Saturday, March 29, 2008

99 Years and Counting...

Monday marks Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs 100th season since their last World Series championship. To mark the occasion, ESPN recaps 99 years of Cubs' futility.

Maybe this is the year. Maybe.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Book Review/Interview: Steel Trapp - The Challenge by Ridley Pearson

Ridley Pearson long ago established himself as one of the premier writers of adult crime novels. His latest book, Steel Trapp: The Challenge, however, is his first foray into crime novels for young adults. As he explained in a recent interview, this book was originally intended to be another adult thriller.

"It started as an adult crime thriller and had at its center a young boy of 14. I wronte the whole novel as an adult novel," said Mr. Pearson. "In working out what I wrote next for my adult publisher it became apparent I wasn't going to use this book. My assistant at the time, Louise Marsh, who was always the first to read my material before any of this career kind of thing came up [writing books for kids] said, 'Hey, are you totally sure this should be an adult novel? I'm totally loving the kid in this book. Maybe it should be one of your kid books.' And I kept saying this is a Roland Larson book [the U. S. Marshall from Cut and Run]. As time went on I realized that she was right and I went back and recast the book with the kid as the focal point of the book and sort of turned down the volume on the Roland Larson parts."

The kid is Stephen "Steel" Trapp, a brilliant boy of 14 who is blessed (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with a photographic memory. While on a train to Washington, D. C. to compete in the National Science Challenge, he sees a woman get on the train with a briefcase. Later, when the woman leaves the train in Chicago, she leaves behind the briefcase. Stephen takes the briefcase to her but she insists it isn't her even though Stephen is absolutely sure he remembers her bringing it on the train. His attempt to be a Good Samaritan immediately backfires as he becomes entangled in a kidnapping and terrorism plot and puts himself in mortal danger. With the assistance of Roland Larson of the U. S. Marshalls' Fugitive Apprehension Task Force, Stephen tries to unlock the mysteries inside the briefcase and stop the sinister plan before it is too late.

Click here to listen to the interview with Ridley Pearson.

Although Stephen's photographic memory causes him to get into trouble in the beginning it also helps him discover the clues that will solve the mystery. The idea of someone who has such an ability to recall information is intriguing.

"I enjoy the idea of somebody who can't forget," said Mr. Pearson. "There is part of the human condition that is made easier by the fact we can forget. This idea that you can't let go of things whether it's your parents being mean to you or a friend being mean to you, it;s good when those things can leave your head and the fact that there's this kid and that stuff can't leave I think will make him a very complex character."

Although this is a novel written for kids, Mr. Pearson admits that his approach to writing this book is not much different from his approach to writing his adult crime novels.

"There really isn't much difference in writing for young adults and adults. It's fun for me because at its base it's all storytelling. I don't try to pull any punches. I don't try to write down to the kids. If they don't get a word then as my dad used to say, 'Look it up!'. You can go to a disctionary and figure out what a word means. I just try to write a story that I would want to read."

Although this is a book primarily about a kid, fans of Mr. Pearson's adult crime thrillers will find great enjoyment in it as well. This is because Mr. Pearson has not only crafted a tightly plotted story but has also incorporated extensive research into this book which has been one of the hallmarks of his previous novels.

"The job of a novelist is to suspend a reader's disbelief. I don't want you disbelieving what I'm writing because I'm making up a world anyway and if you start disbelieving it I failed and you're likely to throw the book across the room and pick another one off the shelf."

"Early on in my novel writing, I realized one of the helpful aids would be to craft the books mostly out of fact and bend them to my needs when I need the fiction to take over. So I do an awful lot of research to build a bed in the book of fact that it's standing on. So you're not going to disbelieve it because it's true and when I hit areas where I have to shrink the time or make someone unusual I can do that because hopefully I've sold you with enough fact that you don't then doubt my fiction."

"For Steel Trapp, I interviewed a U. S. Marshall to find out about how they do fugitive apprehension. They have a thing called the Fugitive Apprehension Task Force that is part of the Justice Department. These guys chase down people who have escaped from prison, the people who are the mose threat to society. There are only 4 or 5 of these guys. But they are the elite of the elite. Roland Larson is one of these guys."

With Steel Trapp: The Challenge, Ridley Pearson has done a terrific job of creating an intriguing yet unlikely hero in Stephen Trapp. Judging by the speed with which our family devoured the book I think it's safe to say that Mr. Pearson has another hit on his hands. He also says he plans to write more about this kid as he's already well into writing a second novel about him. Hopefully there will be many more such adventures to come.

This article originially appeared at Blogcritics.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Baseball Quote of the Week

Only a few more days until the new season starts. I can hardly wait. As I'm reading a couple of baseball history books at the moment, this quote seemed appropriate:

The strongest thing that baseball has going for it today are its yesterdays.

~Lawrence Ritter, author of The Glory of Their Times, one of the best oral histories of baseball ever published.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Barack Obama's Church Problem Isn't Going Away

Over at The Point, Anne Morse takes a look at Mark Steyn's latest column and then offers an astute observation about why Barack Obama's failure to either confront Reverend Wright over comments the Senator found disturbing or ultimately leave the church will continue to plague him as the campaign wears on:

I can tell you as a life-long believer---ignoring even one instance of craziness from the pulpit is not normal Protestant behavior. We're too concerned with the truth--or at least, what we believe to be the truth. That's why we Protestants have about 9 million denominations: A minister said something we thought was nuts, and so off we went to start a new church.

That Obama did none of the above--and that he seems to have trouble ever
admitting he was wrong about anything--is troubling.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Baseball Quote of the Week

Given the discussions this week about race and politics, this quote seemed particularly appropriate:

A game of great charm in the adoption of mathematical measurements to the timing of human movements, the exactitudes and adjustments of physical ability to hazardous chance. The speed of the legs, the dexterity of the body, the grace of the swing, the elusiveness of the slide - these are the features that make Americans everywhere forget the last syllable of a man's last name or the pigmentation of his skin. ~Branch Rickey

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama and His Church

Much has been said about Barack Obama's relationship with his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The controversy forced the senator to address his relationship with his pastor today in a major speech. More troubling, however, is the theology of his church and as Joe Carter points out, is the more important point.

By continuing to maintain membership in the church for nearly 20 years, Senator Obama is in effect expressing agreement with its theology. Senator Obama may hope that he's put the controversy to rest with today's speech. But there's much more to the story that needs to be explored and the Senator has a lot more explaining to do. How he handles those questions in the coming weeks will speak volumes about whether he's ready to lead this country as its President.

UPDATE: Over at the Townhall blog, Carol Platt Liebau suggests that Senator Obama joined the church in order to develop a political base and is hesitant to leave now for fear of the damage that could be caused by his departure from the congregation. Her concluding paragraph nails the issue:

Whatever the reason, here's why this is so hard to explain away. Whether the vitriolic anti-American remarks were simply insufficiently offensive to Barack, or whether they were offensive but outweighed by personal political considerations, there's simply no justification for them. Ultimately, the whole messy episode does either his judgment or else his character no credit. And there's no spinning that away.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Carol posts again and points to this post by Jim Geraghty raising the point that if Rev. Wright's statements were so troubling then why did he continue to expose his daughters to the Reverend's teachings?

Monday, March 17, 2008

DVD Review: The Complete Jeeves and Wooster

If you were to take a poll of the funniest British televsion comedies of all time, Jeeves and Wooster would likely receive a fair share of votes. In my mind, this is probably the funniest comedy I've ever seen. Not only that, but the series remains funny no matter how many times I watch it.

Based on the characters created by legendary British humorist P. G. Wodehouse, the series follows the adventures of Bertie Wooster (Hugh Laurie), a rich young playboy living in 1920's London who has too much time on his hands and an affinity for getting caught up in various sorts of relational predicaments involving friends and family.

In the opening episode, Bertie has had a wild night on the town and ends up hauled off to court to face charges of stealing a policeman's helmet. After paying the fine (and still rather hung over), he returns home only to be rudely awakened by Jeeves (Stephen Fry) who is the new valet sent by the agency to attend to Bertie's needs. Jeeves revives Bertie with a secret recipe hangover cure and is immediately hired. It turns out to be a fortunate decision as Bertie immediately manages to get himself tangled up in an engagement that he doesn't want any part of. Fortunately Jeeves manages to come up with a scheme to extricate Bertie just in the nick of time. Future episodes involve similar precarious circumstances and it will be Jeeves that will come to Bertie's rescue.

Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry are the perfect choice to play their respective roles. They are great friends and have a very natural chemistry which is absolutely necessary to make the stories work. The scripts are adapted mostly from Wodehouse's numerous short stories and are, for the most part, faithful to the original material. The only major deviation from the source material is to give Bertie Wooster the ability to sing and play the piano which allows Hugh Laurie to show off his musical talents through numerous performances of several comic tunes.
There is also a host of wonderful supporting characters to round out the cast. Unfortunately, the same actors were not always used for the same roles as the series develops causing a little confusion.

But it's all wonderful escapism, a portrait of an England (and America) that never really quite existed except in our imaginations. It's the kind of show you can never get tired of watching. You just wish by the time you reached the end of the series that there was more to come. Unfortunately, there's only 23 episodes. We can hold out hope, can't we?

The Complete Jeeves and Wooster is available from the A&E Store.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Quick Takes 3-14-08

It's Friday and time for another weekly roundup of links of interest:

How hard can it really be? An eight year-old Brazilian boy has been admitted to law school. Insert your favorite lawyer joke here. (hat tip: Megan McArdle)

DVD Review of the week. Check out my review of 101 Dalmatians at Blogcritics.

Elders in the local church. Tim Ellsworth has some words of wisdom on the role of elders in the church.

Health insurance isn't really insurance. Health insurance as we've come to know it is more of a gigantic exercise in cost-shifting rather than pure insurance. This is one of the best explanations why that is the case I have ever read (and I've worked in insurance for nearly twenty years). It's something to keep in mind as we hear politicians discuss huge government "fixes" to the "health care crisis".

Recommended reading. I just finished Mark Frost's excellent book The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever. What began as a simple bet between two friends turned into one of the classic battles of all time. Even if you're not a fan of golf, you'll still find plenty to enjoy in this book.

Homeschool tip of the week: What you can learn about writing from Legos.

Curse less and make more money. A study of PG rated movies shows those that had less profanity did better at the box office.

Trying to squelch March Madness. CBS is streaming all of the games for this year's Men's NCAA basketball tournament on their website but some businesses are cracking down on workers who are trying to watch the tournament during business hours.

Don't try this during a job interview. has released a survey of the wackiest mistakes made during job interviews. My personal favorite was the candidate that refused to give a writing sample beacuse all of her writing had been for the CIA and it was "classified".

Eat your vegetables. A review of Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious. The recipes may seem a little odd at first but we've liked what we have taste-tested so far.

Barbecue Blogging. Here's the right way to make barbecue. By the way, I've never eaten at Stamey's but will certainly try it the next time I'm in the neighborhood. Looks like they make their barbecue the way it should be done. (Hat tip: Instapundit)

Perfect Season. Considering all they have dealt with this year with the devastating tornadoes, the achievement of the Union University Lady Bulldogs is even more remarkable. Their women's basketball team finished the season undefeated as they head into the NAIA tournament next week. (Hat tip: Tim Ellsworth)

Coming Next Week....A review of the brand new book Steel Trapp: The Challenge and (in our inaugural podcast) an interview with the author, Ridley Pearson.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baseball Quote of the Week

The trouble with baseball is that it is not played the year round. - Gaylord Perry

Only 17 more days until Opening Day. Baseball will be back soon.

DVD Review: The History Channel's Pearl Harbor

It was one of the darkest days in American history: December 7, 1941, the Japanese surprise attack on the U. S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor woke the sleeping giant of the United States armed forces and brought America into World War II. It would bring the nation into a war it had long tried to avoid (and ignore).

In this documentary, The History Channel explores the events that led up to Japan's attack on the U. S. Veterans of both sides are interviewed and offer their perspective on the attack and the larger role that the battle would play in each nation's war effort.

Many theories have circulated for years that the U. S. government had advance knowledge of the attack and that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had allowed the attack to occur in order to allow the U. S. to be drawn into the war. These theories are dealt with in detail and quickly dismissed as the true facts surrounding the attacks are revealed.

The filmmakers also spend a great deal of time focusing on the stories of those who survived the attack. Both U. S. and Japanese veterans are interviewed. Perhaps surprising is the Japanese pilots that admit they didn't think it was a good idea for them to attack the U. S. One of the best quotes from the veterans was from John Finn who won a Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor demonstrated during the attack. When asked how he survived he simply said "It just wasn't my day to die". In this simple statement, Finn demonstrates the humility of many of the World War II veterans.

The second disc of the set includes a documentary of Admiral Chester Nimitz who was named Commander of the Pacific fleet shortly after the attack occurred. As the film shows, Nimitz almost single-handedly rebuilt the Pacific fleet into a lethal fighting force. Nimitz's tactics help secure a swift victory in the Pacific theater that was unthinkable in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

This documentary reminds us even in a post-9/11 world that there are dangers in ignoring events taking place around us that can put our security in peril. John F. DeVirgillo, the Hawaii Director of the Pearl Harbor Association summed it up this way: "You must remember Pearl Harbor. It is a lesson of being complacent. Don't let individualism blind you. We still need to think of the country as a whole. You must always be prepared. If you're not prepared, you'll pay in blood."

The History Channel's Pearl Harbor is available from the History Channel Store.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Democrats, Do Overs, and Disenfranchisement

These are tough times to be a Democrat. After months of battling through primaries and caucuses, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are practically deadlocked in the race for their party's presidential nomination. Even though several states are still slated to hold their primaries they aren't going to ultimately decide who the nominee will be. That decision will be made by 796 "superdelegates" who are party officials who will ultimately select the nominee. Never before has the Democratic party had to rely on these unelected delegates to decide a nomination. This was the year the Democrats were supposed to win back the White House. Now, it looks like the party may implode before they can select a nominee.

To make matters worse, Senator John McCain has already wrapped up the Republican nomination which means he can focus on the general election and raise a boatload of campaign cash.

The question now facing Democrats in how to bring their nomination process to a peaceful end. Unfortunately for them, no one has a good solution.

The Democrats didn't arrive in this position overnight. Rather, decisions that were made months ago have had a profound effect on the nomination process.

First, the primary schedule was compressed in the hopes that a nominee could be selected quickly. Instead of allowing the primaries to occur over a period of, say, five or six months, they were bunched up together at the front end of the election schedule. So about 75% of the elected delegates have already been chosen but neither candidate can mathematically obtain the magic number to secure the nomination.

Part of the reason the race is so close is because Barack Obama has turned out to be a much more formidable candidate than anyone had imagined. This was supposed to be the year Hillary Clinton would finally get the opportunity to run for the White House. But all through the campaign she's been struggling to defeat Senator Obama. Her campaign has seemed perpetually off balance as if it was never ready to face such a stiff challenge. It's also interesting to note that Senator Obama had declared her candidacy before Senator Clinton did which in effect pushed her into the campaign before she really seemed ready to jump into the fray.

Then there's the problem of Michigan and Florida. Party rules stated that Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina would all vote first (in that order). Both Michigan and Florida wanted to have a bigger role in the nomination process so they moved up their primaries. The Democratic National Committee responded by basically saying they could not seat delegates at the convention since they broke the rules. Now the DNC has a huge problem on its hands. Because the race is so close, they can't afford to not seat delegations from those two states. However, even the states' delegations are not large enough to secure the nomination for Senators Clinton or Obama without the intervention of the superdelegates.

There is also the fact that all of the primaries and caucuses apportion delegates among the candidates proportionally based on the percentage of the votes each candidate receives or by congressional district or some similarly convoluted mathematical formula. As a result, a candidate can score a huge win in a primary or caucus (as Senator Obama did yesterday in Mississippi) and yet it can have a negligible effect on the overall delegate count.

So now Democrats find themselves in a thoroughly uncomfortable position. Their nominee will ultimately be selected by the party's elite, unelected delegates rather than by the millions of voters who turned out in during the primary season. Depending on which way they go, they run the risk of alienating a huge portion of their base. They could potentially disenfranchise millions of voters (particularly if they cannot resolve the Michigan/Florida problem). It's rather ironic that the same party that since 2000 has routine accused Republicans of disenfranchising voters may do the same to their own base. How they solve these issues in selecting their nominee could mean the difference between a huge victory in November and utter self-destruction.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chuck Norris on Homeschooling

Actor Chuck Norris weighs in on last week's court ruling in California with his own thoughts on homeschooling. An excerpt:

The reason government courts are cracking down on private instruction has more to do with suppressing alternative education than improving educational standards. The rationale is quite simple, though rarely, if ever, stated. If one wants to control the future ebbs and flows of a country, one must have command over future generations. This is done by seizing parental and educational power, legislating preferred educational materials, and limiting private educational options. It is so simple any socialist can understand it. As Josef Stalin once stated: "Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed."

Read the whole thing.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Quick Takes - 3-7-08

It's Friday and time for another roundup of random links for your weekend enjoyment. Thanks again this week to my lovely wife who did most of the research.

This is a club I could easily join. It's the No Cussing Club.

Be careful what you aim at. A golfer is charged with killing a hawk. As a side note, this reminds me of the time I was playing golf near Chicago and one of my playing partners nailed a Canadian goose in the back with his shot (not on purpose). It just goes to show that there is no telling what obstacles you may encounter on the course.

A second career in golf? Golf ball diving.

Fire the youth pastor. So says pastor and author Voddie Baucham on Family Life Today. Instead, fathers take the lead for discipling their children. (Hat tip: Stones Cry Out)

Say it ain't so. The new owner of the Chicago Cubs is considering selling naming rights to Wrigley Field. Some things are better left alone and this is one of them.

An "A" for effort. A Minnesota bar tries (and fails) to get around a local smoking ban.

Book of the week (part 1). The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes reveals that FDR's policies did more to worsen the economic crisis of the 1930s than to improve it. It also shows that FDR's policies and beliefs were not all that most of us had been taught through sanitized history classes in school.

Job loyalty personified. A Lexington, VA man retires after nearly 35 years working for Kroger. It says something about his contentment in his job to do the same thing for so long.

More than he bargained for. A tourist's Australian Outback vacation included a close encounter with a crocodile.

Dying is against the law. And the mayor has promised "severe punishment" for those who disobey. I wonder what that means?

Book of the week (part 2). Personal Faith, Public Policy by Harry R. Jackson, Jr. and Tony Perkins confronts the issue of applying a biblical worldview to our current public policy crises. This looks like a book whose time has come.

Tackling political humor. Comic book legend Stan Lee's newest venture.

Still going strong at 100. Age hasn't slowed this woman down. Good for her.

World War I Veteran honored. Frank Buckles is the last known U. S. military veteran from World War I. Yesterday, he was honored with a visit with President Bush at the White House. Buckles is 107 years young.

Dumb Criminals of the week. Two guys in cowboy gear stole doughnuts from a local bakery and when the sheriff's deputies showed up to arrest them they tried to bribe the officers with the stolen goods!

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Baseball Quote of the Week

I couldn't see well enough to play when I was a boy, so they gave me a special job: They made me an umpire.

Harry S. Truman

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

John McCain: A True Hero

Say what you will about his political positions, there is no doubt in my mind after watching this video that John McCain is a true hero.

Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt

Monday, March 03, 2008

New DVD Reviews at Blogcritics

Here's a roundup of my recent DVD reviews over at Blogcritics:

The Aristocats
The classic animated feature about a family of felines living in 1900 Paris. This is the last movie that Walt Disney personally supervised. It's also the last movie to be scored by the Sherman Brothers during their initial run as part of the Disney family.

Becoming Jane
Anne Hathaway stars in this biopic about novelist Jane Austen. Although rated PG it really should have been a PG-13 given some of its mature content. It's also been criticized for playing a little loose with the truth. Still, Ms. Hathaway shines as Austen.

A brand new adaptation of Jane Austen's last completed novel which recently aired here in the United States on PBS. Sally Hawkins makes her mark as Anne Elliott and adds a classy performance to the long history of Austen heroines.