Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review - Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan

Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (October 7, 2014)

You can't call yourself a sports fan and not know who Bob Ryan is.  I've had the pleasure of emailing back and forth with the Hall of Fame sportswriter for quite a few years now.  He's one of the best in the business.

For 46 years, Ryan worked as a beloved Boston Globe sportswriter and columnist and later made regular appearances on both Around the Horn and Sports Reporters on ESPN.  Long before he was placed on the Boston Celtics bear in 1968, Ryan picked up the nickname "Scribe" from his high school football coach as he put so many hours into the school newspaper.  Suffice it to say, the Hall of Fame writer has lived up to the nickname.

Ryan writes of growing up in Trenton, New Jersey and his path to becoming a Boston mainstay.  To say that Ryan is a sports institution would be an understatement.  A sports fan first and foremost, Ryan has a passion and enthusiasm for the game, no matter what sport or where its taking place.  Without such passion or enthusiasm, it's hard to tell if he would be the writer we know that he is today.

For over four decades, Ryan regularly covered baseball, basketball, golf, boxing, and eleven Olympic games.  He retired as a regular columnist following the 2012 Summer Olympics in London but he has written an engaging memoir infused with the same insight and journalistic prowess that he used when writing his columns.

We get the behind-the-scenes stories with personal anecdotes, unbelievable encounters, and photos of his priceless memorabilia.

If you call yourself a sports fan, do yourself a favor and read this book.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Searching for the Hirschfeld Family

My 3rd great-grandmother, Liba/Libby Schindler, had a brother named Nisan Hirschfeld.  In the 1897 All-Russia census, they were listed as living in Talsen, Latvia.  Libby and Nisan's father was named Isaac/Itzik.

According to the census, Nisan was living with his wife, Zira, and stepson, Mendel Lewensohn.

Ages in 1896-97:
Nisan, 56
Zira, 46
Mendel, 25

I don't know if Nisan and Zira had other children.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Jerry Abramson resigns, Crit Luallen to become new Lt. Governor

Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson has resigned to take the position of Deputy Assistant to President Barack Obama and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House.

The announcement was made today by Governor Steve Beshear.  Former state Auditor Crit Luallen has been named as Abramson's replacement.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me and for our administration. Jerry and I have been friends for more than 30 years, and I chose him as my Lieutenant Governor because I knew that his extensive experience as longtime mayor of Louisville, his contagious enthusiasm and his knack for building momentum around new ideas would make him a great partner in leading our state.  But the White House noticed all those skills, too, and realized that he will take those same gifts and put them to work on our nation’s domestic agenda. He will be an outstanding addition to the President’s administration, and we will miss him terribly.”
“The challenges that face America’s local communities – such as workforce training, education, infrastructure investment, shrinking budgets, affordable housing, public transportation, and emergency response – are the issues that I’ve worked on for more than 30 years in local and state government. I’m honored to be in a position to help this country’s mayors, county executives, governors and other local officials tackle these issues and work to find innovative solutions.  “I’m grateful to Gov. Beshear for bringing me on board three years ago, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done together to bring jobs to our state and to strengthen Kentucky families.  My experience in the Kentucky Capitol will be vital as I step into my new role.”

Beshear on appointing Crit Luallen:
“Crit is a well-known and beloved public servant, respected by members of both parties for her resolute pursuit of clean, ethical government,” said Gov. Beshear. “She was my first and only choice to serve as the new Lieutenant Governor, and I know Kentuckians will be confident that she is more than up to the task.  I’m glad she agreed to return to state government, and I’m certain she will bring that same tenacity and grit to the Lt. Governor’s office.”

Crit Luallen:
“It is a high honor to stand here today in partnership with this Governor.  Serving as Lieutenant Governor gives me an opportunity to continue to serve Kentucky and offer my experience and perspective to Gov. Beshear and the fine team he has assembled. It will be my personal goal to help the Governor end his term in office with the state in as strong a position as possible to face the challenges the future holds.”
 The resignation and transfer of power will take place on November 13. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Saving the Horse Industry in Kentucky means to expand gambling

Kentucky's horse industry is dying a slow death. Owners and trainers will continue to send their horses where the money is--sadly, it won't be Kentucky because of the religious conservatives so afraid of expanded gambling. Just because they don't like it doesn't mean that their beliefs should be forced upon those who disagree with them.

We can't win when potential tax revenue is leaving Kentucky and going to Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio, wherever the casinos are.

2015 Kentucky Statewide Primary Election - Democratic Candidates

Governor/Lt. Governor (Open)
Jack Conway/Sannie Overly

Secretary of State
Alison Lundergan Grimes

Attorney General
Andrew Beshear

State Auditor
Adam Edelen

State Treasurer
Daniel Grossberg
Neville Blakemore

Possible candidates:
Colmon Elridge
Dee Dee Ford
Chris Tobe

State Agricultural Comissioner
Jean-Marie Lawson Spann

Southern Democrats need a New Strategy

Chris Cillizza puts it the best when he called Southern Democrats a loser in the 2014 election:
Southern Democrats: Both Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas did everything they could to run away from President Obama and insist they were their own independent voices. Ditto Michelle Nunn in Georgia.  Didn't work.  Grimes lost minutes after polls closed in Kentucky. Same for Pryor in Arkansas. Nunn wasn't able to push David Perdue (R) to a runoff. And even Sen. Mark Warner, long considered to be impregnable, found himself in a tight race with former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.  The results affirmed just how difficult it is for Democrats to win federal races in the South -- particularly in an election cycle like this one where a Democratic President is decidedly unpopular in the region. (And NBC/Marist poll released on Sunday showed Obama with a 32 percent approval rating in Kentucky.)
It may be easy to when statewide for state elections but in Kentucky, nobody has been elected statewide to the United States Senate since Wendell Ford.  In 2011, the Steve Beshear/Jerry Abramson slate won with 55.72% of the vote.

The Kentucky Democratic Party has a lot of work to do over the next few years.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Deleting an old blog posting...

It's not that often that I delete an old blog posting but I did so today...well more so, reverted it back to a draft.


My feelings on Jerry Lundergan have changed ten-fold since early 2005 when he was voted in as party chairman.  It is important that we have a UNITED Kentucky Democratic Party in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

I'll proudly cast my vote on Tuesday for Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Bill Clinton!

President Bill Clinton was on the stump for Alison Lundergan Grimes as she runs for the United States Senate.  I don't actively write about politics as much as I used to but getting the opportunity to see President Clinton for a third time in person was awesome even if it was a bit chilly outside while waiting for the rally to get started.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2013-2014 Baseball Books You Should Read

American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball by Larry Ruttman Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (April 1, 2013)

The Jewish presence of baseball extends beyond the playing field.  It reaches to the Commissioner's Office (Bud Selig), labor leaders (Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr), the owners box (Jerry Reinsdorf, Stuart Sternberg), front office executives (Theo Epstein, Mark Shapiro), sportswriters (Murray Chass, Ross Newhan, Ira Berkow, Roger Kahn) and fans such as Alan Dershowitz and Barney Frank.

Their life stories and others have been compiled from nearly 50 in-depth interviews and arranged by decade.  The edifying and entertaining work is an important part of our oral and cultural history.

Everyone interviewed talks about what it was like to have grown up Jewish and dealing with Jewish identity, assimilation, intermarriage, future viability, religious observance, anti-Semitism, and Israel.  They talk about being in the midst of players who have helped to make baseball into what it is today.  What their stories do, most importantly, is show the history of Jews in America's pastime.

Throwing Hard Easy: Reflections on a Life in Baseball by Robin Roberts
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (March 1, 2014)

Reprinted posthumously, this edition offers a new forward by his son, James Roberts, as well as a new introduction from his co-author C. Paul Rogers, III.

Roberts made his debut in 1948 and would become one of the many inductees in Cooperstown.  Roberts wasn't just a dominating pitcher but an impressive storyteller, too.  His experiences before, during, and after his 19-year career made for an extraordinary life.  His memoir recalls his childhood, playing days, and life after retiring from baseball.

Alexander Cartwright: The Life behind the Baseball Legend by Monica Nucciarone
Paperback: 328 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (March 1, 2014)

We know that Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. (1820–92) was present during the organization of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York in the mid-1800s but since that time, Cartwright has been celebrated as one of baseball's founders in the same case as Abner Doubleday.  Both, however, have seen their clain to fame come with both conjecture and controverse.  In Nucciarone's book, his complex life comes into focus.

The author seperates fact from speculation.  While Cartwright may not be the one of legend, what we get is a character that is colorful, complicated, and immense as any legend that he may have inspired.

Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey by Tim Hornbaker
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Sports Publishing (March 4, 2014)

Charles Albert “The Old Roman” Comiskey was a man that had precision in speech and could work a room with handshakes and smiles.  Comiskey invested some five decades in baseball and cared deeply for both the fans and the players.

He's been vilified as a cheapskate and a driving force behind the 1919 White Sox team that the the World Series.  It couldn't have been any further from the truth as Hornbaker's book shows.  Comiskey was terrorized to the core with the scandal.  Mangled versions of the truth have circulated and have been immortalized by the mainstream media.

This is a man who gave away tickets to the Boy Scouts and opposed raising ticket prices for the World Series.  He put the fans and players first.  Amongst now-common practices, Comiskey has been credited with playing first base either behind the bag or onside the foul line.

This is an elegant portrait of his long career as a player, manager, and owner and tells his story while showcasing facts that most don't know.  The truth, as is the case, needs to be told and that's what Hornbaker does.

Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time by Tim Wendel
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press (April 1, 2014)

This was a classic World Series between two teams that climbed their way to the top after finishing in the bottom of the standings in the 1990 season.  Five games were decided by just one run.  Four games were decided by the last at-bat, including Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in Game 6. 
No World Series had seen three games go into extra innings until the 1991 World Series.

More than statistics, this is a series in which both teams took a risk, followed their guts, and played with both integrity and heart.

Tim Wendel recalls what made this series a great one game-by game.  He reaches back into baseball history to show us just what made these moments so great.  Nobody can ever forget Puckett's home run or the game four and seven matchups between Jack Morris and John Smoltz.

Wendel makes an argument that this was "the last fine time in Baseball."

Mover and Shaker: Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers, and Baseball's Westward Expansion by Andy McHue
Hardcover: 488 pages
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (May 1, 2014)

Walter O'Malley is one of the most influential and controversial owners in sports history.  For the first time ever, we have an objective, complete, and nuanced account of the O'Malley's life.  He doesn't present O'Malley has a villain or angel.  Rather, he presents O'Malley as a rational and hardheaded businessman.  He was a major force for three decades in baseball.  His managing and marketing practices radically changed the shape of the game.

He's remembered best for moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.  But what is known about O'Malley leading up to the move is either unknown or a complete myth.  Sportswriters distorted his personal story because of their hatred of him after the Dodgers moved west.

The Closer by Mariano Rivera
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (May 6, 2014)

There's no denial that Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time in Major League Baseball.  Nobody can list the greatest Yankees of all time without including Rivera.  Just by opening the bullpen door, Rivera intimidated thousands of batters.

In this book, he finally shares his life story and journey.  When the Yankees first scouted him, he didn't own a glove and his big toe was sticking out of his shoe.

He didn't know who Babe Ruth was, spoke no English, and never had flown in a plane.  He knew that with his love for family and G-d to guide him that he would throw a baseball exactly where he wanted to...every single time.

Rivera, with some astonishing candor, shares the stories of the championships, bosses, rivalries, the  struggles of being a Latino player in the U.S., and the challenges of maintaining deep religious values in sports.

He writes about his drive to win, the secret to his composure, how he discovered the cutter, and Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.  He writes how the lowest moment of his career would turn into a blessing.

Rivera takes us into the Yankees clubhouse and discusses the other players of the Core Four.

Friday, October 24, 2014

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About by Dave Barry
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (March 4, 2014)

For the first time since 2010, Dave Barry is back with a collection of brand new essays that offer a unique look at fatherhood, family, and death.  He delivers a hilarious collection of parenting, families, sex, camels, women, brain surgery, sex with women, air travel, brain farts, and so much more.

Barry's daughter turned 13 and he turned 65.  For Barry, 65 is not the new 50.  No matter what age, Barry is still one of the funniest writers on this planet.

Barry even writes about a trip to Israel, which had me cracking up a storm.  When you've rode on camels and slept in a Bedouin tent, you know exactly what kind of experience that he had.  I can say that with 100% certainty as I went on a Birthright trip in 2007.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 4, 2014)

This book from Novak is one of the can't-miss books of the past year.  After serving as a writer and actor for many seasons on The Office, Novak decided to write a collection of short stories.  The result is one of the newest voices in the world of American fiction.

Novak's work is endlessly entertaining, sensitive, and very original.  His zing and humor brings to mind the work of both Woody Allen and Steve Martin.

The pieces in this collection have one thing in common: they share humor.  It's like nothing else that's been done before.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: Wilson by A. Scott Berg

Wilson by A. Scott Berg
Paperback: 832 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade; Reprint edition (September 2, 2014)

When this book was first printed in 2013, the United States quietly marked the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's presidential inauguration--most were focused on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's tragic passing in 1963.

Berg is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.  He spent a decade researching and writing this biography of the nation's 28th President of the United States.

Wilson, who served from 1913-1921, rose from a Southern boyhood as the son of a minister through the ranks of academia and politics before leading the United States into the dawn of a new era.  Wilson's led the nation during World War 1 and would go on to institute many progressive reforms that shaped the country as we know it today.  These reforms would pave the way for the New Deal.  Wilson also laid the foundation of the country's foreign policy for the rest of the century.

Despite all of this, Wilson is one of the least-remembered of the great presidents.  He is often thought of as a rigid, dour figure who failed in bringing the United States into the League of Nations.  The League of Nations was the forerunner to the United Nations.

Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, leading his wife to act as a de factor president.

In under 1,000 pages, Berg clears away the myths and misconceptions about President Wilson.  What he presents is a book on a man that was a statesman, intellectual, speaker, politician, and an idealist.

With access to hundreds of thousands of documents, including the letters of Wilson's personal physician and one of his daughters, this is easily the definitive biography of President Woodrow Wilson.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith

American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith (The Library of America)
Daniel Okrent, editor. Afterword by Terence Smith
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Library of America (May 16, 2013)

When people think of great sportswriters, Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith is one of the first names that come to mind.  With a nationally syndicated column in both the New York Herald Tribune and New York Times, Smith was widely read from the 1940s through his retirement in the 1980s.  He was the first sportswriter to have won the Pullitzer Prize for commentary.

His sports commentaries came with literary panache and wry humor.

Writer and editor Daniel Okrent presents the best of Smith's columns.  His work, to this day, remains the gold standard in sportswriting.  It still shows many years later.

 Smith's profiles of some of the biggest figures in sports show how he can distill a career's essence in just one column.  There are the accounts of some of the most historic occasions in sports and they are joined by some of the more offbeat stories that display the writer's wit, intelligence, and feeling.

We get some personal glimpses into Red's life and work such as his passion for fishing.  "My Press-Box Memoirs", a 1975 reminiscence written for Esquire, is collected here for the first time.

Any aspiring sportswriter or sports fan in general will want to read this book.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review - Men, Women & Children: A Novel

Prior to seeing Men, Women, & Children this weekend, I read the book written by Chad Kultgen.  It's not a pretty book even though I racked through it in only three days.  At just over 300 pages, it is a very quick read.

Not being familiar with Kultgen's work prior to reading, I had only known that he co-created the new NBC sitcom, Bad Judge.  While Bad Judge keeps things cleaner for TV, the book doesn't keep things clean.  Far from it, actually.  It's very graphic and even though Kultgen's message means well, it's certainly not a book I would read again or even recommend to anyone else.

Kultgen's book explores the sexual pressures of junior high students and their parents.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Searching for the Salzman Family

My great-aunt passed away in 2002.  She had built a family tree for many sides of the family going back a few generations.

Unfortunately, she also made some mistakes, too.  Unfortunately, some of these mistakes meant that it took longer to find some families--by which point some of the older generations have passed away.

What we do know is that Kassel Salzman immigrated to America in 1896 after traveling with his wife, Pauline, and children from Russia.  What we do know is that he had quite a few children: Charles, Max, Annie (Anna), Maurine (Mary), and Sadie.

We know that Kassel was convicted of larceny in the early 1900s and went to prison where he ended up dying in 1911.  We have managed to get in touch, finally, with Anna's descendants so as to update that branch of the tree.  But outside of that, we're stuck.  When it is a common name (Saltzman became Salzman or Solzman), it makes it harder with marriage records, etc.  I've found obituaries but when they don't mention siblings, it's hard to confirm whether that's the one I am looking for.

We know that the name was Saltzman in the 1900 census and Salzman when the 1905 census was recorded.

But we're stuck.  My only hope now is for a distant cousin to find this, get in touch, and help us rebuild this branch.

Book Review: Tradition!

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical by Barbara Issenberg
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (September 2, 2014)

It was on this date in 1964 that the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, opened its doors on Broadway.  History would never be the same!  It may not be the behind-the-scenes movie that Mary Poppins got but it's the next best thing: the behind-the-scenes of both the Broadway production directed by Jerome Robbins and the movie directed by the not-Jewish Norman Jewison.

Since it opened 50 years ago today, there is rarely a time in which the sound of the off-tune violin is not heard somewhere on stage.  Whether it be a school, community theater, army base, Broadway revival, or countries from Argentina to Japan, the musical is being performed somewhere.

Isenberg weaves the tales and anecdotes of making the musical or film with thoughts on its cultural importance and why it resonates with such a diverse audience.

If they were still living in the author started researching and writing the book and worked on the Broadway production, the film, or significant revivals, Isenberg interviewed them.  This includes the likes of Harold Prince, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein, Austin Pendleton, Joanne Merlin, Norman Jewison, Topol, and Harvey Fierstein, amongst others.

It's an amazing result.  Isenberg takes us on a wild ride as Fiddler worked its way to Broadway and later the big screen.  It's not just a look at how Fiddler became a hit on Broadway or the big screen but also how the musical became a hit across the globe!

If you love Fiddler or the soundtrack, this is a book you will enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11: 13 Years Later

A poem written by Jack Buck

Since this nation was founded under God
More than 200 years ago

We've been the bastion of freedom...

The light that keeps the free world aglow.
We do not covet the possessions of others,
We are blessed with the bounty we share.

We have rushed to help other nations...

War is just not our nature...we won't start
But we will end the fight.
If we are involved we shall be resolved to
Protect what we know is right.

We have been challenged by a cowardly foe
Who strikes and then hides from our view.

With one voice we say, "There's no choice
Today, there is only one thing to do"

Everyone is saying the same thing
And praying that we end these senseless
Moments we are living.

As our fathers did before, we shall win
This unwanted war

And our children will enjoy the future,
We'll be giving.

Written by Jack Buck
September 14, 2001

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Book Review: Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (October 30, 2012)

Bruce is the first authorized Bruce Springsteen biography to have been written in the last 25 years with the full cooperation of the Boss himself.

This sweeping portrait is the latest in a series of musical biographies written by Carlin, who previously has written on Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson.

In writing Bruce, Carlin had unprecedented access to Springsteen, his family, friends, past and present bandmates, including one of the final major interviews with Clarence Clemons.  It all adds a vivid, initmate detail, and context to a groundbreaking picture of the Boss.

As a songwriter, Springsteen has voices hopes, triumphs, and heartaches of the working class.  His career has brought him 20 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, an Academy Award, and over 120 million albums sold.

Carlin follows the Elvis-loving grade student as he grows into that scruffy looking bandleader all the way up to the release of Wrecking Ball in 2012.  With the release of Born to Run, Springsteen rocketed into critical and commercial orbit.  No concert goes without the singing of "Born to Run."  The album is a keystone of Springsteen's musical legacy--one that would both reflect and shape the culture.

Along with years of meticulous research, Carlin has spent a countless number of hours in interviewing Springsteen, his inner circle, friends, musicians, and even ex-girlfriends. It all builds up to presenting the most revealing account of the American icon, even as he redefines his style and sound.

Until Carlin started writing the biography, not many family members had done interviews on the rocker.  The Springsteen family was impacted by mental illness and Bruce managed to avoid the fate of his father by years of therapy and even anti-depressant medications.

The E Street Band share their memories of the first time they met Bruce and their painful memories including in 1989 when Springsteen was disbanding the band.

Bruce's gradual journey towards being a committed and influential voice in politics was validated when President Barack Obama spoke at a reception for Kennedy Center honorees.

Carlin offers a nuanced analysis of every song and album that Bruce has made.  Five months before the release of Wrecking Ball, Bruce had played a dough mix in the studio.

This definitive biography is compulsively readable, and a must for all fans of the Boss.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book Review: 1954

1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever by Bill Madden
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press (May 6, 2014)

The 1954 baseball season was historic for Major League Baseball.  This was the same year in which the Brown vs. Board of Education court case decided that segregation be outlawed in the public school systems.

The World Series pitted the Cleveland Indians against the New York Giants.  It was the first World Series that featured African-Americans on both teams: Willie Mays and Larry Doby.

This was seven years after Jackie Robinson had made his debut.  Doby was already a dominant player in the American League and Mays was just emerging in his own right as one of the best players in the game.  He played baseball with a flair and boyish innocence that all fans embraced.

Doby and Mays were already on their way to stardom but Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks were just getting started with the Braves and Cubs, respectively.

Bill Madden shows exactly why he is in the Writer's Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This book is the first to fully examine the 1954 season.  Madden draws on recent interviews with players themselves: Mays, Doby, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Monte Irvin, Carl Erskine.  Madden transports readers across time, revisiting Spring Training in Florida and Arizona as the future baseball stars were entering the league.

Madden weaves the narrative with the racially charged events of 1954.  With exception of the New York Yankees, the national pastime was ahead of the curve when it came to accepting African-Americans at a time when the nation struggled with acceptance.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel

Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel by Joshua Muravchik
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Encounter Books (July 8, 2014)

Making David into Goliath could not have been released at a better time as Israel is in the new for defending herself, once again, from Hamas.

Israel, one of the lone democracies in the Middle East and America's strongest ally, is also one of the most criticized and most despised nations in the international community because people such as Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former UN chief Kofi Annan take the time to lambaste Israel every time that they act to defend herself against terror.  During the recent campaign, Carter took the time to pen an op-ed saying that Hamas is a legitimate political government.  Yeah, right...and pigs can fly, too.

At a time when Iran is seen as a major threat with the capability to make nuclear weapons, Europeans are telling pollsters that they feel that Israel is a bigger threat.  At the same time, about a quarter of all votes in the United Nations are directed toward Israel while an increasing number of college campuses are adopting policies of BDS.

As hard as it is to believe with the current climate right now, it was only forty years ago that Israel was attracting admiration and widespread sympathy from people around the word.  Progressives and intellectuals were praising Israel.  They aren't doing that all that much these days and Muravchik goes into detail as to why.

Muravchik explores just how and why this transformation, as wrong as it is, has taken place.  He goes into detail on who is behind it, too, in detail.  A fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Muravchik is one of the nation's leading scholars when it comes to socialism and the Middle East.

He shows how the pressure of terrorism, oil, and demographics have led to Israel being treated as a pariah.  In the 1970s, the Arab League threatened to raise oil prices to those countries that voted in favor of Israel at the United Nations!  These were the same leadeers that bowed to Palestinian pressure to release those suspected by terrorism so as not to have another bombing or hijacking on their soil.

One of the chief culprits in the transformation was the rise of a intellectual paradigm that saw the replacement of workers against capitalists to the "people-of-color" struggling against the "white man."  This was the new moral drama for progressive thinking.  No matter what Israel did to defend her borders, she was attacked as being on the wrong side.

The UN, as things stand now, is one of the biggest anti-Israel groups out there.  This is mainly due to the Non-Aligned Movement reshaping the the UN to be one that is anti-American, anti-Western, and most of all, anti-Israel.  They created three special bodies that, no matter the name, were exclusive to denigrating Israel and serving as a pro-Palestinian body.  Not a single such body has ever existed for any other people, cause, or country!

Human Rights Watch cannot be described as humanitarian when they are anti-Israel to an infinite degree.

Edward Said, the godfather of modern scholarship on the "Third World" was one of the most widely assigned authors on campuses in America and Europe.  His anti-Israel bias has poisoned a countless number of generations in Western academics just through sheer intellectual charlatanism.

Bruno Kreisky, the self-hating Jewish socialist Chancellor of Austria, was the leading figure in the hate-Israel movement.  This was a guy who filled his cabinet with former Nazis even though a number of his family had died in the Shoah.  He was ashamed to be Jewish and used that to persuade socialists in Europe to embrace Yasser Arafat and disavow Israel.  This was at a time when the PLO believed in terrorism and strongly opposed to Israel's right to exist.

Before the Six Day War of 1967, not a single person in the world cared for the human rights of those living in Gaza or the West Bank.  After Israel gained land in a war that was started by her Arab neighbors nonetheless, all of a sudden people cared for their human rights.  It was this war that redefined the Israeli-Arab conflict as one between Israel and the Palestinians.  Before this point in time, there had never been a Palestinian nation.  The PLO's Palestinian National Covenant did not call for a Palestinian state.  Instead, it called for Jews to be ejected so that the Palestinian Arabs could be able to take their place in the "Arab nation."

Evangelical support, for now, remains strong when it comes to Israel.  However, a number of U.S. churchs, mainly the Presbyterian Church, have been targeted by anti-Israel activists to cut ties with and boycott Israel.  Notably, the anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace, has endorsed BDS.

The home-grown "adversary culture" in Israel does her no favors.  This includes Haaretz, revisionist historians, and "post-Zionist intellectuals."  In their behavior, they provide an never-ending supply of grist for the Israel haters.

The Middle East is more tumultuous now then ever before with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq being a threat in one way or another.  Groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda are violent and a threat to mankind.  Israel is and will continue to be on the front lines against the terror from radical Islam.

All in all, this is a book that shows how Western opinion, shaped by progressives, abandoned Israel and chose to embrace its enemies despite the fact that they were enemies of the West.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review - The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur

The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur by Mark Perry
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (April 1, 2014)

Douglas MacArthur was an interesting character.  To put it differently would be an understatement.  Those admiring MacArthur were outranked nevertheless by those that, to put it simply, were not fans.  MacArthur could be described as headstrong, vain, he had a rebellious streak, and a massive ego.

Mark Perry examines the general and sees that his actions have been misunderstood and overshadowed by his faults--thus the general's significant contributions to become marginalized, unfortunately.

In this new biography, Perry sets the record straight.  What we have is a new reconsideration of the American hero.  It was MacArthur's combined-arms operation in the Pacific (a first of its kind during war) that enabled America's triumph during World War 2.  During World War 2, MacArthur had to overcome both personal and professional challenges to lead his troops.

But this isn't just MacArthur's story.  No.  It's also the story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the men that acted behind the scenes.  It was MacArthur's subordinates who had to tame the general, make him useful, and help him achieve victory on the battlefield.

The title of this book comes from a phrase that FDR once uttered about the general even though he also described him as an intelligent and brilliant soldier.  FDR was not alone in having polarizing feelings.  MacArthur, depending on who one talks to, is a gifted general or the most reviled military figure in history.

As time passes on from MacArthur's death, his hazardous faults have eclipsed his incredible genius.  With this new biography, perhaps the time has come to reconsider MacArthur's character, both controversial and equally brilliance.

Perry traces the general's path from the Great Depression to the end of World War 2.  The author shows how the general's military genius was matched by a massive ego and sense of decorum.  This was a guy that commanded a great deal of respect from the Republican Party and the American public.  There's no mistaking how powerful a figure that he was and FDR was right to fear him.

After the Great War, MacArthur was sidelined with a ceremonial position in the Philippines but faced with the threat from Japan in the lead-up to WW2, FDR promoted MacArthur to Commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East.

His capricious personality led to more casualties than any other general during WW2.  His success in the Pacific, Perry notes, can be attributed to combat commander Robert Eichelberger and aide Dwight Eisenhower.  Without them helping to sideline his faults and draw on his strengths, he would not have been able to fight one of the most visionary campaigns of all time.  It was the first combined-arms operation in the history of warfare.  It was this bold innovation that paved the way for Japan to be defeated.

What Perry has done is revisit MacArthur's legacy, as unfairly skewed as it was, and rehabilitates his image by displaying how the general not only led the United States to victory in the Pacific but reshaped modern warfare while doing so.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: Rebbe

Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History by Rabbi Joseph Teluskin
Hardcover: 640 pages
Publisher: HarperWave (June 10, 2014)

Rabbi Teluskin has written a brilliant biography of one of the greatest influential Jewish leaders of probably the last few centuries.  It's been 20 years since the death of the Rebbe and this biography is highly insightful and really tells how Chabad went from being a small war-torn group into the most dynamic and geographically diverse religious movement in Jewish history.  The Rebbe's legacy is felt on college campus and at Chabad Houses throughout the globe.

Telushkin was afforded extraordinary access to the Rebbe's intimate circle and guarded documents.  This biography, five years in the making, examines the Rebbe's personal side while exploring his achievements, philosophy, and pioneering initiatives.  Telushkin also analyzes the Rebbe's stories and speeches.

While I don't consider myself to be a Chasidic Jew (I am Modern Orthdox), I found it fascinating to learn about the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.  No matter what denomination of Judaism they were, many people sought out his guidance be it via a private meeting or by letter.

From his perch in Brooklyn, the Rebbe taught transcendant words that were able to resonate with many people, no matter what faith they were.  Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, then-Newark mayor Cory Booker went to the Rebbe's Ohel to pray.  The Rebbe's Ohel is the first major Jewish holy site in the United States without a doubt.  Thousands of Jews visit his Ohel on his yahrtzeit of 3 Tammuz.

The Rebbe had some radical ideas--refusing to judge others based on their level of observance and a belief in the brotherhood of all mankind.  It's because of ideas such as these that Chabad was able to grow into a worldwide movement.  His emissaries across the globe continue to spread his teachings of love, unity, and righteousness.  Despite his being the leading figure of Chabad, he was a very humble person at heart.  He was accessible to just about anyone that wanted to meet him!

The most intriguing things that Telushkin addresses about the Rebbe, his ideology, and his actions include:
--The hope of a small sect of his followers who believed that he was the Moshiach.  Had his wife not preceded him in death, she would have put a stop to this really quick.  The Rebbe even rejected such claims!
--The innovation and advocacy of taking Judaism out into the world, be it through the wearing of Tefillin, offering Shabbas candles to women of all ages, public Chanukah lightings, etc.
--Israeli and American elected officials, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Moshe Sharrett, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Bejamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon, to name a few.
--His willingness to oppose non-denominational prayer in public schools.

I highly recommend this book.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Quote of the Day

“The bigger issue is not whether the Obama administration imposes a cease-fire on Israel or not,” said Noam Neusner, who worked for the administration of President George W. Bush as a liaison to the Jewish community.

“The bigger issue is with the Democratic Party electorate, namely academic elites, African-Americans and younger voters. As those blocs of voters become more skeptical of Israel’s right to defend itself — and that seems to be happening — that is going to make American Jews who are Democratic Party voters less comfortable in their own party.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism

Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism by Peter Adams
Paperback: 230 pages
Publisher: University of Michigan Press (March 25, 2014)

Adams explores how politics and faith played a role in the evolution of Judaism in America. While there is a small amount over overlap with When Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan Sarna, this is very much Adams' book.

There's a lot in here on how Reform Judaism came to be, much thanks to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.  The book briefly touches on how the Conservative Judaism movement came out of those that thought the Reform movement went too far but didn't feel completely comfortable with the Orthodox movement either.  A middle ground, if you will.

I am one of those that finds it very uncomfortable with walking into a Reform shul and this goes back to the Bar Mitzvah circuit from when I grew up in a Conservative shul before slowly becoming Orthodox in college.  It feels too much like a church with the organs and lack of tallit and kippot.  This book explains just how that came to be.

I knew that Conservative Judaism had started in America but I didn't realize just how liberal Reform Judaism was at the time.  After reading the book, I wonder how Rabbi Wise would feel about the current conflict seeing as how much of an anti-Zionist he was and how he was so opposed to Herzl at the time.

After the infamous order by Grant during the Civil War, many Jews felt that it was best to assimilate with their fellow Americans.  For some, this meant working on Shabbas since it was illegal in many places to open shop on Sunday.

In the post-Civil War of America, American Jews paid attention to what was happening elsewhere with fellow Jews around the world.  President Grant took notice of what was happening in Romania and Russia and did his best to help the situation.

Back in the day, the Board of Delegates served as the predecessor to the the modern-Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.  Wise was not a fan of this board and he made his feelings very much known to those involved.

American Jewry played a role in helping as many of the Russian Jews as possible given the pogroms that they were suffering from in Russia.

All of this, of course, happened in a world without social media.  I can't help but think just how mobilized the Jewish community would have been in the 1800s--especially judging from my Facebook feed in the last few weeks.

I highly recommend this book, especially to those Jewish history buffs out there!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prayer for Members of the Israel Defense Forces

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our G-d from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, on the sea and wherever they may be.

May Hashem cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.

May He lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant our soldiers salvation and crown them with victory. And may it be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is Hashem, your G-d, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: Shrink Thyself by Bill Scheft

Shrink Thyself: A Novel by Bill Scheft
Hardcover: 289 pages
Publisher: Rare Bird Books, A Vireo Book (June 24, 2014)

It is very rare when an author combines fiction with non-fiction.  This is what Scheft accomplishes in Shrink Thyself as he tells the story of Boston Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro.  But really, this coming-of-middle-age story is about Charlie Traub, who will likely need therapy as he recovers from therapy.

Early on Charlie Traub decides that he's done having sessions with his psychologist, Travis Waldman, and decides that he wants to live the unexamined life.  This goal is noble and all but Waldman decides he wants to stalk Bonnie Dressler, a constitutional lawyer that Traub nearly had an affair with during the Clinton years.

And Traub's mother?  She died while having sex with Sy Siegel, who was friendly with her while living at the assisted living facility.  Siegel and Charlie become good friends in the time thereafter and even work on writing a book about the circumstances surrounding Tony C's injury.  This, in part, turns out to be a look at what many Vietnam veterans are going through in the years after coming back.

It was amazing how Scheft is able to incorporate such a huge amount of non-fiction into a fiction book.  It's not historic fiction at all, not in the least.  He talks with someone that knew Tony C and this project then becomes talking to vets about their PTSD.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers

Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks
Paperback: 453 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (June 24, 2014)

Platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube,  and the Golden Age of Television have given rise to comedy writers like never before.  One doesn't need to be working in New York or LA to make people laugh, they could just type something on the keys of their laptop or even their phones.

Still, it's a long way to the top and there are those that will find a way to make it one day.  Maybe there will be one day in a future generation in that something they wrote will be remembered as what helped inspire somebody else to get into the comedy business.  It could be a movie, radio show, television show, book, improv show, or even a stand-up comedy act on stage.  For me, it was reading Bob Hope's memoir, Don't Shoot: It's Only Me, in the summer of 2003 following his passing and just a few short weeks later, I saw the Second City National Touring Company on campus at Bradley University featuring the likes of Frank Caeti and Matthew Craig, to name a few.

This isn't Sacks' first go-around with interviewing comedy writers.  And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft was released in the summer of 2009.  This book is just as great with that one and Sacks talks to even more comedy writers.

Sacks speaks with writers that have been around anywhere from 60 years ago to only recently in the last five-ten years.  He looks at their influence and creative process, the hard times and breakthroughs.  Most importantly, Sacks seeks to know how they were managed to succeed in one of the toughest fields in the industry.

Where it's the writer's room for The Onion or The Colbert Report, no page goes unturned.  Want to know why a sketch didn't make it to air on Saturday Night Live even though it killed during the read-through?  That question gets answered.

Terry Jones lets readers in on a secret.  Monty Python almost never came to the United States because the BBC was going to tape over the masters.  They found out and saved the tapes.  The rest, of course, is history.

Sacks interviews comedy icons like Mel Brooks, Terry Jones, Adam McKay, Mike Schur, and Paul Feig, to name a few.  Comedy writing in all mediums are covered: television, movies, radio, cartoons, books, and Twitter.  There are essays scattered throughout from the likes of Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Diablo Cody, Kay Cannon, Marc Maron, etc. as well as questions geared towards something ultra-specific in comedy like the writers' bible or hiring an agent, etc.  Bill Hader offers a list of 200 movies that every comedy writer needs to see in their life.

To say that this book is a bible for aspiring comedy writers and comedy buffs is an understatement.  It's an essential read for anybody that wants to break into the business.  Just like his first book, this one is very much a must-own like Sacks' prior book if you want my opinion.

Friday, July 04, 2014

John Adams on Independence Day

"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to G-d Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in G-d We shall not."

-John Adams to his wife, Abigail, in a letter sent on July 3, 1776 about the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776.

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Independence Photos

G-d Bless the USA

G-d Bless the U.S.A
by Lee Greenwood

If tomorrow all the things were gone
I'd worked for all my life,
And I had to start again
with just my children and my wife,
I'd thank my lucky stars
to be living here today,
'Cause the flag still stands for freedom
and they can't take that away.

I'm proud to be an American
where at least I know I'm free,
And I won't forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land
G-d Bless the U.S.A.

From the lakes of Minnesota
to the hills of Tennessee,
Across the plains of Texas
from sea to shining sea.
From Detroit down to Houston
and New York to L.A.,
There's pride in every American heart
and it's time we stand and say:

I'm proud to be an American
where at least I know I'm free,
And I won't forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land
G-d Bless the U.S.A.


Neil Diamond sings "America" in the 1980 film, The Jazz Singer:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Recently Published Sports Books

The Wait Is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup by John Kreiser (Foreword by Neil Smith)
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Sports Publishing; 20th Anniversary edition (May 6, 2014)

Kreiser revisits the 1994 Stanley Cup victory as the New York Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks in a seven-game series. Kreiser recounts the entire season as he interviews numerous folks involved. For Rangers fans wanting to relive the glory, this book is one to check out.

This Day in Philadelphia Sports by Brian Startare and Kevin Reavy (Foreword by Charlie Manuel)
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Sports Publishing (June 3, 2014)

What Startare and Reavy have done is take Philadelphia sports fans on a tour one day at a time. Want to know what happened on a certain day? They have it covered.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review - Nolan Ryan: The Making of a Pitcher

Nolan Ryan: The Making of a Pitcher by Rob Goldman (Foreword by Reid Ryan)
Hardcover: 366 pages
Publisher: Triumph Books (April 1, 2014)

Rob Goldman brings an interesting perspective to his biography of  Nolan Ryan in that he was the bat boy for the California Angels during the 1970s.

When one thinks of The Ryan Express, they think of the 100 mph fastball, over 5,700 strikeouts during a career that spanned 27 years and a historic seven no-hitters.

Ryan wrote a memoir or two but what Goldman presents is, for the first time, a comprehensive biography of one of the greatest power pitchers of all time.  Because it is the first book written about Ryan since the 1990s, it may just be the definitive biography as it goes all the way through the 2013 season when Ryan exited his post as CEO of the Texas Rangers.  Perhaps in an afterword for the paperback edition, there will be mention of his signing on with the Houston Astros as an executive advisor in early 2014.

There's some mention of Ryan's life before he was first scouted by the New York Mets but most of all that, I imagine, would have been touched upon in one of his previously published books in the 1990s.  This book, for the most part, follows Ryan's career as a player and executive.

Stories are told by some of baseball's all time greats including Dave Winfield and Pete Rose as they share their take on Ryan.  Others include journeymen, teammates, coaches, trainers, and clubhouse workers.  There are many never-before-heard stories about Ryan and personal recollections of games, including those no-hitters.

Goldman explores what made Ryan the pitcher that he became.  This coincided with his trade to the Angels in the early 1970s.  Maybe if Ryan wasn't out for so many days or weeks at a time due to his army commitments in the late 1960s, he would have done better with the Mets.  But by being out for days and weeks at a time, it just was not possible to build a pitching rhythm.

Ryan's personality on the field could not be more unlike who he was off the field.  Here's a guy that offered advice to Randy Johnson after a game against the Seattle Mariners in 1992.  Without that intervention, Johnson does not become a future Hall of Famer.

Previous books may have said what Ryan accomplished in his playing career but this one goes further in explaining how Nolan accomplished it.

There were people that were key to extending Nolan's career as a pitcher and they included Tom Morgan, Jimmie Reese, Gene Coleman, and Tom House.  Ryan was one of the early pitchers to pioneer strength and conditioning to his routine.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Book Review: Dirty Daddy by Bob Saget

Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian by Bob Saget
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: It Books (April 8, 2014)

To many, Bob Saget is known as Danny Tanner, the father on Full House.  I grew up watching Saget star as Tanner on the long-running ABC sitcom and watched many reruns during my years in college when they aired on ABC Family.  To me, he'll always be the host of America's Funniest Home Videos...which was YouTube before YouTube.

But there's more to Saget than meets the eye.  Oh, yes, there is.  Saget's memoir, Dirty Daddy, is by no means a book for those that think his humor is closer to that of Full House.  Far from it in fact.  Saget's stand-up act is as far from clean as it gets.  His book, just like his stand-up, is just as...dirty.

Saget's sick, twisted sense of humor does not stop him from delivering a memoir that is uproarious, uncensored, and heartfelt.  Saget's book is sincere, hilarious, and especially, dirty.  Saget's voice is felt throughout the uncensored book, which explains why it was such a quick read for me.

It's not just all comedy in Dirty Daddy.  There are heartbreaking stories from Bob's life as well.  He saw many of his uncles die to heart attacks at relatively young ages.  Two sisters died at young ages as well.  But, despite the heartbreak, the stories are genuine.  Saget uses humor to get through his pain and dark times in his life.  He made the decision a long time ago that he would never drink and drive or drive and text.

Having three daughters of his own, Saget offers some parenting advice along with advice about relationships.

There's those who influenced Saget, be it in life or comedy: his family and legendary comedians such as Richard Pryor, David Letterman, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Johnny Carson, and George Carlin.

There's a place for immature humor, or humor for mature audiences only, as well as family comedy.  It comes as no surprise that there are some behind-the-scenes stories of Full House.  Saget shares why he took up Comedy Central's offer to roast him and what changes he made them do.  There's the appearances on Entourage and The Aristocrats, solidifying Saget as a true original with a dirty sense of humor and unique personality, not to mention the cameo in Half-Baked.

I highly recommend Saget's book but with a word of caution:  If you are not familiar with his stand-up act, you'll never look at Bob Saget in the same way again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review - Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West: A Novel

Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West: A Novel
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (March 4, 2014)

From the genius mind of Seth MacFarlane comes his very first novel, A Million Ways to Die in the West: A Novel.  Based on the screenplay written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild, the novel is a tie-in to this week's upcoming motion picture of the same name.

MacFarlane wrote the novel during downtime of shooting the movie that stars himself, amongst others.  Writing a novel is much different than writing a screenplay but the creator of Family Guy and director of Ted can write the funny no matter what medium it is being written for, be it big screen, small screen, or print.

If one is familiar with the trailers, they already know that MacFarlane portrays Albert Stark, a sheep farmer whose girlfriend, Louise, breaks up with him.

It's the Old American West, where just about anything can kill you.  Albert would like to avoid all those million ways if he can help it.  However, Albert gets dumped early on by Louise and when she chooses the most insufferable guy in town, Albert decides to fight back--even if he isn't the best shooter in town.

Albert soon meets Anna, a beautiful gunslinger, but unfortunately for him, she's married to the baddest guy in the West, Clinch Leatherwood.  Only Albert doesn't know that and Clinch will want to kill Albert when he finds out.

As far as scenes in the trailer that are in the book, the comment Stark makes after the ice block falls was not the same comment in the book.  That's one of the downsides that comes with writing books based on a screenplay when one knows that there will be a decent amount of improvised lines on set.

This book/movie has every classic trope of a western and MacFarlane does the best that he can when it comes to writing a western comedy.

When I learned that MacFarlane had written a novel based on his upcoming movie, I had high expectations.  The book lived up to my high expectations.  The book is very funny and MacFarlane writes the hell out of a sex scene that features a prostitute.  I hope that he writes some more novels, even if they aren't tied in to a television show or motion picture.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery - The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Vintage (March 25, 2014)

Not even two weeks after the movie was released, the first Veronica Mars novel was published.  They are considered as canon so any future films would likely make reference to the events that transpire in the novels.  A second book is scheduled for release later this year.

The novel takes place a short time after the end of the movie but most potential readers will likely have seen the film before opening up the book.

Set ten years after graduating from high school, Veronica Mars has relocated from New York back to Neptune.  The land of sun, sand, crime, and correction.  Instead of pursuing a career in law, she's gotten back her license to serve as a private investigator.

Mars Investigations is struggling to pay the rent and employee paychecks.  That is until a girl goes missing from a party.

With Sheriff Lamb inept as ever to do the job, the Neptune Chamber of Commerce turns to Veronica to keep money flowing in to Neptune from students on spring break.  With a girl gone missing, students are canceling their trip--which means hotels and restaurants are losing revenue.

As the beach and boardwalks are transformed into a week-long party by college students, Veronica investigates the missing person's case.  The house she vanished from?  It's owned by someone with criminal ties.  Veronica is soon plunged into this dangerous underworld as she tries to find out what happened.

Soon thereafter, another girl goes missing but this time, it hits close to home with a connection to Veronica's past.

Thomas keeps the classic Mars snark intact as he writes this first novel.  While reading, I could imagine all the characters voices in my head reading the test aloud as I kept turning page after page.  The plot is sharp and the shocking twists that nobody sees coming will keep readers turning page after page until they finish.

That said, given where Logan is when the movie ended, there's not much material there for Thomas and Graham to work with.  He's serving overseas and is only available during Skype chats.  In the meantime, Veronica does what she does best.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review: Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring

Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (May 1, 2007)

Washington's Spies is the basis for the recent AMC series, Turn.   As a result of the series, the book was recently reprinted.

I've always had a fascination in the American Revolution.  I made it a point to tour the historic sites whenever I vacation in Boston or Philadelphia.

Rose's book focuses exclusively on the Culper Spy Ring with a brief mention of Nathan Hale as well.  Rose goes into detail on a certain quote attributed to Hale but the nation's first spy never said those words.

With a very fast pace, Rose's book is a non-fiction espionage thriller.  I read it with great interest.  When I was in school and studied the Revolution, the spy ring never came up.  Ever.  It was during an episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded in which I first learned about the ring.

The last book that mentioned the Revolutionary ciphers appeared in the early 1900s so not much material survives on the spy ring because why would anyone have kept incriminating evidence around during a war!  The fact that Washington's library of papers survives helped Rose in his quest to write this book.  Tallmadge wrote a memoir as he neared 80 years old.

In 1778, General George Washington was desperate to know where the British would strike next.  He turned to Benjamin Tallmadge to organize a spy ring to discover such plans and military strategies.

Abraham Woodhull is a Long Island farmer that lives behind enemy lines.  He works with childhood friends, Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster, to not only keep their work a secret but to get information that could help General Washington in their defeat of the British.  What they did helped give birth to modern spy-craft with their secret code and all.  The invisible ink helped to make sure that intelligence would not be discovered in the event that it got into the wrong hands.

These spies, who were American heroes, were not in the same mold as a Jason Bourne or James Bond.  They aren't the type that would kick one's ass in a fight although Tallmadge certainly might, being in the military and all.  These are real people that had some challenges in order to survive.  At times, it seemed as if some would quit but they always came through in the end.

They played a role in the downfall of Benedict Arnold, a general who defected to the British only because of money.  In wooing Arnold, the British hoped to find the members of the spy ring.  It didn't work.

All in all, I highly recommend this book.  Their story had never really been told until Rose decided to research into the spies.

Some notes:

Upon reading the book, I discovered a few things different from the TV series.  As with anything, some things were made up for the TV show for dramatic purposes.  On the series, Abraham Woodhull's father is working with the British army.  In real life, this wasn't the case.

The Abe-Anna-Mary love triangle didn't happen in real life either since Anna is related to Abe through marriage!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I review a wide array of books and don't limit myself to one subject:
Sports biographies and memoirs (mainly baseball and basketball)
American history
American political biographies/memoirs
Movies/entertainment non-fiction
Comedic fiction
Comedic memoirs
Fiction: Brad Meltzer, John Grisham and select titles (usually ones that draw my interest)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book review - Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson by Doug Wilson

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (March 4, 2014)

In Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson, Doug Wilson gives us the first comprehensive biography of the legendary Baltimore Orioles third baseman--the greatest defensive third baseman of all time.  Wilson does a fine job in telling Brooks' story.

The only downside is that Wilson was unable to sit down one on one with Mr. Robinson for an interview.  This is, in part, due to Brooks' time in recovering from injuries sustained in early 2012 at a South Florida casino.  Wilson was able to speak with Earl Weaver prior to his passing away in January 2013 and a number of teammates, too.

Robinson is a class act and one of the nicest players you will ever meet.  It is because of this that Robinson stands out in the Golden Era of baseball.  His being on the Veterans Committee played a large role in seeing to it that Ron Santo was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.  Until his recent bout with cancer and injuries of late, you would have a hard time getting him to say no.  While other Hall of Famers would sign their autograph and move on to the next in line, Brooks not only signs but he also makes small talk with those people that he's signing for.  He takes pictures with them as well.

Robinson grew up a Cardinals fan in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he attended Central High School--graduating a few years before it was put on the map in the Civil Rights movement.  His family instilled a hard work ethic in him.

From 1955 until his retirement in 1977, opponents learned that they shouldn't hit the ball towards third base.  In doing so, it was an automatic out with the vacuum cleaner stationed at the base in Robinson.  The Cincinnati Reds learned this the hard way during the 1970 World Series.

Brooks played all 23 seasons of his career with the Orioles--a feat that would be rare in this day and age alone considering free agency and salary dump trading.  He became a role model both on and off the field as he honored the game with elegance, class, and character.  In his career, he won 2 World Series, selected for 18 All-Star Games, won 16 straight Gold Gloves, and three MVP honors: AL, All-Star, and World Series.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Book Review: Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul

Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul by Daniel Gordis

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Schocken (March 4, 2014)

Menachem Begin is one of the most polarizing figures of our time but Gordis has penned a well-written biography of the former Israeli Prime Minister.

This isn't just Begin's story but also a story of the State of Israel.  Begin was the PM who made peace with Egypt when he signed a historic peace treaty with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat when Jimmy Carter was the president of the United States.

Once referred to as a fascist by rival David Ben-Gurion, Begin became the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  This is a man that was both complex and controversial.  Even though he was not really religious, he was still very proud to be Jewish.

A Polish native, Begin admired Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and became a leader within his Betar movement.  He would later be placed in prison by the Soviets in 1940 and joining the Free Polish Army in 1942.

It was after he joined the Irgun in 1943 that he was able to achieve an instant notoriety for the organization's bombings.

Begin was a right-winger and belonged to the Herut party.  They played opppsites to the Labor governments.  It was a surprise when the party won in 1977.  Through Begin, Israel was able to outreach to the Ethiopian Jews and the Vietnamese "boat people."

It was Begin who made the decision to bomb the Iraq nuclear reactors in 1981, an act that is now seen as being a courageous foresight.

After resigning in 1983, Begin lived in seclusion until his passing in 1992.  He would not be buried beisde his fellow Israeli PMs.  Instead, he would join his Irgun comrades.

What Gordis' perceptive biography does is give us new insight into Begin's life and how his influences continues to live on.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Hollywood Said No!

Hollywood Said No!: Orphaned Film Scripts, Bastard Scenes, and Abandoned Darlings from the Creators of Mr. Show by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross with Brian Posehn
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 9.10.2013 edition (September 10, 2013)

This book, in essence, is a collection of never-before-seen scripts and ideas.  It contains the full-length scripts for both Bob and David Make a Movie and Hooray for America!

There's a section in the book that contains "constructive" notes written by a "studio executive."  Furthermore, we're treated to a bonus section of scripts from Mr. Show and beyond.  Bob and David also reminisce on what went right and wrong as they add on both context and back story to the scripts.

We can only imagine what these unproduced scripts would have looked like on the big screen.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: The Truth

The Truth by Michael Palin
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (August 13, 2013)

Michael Palin is one of the funniest people alive on this planet.  After all, he belongs to the sketch comedy troupe known to everyone as Monty Python.  He's not just a comic actor in the movies but also an accomplished author of both fiction and non-fiction alike.

With The Truth, Palin makes a return to fiction, writing a warm and witty story of an everyman, a tantalizing offer, a journey to India, and a search  for, what else, the truth.

The main character is Keith Mabbut, a writer whose life is at a crossroads.  His marriage is over and his ex-wife is already engaged.  His children are both on their own paths with a son involved in theater and a daughter in a relationship.

Trying to figure his life out, Mabbut is offered the opportunity to write the biography of the elusive Hamish Melville.  Melville is an influential activist and a humanitarian.  Mabbut's journey takes him to India, where he soon feels rejuvenated.  The more he learns about Melville, the more he grows to admire the figure.  Is Melville really who he claims to be?  The truth, as Mabbut discovers, is whatever we choose to make of it.

Wonderfully insightful and compelling, Palin uses his skills to tell the (fictional) story of a man on an extraordinary adventure.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Money is "Speech" yet Kentucky Senate Won't Let Kentuckians use their "Speech" on Expanded Gambling

You know how Mitch McConnell believes in the idea that money is free speech, right?  How come nobody has sued the Commonwealth of Kentucky for having no choice but to be forced to use their "free speech" in states like Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio when they would rather be spending in on slots and the like in Kentucky.  It's not fair.  It's not right.  And the horse breeders will continue to send their horses to run races out of state as the industry dies a slow death each year.

And yet, every year that the issue comes up in the General Assembly, the Kentucky Senate has a slogan:
The Senate: Where Gambling Bills Go to Die.

It's so much that House Speaker Greg Stumbo won't even make an effort to pass a bill in the State House knowing full well that it will just die in the State Senate.  It's unfair to those of us who wish to use our HARD EARNED MONEY to help the KENTUCKY ECONOMY.

And yet religious conservatives and moralists like Martin Cothran and Focus on the Family don't want that to happen.  In doing so, they are hurting the Kentucky economy.  They are stopping progress from happening.

Don't want tolls on the new bridges in Kentucky?  The state could have had the money if it weren't for the lack of expanded gambling.

Money from gambling would go back into the state economy and the state budget.  It would help the horse industry and the educational system by having more money around in the state budget.

And yet, it is the religious conservatives who continue to use their beliefs to prevent it from happening.

I can't live in a state where my opinion doesn't matter.  I don't like people FORCING THEIR OWN OPINIONS on everybody else because they are morally opposed to it.

Where are the laws that ban shellfish and pork?  Those are foods that are not kosher and unclean but yet restaurants serve them and people eat them anyway.

But that's beside the point.  Religious conservatives are stopping progress in this state but as long as Mitch McConnell believes in the idea that money is speech, it seems like it's time to rise up and file a class-action lawsuit on the matter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: Leading Man

Leading Man (Vintage Contemporaries Original) by Benjamin Svetkey
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Vintage (September 3, 2013)

Svetkey, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, writes a novel in the tradition of David Nicholls and Nick Hornby.  His debut novel is hilarious, bittersweet, and heartwarming as he writes about that one thing everybody needs: love. Love of all kinds, really.  The type that lasts.

Maxwell Lerner is 26 years old and he thinks he has his entire life figured out.  He's dating his high school sweetheart, Samantha.  Max is a low-level reporter for a prestigious magazine (This is where Svetkey's experience comes in handy).  Both Max and Samantha live in a walk-up studio apartment together.  That is until she leaves him for his childhood hero, Johnny Mars.  Mars stars as Jack Montana in the action-adventure films.

Getting dumped by his girlfriend for his childhood hero sets Max up on a mission to get inside the glamorous Hollywood world and win her back.  He becomes an entertainment journalist so that he can go to press parties and red carpets, not to mention visiting those exotic locales.  He gets interview scores of celebrities.  Samantha's life takes an tragically unexpected turn and Max gets an education, in both life and love, that he never saw coming.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Recently Published Sports Books

What follows are a few recently published sports books that might be of interest.

The Divine Nature of Basketball: My Season Inside the Ivy League by Ed Breslin
During the 2011-12 college basketball season, Breslin spent the season assisting Yale head coach James Jones.

Wrigley Field Year by Year: A Century at the Friendly Confines by Sam Pathy
As Wrigley Field turns 100 years old, many books are being released to honor the Friendly Confines' centennial birthday.  What this coffee table book does is detail each year of existence.  This is the first such book that does just that.  It does more than cover just the Cubs about also the Federal League baseball team that first played at Wrigley as well as the Chicago Bears of the NFL.  In addition to the year by year approach, the book is divided into nine chapters.

Facing Mariano Rivera: Players Recall the Greatest Relief Pitcher Who Ever Lived by David Fischer
Fischer compiles 150 testimonials from opponents, teammates, scouts, managers, etc. to get an idea of what it was like to face Mariano Rivera.  It's written in the same way as that of Facing Ted Williams.  Some of the players include Hall of Fame inductees, future Hall of Famers and other notables like Roberto Alomar, Derek Jeter, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, David Ortiz, Nomar Garciaparra, etc.

A Tribe Reborn: How the Cleveland Indians of the ’90s Went from Cellar Dwellers to Playoff Contenders by George Christian Pappas
What this book does is tell the story of how the Cleveland Indians became contenders in the 1990s.

A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant by Bill Felber
The 1897 pennant race was the most cutthroat in baseball history.  It also was a struggle to define how the game of baseball would be played.