Super Bowl in their undefeated 1972 season. The Browns led Miami 14-13 in the fourth quarter of the playoffs. The Dolphins had an 80 yard drive to win 20-14. We almost had a Browns - Steelers AFC title game! And in the conference finale, the Dolphins converted a fake punt on a TD drive in what turned out to be a 4 point victory.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Story - Memories Are Empty

A Twilight-Zonish piece I wrote during my Austin days. The inspiration for it becomes pretty clear by the end.

Memories Are Empty

He stood on the littered blacktop streets of a strange city. There was a grayness that pervaded the light, blunting its effect into a muted dimness. Something wasn’t right. The normal sounds of a city were missing. Instead, they were replaced by a dull roaring, like the sound of the ocean when you hold a seashell up to your ear.

Smoke billowed down the street, the tall buildings on either side of him forming a funnel. His eyes teared a bit as he peered into the midst of the brownish, billowing cloud. He could not see its source. Papers fluttered on the breeze all about him. It seemed as if the air was full of them.

Where were the people? How could a city of this size be devoid of human life? The smoke; the paper, the lack of people: what was this place? Why was he here? What was he supposed to do?

The papers continued to dance in the air. Some fell at his feet, but most continued wafting down the way. The smoke should have left him a coughing wreck, but it stayed out of his lungs, somehow. He could breathe normally, though his eyes still stung. He decided to walk towards the heart of the smoke. He didn’t know what else to do.

As he moved along, he saw cars abandoned in the road. Some had doors standing open. Windshields were broken and tires flattened. Again, he looked around for some sign of life. There was no one. There weren’t even any birds in the sky. Dust and debris were several inches deep upon the ground. It was like a blanket of refuse. Shards of glass and jagged pieces of metal, some quite large, were lying all around. He had to walk carefully.

As he moved up the street, he saw flames high in the sky, flickering through the smoke, which grew heavier. He realized that there must be a building on fire. That would explain the wreckage around him. No, there was too much of it. There had to be more. The smoke cleared somewhat at ground level as he approached what must be the source of the fire. He saw the base of the immensely tall building that was burning heavily. Next to it were the shattered remains of what had been another skyscraper. It had collapsed to the street. Now he understood where so much of the debris had come from. Something terrible had happened, completely destroying a huge building and nearly doing the same to a second. What could possibly have caused this?

As he stared upwards at the flames pouring from the upper portion of the still-standing skyscraper, he once again wondered why he was here and what he was seeing.

Suddenly, a voice that came from both inside his head and from all around him whispered: “You will see, but you will not remember. You will remember, but you will not know. You will know, but you will not understand. You will understand, but you will never...”

It repeated this mantra, over and over. He clasped his hands over his ears and bent forward, almost in half, trying to shut it out. It was no use. The words were burning into his very being. They echoed in his head. Instantly, he saw the two towers before him standing tall and whole. He gasped as he recognized them. A few seconds later, a memory of a dream came to him. A vision of carnage seared itself into his mind. The images came back of the bodies and the wrecked building in Oklahoma City. He shut his eyes to get rid of the pictures, hands still around his head. It didn’t work.

“Not another one,” he whispered. “No, no, no!” He couldn’t breathe. There would be another disaster tomorrow. He fell to his knees and rocked himself back and forth. The dream only came to him immediately before the catastrophe struck. He recalled those that had happened in the past. He saw the loss of life and property that would follow the very next day. He had been given the curse of a dream vision that only he could see. And he knew that when he woke up the next morning he wouldn’t remember this dream. The event would occur, and he would be as horrified and shocked as the rest of the world. But at this exact moment, he knew exactly what was coming to the world on the morn.

Letting out a howl of anguish from the depths of his soul, he staggered to his feet and threw his arms up in the air in a futile act of supplication.

He shot upright in his bed. Sweat covered his chest and the sheets were stuck to him. He must have had a nightmare. It had been several years since the last one. That was the night of April 18, 1995. The Oklahoma City bombing had occurred the very next day. He must have sensed something in the vibrations of the cosmos that night.

Whistling as he adjusted his tie and headed off to his job with Federal Express in the World Trade Center, he knew that today, September 11, 2001, would have to be better than the day after his last nightmare.