Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On the battle lines

Another Bible Paraphrase. The release of the new version of a popular paraphrase of the Bible, the New International Version 2011 (replaces the 1984 and 2008 "TNIV" versions), and its politically correct "gender neutral" language, inspired PETA (yes, that organisation again) to request the next NIV to feature "speciesist" language.

The rise in paraphrases that are gender-neutral is a disgrace considering the incident years ago when some teens told me that the Bible was changed so many times (mainly because of the paraphrases they are indoctrinated today) it was not God's Word, and they trusted popular culture and books instead. Warrenists are deep into ever new paraphrase invented in recent years, and they are clearly winning the religion war among the younger generation, which is troubling.

Another Activist Group Gets an Easter Egg Hunt Reward. This Administration on an earlier Easter Egg Hunt started to invite members of special-rights activists groups pushing for sexual deviancy, and forced our acceptance. Now they're working on an "green earth" agenda for even White House traditions.

Freedom of Speech, Only for the Left. A leading liberal leader in Washington, who was elected once in a ruse so bad where he replaced a candidate within a few weeks after the primary but before the general election so they could win, now shows the true side of the current Administration: No freedoms for anyone except the Modern Left.

Arresting the Bird Catcher. The United Methodist university in town (there are three in the state, one of them is a women's school, the other is an HBCU, and the other is traditional) is offering a production of Die Zauberflöte this week and also in two weeks. They boasted it is "set in New York City," sung in English with a live orchestra. Oh dear . . . I wasn't fond of Le Nozze di Figaro in English the two times I've seen it (I've seen a third performance in Italian and loved it). May I call the cops to arrest Papangeo?

Washington's cowtow to the Gill Agenda continues. Immigrants illegally "married" to Americans in violation of laws in the majority of the country would not automatically be denied immigration benefits. One immigration lawyer said the decision could also give those facing deportation a free pass for work authorisation thanks to this Administration's obsession with the sexual deviants' agenda. First speech codes, then kill the military and replace it with a Social Engineering department focused on special rights in an Intolerable Act, now give them this? It's clear this Administration wants to push the agenda opposed by the people.

The Songs Are Worse. Two years ago, I sang on my first choral project at the university level at 34 years, 32 days, excerpts from Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten, and last year participated in my first full-length choral project, Beethoven's Mass in C Major. A report erupted on the latest "zonk tunes" in bubblegum pop that today's MTV-infested youth listen on the radio or watch either on Disney or MTV-branded television. A 13-year old was nailed for having "the worst song ever recorded". The only pop star I remember making it at 13 was one country singer who has stayed in the limelight now nearing 30 and having had a trip to the altar (and back). If this is the future of music, I have the Safety Car lights on, since it's time to nail this offender. Kids think this is acceptable, but won't accept the serious material?  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quantas Grand Prix - the season starts!

JJust after midnight in the United States the flag will drop on the beginning of the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship. What does this year's F1 circus hold in store?

The 19 (considering that Bahrain will not be on the grid unless they attempt to move the race to late November and hope the unrestends) races should have the same cast of characters going for the title -- it seems the reigning Red Bull Renaults (Vettel, Webber) should be the fastest again, and Renault has decided their partners at Nissan will receive the branding on the Red Bull this year, so don't be surprised to see the Infiniti logos on the cars this season. Four more seasons for Vettel and Adrian Newey (designer) should be a warning fired across the bow.

Scuderia Ferrari *******'s (because of laws the name must be censored) 150th Italia (named for the 150th anniversary of modern Italy, even had parent Fiat's partner in their microcar that's coming Stateside in litigation for a while) should be a challenger after testing, but the new threat will be Schumacher and Rosberg in the Petronas Mercedes be a threat too considering what happened in testing with no changes among the major players in the Silver Arrows, which took place in Montmeló because of the unrest. But Vodafone McLaren was very inconsistent, and add that a very taxing time for Lewis Hamilton has he signed a new manager in Simon Fuller, who is responsible for RTL's hit international television formats, who hopes to make the Hamilton brand (and that of his girlfriend) viable worldwide.

Renault's works team (the name dispute, see below) will be an issue but it may take a while for Nick Heidfeld as he replaced the injured Robert Kubica (injured in the Volkswagen rally crash in Italy), who was set to have a breakout year. Will that compromise the budding team that would make it five legitimate contenders for this F1 season?

Naming disputes between Tony Fernandes' Malaysian-based team and Renault's "works" team that has been partially purchased by a Malaysian automaker should be an interesting court right, while "pay" rides have come in the form of both the winner and runner-up in the European support series GP2, as both champion Pastor Maldonado (Williams, with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez picking up the tab) and runner-up Sergio Pérez Mendoza (Sauber, with the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, through Telmex, doing the sponsorship) are in F1 in rides funded by sponsors but deserved by their positions last year. Colin Kolles' Hispania organisation is in trouble and we could have something similar to the Aguri Suzuki case two years ago with a team withdrawing in the middle of the season.

The F-Duct from last year and the Double Diffuser that led Ross Braun's new outfit (now part of Mercedes) to a title last year are now both illegal, but KERS hybrids are back and the most intriguing one is a transponder and driver operated rear wing. If the car is within a specific time between transponder locations, the computer will allow a flap to be lowered for more speed.

On the circuit front, there will be some new looks. Silverstone will look considerably different as the "Bridge" section has been officially abandoned, as has the historic Woodcote garages. It will look considerably different to see pit entrance as you exit the Vale into Club, with the start-finish line, then swiftly turn into the new Arena section to the new Abbey. Again, the MotoGP race at Silverstone will debut the new "wing" so that race (live on Speed, unlike the F1 race) will be a good preview to see what the drivers will see with the new section. A new circuit, Greater Noida, will debut this year in India, and the FIA banquet is set there. As will be the case, controversy over Yeongam will also erupt after a major F3 race was axed last year.

With Pirelli as the tyre supplier, they are wanting to ensure three or four stops will be made just for tyres. The tight pit road in Melbourne with 240 "over the wall" crewmen (20 per team) should be interesting to see what happens. They don't want durable tyres, something you'd see at a Sprint Cup race or an endurance race, but tyres that fade quickly. It's not Bridgestone anymore and it should be an angle to watch.

Jean Todt would like to see permanent numbers similar to most racing series and not numbers based on performance, although he's slightly confused that numbers aren't driver but are team numbers. Here's to wanting a return of the classic #27/#28, #11/#12, and numbers that identify with a team easier than points position. How could Hamilton and Button want the #7 and #8, Alonso and Massa on the #27 and #28, and the rest of that?

Our Canadian readers will be interested to hear that the new BBC F1 broadcast team of Brundle and Blundell make their debut. Canada is among the countries that historically carry the British broadcast (whether it was ITV or BBC), complete with a local studio host in their home country. The still fresh-faced Will Buxton (he's only 31) will front the US broadcasts from pit road, complete with a studio crew at 1220 West W. T. Harris Boulevard as part of the new Speed Center complex.

One question which needs not be asked: will we continue to see Red Bull dominance in qualifying? World Champion Vettel blitzed the field this morning by an astonishing seven-tenths of a second over Hamilton, a fact even more impressive considering Vettel made no use of KERS.  And could it be that Red Bull aren't even using a full-fledged KERS, but a "start-only" one?

The red lights are turning on and at 2 AM (ET) Sunday morning, the lights will extinguish, and the 2011 Formula One season, and the Qantas Grand Prix, will be up and running!
Adam Cooper: Breaking down the 2011 F1 Grid.

James Allen: Upbeat Mood in Melbourne Paddock Despite the Gloomy Weather.

Joe Saward: No KERS in the world for Sebastian Vettel

Friday, March 25, 2011

Retro TV Friday

Today we're going to stretch the definition not only of "classic," but perhaps even of "television." Hopefully, many of you reading this remember The Gong Show, which was undoubtedly one of the weirdest shows ever to grace (or pollute) the airwaves. 

(Reader's Warning: If you don't remember The Gong Show, you'd be well-advised to read this before going any further.  As they say, forewarned is forearmed.)

Here's part one of one of the strangest and most surrealistic episodes ever seen on American television: the "Feelings" episode. Links to the rest of the episode follow on YouTube, and you'll want to see them all to get the joke. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Opera Thursday

Today I'm preempting Classic Sports Thursday with Opera Thursday - wiith the permission of the Big Boss, of course. Must not have been any classic sports today.

Anyway, since I've been known to have an affinity for German opera, it shouldn't be a surprise that I'm dipping into the Germanic oveure today. However, rather than Wagner, or even Strauss, I'm looking at an underperformed opera, one that should be performed more often than it is. It's Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) by Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht, who more famously brought you "Mack the Knife" from the aptly named Threepenny Opera. (Which is in fact an opera, and not just a part of Bobby Darin's songbook.)

This is one of those pieces I think ought to appear more often; certainly it should be in the crosshairs of opera companies that would rather commission productions that, with few exceptions, won't see the light of day again. Mahagonny was written in 1930, but it's only been in the last 40 years or so that it's gotten anything like significant visibility. (It didn't premiere at the Met until 1979.)

Here's one of the signature moments from the opera: the "Alabama Song" ("Oh, moon af Alabama") from Act I, which is typically performed in English even when the opera is done in German. Valentina Valente is the lead, with Jonathan Webb conducting the orchestra of Teatro Valli.

Of course, you mmight remember the Alabama Song this way instead:

Ah, who says opera can't appeal to the masses?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speaking of Steyn - In Memoriam Hugh Martin (1914-2011)

As I read the Mark Steyn links yesterday, something came to my attention as a blurb, but we didn't forget.

Mark pointed out the death at 96 of songwriter Hugh Martin. In 2008, we noted how a song from "Meet Me in St. Louis" was changed to remove a religious reference, and it was recorded by a trio of Dove Award winners with the lyrics as the writer had wanted. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Mohler's commentary on bookstores

Earlier this year, I mentioned Albert Mohler's column on the demise of bookstores. It made me ask a few serious questions considering the tastes of us.

Serious Music? The iPod and other portable media players have led to the demise of bookstores and music stores. But the seriousness of music had me wondering how it affects the music that we appreciate, enjoy, play, and sing. The 99-cent download of songs is cheap when you consider a typical commercial popular music album will carry between ten and twelve songs that are usually three to five minutes per album, and that is between four and six dollars cheaper than an album that costs $16. But that is the genre of the majority, and unfortunately, we are not of the common type.

There is a reason. A few years ago, I purchased a two-disc set of Händel's Messiah, which as I have seen from my songbook, carries 53 selections. The record label reduced it to 44 selections by merging a few recitatives into one selection. The album cost less than $16, and if I purchased it on an online music store, that would be $43.58 for the entire masterpiece, versus the $16 cost, and music companies can punish classical music more by making all 53 selections separate in order to maximise costs. As I mentioned last year, a 15-minute piece by the Upton Trio is not available as a download of a single song. That's clearly punishing serious music for rewarding the short attention span of the latest Bieber, Bridges, Sebert, Spears, Aguilera, or the latest pop starlet of the day. It is sad to consider our favourite pieces will be considerably more expensive than the latest pop starlet because our long pieces are not suitable for the modern four-minute trends as digital downloads replace albums, the costs will lean favourably towards the pop industry, and the serious music that we learn is not accepted. Even some rock stars have objected, stating entire works are to be purchased in their entirety, not piecemeal.

Over forty 99-cent downloads for Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten will not allow the vocalist to study the entire work when one album that costs $20 is much cheaper for the entire work and carry notes that are necessary for the work.

And The Demise of Classically-Oriented Music Stores? This post had just been sent for publishing when word came to me of the closing of a college bookstore that sold printed classical music where many of us (my voice teacher, and a few colleagues included) have trusted. It seems to me that the trends in music featuring the demise of the organist, the rise of karaoke pop in churches, a lack of respect to the piano, violin, woodwinds, organ, and classical voice, and the push back of classical music to mostly government-owned media has kept the MTV influence on this society on a tangent far worse than I imagined, I cannot see how a musician can use an e-book reader to replace individual sheets on music stands. Seriously, how will it be possible to purchase a collection of Messiah, Die Schöpfung,or any masterwork for a choir anymore when churches are now purchasing karaoke pop from the secular giants? This trend disturbs us, but does it disturb others?

E-Books Favour California and Costs More? The Californication of textbooks in an attempt to force schools to accept the weird liberal agenda that is being imposed by the anti-industry, anti-American, pro-Mexican, pro-deviant, and supporter of every wicked agenda by California's education standards bureau. Furthermore, as a report on Fox Business' Stossel noted, e-books are an easy way to nickel and dime students more because after their class ends, they cannot sell the books back to the school as they are just disposed. I remember as a young boy having hand-me-downs from siblings for my textbooks. Will the hand-me-downs for younger siblings fade as e-books will force new purchases every year and abolish the time-honoured way? Where will the local textbooks for local studies be? When a few monopolise the market with California standards that are failing compared to the standards of more conservative standards, and the e-books are set for California, and local studies are ignored, what will happen?

In our march forward to e-books and e-commerce, and the demise of the local stores, sometimes I wonder if the standards of pop music and California's failed education system will become standard, and the classical standards and better education will fade away as e-books and digital music will force the farce of the lowest common denominator replace what is correct, beautiful, and strong.

Oceans apart

When you're in the midst of a torrential downpour, as we are in Minneapolis today, your thoughts naturally turn to water: namely, the oceans of water now floating across our parking lot. And with this not-so-subtle segue, we take a look at this piece by Mark Steyn comparing the old and new(er) versions of the classic caper flic Oceans 11 (and 12 and 13). Put simply, it's like comparing Frank Sinatra and George Clooney. 'Nuff said? Take a gander, and try not to drown in the differences.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Retro TV Friday

Currently, and for your benefit, I'm slogging through Right Here on Our Stage Tonight!, Gerald Nachman's thorough history of the life and times of the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan's improbable television success (his show ran for over twenty seasons), and the American culture that made his success possible, is a great story - and I'm sure I'll find it in this book somewhere.

I'll bring you a review of the book in due time, but in the meantime: most of you are probably (hopefully?) familiar with Sullivan's famous mannerisms(his wooden delivery, hunched shoulders and tortured syntax), either by seeing Sullivan himself or one of his many impersonators. And while comedians from Will Jordan to Rich Little made a handsome living from Sullivan impressions, here's one of the funniest - and most unlikely: Johnny Carson, in this hilarious 1969 bit

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

For all you Irish out there - a rare television clip of the Celtics winning yet another NBA championship against the Lakers, this time from 1963, in the great Bob Cousy's last game for the Celts.

Luck o' the digest

Sure and it's time for a look at the digest:

Guy Benson: John Conyers calls ObamaCare a “platform” for foreign-style “single payer” socialised medicine.

Jonah Goldberg: Talk About a Meltdown.

Peter Ferrara: Slouching Towards Argentina.

Karen Crouse: Feel locked out? Can't find work? Try Opera.

Roger Kaplan: Obama, Sarkozy, Qaddafi: What is democracy if you cannot have big public debates?

Janice Shaw Crouse: Marriage doesn't count; Feds tabulate same-sex behaviour. (an attempt to push for the sexual deviants' agenda to be pushed) 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Marketing a symphony!

Somehow, the South Carolina Philharmonic, coming off a weekend as the local college teams, with the make-koshi in last place, was left crying at the curb, decided to announce how they would do their 2011-12 symphony season.

Here's the gimmick of how they're announcing the selections for the upcoming season!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Do natural disasters help the Left's agenda?

First off, our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the earthquakes and related tsunamis on the Pacific. A friend from elementary school and her husband are in Hawaii.

This natural disaster, and the nuclear reactor failure on the coast in Japan, has sadly created political capital for President Obama and his Green Energy Agenda. Every time I have heard energy plans from this Administration, it has been to aim the goals on two sources, wind and solar. He has refused nuclear, and has called oil and coal "energy of the past" in an attempt to force us into inefficient and cost-rising sources such as corn ethanol (which corrodes engines), wind, and solar. There seems to be Cloward-Piven in place for this Administration to believe in their mantra.

With the cost of gasoline creeping past the $1 per litre range ($3.85, remember you have to add 11%-17.5% based on where you live considering how much alcohol is in the fuel), and the goal of $2 per litre gasoline, they have successfully taken us out of the ladder-frame trucks and into tiny monocoques. With the nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan caused by the plant failure from the earthquake, the Left can keep the ban on new nuclear plants imposed since Three Mile Island in 1979. With all that's left, the only sources of energy available are wind and solar. That's exactly the Obama goal. No industry for us, mandate the green goals to let others overtake us.

Sometimes you wonder what the next disaster will do for Obama to push their next anti-industry rant.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Retro TV Friday

During the course of my research for my series last year on those dreadful Sammy Davis Jr. TV theme covers, I dipped into the archives on the original version of Hawaii Five-O and pulled out the name of Richard Denning.

Now, when people think of Hawaii Five-O, they probably think first of the theme, and then of Jack Lord. True enough, since in my opinion, Jack Lord is Steve McGarrett, and his catchphrases are part of TV lore: "Book 'em, Danno," and "Be here - aloha," when doing the promo for the next week's show. Some people might remember James MacArthur, who played Danno for eleven years, and booked all those suspects. Others might recall one of the other officers, primarily from the opening credits (e.g. "Cam Fong as Chin Ho").

But Richard Denning? Well, for all those years he played Paul Jameson, the governor of Hawaii,* and he was one of only a handful of actors who appeared in all twelve seasons of the original series. It must have been an ideal role for Denning, who had already retired to Hawaii and was coaxed out of retirement by the offer of five-hour days and a four-hour work week.

* Surely he must have been one of the most successful politicians in all of television.

Richard Denning had a long and successful acting career. His most well-known roll was probably that of Jerry North, the mystery writer-turned detective in the whimsical crime series Mr. and Mrs. North, in which co-starred for three seasons with Barbara Britton as his wife Pam. I first ran across this series in one of those boxed set compliations of public-domain crime dramas, and to be honest I didn't think much of it. Oh, Denning's pretty good, given what he has to work with, and Barbara Britton's certainly lovely to look at. But her character is one of those screwball wives we see so often in sitcoms of that era, the kind that induces you to shout at the screen while you're watching, or just as often to mutter something like, "I'd slap her if I was him."* Added to that, even though Jerry was the supposed crime expert, it's Pam who generally winds up solving most of the cases, with little help from her bumbling, somewhat patronizing husband. It's a low-budget version of The Thin Man without the charm, and I was only able to make it through two episodes before I gave up.

* Not an advertisement for spousal abuse.

Here's a clip from the opening of a typical Mr. and Mrs. North episode:

So when I saw another Denning series, Michael Shayne, as part of the boxed set, I wasn't too enthusiastic. Matter of fact, I kept putting off watching the two episodes in the set, until they were practically all that was left to watch. I guess it says something about the value of low expectations, because I thought Shayne was terrific. Denning was completely different in this role: suave and smooth (a private detective who wears suits and pocket hankeys and works out of a pretty nice office), assured and confident, and comfortable using either fists or guns. Shayne, like North, was based on a series of books, but unlike North lasted only one season, 1961-62. I wanted to learn a little more about the Shayne character. So when the opportunity came at a used book sale to pick up one of the Shayne mysteries, I thought I'd check it out.

The Shayne novels, seventy-seven in all, were written mostly by Brett Halliday (who created the character and wrote the first fifty Shane books). They were the basis for not only the TV series, but a radio series as well, not to mention twelve feature films and hundreds of magazine stories. The book I picked up, When Dorinda Dances, was written in 1951, about twelve years into the Shayne run.

Unfortunately, on the satisfaction scale I found it closer to Denning's North than to his Shayne. It had the drawbacks of most mysteries featuring recurring characters: a convoluted plot, formulaic situations, little in the way of character development (substituting instead the archetypes that had been developed over the course of the series), and the like. Halliday's Shayne was rougher and cruder than the TV version, which was disappointing but not necessarily surprising. There was also a fair amount of left-wing promulgation, which did establish the time period of the 50s but did nothing to enhance either the plot or the atmosphere. As I said, this isn't especially uncommon - the Perry Mason* and Ellery Queen novels can be radically different from their television counterparts - but for me Shayne's appeal was that of the countercultural P.I., ala the suave Peter Gunn, for example.

* Mason is an interesting case, since Erle Stanley Gardner continued to write the books throughtout the run of the series, during which time the literary characters come to much more closely resemble their television counterparts. D.A. Hamilton Burger, for example, an enemy of Mason in the early books, is more of a friendly adversary in the later stories, much in the mold of William Tallman's TV portrayal of Burger.

Interestingly, contemporary reviews of the Shayne TV series were not particularly positive. Although Denning was well received, the series was considered entirely too derivitative of other detective series of the time, most notably Surfside Six, Bourbon Street Beat, and 77 Sunset Strip.*

* Perhaps Shayne would have been more successful if the title had been more alliterative.

It goes to show the importance of context, I guess. Taken within the context of the other Shayne novels, When Dorinda Dances was probably no better, no worse than most. Taken outside the context of other TV detective shows of the time, Michael Shayne was fresher, more interesting, than it might have been if one had seen it in first run.

Regardless, for a one-season series I think Michael Shayne isn't bad, and it's too bad more episodes of the series aren't available. And, considering our previous encounter with Denning in this boxed set, Shayne was a pleasant surprise. So a toast to Richard Denning, an actor who might not have been able to rise above mediocre material, but had a charm and style all his own, and deserves to be better-remembered than he is. Well played, sir. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

Something a little different today - not just a clip, but a mini-documentary.

With March Madness about to spring forth, it is wise to keep in mind that college basketball was not always the media mania it is today. Before the days of nonstop tournament coverage, of bracketology and tournament pools everywhere, college basketball was a much more tame affair. The tournament, which currently stands at 68 teams, was for the most part a mere 22 or 24. The geographic regions were actually taken seriously when it came to picking teams, and there was no such thing as seeding, at least not the way we know it. The Final Four was a two-day affair - semis on Friday night, finals on Saturday. And they weren't on network television - syndication was the best that could be done.

So it's into that world that we come to Houston-UCLA, January 1968, college basketball's first "Game of the Century." . UCLA, defending national champion, the number-one ranked team in the country, winners of a record 47 games in a row. Houston, the undefeated and number-two ranked team, whose last loss was to UCLA in the previous year's tournament. The game was scheduled for the Astrodome, which then was still known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." It would be the first regular-season college basketball game ever televised nationally, in prime time no less, through an ad-hoc syndicated network assembled by TVS. The crowd in the sold-out Astrodome would dwarf any previous attendance records for the sport. It's safe to say that college basketball had never seen anything like it.

And, in a rarety for Games of the Century, the game lived up to its buildup. 

Since then other games have drawn larger crowds, and the regular season in college hoops has been devalued so much by the tournament that it's hard to imagine any regular season game generating this kind of hoopla. And since you can't turn on television anywhere without running into a college game, it becomes even more difficult to appreciate the significance, in the pre-cable era, of a nationally televised game in prime time. But there it is. And without it, would college basketball be where it is today?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Weekend Digest

Some thoughts for the week:

Washington Times: Obama's Energy Transformation.

Heritage: How Obama is making gas prices higher (It's now on the national average $3.90, when you include the "Pelosi Premium" from alcohol that costs fuel efficiency).

Branda Verner: What Happened to Easter Parades? (I remember Pat Buchanan noting that we've replaced Easter with Lenin's Birthday now.)

Mark Steyn: Arid Uka's Gratitude.

Andrew Clark: What a Tragedy. What a Waste. (On "Anna Nicole"):

Kelly Boggs: Good for BYU. (Player suspended for violations of honour code)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gingrich Running

The story here. My prediction here. Made three years ago.

Retro TV Friday

Here's something I've never seen before: "Peter Rabbit Ears" speaking of the wonders of television - our best friend - in an ABC promo from 1957.

What I find particularly interesting about this is that although it's a promo for ABC, never once does it even mention the name of an ABC show. True enough; in the late 50s, the perennial third-place network didn't have much to promote. Kind of refreshing in comparison to today's overblown network hype though, don't you think?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

A couple of items for this week's report. First is this nicely written obit of Duke Snider, the Brooklyn Dodgers great, from Joe Posnanski, whom I think is quite possibly the best sportswriter around today. If I go before Posnanski, I hope he does my write-up.

Michael Bamberger, also from SI, is not one of my all-time favorites, but I want to give him his due when he hits a home run (if I can mix my sports metaphors), as he does with this story on Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods, Bamberger writes, may be the most talented golfer ever, but Nicklaus - who won 18 majors, finished second 19 times, made millions in golf course design, raised millions for charity, and with his wife Barbara successfully raised five children, one of whom caddied for him at his last major victory - is golf's greatest champion. It reminds me of something I once heard Brent Musberger say, to the effect that although he didn't know who the greatest golfer of all time might be, he was certain that Nicklaus was the greatest winner.

And this sounds about right to me. I write more about Nicklaus than I do Snider, because I grew up in the era of Jack. He was already an established superstar, with some of his greatest victories behind him, when I took up golf as a spectator sport. And in those days, he wasn't my favorite golfer - Lee Trevino was, or Arnold Palmer, or the odd player in the odd tournament who happened to catch my fancy.*

* Such as Jim Simons, the young amateur who improbably led after three rounds of the 1971 U.S. Open, and remained only one shot behind coming to the 18th hole, where he put a desperation shot into the water and finished fifth. That year the tournament ended in a tie, necessitating an 18-hole playoff the next day. The two golfers in the playoff were Trevino and Nicklaus. Trevino won. I was happy.

It was only when Jack's skills began to naturally fade, when he was the big dog who had to fight off the young turks such as Miller and Watson*, that I really warmed to him, begain to root for him as well as admire him. I would even root for him against Trevino, although Lee wasn't then the threat he used to be. Fortunately for me, Nicklaus still had a few big victories in him, such as his 1980 U.S. Open triumph that caused fans to chant, "Jack's Back," or his epic 1986 Masters victory at 46, which solidified his place as not just golfer but icon.

* I never did warm to Tom Watson, or root for him, until his equally improbably run at the British Open a couple of years ago when, well into his 50s, he stood on the 18th hole with a one-shot lead. It was the first time I'd ever rooted for him. Predictably, he lost.

Anyway, in this era of hype, this anything-goes time when we admire an athlete for what he does on the playing field and try to avert our eyes to everything else, it's always nice to reflect on a man who was a true champion, perhaps the greatest, like Jack Nicklaus. It's even nicer when you can appreciate him while he's still around.  
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