Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Along with horses and hounds, I'm partial to foxes, too. In fact, I have an entire Norfolk Island pine tree decked out in adorable little foxes each made by my father. There's something awfully charming about those vulpine little faces and brushy tails.

So I was very pleasantly surprised to see the trailer for Wes Anderson's new animated (?) The Fantastic Mr. Fox. It's hard to tell if it is Wallace and Grommit-like claymation or just amazing computer graphics, but it looks great and features the voices of George Clooney, Bill Murray, etc. Should be fun and opens right around Thanksgiving so a definite possibility for that post-turkey coma movie. View the trailer HERE.

Maybe age really IS just a number

As both a golfer and a person of a certain age...Tom Friedman's column from Tuesday's New York Times was music to my ears. The way I figure it, if 59 is the new 30, then certainly 40 is the new 20, so I'm back to being about 21!

To just about anyone, what Tom Watson accomplished at age 59 while making a serious run at the British Open championship, is amazing. Amazing is an overused word, I know, but not in this case. Just like Dara Torres' performance during the 2008 Summer Olympics, it gave those of us who are no longer 25 someone to cheer for and something to cheer about. And Watson and Torres also share another trait, they are very classy athletes and competitors. Watson is the epitome of the old-school golf champ. Always a good sport, never one to complain about his lie or make excuses, he knows that golf is a cruel game. An especially cruel one if you saw the match from Turnberry with it's cratered bunkers and grassy roughs. And yet, through it all, even toward the final hole of the playoff, where you could see the toll the match had taken on both men, Watson was focused and in the moment. While his form and swing may have been altered by the fatigue of the day, his nature was steady and you never saw any break of form in the context of sportsmanship.

I fear that I'll sound even more old fashioned than I did yesterday, but this kind of sportsmanship--this level of class in competition--is too rarely found in this day and age. That's why I think it is imperative that when it is on exhibition, even in the most quiet and understated way, it needs to be lauded loudly. It's so much easier to be a poor sport than a real sportsman--to make excuses about the weather, about your opponent, about officiating. To whinge on about your contract and how the press doesn't "get you." As Friedman points out beautifully in his column, like golf, life ain't fair. What sets certain people apart--and imprints their legacies on our hearts and minds--is how they cope with, or react to, the slings and arrows of life.

Seeing someone we can relate to--because of age, or position or whatever the reason--successfully compete or survive the aforementioned slings and arrows is enriching and life affirming. Friedman relates a great story about Betty Comden and Adolph Green (the writers of Singin' In the Rain) and Leonard Bernstein's response when they showed him Gene Kelly's famous scene for the first time. Bernstein is said to have commented, "that scene is an affirmation of life."

We all need these moments to remind us of The Possible. All the stuff out there that is possible. Sure there is a laundry list of things most of us will never do, but that's okay. There's also a parallel list of opportunities, things we might do, things we could do...possibilities. Tom Watson, at age 59, competing vigorously with people MUCH younger (but less experienced) than himself, reminds us of what can be. What we can strive for and be inspired to do or create. As always, it involves a risk of failing or appearing to be "too seasoned" for any given task. But with great risk comes great reward.

For those of us who are looking for work and trying to find our niche in this new economy, Tom Watson is a shining example of just keeping on--of what can happen through good, steady, quiet achievement. He's the poster boy for being a great competitor, treating opponents with respect and tipping your hat to your fans. Class and good manners have no age limit or minimum and they are always in fashion. Timeless lessons for anyone at any stage of any career or sport.

Once more to the breach, then, ladies and the Tom Watsons of the world and how brilliantly they inspire us and represent what is best about sport, competition, and people.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Electric Slide(s)

A little visual accompaniment to the stormy's a great collection of images online at the Boston Globe.

Editor for hire, and other oddities

It's Wednesday and it's been a droopy and drippy day on the East Coast. After sending out several more job applications (yup, me and half of the civilized world) I decided I needed a break to just clear out all the cobwebs. I watched some very bad (and utterly useless) television--who knew Maury Povich was still on? Or that he is now apparently taping here in Connecticut? Mon dieu!?

When that failed to cheer me (and how could it not?) I goofed around tweeting for a while and then this silly thing came along...a pseudo-sports video from The Onion. While I'm not a fan of the "sweet science," I found this amusing in that both boxing and horse racing are suffering from the same fan drought. They both appeal to a much smaller audience than they used to and both industries are trying to find new ways of bringing in a broader fan base. While I don't for a minute propose anything along the lines of what they do in the spoof, it's still funny. And the production value is pretty top notch, too, like most things The Onion does, as the fake ESPN set and anchors look totally real. I'm not sure that boxing and horse racing can really help each other (and I know that wasn't the point of this little exercise) but I have to believe that there is something out there that can make the sun shine a little brighter on the racing community.

So after a few giggles watching the video, the torrential, tropical downpours came. I'm guessing that the turf races at Saratoga will not be on turf. I don't live all that far away and unless the weather was significantly better there than here, which is unlikely, they got poured on today. That said, there appears to be some more unsettled weather in the works for the next few days, so let's everyone keep our fingers crossed for good weather and HUGE attendance at The Spa for this weekend's races. (And how about a massive finger crossing effort to help me find new employment, too!!)

After I finished all my other work, I started trolling the newspapers for fun stories. I came across this piece from yesterday's news about a group that is going to try to identify some remains and other artifacts as being those of Amelia Earhart. I love these unsolved mystery sort of stories and Earhart is a fascinating character all in her own right. Here's the original story from ABC News on Amelia Earhart and where they think she may have landed, etc. It's both interesting and tragic to think of her surviving for a few days on an island after the plane crashed/landed.

And apparently there's a movie coming out about Amelia herself this fall. It stars Hilary Swank (sorry, not a fan) and the trailer does make it look like a pretty standard bio-pic, but with some good ancillary characters (like her navigator, etc.) played by Ewan MacGregor and Richard Gere.

I think that's entirely enough frivolity for a Wednesday, so I'd best get back to the job at hand, that is, finding a job. That and wondering what in the world the world needs with a vibrating mascara brush. Really? Maybe I'm just old-fashioned (gee, what was the tip off??) but I think we've all done pretty well up to know with our non-pulsating mascara brushes. But that's just me...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lights On Broadway--A Happy Ending

From a Dallas-Fort Worth TV affiliate...and amazing (and at times disturbing) piece on the rescue of former thoroughbred multi-race winner, and one time Texas Horse of the Year, Lights On Broadway. The story of his near miss on the way to a slaughterhouse is pretty incredible. Thanks to Alex Brown Racing for tweeting about the video link.

Jackson Adamant: No Breeders Cup for Rachel

Jackson Adamant: No Breeders' Cup for Rachel |

I'll admit to a couple of things here:

1.) I'm thrilled that two of the most exciting horses out there right now are fillies--major kudos to both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta (and their respective connections) for the class with which I think they handle these two athletes.

2.) I'm fascinated by the turf vs dirt vs poly debate.

Since I've only ridden horses on your general and basic ground (read as dirt, grass, bridle paths) I'm very curious as to the pros and cons of the dirt vs polytrack discussion. I was at the New England Turf Writers banquet a couple of weeks ago and even when querying the most experienced horse people, no one could really say what the benefits of one was over the other or how if really impacts the horses.

Understandably (and just as humans have preferences for various types of tracks/surfaces when they run) some horses are more comfortable or confidant on one surface than another. I get that. What I don't get is what the X-factor is for arguing against the polytrack.

It seems to me (begging the pardon of Monsignor Habiger for the use of his opening line) that the safety and well-being of the horse is paramount. So if polytrack isn't any safer for the horses...what is it for? Did the officials in California jump to conclusions when they put the surface down at their tracks?

There are still catastrophic injuries to horses and jockeys and I haven't seen any evidence that the poly surfaces mitigate that fact at all. Rather, what I do see are the European (especially UK and France) courses being much safer for horse and human alike. In many cases the races themselves are over long distances (albeit on grass) and even in jump-racing the horses seem to fare better over longer hauls then some horses do here in the US.

I'm partial to turf racing, something about the lush green grass and the way the horses move over it. And the sandy, wide turns of Belmont, well, I love 'em.

All this to say that I understand fully Jess Jackson's decision to not run Rachel on the poly track at Santa Anita. Although she's proven she can run on it (she did, after all, win the Kentucky Oaks in great style on the polytrack) he clearly feels it's not her best option. Too boot, I'm thrilled that he wants to keep her running for another season, giving us all more opportunities to see her compete. I fully support (for whatever it may be worth, LOL) the choice to do what's best for the horse. It is after all, about the horse. She's a highly trained, highly skilled athlete and to all appearances that is how she is being looked after. I hope that's the case because she's special, in the same way Ruffian and Regret were special. (Photos at the top are of Regret and Ruffian, respectively.)

I for one will be glued to the television this weekend for The Haskell at Monmouth, not just to see Rachel, but some of her fellow competitors. She'll face Belmont winner Summer Bird as well as Papa Clem and some other talented boys. Should be a wonderful race!

For a little further reading--and really good reading at that--go to Steve Haskin's article on European vs American racing. Even the follow-up comments are educational and interesting.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Poring over the coast for the best bugs in butter...

Poring over the coast for the best bugs in butter - The Boston Globe

Shout out to the CT lobster roll in all its glory!!

This was the war that shaped our world | William Rees-Mogg - Times Online

This was the war that shaped our world | William Rees-Mogg - Times Online

One of the best pieces written about the generation we lost with the passing of Patch and Allingham. For me this paragraph was most powerful:

"What are the lessons? Do not go to war unless it is inevitable, and preferably not even then. Maintain the welfare of the poor, the sick and the old. Look after the nation’s Armed Forces. Do not ask them to fight impossible battles with inadequate equipment. Make generous provision for those mentally or physically damaged by war. Keep cynicism and aggression out of national policy."

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

In my former life (that is to say, "pre-downsizing") I had the great pleasure of editing Gavin Mortimer's book on the early aviation pioneers called Chasing Icarus. Now I'm admittedly a little biased, but I think it really is quite a good read. The book details a few weeks in October 1910 when all the various forms of flight (dirigibles, balloons, and aeroplanes) were vying to become the new means of transport and warfare. With races and contests being held all over the world, some of the biggest and most prestigious competitions were taking place in the US.

Consider for a few moments that fewer than 100 years ago there were still questions about what was a better vessel--ballon, blimp or plane. Today it seems incredible that sensible persons would have given any credence whatsoever to the actual viability of dirigibles or balloons for long distance transport, or really, even, most anything else. Yet as a year, 1910 was on the verge of WW1 and the first uses of aviation as part of warfare. And the characters...oh the characters. The glamorous Claude Grahame-White who had socialites on his arm (and in his plane); the dour and generally unpleasant Wright brothers; the fabulously moustachioed Louis Bleriot.

Now I say this as more than a shameless plug for a book I very much enjoyed. (Seriously, I get no commission, it's just a really good read!) I say all this by way of noting that 25 July, 2009 was the 100th anniversary of the first powered flights across the English Channel. Here's the link to the NY Times article on pilots re-enacting the fist powered flights across the English Channel. Fabulous photo as well, it really reminds one how little there was betwixt the pilot and the ground/ocean in those days.

And if you're at all interested, here in Louis Bleriot's own words, is his description of that first Channel flight. There's nothing quite like the over-the-top and hyperbolic vocabulary used in most old newspaper articles, so enjoy the read. And of course, there's youtube video, too. Enjoy!!

Yesterday I wrote about Harry Patch and his compatriot, Mr. Allingham, both WWI vets we've recently lost. They were young men when these devil-may-care pilots were crashing and barnstorming their way through races and dares. Time flies, of that I'm certain. But consider what changes Misters Patch and Allingham witnessed during their lifetimes...and then what we've seen in the past few decades. Rather amazing, all in all.

And I meant to note yesterday that there was an equine connection to Harry Patch as well. Race horse trainer and owner Michael Jarvis named a horse after Patch in 2008. The horse fittingly won at Doncaster racecourse on November 8, 2008, the day before Remembrance Sunday, when Britons celebrate our Veteran's Day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Last of a Generation

Earlier today, 25 July, 111 year old Harry Patch died in England. While living for over a century--being a "supercentenarian"--is in itself cause for celebration, Patch is remarkable in another way as well. He was the last surviving man to have experienced the horror of fighting on the frontlines and trenches of WWI. (One of the British papers notes that there is still a surviving ambulance driver in the US and a naval officer in Australia, but neither saw the sort of action that Mr. Patch did.)

From the Queen herself to Prince Charles, Harry Patch is being remembered. General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff said: "He was the last of a generation that in youth was steadfast in its duty in the face of cruel sacrifice and we give thanks for his life - as well as those of his comrades - for upholding the same values and freedom that we continue to cherish and fight for today." A winner of many medals and honors during his lifetime (including the French Legion d'honneur) friends noted that each time he was thusly honored, he knew it was for all of the friends he'd left on the battlefields of Europe.

And that's the astonishing thing, this is truly the end of a generation. Mr. Patch was one of the last people to be an eyewitness to some of the most shocking and horrifying warfare ever seen on the face of the earth. He fought at the battle of Passchendaele in 1917, when 70,000 British troops were killed and managed to survive, though seriously wounded.

Much less surprisingly, Patch was, throughout his life--and even amidst the terror of war--staunchly anti-war. He noted in his autobiography that he didn't want to kill his German enemies, he'd try to shoot them in the legs to wound them.

There is also a planned memorial, noted The Times of London, for the "passing of a generation."

Obituaries are always so interesting to read, I think. My childhood piano teacher, Catherine Mackey, always read the obits from the local paper immediately. She was the church organist and had to know if she'd be playing at any funerals during the week so she could arrange her schedule accordingly. Now and then, since my weekly lesson coincided with the delivery of the local rag, she'd note something interesting while she quickly looked over the various notices. It was something that stuck with me and to this day I so marvel at the lives people have lived. Whether it's a major appreciation for a larger-than-life celebrity or a small town notice that only hits the basic high-points, I find obituaries to be rather fascinating. It's also a great reminder for us all to celebrate the people we love--at birthdays or anniversaries--and to showcase their accomplishments, passions, and special talents. Isn't that better than waiting until an obituary to alert the world to how singularly special our loved ones are? I think it is infinitely better.

Here's a link to the obituary to Mr. Patch's compatriot, Henry Allingham, who passed on last week at the brilliant age of 113. We can only hope that wherever both of these two gentleman are is a place of beauty and peace. Requiescat in pacem, Patch and Allingham.

(The last surviving British Tommy, Harry Patch attends the launch of The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, Weston Super Mare, Britain. 27 Oct 2007 Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Rex Features)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rhythm and Rhapsody in Red, White, and Blue

The percussive rhythm of fireworks is dying down across the country, East to West, as we come to the close of the 233rd anniversary of the adopting of the Declaration of Independence.

As I started out the second leg of my road-trip I saw farmers driving tractors that had been all gussied up for a parade in Ohio. The line-up of various tractors (John Deere, Massey-Ferguson and Allis Chalmers, that I could pick out) was crossing one of the overpasses along the Ohio Turnpike and each had a flag or banner draping from it. It's not an All-American 4th of July parade without tractors, Shriners, and high school marching bands. Having been in one of those high school marching bands a few years back (okay, more than a few) I can testify both to how much fun summer parades are and how hot and exhausting they can be.

While I had made a special playlist for my trip on my iPod, I still wanted to try to catch my favorite Saturday NPR shows...Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk--all the usual suspects. So as speedily made my way across Indiana (gotta love the Hoosiers for their 70mph speed limit on the Tollway!) I was scanning for NPR stations and stumbled, almost literally, on the absolute highlight of my day: a Chicago NPR station, located at 90.9FM, that was playing Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band tunes. Absolute heaven. I love Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Xavier Cugat, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, all of the Big Bands. But there's something special about the Glenn Miller songs he did with the AAF Band. They're different than the sound he had with Tex Beneke before the war. Maybe it's the size of the orchestra or the depth of each instrument, I don't know, but the songs were glorious. There's also something a little magical about driving through a city like New York or Chicago and having just the right song come on the radio, essentially the musical equivalent of the city. For me, today, having Glenn Miller streaming out of my speakers was the perfect accompaniment to Lake Shore Drive.

I feel it only fair to add here that as good as the music sounded with all the remastering and 21st century technology, it always (and I mean ALWAYS) sounds better when played as a 78 rpm record on a Victrola or other old record player. I love my Victrola, it is truly one of my favorite possessions. No electricity needed, just a few small cranks and the table is turning and ready to play whatever song you'd want to dance to. And trust me, you will want to dance to these tunes, at the very least you'll be tapping your toe. The 78s, complete with scratches and the occasional fuzziness, recreate what Big Band music must have sounded like as it emanated from old Emerson and Philco radios. A little static gives the music character--like the creases and fades in your favorite jeans or the way your favorite leather bag slouches just right. Once you've heard these rich sounds sweetly wafting from a 78 record, the crispness of digitally remastered CDs will leave you a little cold. My current favorite 78? The Tiger Rag of course, Benny Goodman's rendition.

May your weekend playlist be full of rich sounds and righteous rhythms and I wish safe travels to one and all.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sleepy in Ohio

Americans love the poems, in songs, anthems, and novels. And I'm no exception. I love being behind the wheel and generally am quite happy driving. The "windshield time" is wonderful for thinking, though those closest to me would probably tell you that more time devoted to deep thought is not always a good thing.

I wish I had more time to take the side roads and back roads as I head westward, there are so many places that you see from the turnpikes and highways that beckon the curious. Foxburg, PA, for example--from high above on the Penna Turnpike, it looks so charming nestled along the river. Or towns like Jersey Shore, PA, surely the shore in name only. But I always feel like I should check it out. Even Snow Shoe, PA...what inspired that as a town name? Is there a giant snowshoe of some sort? Again, I think I should investigate sometime. And today, likely because of the news of the car company bankruptcies, I really looked at the empty parking lots of the Chrysler and GM plants I passed in Lordstown and Toledo, Ohio. I'm always intrigued by the strength of names inherent in some Ohio towns: Lordstown, Strongsville, Youngstown. They all seem almost out of a comic book--the superhero's hometown. And yet, all face unimaginable challenges.

There's a lot to take in crossing the country. The stunning beauty of the verdant hills of Pennsylvania; the majesty and expanse of our great rivers (so far the Hudson, Susquehenna and Allegheny); and tonight, fireworks and bonfires. Side note on the bonfires/bbqs--there were enough that I thought maybe it was Guy Fawkes Night and I was in England. The fireworks, though were amazing. I started to see the shimmers of light as dusk approached, but by the time I was getting close to my chosen destination for the evening, the horizon was littered with explosions of myriad sizes, shapes, and colors. It was fantastic because it was so unexpected. (Yes, I'm aware it is the 4th of July wknd, but my hometowns have their big shindigs on the 4th.) At one point, scanning the horizon, I could see three different town or area fireworks displays.

At any rate, I'm grateful for safe travels thus far and wish the same to you all who are out there road-tripping with me.

Not to belabor the point about the nasty weather we've had in the NE lately, but wow was it nice to see a clear sky, a shining moon and a few stars tonight.

It's the little things, isn't it? God and the devil can both be in the details.

Safe holidays out there, travel well and enjoy this celebratory weekend.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Paper Tyger hits the road!

Just testing to see if this emailing in posts really works. (I know, why wouldn't it?)

We'll see if works from points West and the dreaded drive on the Ohio Turnpike. (With apologies to any readers from the buckeye state!)

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Indulgences (not of the Papal kind)

I'm going to beg indulgence right from the start here as my head seems all over today and I suspect today's post will reflect that. At any rate, thank you in advance for being a kind reader and following my scattered thoughts.

I need to first kvetch a bit about the weather here in New England. With apologies to the many places out there who have it worse, this has not been a pleasant June here on the East Coast. RAIN. CLOUDS. And now, the typical summer pattern of warmish, humid days with destructive thunderstorms about the time everyone is trying to get home from work. *sigh* Please, oh powerful weathergods, give all of us, the beach-loving throngs, a sunny little break, okay?

I've not really bothered to comment on Michael Jackson's passing as it really doesn't interest me very much. I'm very sorry for his family and children, but that's where my interest ends. However, I read a very clever piece by BHL on Huffington Post today. Now I don't often agree with Monsieur Levy , but I love to read his work because he's an interesting writer (even in translation) and in person he is literally mesmerizing. (All that gallic charm, that je ne sais quois) His comment on Mr. Jackson's exit from this world stands out as unique among all the talking heads and pundits and is, therefore, worth reading.

And in other news...Calvin Borel is apparently no longer the jockey for Mine That Bird. This was all over the tweets of the horse folks this morning when it was announced. Since I'm just an interested fan and don't have to feign objectivity, I can ponder this development a little. As I've said, not a big MTB fan...BIG Calvin Borel fan. However, in this case, I wonder if Calvin is being 'done wrong' by his agents. I was amazed (and disappointed, frankly) when Calvin didn't have other mounts on Belmont Stakes didn't make any sense. He wasn't familiar with the track and Belmont is NOT like other tracks. MTB surely wasn't the freshest of the competitors that day, but I think he also had a bit of a bum ride when Calvin let him make his move too early--and he did that (in my opinion) because he was not aware of how big and wide those Belmont turns are. At any rate, I don't know who made that crucial choice not ride any of the earlier races that day, Calvin Borel or his agent. Maybe nothing was on offer that day and it wasn't an option, I don't know.

Fast forward to Rachel Alexandra at Belmont and Borel had two other mounts that day, I think. And he and Rachel rode to absolute triumph. He knew (a) how much horse he had and (b) when to pull the trigger. He was clearly confident and had a much better sense of the track than he had back on June 6.

So how does all this factor in to the MTB business? Apparently there's an issue with what mount he will be taking or considering for the West Virginia Derby which is MTB's next big start. Now obviously I don't know if this is Calvin Borel or his agent, but as the MTB connections stated, they need someone willing to commit to their horse for the rest of 2009. And who could blame them? Borel is certainly committed to Rachel Alexandra and that's not to be questioned, but I just have to wonder if he's being trotted down a garden path by his handlers. It just appears that there have been some less than optimal decisions made by Calvin Borel or his people and I hope it doesn't cost him great mounts in the future. I love watching him ride and I'd hate to see less of that big grin of his riding into the winner's circle.

So before the next round of thunderstorms intrudes on my electricity and dsl line, I'll publish this and be off. Stay tuned for some book reviews in the coming weeks (books old and new, equine and not) as well as what I hope will be informative updates on therapeutic riding and the fundraising efforts to bring back the Boston Mounted Unit.