Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Posted by JP at 8:07 AM
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
For Independence Day, my first while living in (or near) the nation's capital, here's a Wordle of the Declaration of Independence, created by Wordle user Sofie Inkpen.
Also, check out the annual reprint of the Declaration in today's New York Times (published this year in a higher-res format along with a transcription, 'cause some of that flowing script is hard to read).
One other item: I'm 37 years old, and I love me some patriotic music, but until this weekend, I don't think I had ever heard the lyrics sung to The Stars and Stripes Forever. I'm not even sure I knew it had lyrics. But I heard it performed on A Prairie Home Companion.
Hurrah for the flag of the free!May it wave as our standard forever,The gem of the land and the sea,The banner of the right.Let despots remember the dayWhen our fathers with mighty endeavorProclaimed as they marched to the frayThat by their might and by their rightIt waves forever.
Posted by JP at 7:57 AM
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Is it just me, or did King Charles II of England look like a middle-aged member of a 1980s hair metal band?
This observation struck me recently while deep into Magnus Magnusson's Scotland: The Story of a Nation (Grove Press, 2003).
Charles II -- who was actually king of Scotland, England and Ireland -- was the guy who was put back on the throne after the Brits ditched the Cromwells and went back to being a monarchy.
This immediately brings to mind Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" as the theme of the Restoration.
With his flowing hair, Charles II also bore resemblance to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu, only with a mustache.
Photos: Portrait of King Charles II by John Michael Wright, hanging in Britain's National Portrait Gallery. Photo of painting in the public domain and used here via WikiCommons. Photo of Twisted Sister from Hair Metal Mansion Ning.
Posted by JP at 4:50 PM
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I'm a newbie at this Flash stuff, y'all, so my apologies if this isn't the best-looking thing you ever saw. Plus, this isn't the best-looking group of folks in the world, either. But they're my family, and you don't get to pick your family, now, do you?
If the text is hard to read, you can see this a bit bigger, too, by clicking on this link.
Posted by JP at 2:34 PM
Monday, February 14, 2011
Seeing countries go through periods of revolution -- like what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia recently -- always brings both excitement and anxiety. The new governments there, whatever they turn out to be, could bring positive change for those societies, but there's also the risk that things could get much, much worse than they had already been.
I hope that the changes in both Egypt and Tunisia will be positive for all the people who live there, and that they will be able to live from now on in an open, democratic society that respects human rights and freedom of conscience and speech for all.
But while all this revolution has been going on, I've been thinking a bit about a revolution that went very, very badly for everyone involved: Cambodia in the 1970s.
Several months ago I read the awesome book Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare by Philip Short. I really didn't know that much about Cambodia before then.
You couldn't have made people believe it if you had written it as a movie script:
"OK, so there's this country, right, and these people come to power who are like Communists. Only they're more like a splinter Communist group because they've got some wierd beliefs about restarting human history at 'Year Zero' and converting to an all-agrarian society. And their leader is this guy who's not real smart or even really charismatic. And they take over the country, and everybody who has any kind of education, they kill them, because they don't want smart people in their country. And for the people they don't kill, they make them all leave the cities and basically work on these collective farms, only they're kind of like borderline collective farms/internment camps. And they made millions of those folks starve to death and tortured and beat them."
Hard to believe it was real life.
Of course, someone did make it into a movie, The Killing Fields, which I just saw several days ago. I'd put off seeing it for a long time, and I'm glad I finally saw it after reading the Pol Pot book, because it made much more sense to me. (Wait, I take that back. It didn't make any more sense to me, because so much of what happened was senseless. Let's just say I understood the history behind it better after reading the Pol Pot book.)
The only thing I didn't like about the movie was the use of John Lennon's Imagine at the very end. Imagine is such a hopeful song, and I just couldn't believe that anyone who had just lived through what Dith Pran had lived through would have such a positive outlook on the world right then. Maybe later on, but not right then. There is always hope in this world, yes, but while he made it out alive, certainly he had seen horrors brought upon himself and many people. If I were him, I'd have been relieved, and excited to see my family, but God, I'd have been depressed and angry, too. I think I'd have been a walking basket case, frankly. I wouldn't have cared about the world "living as one" right then. There'd have been too many dead people to have seen that rosy a future.
(You can see the real Dith Pran talking about his experiences in this New York Times video at this link. He passed on a couple of years ago of cancer.)
But here's one thing that blew me away when I read the book (the very end of the book): A lot of these top Khmer Rouge dudes are still alive and still have not yet been tried on criminal charges. Nuon Chea -- "Brother Number Two" -- as well as Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan are all still alive and are awaiting trial from the UN on charges related to the Cambodian genocide.
What the heck, UN?
Friday, May 14, 2010
Once a year, The Tennessean newspaper holds a sit-down dinner to honor the people who wrote the best letters to the editor of the previous year. It's been held almost every year since back before World War II. In my 14 years at the paper, I think I went to maybe 8 or 10 of them. And for the last several years I was at the paper, I was the idiot in charge of coordinating the newspaper's this-is-almost-as-big-as-the-Second-Coming coverage of the event.
Now, I could get all syrupy here about what a wonderful time it was to spend in the company of the people who wrote in letters to the editor -- and I did indeed have some very nice times and meet some interesting people at the tables I hosted. But more than anything, I came to love the Forum Banquet as part ritual, part family reunion, part theater of the absurd.
I'm not old enough to have lived through The Supposed Good Ole Days when Halberstam and Wicker and Kovach were regular bylines, but when I came to the paper as an intern in 1994, The Tennessean still thought of itself as a family. And one of my first assignments in my first week on the job was learning how important The Forum Banquet was and being part of the crew that covered it.
If the paper was, and is, a family, then the Forum Banquet is the annual family reunion. One night a year, everyone puts on their Sunday clothes and hauls over to the Maxwell House, dons the red flower and nametag in their lapel, looks on the board to find the table they're hosting, and hopes they get good people at their table.
Times change, people come and go, the size of the paper gets skinnier and there's a redesign every few years, but the Forum Banquet remains. And at the end of the night, everyone gets up and sings Auld Lang Syne. Mr. Seigenthaler did it, Halberstam and Wicker and Kovach and all those guys probably did it. I believe it is the newspaper's single most lasting tradition in the community. (For a more complete history of the Forum Banquet, I would point you to the piece written a few years ago by my friend and colleague Andy Humbles, if you can still find it online. There was also an interesting piece in Time magazine published in the 1940s that is online.)
I did meet some very nice people at the tables I hosted. I talked about what was going on at the legislature with a volunteer lobbyist for a local advocacy group. I once had three older gentlemen at my table, all in their 70s and 80s -- all of them repeat Forum Banquet attendees -- and, in conversation, we discovered that two of them had been in attendance at a legendary Vanderbilt football game in the early 1950s or so, and the third gent had listened to the game on the radio. At my last Forum Banquet, in 2008, I had at my table Mr. Foster Shockley, who was at either his 24th or 25th Forum Banquet.
The people who write letters to the editor are the most regular readers we have. In an era of news from TMZ.com on your iPhone, they not only read the paper, they take the time to write something and -- gasp! -- they attach their real name to it. Not drunkdawg68 or govolsgo2005. Their real names. Remember when people actually had to stand behind the things they said and wrote? And if they responded to someone else's opinion, they had to say something more substantive than "You and your whole family are s---heads"?
It's like finding out somebody somewhere still actually takes the effort to make Coca-Cola with real cane sugar in it. You think, this is great. This is so much better than what we have now. Why did this ever go away?
And like all newspaper traditions, the Forum Banquet has its own folklore. Several longtime newsroom staffers claimed to have been the person who had a lady at their table who, in an earlier era when wine flowed freely at the banquet, got drunk. Maybe as many people claimed to have hosted that lady at their table as claimed to have been the victim of one of Jerry Thompson's backward-named fake obit jokes. (There's just no way you could all be telling the truth. When I was younger, I believed all of you who told me that. Now that I'm older, I don't think I believe any of you.)
The quality of the guest speakers varied, though they almost always spoke on the importance of the First Amendment and free speech. More than the content of any of the speeches, I remember when the speaker for the evening was to be a retired high-ranking military man originally from Nashville, whose father had headed Metro's water system when our editor, Frank Sutherland, had been a young reporter covering City Hall. When Mr. Sutherland introduced our speaker that night, he recalled how our speaker for the evening had been taken prisoner during the Vietnam War, and how Mr. Sutherland had gotten a bracelet bearing our speaker's name, the type of which was commonly distributed back then in remembrance of American POWs. Mr. Sutherland said he had kept that bracelet all those years, and that night at the podium at the Forum Banquet, he pulled out the bracelet and gave it to the man whose name was on it.
But nice gestures and small talk with longtime readers aren't all that the Forum Banquet offers. It's also the wildest show in town.
The greatest tradition of the Forum Banquet has to be the open-mic period: Every letter writer in attendance is given the chance to stand up at a microphone and talk for one minute on any subject of their choosing. Some don't, but most of them do, and the resulting hour or so makes the American Idol tryout shows look like MacNeil and Lehrer.
Some of the letter-writers make totally comprehensible statements taking traditional left/right stances on major issues like education, the war on terrorism, city government and the like. Yeah, yeah, yeah, boring, boring, boring. Bring on the crazies!
One guy got up a couple years ago and asked that we all listen to one minute of silence, after which he stood at the microphone for the remaining 45 seconds or so and said nothing. Another got up and observed that it was Arbor Day, and said that people in the Netherlands referred to it as "Plant a Wooden Shoe Day."
People say whatever comes to their minds, or whatever obsession or rant they're on that day. Some of it's comprehensible. Some of it isn't. The story we used to publish in the following Sunday's newspaper -- in which we were instructed to quote each letter-writer who spoke -- always had a substantial section at the end that could have easily been subheaded "miscellaneous," because we couldn't group the joke-tellers and thank-yous and randomness under any other topic heading.
Sometimes people get up and respond back to what an earlier letter-writer had said at the mic. Thankfully, no punches were thrown at the banquets I attended, though I was concerned at the 2008 Forum Banquet, when one speaker got up and told us that he thought most of us in the room were guilty of sedition that he wanted to meet another letter-writer on the battlefield and put a bullet between his eyes. And then, as the dude left the mic and sat down, he hurled a few comments back at an earlier speaker at another table who had dissed President Bush, ending with the very adult command "So shut up!" (The guy was a Metro employee. Doesn't that make you feel better now?)
Some people go up to the mic to thank the paper for picking their letter and inviting them to the banquet. One lady wrote and recited her own poetry. Yes, about the banquet. Some people shoot questions out at the Tennessean editors on the dias or spew criticism at the paper.
People also ask questions of the prominent figures delivering the keynote address. I remember when the speaker a few years ago was Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas. Most of the letter-writers had had their say and sat down, but there was an older lady who got up and went to the microphone on the right of the ballroom. She addressed her comments to the police chief. Her name, she said, was Virginia Trimble.
Say whatever you want to say, but say it in 60 seconds, or you'll get gonged. Yes, they time it. Religiously. well, there's no gong, but there is a brass bell that's rung at the end of your time.
And when all the letter-writers who want to speak have spoken, it will be time to sing Auld Lang Syne. The lyrics are printed in the program in your chair, and the pianist for the evening will give everybody some idea of the tune. And then it will be time to go home. At least until next year.
Posted by JP at 4:39 PM
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Saturday, July 4, 2009
When people pass on, there's a natural inclination to glorify their achievements. So let me preface this by saying that I had thought about writing these comments about a year or two ago, well before today's terrible and shocking news.
The relationship between Nashville and Steve McNair is not just one of a town and a famous athlete. For those of you outside Nashville, let me explain a little bit about it.
I remember when the NFL's Houston Oilers first moved to Nashville to become the team that is now the Tennessee Titans. Back in those days, the team just wasn't very good. They had some potential, but they struggled constantly. This team we're getting from Texas, I thought to myself, they're not much to celebrate about.
I remember in particular that the team had two young men vying for the starting quarterback's job: Two guys named Neil O'Donnell and Steve McNair. They both had potential, but like their teams, they seemed to struggle constantly. I remember one particularly bad outing for McNair -- I can't remember whether this was in Memphis or at Vanderbilt Stadium -- but the home-field fans booed him for poor performance. I remember my friend and mentor Dwight Lewis wrote a column about it.
Today, it is hard for most of us to remember, or even believe, there was ever any doubt whether Steve should have been starting QB. And I don't recall the people of Nashville ever booing Steve McNair on the field ever again, as I recall.
Steve McNair earned the respect of the people of Nashville. And he didn't just do it by being part of a winning team. He worked his behind off for it.
Steve McNair wasn't one of those overpaid star quarterbacks who took off running for the first down and then slid toward it when a defensive player came within 20 yards of him. Steve would go running for that first down marker, and when those two defensive players grabbed him, he'd keep on running. He'd take those guys with him another 5 yards or so and just keep going. It'd take another defensive guy or two to pull him down. And even then, he didn't make it easy for them.
As a passer, Steve wouldn't ground the ball when the linebackers started to close in on him. I remember seeing linebackers grabbing him and hanging on to him as he looked around for a barely-open receiver downfield, and he'd still pull off some miracle completion.
Steve wasn't some athlete who made a zillion dollars a year and sat around on his behind and then whined about being disrespected. Steve worked. Steve earned his fans' respect by going out there and always giving his all, even when he was hurt and the odds were just unbelievable. Steve earned his pay every Sunday. Everybody knew who led that team on the field to all those just-barely and how-did-they-do-it victories.
Not only was he a really good quarterback, but Steve played hurt nearly every game in some of the Titans' best seasons, and I don't mean with some little small injury. Steve often played with serious injuries that would have sidelined most people. But he nearly always went out there, and if he went on the field, he played his heart out. It was as if you expected to read in the paper on Wednesday that he'd broken his back and was in traction but was expected to practice with the team Saturday for Sunday's game. Sometimes he was so hurt, as I recall, he wouldn't be well enough to practice with the team at all in the days before the next game -- but he'd still go out there on Sunday and pull off an incredible victory, usually at some great physical cost to himself.
And he'd go out there and he'd practically break his neck for the win. Just because he was hurt, he didn't give an inch. You'd see him limping sometimes, running back to the sidelines, and you knew he was in pain, but it never seemed to cause him to throw passes shorter, or to run slower, or to give it any less than he would physically than if he were healthy.
For all of that, Steve earned the Nashville fans' respect.
Now, Steve was not a saint. Very few people are, of course. As I recall, Steve got caught drinking and driving a few years ago. That's wrong. He shouldn't have done that. And when he was found to be drinking and driving, Steve may have gotten preferential treatment shown to him by local police officers because of his football hero status. That's also wrong. And, if what is being reported is true, it sounds like Steve was dating a woman while also still married to his wife. Also wrong.
But his achievements were still many. And that's why he's a huge sports hero to the people of Nashville.
We still don't know what happened. As of this writing, The Tennessean is saying that police say it appears to have been a murder-suicide -- Steve was shot several times, while the woman he was with was shot once.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The power of television to make the world smaller cannot be understated. For one thing, it can make a girl from Warrenton, Ga., who not only had never been to Chicago but didn't know anyone from Chicago and didn't know anyone who had ever been to Chicago, into a Chicago Cubs fan.
Yes, my Braves have always had my greatest loyalty. I was taught to pull for them by my grandfather, who despite his sheet-metal-plant worker's paycheck and his dislike of expense on himself, was one of the first people I knew in Warrenton to subscribe to cable television -- all so he could watch the Braves games without bad weather disrupting the signal from what used to be Channel 17 out of Atlanta.
But the coax cable that carried the Braves games to Warrenton also carried the Cubs games on WGN, and especially in those pre-lights days at Wrigley Field, the two teams' games rarely overlapped. In summertime, I could watch the Cubs on WGN in the afternoon and then watch the Braves that evening.
It's the mid-1980s from which my Cubs memories are strongest. While I got my Braves loyalty from my grandfather, but when I think of the Cubs, I remember watching with my dad. He was police chief then and, about four days a week, he reported for his shift very, very early in the morning and got off at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. "Ryno is God" was one regular Bleacher Bum sign we loved to chuckle at -- of course, that's in reference to Ryne Sandberg, the second baseman who was the Cubs' major star of that era; he's now in Cooperstown (.289 career batting average, 282 HRs). And there was another, the "Shawon-O-Meter," a frequently appearing sign that sought to keep track of the offensive exploits of a younger player, shortstop Shawon Dunston (.269 career batting average, 150 HRs).
The Cubs' manager of that time was Don Zimmer, who would later be one of Joe Torre's helper-coaches in the Yankee dugout, maybe most famous for his awkward attempt at fistcuffs with Pedro Martinez, which got him impersonated on the next broadcast of Saturday Night Live. (By Horatio Sanz, as I recall.) I tend to think that's more public exposure than any bench coach had ever gotten in the history of all baseball.
I remember Mark Grace was the first baseman. And one of our favorite players was the catcher, Joe Girardi, who has since replaced Torre as skipper of the Yankees.
My memory may be fuzzy on this, but I remember watching Girardi perform a tremendous feat one day, one that -- sadly -- I never did see written about by the baseball press when Girardi was hired in New York.
Girardi started the game at his normal position, catcher. As the game progressed, some other Cubs players had to be stricken from the game, and Girardi was called on to fill in elsewhere on the field -- I want to say he subbed for one of the infielders, but he might have been in the outfield. Then, as innings passed, the Cubs confronted another staffing dilemma, and Girardi was dispatched to the mound to pitch. I remember Harry Caray saying Girardi had broken a major league record for most positions played in a single game. I think he may actually have gotten a batter out as pitcher, but I'm not certain of that. (Any baseball savants out there remember this? Am I mis-remembering?)
Needless to say, Harry Caray was as much a part of watching a Cubs game as the players on the field. (An interesting, and sometimes funny, thing to do: When the Braves played the Cubs, sometimes my dad and I would turn on two TVs, one tuned to the Cubs' broadcast on WGN, and the other tuned to the Braves' broadcast on TBS, where the play-by-play announcer was Harry's son, Skip Caray.) I also remember that the WGN broadcast team seemed as intent on finding attractive young women in the stands displaying their cleavage as they were interested in the progress of the game.
I bring all this up because I finally got to see the Cubs play, live and in person, last night -- in Houston, against the hapless Astros. Rino is a minor league manager now, and Minute Maid Park doesn't quite exude the vibe that I imagine comes fromf the bleachers at Wrigley Field, but it was good to finally see them play. They won, 7-1, on a night when the Astros, not the Cubs, looked like the doormat of the National League.
Wouldn't Steve Goodman be proud?
Sunday, May 24, 2009
To me, summer officially begins when I hear Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the start of the Indianapolis 500.
Now that the race is ending, some thoughts:
The Indy 500 just does not have the iconic place in American culture that it did when I was a kid. Open-wheel racing folks have allowed themselves to be plowed over by NASCAR in the national popularity contest. How many people other than me were actually watching this broadcast?
When I was a kid, we always turned on the Indy 500 at my house -- though I remember it more often on my grandparents' TV in Emanuel County. Watching the race was a ritual. This was the late '70s and early '80s -- I remember names like Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr. and A.J. Foyt in his orange car. How many average people today could name one person, just one person, who raced in the Indy 500 today? OK, maybe some can name Danica Patrick, because she's on commercials everywhere. How many others could they name?
I went to an IRL race once, a few years ago, in Nashville. It was pretty cool -- Tony Kanaan won and did a burnout right in front of the grandstands where I was sitting before being presented with a customized Gibson guitar as a trophy (hey, I'd much rather have that than get a grandfather clock from winning at Martinsville). I tried to follow the IRL a bit more closely after that, but it just could not keep my interest the way NASCAR could.
Some thoughts on why IndyCar is not as popular as NASCAR: Not as many races. It's harder for me to tell the cars apart during the broadcast -- I don't know if that's the fault of the IRL or of ABC's broadcasting; part of it may be the racing teams' tendency to assign identical color schemes to all their cars, such as the orange-and-white scheme on the Penske team's cars. Many of the drivers are from other countries -- which I think is cool, but I have a feeling that it could bother some American fans. I mean, we live in a country where NBC felt it necessary to remake The Office with an all-American cast and setting. If we have to have The Office remade in our image, we ain't gonna cotton to pulling for a sport where the Brits and the Brazilians outnumber us.
Some thoughts on Danica. I like Danica, and I want her to win -- her 3rd place finish just now is the highest ever for a woman at Indy, and I was pulling for her. But she's in danger of being deemed overrated. She won a race last year, the first ever by a woman in IndyCar, but it's just one race. The amount of media attention she gets is a little bit more than I think her record deserves. She's got to get up there and win another one, or, within a year or two, I predict the media is going to start saying she's seriously overrated.
Again, I want her to win, and I like her -- she's sharp, she's focused, and when you see her on the track or in interviews, she carries herself with seriousness. I like that about her. But I have my criticisms of her. I don't like the swimsuit pictures. I don't like the wink-wink, nudge-nudge GoDaddy.com commercials. I know she has said in past interviews that if her sex appeal helps her career, she's willing to use it. I really disagree with that approach, and I don't think it's positive for women in general. The message being sent is, "I'm a woman and I can get ahead if I'm hot-looking and I act in a sexually suggestive fashion." Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I want a woman driver to be respected because she's a good driver, not because she's a hot babe.
Thing about it is, I think Danica is good enough to be respected for being a good driver alone. I wish she would let the other stuff go.
Helio: I can't help but like Helio. He's really the Roberto Begnini of motorsports -- and not just in his victory exuberances (substituting fence-climbing for seat-jumping). I often don't have sympathy for rich people accused of income tax evasion, but when Helio and his sister-business manager said they really didn't know what they were getting into, I found them actually pretty darn believable. I get the feeling he's a nice guy, and sometimes an inadvertently funny guy, and he can sure drive a race car, but he probably can't balance a checkbook.
Other thoughts: Good Lord, didn't Vitor Meara have an awful race -- first he gets set on fire, then he's in a hellacious wreck.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Some favorite all-time albums of mine -- because I need to test the "bullets" function on my blog for something we're doing at work. (Criteria: No greatest-hits compilations allowed.) And keep in mind, this is not a complete list.
- Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
- Otis Redding Live in Europe, Otis Redding
- Dancing in the Parlor, Stephen Wade
- Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette
- Traveling Without Moving, Jamiroquai
- The Band, The Band (the "brown" album)
- Area Code 615, Area Code 615
- Licensed to Ill, Beastie Boys
- Solo Banjo Works, Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck
- New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass, Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman
Sunday, March 1, 2009
I'm in Washington, D.C, for Transparency Camp, an "uncamp" being led by the Sunlight Foundation at the Center for Politics, Democracy and the Internet on the campus of George Washington University. (And the subject is government transparency -- no, friends on Facebook, I am not learning how to make myself invisible. But thanks for the laugh.)
This is my first uncamp, and it's really awesome. I've met a lot of really cool people doing really cool things -- and it reminds me how behind the times I am! Read more by searching Twitter for hashtag #tcamp09. I'm tweeting as Texas Watchdog.
I' just checking e-mail right now during the lunch break. More updates to come when I can.
ALSO: It's supposed to snow like crazy here starting ... Now.
Monday, January 19, 2009
I've been messing around a little bit over the past few weeks with the Web site ManyEyes, a project of IBM. It's intended to let people visualize data, and one of the things it lets you do is upload a piece of text (like a speech) and map it out.
I went over there, and someone had already uploaded the text of the "I Have a Dream" speech from 1963, which CNN just replayed a little while ago. Below is an interactive of how Many Eyes charts it out, using "dream" as the keyword.
ManyEyes is free to use. Go over there and have some fun.