Monday, June 26, 2006

BFS Heading to the DL

Here's my latest SJ-R column. I think you have to be registered with the site to access it.

This will probably be my last post until after the Fourth. The Blogging Oversight Committee (BOC) has ruled that I must attend a week of sensitivity training for allowing the comments' section to degenerate into a house of hurtful name-calling.

Not that I'm really needed here. The post that got me into trouble with the BOC has taken on a life of its own. It's set a BFS record for most comments to a single post AND most insults leveled at the alternative press. I didn't really plan to stir up so much animosity, but there have been some interesting observations and a spirited defense.

With any luck, I'll return next week as a better blogger, and an even better human being.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Off the Treadmill

Regular readers to this blog may have noticed that the weekly “From the Treadmill” feature that normally ran once or twice a month has not appeared in some time. No one has complained about its absence or anything, but an explanation is still in order.

For the past two years I’ve conducted my cardio training exclusively on an elliptical machine during which time I would view and review movies. Although it was always time well spent, I’ve recently been experiencing diminishing returns weight-loss wise from my 40-minute sessions, so I’ve taken up jogging again. I could describe to you the route I take three mornings a week, but that would be even more boring than my movie reviews, especially since Amanda Peet doesn’t live on my block.

I do plan on rewatching “Stranger than Paradise” this weekend, but being that it is a classic in minimalist filmmaking, I’m not sure that I’m up to describing its comedic nuances and subtle brilliance in blog form.

So “From the Treadmill” will be appearing even less frequently than before. Not that any of you ever went out and watched any of the films anyway. In fact, you probably stopped reading this post as soon as you got to the word “treadmill” in the title so I’m basically writing to myself here. It’s rather peaceful, really. Sort of like when I’m out running at dawn. I could probably make a really stupid grammar error and Jeff wouldn’t even notice.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Are you ready for some fütbol ? Probably not, huh?

I must speak briefly in defense of the World Cup.

There seems to be an anti-soccer bias among sports media types who feel the need to mock what they don’t understand. There must be something in the bylaws of the various sportswriters and sportscasters associations of North America that says that all commentary on fütbol must be mocking in nature and will preferably refer to male soccer players in terms normally associated with flittering ballerinas and their fans as barbaric vandals.

When a sports media person does attempt to provide a rational explanation for his dislike of the sport it usually involves the fact that there isn’t enough scoring in soccer. This reason doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

If your enjoyment of a particular sport is based on frequency of scoring, then it wouldn’t seem possible to be both a fan of baseball and basketball. I haven’t done the research because I’m just a blogger, but I would guess that the discrepancy in scoring between baseball and basketball is much greater than between baseball and soccer. So people who make the low scoring claim should stop the charade and join the others in questioning the sexual orientation of the starting side from Trinidad and Tobago. It’s just more honest.

Closely related to the scoring issue is the claim that there isn’t enough action. Again we should look to baseball where most of the players most of the time are standing there doing nothing. Contrast this with soccer where play rarely stops. There are no Bob Horners or John Kruks playing for Brazil. Every half inning a baseball player can retire to the dugout for a cool drink and a smoke if he so chooses. Soccer players are out there for 90 minutes or until a riot overtakes the field of play, another thing that the pampered baseball players seldom have to confront.

I also suspect that some resentment for this international sport is jingoistic in nature. We Americans are a prideful lot and can be a bit stand-offish when our dominance is tested. It also doesn't help that we've recently had our bat and ball handed to us on the world stage in baseball and basketball. All the more reason, I would think, to rally behind the flag and beat the world at its own game. Although it's too late for that now.

I’m not a rabid soccer fan, but I am quite taken by the sport when I do tune-in. I’m at a loss to explain its spectator appeal. There is a certain grace and rhythm to the sport that creates an artistic symmetry. I guess that’s where all of the nancy-boy talk comes from, we all know how swishy those artists can be.

As a participant, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed playing a sport more than soccer.

Growing up on the northend, soccer wasn’t so much frowned upon as unheard of. Only the southsiders played back in 70s, probably because a shortage of good ballet schools in Laketown.* It wasn’t until I got to college that I found myself on the pitch.

I went to a school with a history of national success in soccer (Go Hawks!). Because a good portion of the student body was drawn from the St. Louis area, one of the early booming regions for youth soccer, we had a strong intramural program. I took to soccer immediately. And I still have a scar from when I slid to protect an open goal and placed my leg between the ball and a rather enthusiastic kick. The resulting injury bled quite a bit, but it was a good kind of bleeding.

This isn't to slight other sports. Nothing beats Notre Dame football on an autumn afternoon. While my interest in baseball and basketball has waned considerably over the years, I can still look in from time to time without feeling the need to call a sports radio talk show and vilify its presence on my television.

I now rest my defense of the World Cup and fully expect to be accused of treason, sedition, and other offenses most foul. In other words, it will be rather jovial in the comments section compared to the last several days.

*Notice how I twist that joke back on itself.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Inebriated Seamen for Sound Fiscal Policy (ISSFP)

I was fortunate enough to have another column published in the State Journal-Register. Once again, thank you to the SJ-R for giving an unknown blogger a chance. And thanks to everyone who emailed me or posted comments to the online edition of the column .

In the article, I reference a comment that Governor Blagojevich made, I believe it was during his first budget address shortly after taking over the governorship, in which he asserted that state legislators spend the taxpayers' money "like drunken sailors." Needless to say, the Springfield insiders were appalled. But surprisingly, no one spoke up on behalf of the sailors after they had been accused of fiscal ineptitude, unfairly I might add.

So incensed was I over this unjust characterization that I ghost-wrote a letter of rebuttal on their behalf. Since newspapers aren't in the habit of publishing letters from fake sailors and I didn't have this blog at the time, the letter grew yellow in my archives. But I am publishing it here today and have to think that we are all the better for it.

Respected Publisher,

When Governor Blagojevich recently accused legislators of "spending like (sic) drunken sailors", I can only assume that he was accusing them of advocating imprudent expenditures. Speaking for drunken sailors everywhere, allow me to voice my displeasure at this gross mischaracterization.

Given the high price of spirits and a seaman's meager wage, drunkenness and financial discretion go hand-in-hand. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous. To consistently sail the seas at a respectable level of intoxication, one must possess keen fiscal acumen and pay strict attention to budgetary objectives. I use Quicken to assist me in these matters, as do many of my mateys.

Therefore, contrary to the governor's implication, to accuse an elected official of spending in a manner similar to that of a drunken sailor is to pay them the ultimate compliment in pecuniary propriety.

It seems that in this age of political correctness, the only group of people that it is still safe to stereotype are us sots of the sea.

I am a sailor of the great buccaneer tradition. I can tell you that perceptions of our lifestyle have no resemblance to reality. And that your jokes sting to the bone.

People think that we pirates live a libertine lifestyle, concerned only with material pleasures. That it is all swashbuckling and salty limericks. Nothing could be further from the truth. The treasures that we pillage from passing merchant ships are barely enough to pay for our provisions and maintenance to the schooner. Believe me, nobody becomes a pirate to get rich. We do it because we have the ocean in our blood – along with a good deal of alcohol.

I hope as the governor embarks on his first term in office, that he learns to choose his words more carefully. To show him that there are no hard feelings and to prove my point that drunken sailors have a knack for matters financial, let me offer the governor this advice: Don't let anyone talk you into selling the Lottery. It might look tempting at first, but trust me it's a loser, and you'll be remembered as the governor who sold the state down the river. Raise taxes if you have to, but don't sell the Lottery. Also, don't defer payments to the pension fund, but that pretty much goes without saying.


Obed Nickerson

I hope this clears some things up and hopefully we'll all be a little more careful in the future about tossing about the old "drunken sailor" line.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

She was especially hard on the IittIe things, the helpless and the gentle creatures.*

As expected, Margaret Boswell’s caustic review of the Springfield Muni’s production of Annie Warbucks resulted in a counter volley from the show's supporters in the SJ-R's letters-to-the-editor section (although surprisingly, only one comment appears in the online edition.) Also as expected, Boswell is subject to the usual critiques leveled at critics, i.e:

She obviously didn’t see the same show I saw!

These performers deserve better!

This isn’t Broadway!

She has known ties to recently slain terrorist leader; Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!

Having not seen the Muni’s inaugural production for 2006**, I can’t comment on the substance of Boswell’s review, although I would be surprised if didn’t have a good degree of merit. That said, it is possible to write a less than glowing review without getting so personal, especially when your writing about amateur theatre.

What probably offended people the most was Boswell’s curt dismissal of the young lady in the lead role. I’m not a juvenile psychologist by trade, but I believe that teenaged girls are by nature given to insecurity and can be a wee bit sensitive about what other people think about them. Even young Hollywood stars, who are protected by teams of publicists and all of the fawning that money can buy, can be stung to the point of an eating disorder by a particularly biting review. So it’s probably best to err on the side of kindness when you’re dealing with a hopeful young actress during the brightest moment of her life. Besides, Jim Leach said that she was brilliant in the role of Annie, so maybe Boswell is all wet on this one.

There are obviously some hard feelings between those associated with the show and Ms. Boswell, although someone in the Muni’s publicity department is attempting to make lemonade out of one of Boswell’s comments that wasn’t overly sour. An ad for the show that appears on page 11 of the newspaper includes a quote from the review that praises the chorus and orphans. Although her comment wasn’t taken out of context***, it seems odd to see her name attached to a production that she generally panned.

I’m not one of those people who get offended that a critic would deign to dictate to me what I should like and dislike, because I understand that it isn’t their job to do that. A good critic can, however, provide key information that will help me decide if something is worth my time or money. The key is finding a critic who has both an astute knowledge of her field, and shares similar tastes as my own.

I often consult Roger Ebert, both before and after watching films, to see what he thought. Except on rare occasions, we usually agree on our overall assessments. One notable exception was on Raising Arizona, a movie that I loved and he found clumsily straddling the line between reality and farce. So resentful was I of his review that for years I refused to talk to him. Not that we talked before or since, but had he attempted to contact me in the years between 1987 and 1992, I wouldn’t have taken his call.

It’s normal to dismiss reviews that contradict with previously held views, but enlightened folks will at least entertain the critics.

In the past few months, I have read reviews that have attempted to dethrone two classics of American literature: To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye. The former was dismissed as juvenile literature while the latter was ridiculed for its tin ear in voicing teenage angst. I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’ve read Catcher in the Rye a couple of times and rather enjoyed it. The criticisms that were made aren’t unfounded, they just never occurred to me, just as it never occurs to Dave Matthew’s fans that his hiccup-y vocal styling is every bit as annoying as Tiny Tim’s quivering falsetto.

As the previous sentence attests, it’s often more satisfying for a critic to go negative because it allows for a more liberal use of facetious asides and other devices such as sarcasm. I don’t think that’s why Ms. Boswell knocked Annie Warbucks, but she probably did have a better time writing the review then if she were showering it with unequivocal praise. There is, however, a price to pay for carelessly zinging performers – mainly that their fans will think that you’re an ass. I may never be able to face Dave Matthews again.

*A hint to the title's origin appears later in this post.

**We’re holding out for the King and I since my kids will be familiar with the music and storyline.

***It’s not uncommon for a movie studio to misrepresent the views of a critic. A review that reads “This is a great, big mess of a movie” becomes “This is a great . . . movie” on the DVD cover.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Calling All Bloggers

I try to keep up on the local blogging community, but it's obvious that I'm oblivious to some things. If you are a reader of BFS and a blogger yourself, and if you aren't totally out of your mind, send me a link to your blog and I'll post it here. But be prepared for the rush of traffic on your blog as my tens of readers make their way over. Or don't.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

A detective in trouble is a temporary thing*

The last paragraph of this post was previously jumbled during the translation from Word text to HTML. It should be fixed now and I should check for such things right after I post them.

When I saw the headline in yesterday’s SJ-R that the two Springfield Police Department (SPD) detectives who were under investigation were not going to be charged, my first thought was: “I wonder what Dusty Rhodes will have to say about all of this.”

I wondered this not facetiously, although I had an inkling of what her reaction might be, but with a genuine interest in what she had to say. Given her investigation into the matter, her opinion of whether justice was served in this case will no doubt play a roll in how some segments of the public will view the state’s attorney’s decision.

The commentary in today’s Illinois Times is on the city’s panel on race so we might have to wait until next week for Rhodes’ take, although we did get a glimpse of how she feels in a news story that she wrote for today's edition.

I found it interesting to compare the IT story with the report Sarah Antonacci wrote for the SJ-R yesterday. There are some obvious differences in the two accounts and if you have some strongly held opinions on this issue in particular or the police department in general, you might find one or the other of them to be objectionable.

Although the basic facts of the two stories are consistent, as they should be with two seasoned reporters, there seems to me to be an angle (slant?) in the IT story that is absent from the SJ-R story.**

The most glaring difference between the two is who the reporters chose to quote.***

The SJ-R story included quotes from a person from the state’s attorney’s appellate prosecutor’s office, the chief of the SPD, the president of the police union, an assistant in the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office, a member of the Illinois State Police, and the assistant chief of the SPD.

The IT included quotes from the chief, the attorney for the former officer who leveled the charges against the detectives, the attorney for the police union, and a defense attorney who has filed internal affairs complaints against the detectives.

It’s easy to see then why you get a different perspective from reading the SJ-R story than you do from the IT story.

So which one does the better job of conveying objectivity? Acknowledging that one person’s objectivity is often seen by others as a naive or gross interpretation of the facts, it’s my opinion that the SJ-R does the better job of giving us the story straight.

The news here is that the state’s attorney decided not to file charges. Therefore, it makes sense to base the story on those involved in that process, as the SJ-R did. Reaction from Vose’s attorney might have been useful, but then again, they didn’t provide comment from the detective’s attorney either. So it was a pretty even account – provided that you believe that the attorney general’s office is an impartial arbiter of justice, which the IT seems to have some doubts about.

The IT gives the reader the impression that the fix may have been in by including a quote that states that seldom do such investigations lead to criminal charges. They point out that the police union has been quite effective in defending their members against allegations in the past and letting us know that their attorney comes off a bit cocky about this record. And they include a quote from an attorney not directly involved in the attorney general’s investigation who claims that the detectives may have been the beneficiaries of some home cooking. In short, the IT gives us the impression that the investigation was bogus, or at least that it can be perceived that way if you talk to the right people.

Another thing that caught my attention in the IT’s report is their assessment that the investigation has “fractured” the department between supporters of the detectives and supporters of the former officer who leveled the charges against them. Although I do recall reports in which individual officers voiced opposing allegiances, “fractured” seems to be a loaded word that overstates the internal rift that this issue has caused. If I’m wrong, I’d certainly like to read more about it to see how deep it runs.

In the end, I believe that the SJ-R did a better job of reporting the news while the IT went a bit heavy with their editorializing. Others will say that the IT provided a side to the story that the SJ-R missed, or worse, buried. From a reader’s perspective it’s not always easy to tell. Objectivity can be such a relative thing. I’m just glad that I was able to read both stories before deciding whether to react to this news with jubilation or disgust. The truth is, however, I really don’t know what to think about it.

*Headline provided by Romeo Void in exchange for commercial consideration.

**Full disclosure. As mentioned two blog posts down, I occasionally write for the SJ-R, but I have been assured that the criticisms that I have leveled at the paper in the past have been well taken and that I shouldn’t be discouraged from doing so in the future.

***I believe that this is a conclusive list, but it’s possible that in my rush to get this to press I might have missed something.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

This is total nonsense. Have to feed the blog, though.

Walking through Washington Park over my lunch hour, I was treated to a warm-up performance by one of the carillon artists here in town for the annual festival. I’m not sure who the particular performer was, but she was obviously schooled in the indie rock scene of the 1980s as I could her strains of both Husker Du’s “Divide and Conquer” and Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” in her playing. I wonder if the people driving their vintage cars through the park picked up on these influences. Or maybe it was just my imagination.

Listening to the bells chiming through the breeze, it occurred to me that carillon music has much in common with clouds, the white fluffy kind not the dark and foreboding ones that signal a coming tempest. Both are airy and comforting, and both are given to interpretation.

With clouds, you can lie in the grass, squint your eyes a bit, and see formations that resemble anything from Washington crossing the Delaware to Itchy chasing Scratchy with a power saw.

Similarly, the slow, deliberate pace of the carillon music almost invites you to either anticipate the next note or fill-in your own. The absence of a strong, distinct melody also entices the listener to create their own to play over the composition. Remember, this all came to me during my lunch hour and free from the influence of substances conducive to such musings.

It occurred to me that analysts and psychologists could use the occasion of the carillon festival to conduct aural Rorschach tests on their patients. Listening to how a person interprets the music and which direction they take it could be quite revealing. Imagine an estranged and recalcitrant couple brought to Washington Park by their marriage counselor. After a half hour or so they become lost in the reverie of the bells and she begins to spit out 50 Cent lyrics while he gently hums a Barbara Streisand tune. Immediately, the counselor would be able to identify the source of their marital discontent.

I always thought that I was capable of doing something groundbreaking; I never imagined it would be in the field of human psychology. That my definitive work in the area was conceived and postulated during a single, 40 minute walk in the park is nothing short of remarkable.

I’ll try to post something worth commenting on real soon. I know that some of you miss Monkey Boy, probably now more than ever.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blogger Sells Out to Mainstream Media

For those who don't know, my work here at BFS has landed me an occasional gig with the State Journal-Register. If you don't subscribe (you should), here's a little something I put together for last Sunday's paper. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. You can comment on it here, or on the SJ-R's site. Be kind.

I'll be back soon with a fresh blog post.