I would be remiss if I didn't at least note that today is the 100th anniversary of when father, Edward Elisberg, was born in Chicago. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 95.
By the way, I was going to say, "Dr. Edward Elisberg," since he took massive pride being a doctor and would always -- always -- correct people when they referred to him as "Mr. Elisberg." However, since he didn't have his degree when he was born, I didn't want to be confusing.
(Still, he came close. When he was a little kid, he wrote a long poem, "I Want to be a Doctor," when he was 10 years old. His dad (my grandfather Mike) was impressed enough to have it printed up.
Here's what he wrote, back in 1931.
As I noted, he did become a doctor. And he loved it, practicing for almost 50 years. But that doesn't describe it well-enough. Here's how much he loved being a doctor – when he had his quadruple bypass surgery late in his career, he said that outside of normal vacation days off, it was the first day of work he had missed in 39 years. He always went to the office, even if he wasn’t well, even if just for half a day. He loved being a doctor. Happily, he was a very good father, too.
As I've mentioned in the past, these pages were never intended to be about politics, just something to be discussed along with everything else. Then, Trump World took over -- and still rears its ugly head on a daily basis. I periodically try to return to the normalcy of the early days around these parts, but it's hard to ignore reality, though Republicans seem to do a good job of that.
Still, I try to get the balance back. And the truth is that there is plenty of news and commentary overflowing like lava to cover the ground really well whenever one steps back here.
And so we continue our balancing act.
Yesterday, I wrote about loving to watch the Tour de France every year, which is carried on NBCSN, the NBC sports network channel. What I left out is how weird this is, to watch the race -- even more than it would normally seem, watching a bike race for hours a day for three weeks -- given that I really don't understand any of the rules.
This includes not understanding how teams work or even why there are even teams at all in what appears to be an individual sport. And not understanding what the reason is for the peloton, the large pack of riders behind all the leaders. It took me years to figure out why there is a points leader and also an overall leader. Nor do I know how points are even given. Or how the time trials work. And I still have no idea why, along with giving yellow, green and white jerseys to category leaders after every stage, someone thought it would be a good idea to also award a polka dot jersey, unless it was meant to ridicule the rider in last place, or to honor the fastest clown in the race.)
I mean, seriously. Is this considered a good look for anything?? But especially for a top, world-class athlete who was just honored for his accomplishment? And then the poor sap has to ride the next day's stage wearing the polka dot jersey the entire time. I wonder how many riders over the years slightly backed off in the end, just so that they'd finish second.
But the race is perhaps the most gorgeous sporting event in the world, and watching it is like watching an absolutely beautiful travel documentary of France in the mountains, across farmland and through the narrow streets of picturesque villages hundreds of years old, that also has a competition thrown in for dramatic substance.
At times, the views are so glorious that you don't even need the sound on with the announcers calling the race (especially since you really don't have much of a clue what's going on or who's the overall leader or points leader or sprint leader or stage leader is -- or why).
But I don't even consider turning the sound off, because much of the fun is the announcers, who have been calling the Tour de France (and most bike races) for years, if not decades. It's not just that they're very good and make the race actually interesting, but are like comfortable shoes, hearing their familiar voices.
Leading the way is Phil Liggett, who is consider the "voice of cycling," and has been announcing cycling for as long as I can remember. This includes doing the cycling events at Olympics. Also on the team is Bob Roll, who was a successful American cyclist a while back, and is extremely detailed in his analysis, but is also up to participating in funny bits when called for. There are others who are longtime announcing partners it's always good to hear, like Steve Porino who rides along the race route in a chauffeured motorcycle.
Though there is most-definitely a danger quotient to the race, it's never been something that's remotely drawn my interest -- though it does keep me in awe. The average speed of riders in last year's race was around 25 MPH, and though that's averaged between flats, sprints and mountain riding, it's high speed the whole way, including around hairpin curves with significant drop-offs.
Most dangerous are when there is a crash of the peloton pack. Though the risk isn't nearly as high as with racecar drivers and their fiery crashes, a peloton crash can wipe out a dozen or more riders in one fell swoop, and cause broken bones and serious injury.
In addition to the announcers, there's also a comfortable familiarity after having watched the Tour de France long enough that I now, finally, sort of recognize the names of some of the top riders. I probably couldn't tell you their names during the year, but during the race when I hear them mentioned, I can offer an calming, "Ahhh, yes, I know him." My current favorite is probably Julian Alaphilippe. Not particularly for his riding skills -- which are strong, in fact he's leading the Tour this year after the third stage with 2-1/2 weeks to go -- but I like the sound of his name (and its spelling, as well), and he's French, so it's nice for the locals with so many contenders from around the rest of the world.
But still, for all that, in the end -- and speaking of "then end" how can one not be enthralled by a race that begins and ends in Paris with a historic vista unlike any other.
Or lets you revel as the riders head through the streets of Paris and then leave the city to make their journey across France for three weeks.
So, yes, for borderline inexplicable reasons (though understandable to me), I love watching the Tour de France. And that's with it wedged in among what is heaven for lovers of high profile sports events -- not just is there the Tour de France, but going on at the same time as the British Open, the UEFA European soccer championship, the Wimbledon tennis championship (which I tend to not watch, since I generally find it boring -- and this is from someone who watches cycling. And golf), the College World Series...and every four years, starting in three weeks just after the Tour de France, the Summer Olympics. And this doesn't even include the regular baseball season.
Sports heaven. All this and a bicycle tour of France.
Periodically, we hear about "Desert Island" questions -- If you were on a desert island, what one book would you want? Or what records would you take? Or what movie would you want to have.
All of the other questions aside, when it comes to movies, I think that my Desert Island film would likely be Groundhog Day.
It's not that it's my favorite movie. It isn't, though I certainly like it a lot. And it isn't that I think it's The Best movie -- it's very good, but it's not that good.
The reason why it's my Desert Island movie is that if the very point of the question is that you're going to be stranded for many years and you only have one movie to watch over and over and over and over and over and over again -and apparently have the electricity to run it -- Groundhog Day is a movie that's specifically made to be seen over and over and over and over again. The very point of the movie is the same story repeated endlessly, and you watch the same scenes over and over. And so, it's construction is built in a way that makes those repetitions not only watchable, but fun.
There are other movies that are classics, brilliantly made and a joy to watch many times. But there's a difference between watching many times -- lets say 20 or 30 times, or ever more -- and watching endlessly, many hundreds (or even a thousands) of times over years or decades. No matter how great a movie is, eventually it's going to get tedious the 40th time you've seen it that year. Groundhog Day will likely get tedious, too, eventually -- perhaps after the 300th viewing -- but its foundation gives you a better chance that it will take longer to get to that point. And even then, when it does finally start to get tedious, you'll appreciate the story all the more and begin to empathize with it...
As you might imagine, I've seen Groundhog Day a lot. But I haven't even seen this scene. That's because it was cut from the final movie.
The scene is fun, though it's pretty clear why it was cut and I think rightly so. It's not necessary to the story, although it's enjoyable to see new material. It also comes from Phil's "dark period" and is more directed towards others than himself, so they likely didn't want to too far in that direction. And also they probably figured they had enough in this sequence.. What I wonder is if the scene pays off in some way later.
Three years ago, I wrote an article here describing Trump as a fascist and explaining specifically why that was literally the case by the book definition of reality. And over the next three years pointed out that the enabling and complicit Republican Party had joined him in their enthusiastic acquiescence. So, it was good to see MSNBC host Mehdi Hassan go on a self-described 60-second rant outlining in detail why he "right all along about Trump and fascism" in his description last July and feels comfortable saying, "I told you so."
Granted, he's talking about "last July," as opposed to three years ago, but in fairness he was on national TV and not a personal website, so the standards are a wee bit different. And yes, while he describes Trump's fascist actions, he doesn't explain why those action are, in fact, the book definition of fascism (which they are), but then he only had 60 seconds, as opposed to a wide open website to rant and explain at one's heart's content. So, all in all, it's definitely good.
Particularly good, too, because it means I can take a brief respite and turn the floor over to him. All the better since the Tour de France is on, and this gives me more time to watch.
If you didn't see Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, his Main Story was on health care. More specifically, it was about something called Health Care Sharing Ministries. And I'm guessing by the name you can tell it's a feel-good concept that probably doesn't actually provide the same insurance as...well, insurance. And you'd be right. It's a very good story -- funny and substantive. And it comes with one of those wonderful twists that Oliver and his show do so well.
The freeze frame below is pretty much enough for me adore and leave it at that. That there is video to follow is close to evidence that there is a God.
I'm a massive fan of Bill Veeck who, among many things, owned the Chicago White Sox -- twice. He also owned three different major league baseball teams and won two pennants and one World Series, and most-famously sent a midget (Eddie Gaedel) up to bat in a major league game. He was known for his wild promotions and was hated by most of his fellow-owners for it and his maverick ways, but adored by his players and sportswriters. However, many of his reviled promotions are now standard in baseball (let alone all sports), including putting the names of players on the backs of their uniforms, constructing an electronic "exploding" scoreboard (that sent off fireworks, pinwheels and music, including Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, whenever a White Sox player would hit a home run), fan giveaways, free Ladies Days to interest women in the sport, and pushing to get rid of the reserve clause, which allowed players to become free agents. He was finally elected in the Baseball Hall of Fame, although posthumously.
However, you feel about sports, stick with me here. It's all worth it. This is Bill Veeck, after all.
There's so much he did and was about that I hesitate to even list anything, since it will give the impression that that's all of his highlights. But they'd only touch the surface. He hired the second black player in baseball and first in American league (Larry Doby) and hired the second black manager (again Doby). The next year, in 1948, he signed the legendary black pitcher Satchel Paige from the Negro League to finally pitch in the major leagues when Paige was 42 years old, the oldest rookie ever signed -- which was dismissed as just a stunt until he went 6-1 with a remarkable 2.48 Earned Run Average. And kept him signed for five years (when his ERA was still still only 3.53 at age 47). In fact, four years before Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to be the first black player in the major leagues in 1947, Veeck had a deal in place in 1943 to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and planned to fill the team entirely with the best black ballplayers from the Negro Leagues, which would have not only upended major league baseball, especially given that many major leaguers were in the military during WWII, but also race relations in U.S. society -- but to be fair, he told the baseball commissioner of his plans, who told the National League president who got another offer set up to buy the Phillies, cutting out Veeck.
When Veeck owned the minor league Milwaukee Brewers, he took time off to volunteer for the Marines during WWII, where he served until suffering an injury that subsequently required his leg to be amputated.
Veeck famously wandered his ballparks during games to talk with fans and sit with them, rather than up in the owner's box, to find out what bothered them and what they wanted for the team and park. (Even late in his life, he would go to Wrigley Field to watch Cubs games in the bleachers, take his shirt off in the summer sun, and buy beers for the fans around him.) He removed the door from his office so that anyone could walk in and took all his own phone calls, whoever called. He even listed his home phone number, so any fan could call him there.
(I have a small, personal overlap with all of this. In the 1970s when owning the White Sox for the second time, Veeck's son Mike was put in charge of promotions, and sponsored what is considered a well-intentioned but perhaps the most disastrous stunt ever in baseball, Disco Demolition Night. The fan-riot that ensued was so problematic that it seems to have gotten Mike Veeck blackballed from major league baseball. However, he later bought several minor league teams with Bill Murray. Then, a few decades later, Mike Veeck finally got hired by a major league club, the Miami Marlins. I wrote him a long letter about how pleased I was for that and why, and how much I admired his father. A couple weeks later, I got a phone call -- it was Mike Veeck. He said he started writing me a thank you note several times, but was so moved by what I'd said that no letter did justice to what he felt, and so instead he called. He said I should stay in touch, but I didn't want to intrude. I almost did a few years later when I read that his daughter was losing her sight from a rare disease, so he was taking time off from baseball to drive her across the U.S. so that she could see some of the greatest places in the country and always have a memory of them. Those Veecks had their perspective right.)
That perspective may have begun will Bill Veeck's father, William, who had been a sportswriter and then president of the Chicago Cubs and by all accounts was remarkably decent and extremely admired by pretty much everyone. As a young man, Bill worked for the Cubs and later was an executive for the team, and helped with renovations at Wrigley Field, including putting in the now-iconic ivy on the walls, helping design the legendary scoreboard, and building the bleachers.
Most friends assume I've always been a Cubs fan, and though I followed them, and my first major league game was to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field, growing up my favorite team was actually the Chicago White Sox. My favorite players are White Sox -- Luis Aparicio (I have an autographed ball, "To Bobby, Best wishes, Lu Aparicio"), Nellie Fox (I will have my Nelson Fox-model baseball glove) and Early Wynn. And there were two periods in the my life when I rooted for the White Sox more than the Cubs. Years later, I realized that both time overlapped when Bill Veeck owned the White Sox. He simply made baseball wildly fun -- for fans and his players. Every year, he sponsored a contest where kids would write in and explain why they wanted to be the bat boy for the team -- and that's how White Sox selected their bat boy. He put an outdoor shower stall in the outfield so fans could cool off on broiling Chicago days.
(Two stories why players loved him: one time, a player was hit with a massive personal tragedy. Veeck had him move in with his family and kept the player involved with Veeck's own activities to make sure he was occupied with things to do. Another time, Veeck invited players to his house for a party -- which is endearing enough. At one point during the afternoon, Veeck -- with his one leg -- dove into the pool fully dressed, and came back up with the unconscious young son of one of the players. When the eternally grateful father asked how Veeck had noticed that the boy hadn't resurfaced after he'd jumped in while no one else around the pool did, Veeck's answer was, "I like kids.")
Honestly, this is just the tip of who Bill Veeck was.
Veeck was a voracious reader, going through almost a book a day (though it was hard to say exactly since he tended to be reading four or five books at the same time.). He also wrote three books himself with Ed Linn. All were wonderful, but the first, Veeck -- As in Wreck, is considered one of the great books on baseball. Published in 1962, it's still in print, sixty years later. And is a vibrant, total joy. A 2012 biography on Veeck, Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson, overlaps on many of the same stories but delves far-deeper into his life, including about his fascinating father, and a lot of untold events from the perspective of others, and is a rich and excellent.
I bring this up because near the end of DIckson's book, he mentions that a half-hour documentary for PBS was made about Veeck late in his life, narrated by his wife Mary Frances. The film was done in 1985 for WTTW in Chicago by Emmy-winning producer Jamie Ceaser. Out of curiosity, I wondered -- and hoped -- if it was available online. And happily, Ms. Ceaser posted it herself on YouTube.
(Two things worth noting in the film: there is a wonderful sequence of Veeck going to Wrigley Field, mingling with fans and employees of "Illinois Masonic." That's a Chicago hospital where Veeck had recently had his latest critical surgery, and as Dickson writes about in his book, Veeck bought them tickets as a thank you. Also, you won't see Veeck anywhere in the film wearing a tie -- that's because he came up doing so when a young man. With one except, when he joined the military and, as he put it, he and the Marines reached an agreement.)
So, though all I wrote above is just the surface of Bill Veeck -- and the documentary (excellent as it is) can't even touch on the totality -- the film is a wonderful introduction to Veeck and highly worth watching whether you love sports or hate them. Because this is about Bill Veeck, who transcends it all.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In her conversation with guest host Maz Jobran, she talks about her love for the show Ballers and its star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. And also her book Persist, as well as being on the campaign trail eating and taking selfies. The quiz is based on a fun pun.
On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is Emmy-winning and Writers Guild Award-winning writer Tracey Wigfield (30 Rock, The Mindy Project) who talks about being the showrunner on the new version of the teen comedy series, Saved by the Bell for the Peacock service and bringing Bayside High up to date,
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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