Thursday, October 31, 2019

And the champion is...

Well, I finally got around to it.

I wanted to get this done way back in January, but lots of circumstances (including my joining the creative community Stage 32) took precedence.

So did a change from using Lance Haffner Games' old 3-in-1 Football to Dave Koch Sports' Action! PC Football. (Don't worry...all the games I played using 3-in-1 still count.)

Folks, without further ado, this is how the coulda-shoulda-woulda 2018 NCAA Division 1-A football playoffs shook out (seeding in parentheses):

FIRST ROUND: Appalachian State (9) 20, Northern Illinois (24) 14; Boise State (16) 38, UAB (17) 21; Louisiana State (20) 38, Army (13) 28; Cincinnati (12) 26, Kentucky (21) 14; Utah State (14) 28, Penn State (19) 21; Syracuse (22) 42, Fresno State (11) 34; Washington (15) 28, Buffalo (18) 14; Washington State (10) 35, North Carolina State (23) 30

SECOND ROUND: Clemson (1) 44, Appalachian State 38; Michigan (8) 45, Boise State 10; Oklahoma (5) 42, Louisiana State 31; Cincinnati 24, Central Florida (4) 21; Ohio State (6) 21, Utah State 16; Notre Dame (3) 33, Syracuse 17; Washington 31, Georgia (7) 28; Alabama (2) 31, Washington State 17

QUARTERFINAL ROUND: Michigan 28, Clemson 27; Oklahoma 38, Cincinnati 21; Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 17; Alabama 31, Washington 3

SEMIFINAL ROUND: Oklahoma 33, Michigan 7; Alabama 16, Ohio State 14

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Alabama 31, Oklahoma 24

This set of playoffs resulted in the second straight season with an SEC team in the driver's seat...and just the second shoulda-coulda-woulda title for the Crimson Tide (the first one took place in, surprisingly, 2014).

And it made an MVP out of the Tide's field general, Tua Tagovailoa.

Well, that's it. Time to go back and see how the current season shakes that a 24-team field for 2019 can be determined.

I'm Jim Boston, and thanks for reading this blog!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A simple-but-drastic solution

Well, it finally happened.

After two long years and eight long months, the United States House of Representatives has initiated an impeachment inquiry.

The last straw?

That former host of TV's The Apprentice decided that withholding $400 million in US funds, supposedly earmarked for Ukraine's defense, to get dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden would be a great idea.

This is, by no means, the only impeachable offense committed by a man who kept NBC happy from 2004 to 2015. Heck, the site lists 23 impeachable actions as of 8-8-2019...the eve of the 45th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation from the White House, for crying out loud.

Take just Donald Trump's violation of domestic emoluments, for example.
His lease of Washington's Old Post Office Building alone would be enough to get him kicked out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue...and, according to the General Services Administration, that lease is a no-no.

Speaking of least somebody on Capitol Hill is paying some sort of attention to this country's Constitution. Somebody on Capitol Hill still cares about preserving the Constitution...and not just its Second Amendment.

It's the Democrats who control this country's House.

And it's the Democrats in the Senate.

And don't forget Congress' three independents...US Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) as well as US Rep. Justin Amash (MI).

This past February, House Democrats passed a bill calling for background checks on future purchasers of guns. It was one of 49 bills passed in the four months since the Donkeys regained control of the House.

The only reason we don't have background checks right now, lower prescription drug prices yet, or an infrastructure deal in place is the same reason the Equality Act and the Green New Deal aren't law yet:

Senate Republicans won't bring these bills to a vote in the upper chamber. 

They're the same Senate Republicans currently fighting tooth and nail to defend their 73-year-old meal ticket...the one who used to end every telecast of his with: "You're fired!"

The way I see it, the only way to get these bills up to the Senate and get these bills to become law is simple.

And drastic.

Some people are going to have to do it kicking and screaming...but it's got to be done if America's going to remain a constitutional republic and not the police state Mitch McConnell, Steve King, Trump, and Co. crave so much.

Here it is:

We've got to stop putting Republicans in office...and we've got to stop reelecting incumbent Elephants. 

Think about it. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Well, it was a Valliant effort (and then some)

Last year, when Rob Richards teamed up with the Fremont, NE barbershop chorus known as the Pathfinders to deliver the Rose Theater's annual River City Theatre Organ Society concert, I didn't get to blog about it.

Had to rush right off and go to a church function afterwards.

No such circumstances this time around; I just got back this afternoon from the 2019 RCTOS extravaganza at the Rose.

I enjoyed it...just as I enjoyed the 2018 offering (despite it running overtime and me having to worry about lateness to that church function I committed to).

Still...when this year's bill was announced, I had mixed feelings. (That's my tough luck.)

I was excited to find out Brett Valliant was going to play the Rose's three-manual, 21-rank 1927 Wurlitzer pipe organ. (Saw one of his YouTube videos- the one where he played "Build Me Up, Buttercup-" and got excited.)

And, in 2005, I saw pianist Robert Glaser perform his brand of jazz at Omaha's since-closed Grande Olde Players Theater, which, at the time, put on a monthly jam session for local jazz performers.

Since then, I've loved Robert's way with a tune...his flair for turning a familiar song on its ear (such as "Ticket to Ride").

Today, Robert brought his Sing Sing Swing Orchestra to the venue at 20th and Farnam. Like Brett, Robert and his seven fellow instrumentalists in Sing Sing Swing play up a storm. And the band's featured vocalist, Julie Baker, sings up a storm. 

Julie was the first female performer to be part of a Concert at the Rose since...2011, when another Nebraska big band, the sixteen-member Swingtones, shared the bill with Ballet Nebraska and organ great Dave Wickerham. (At that time, pianist Jennifer Novak-Haar and saxophonists Deb Lund and Sarah Stratton were in the Swingtones.)

Well, if you dig into "Boston's Blog's" archives, you'll find a post built around Lady Gaga's 2016 observation that the music business is a...well, you know, a boys' club. Not just in rock, R&B, pop, and country, either.

And that's why I had mixed feelings (flinch).

So...I bit my tongue this afternoon.

And opened up my ears.

And heard Brett wow the audience with tunes like "Vanessa," "Tango Tedesco," the "South Pacific" gem "Bali Hai," "Atlanta, GA," Pietro Deiro's "Pietro's Return," Disney mainstay "Go the Distance," "Maple Leaf Rag," "Over the Rainbow," "Little White Lies," and "You Raise Me Up..." to say nothing of a medley of selections from a Gioachino Rossini opera, 1817's "La Gazza Ladra," or "The Thieving Magpie."

Almost a century after "La Gazza Ladra" debuted, theater organs started popping up, and the first people to play them in public often took operas and other classical works and adapted them for those Mighty Wurlitzers and competing brands. (They weren't initially called "unit orchestras" for nothing...and Brett showed that today.)

After a fifteen-minute intermission, the man from Wichita, KS came back to fire up "Wake Up and Live." 

He then turned the show over to Robert and Co.

Sing Sing Swing jumped out of the gate with "In the Mood" before Julie jumped up to sing 1964's "L-O-V-E," Nat King Cole's next-to-last chart single during his lifetime.

"One O'Clock Jump" followed before Julie grabbed the mike back from Robert to sing "That Old Black Magic." The two of 'em teamed up to sing "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and then it was all instrumental after that, with the orchestra teaming up with Brett to do "Sing, Sing, Sing" and an encore of "In the Mood."

Well...what can I say, after they had me moving in my seat to the music?

How about...encore?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A tale of two ragtime festivals (Part 2)

Just going on how the Saturday session of this year's Ragtime to Riches Festival went, I had high hopes about the Sunday leg- the 7-14-2019 turn at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ.

In a nutshell, we didn't get the kind of crowd that assembled at the Pink Poodle Steakhouse the day before.

But all four of those who paid to come to see the First Central leg of R to R 2019 still had fun.

At 2:00 PM (Central time), I was supposed to give a workshop. 

I gave it, all right...but it wasn't the one I hoped to conduct.

Ever since last year, I've been wanting to showcase some of the work of four ragtime composers: Sadie Koninsky (1879-1952), Charlotte Blake (1885-1979), Julia Niebergall (1886-1968), and May Aufderheide (1888-1972).

I brought notes with me.

Yours truly forgot to bring sheet music.

So...I went the autobiographical route instead. (Next year, I want to build my concert around works like Sadie's "Eli Green's Cakewalk," Julia's "Hoosier Rag," May's "Dusty," and Charlotte's "That Poker Rag." And leave the workshop to another performer.)

Speaking of concert...Faye Ballard was the first to give one at this year's R to R.

Hers was a workshop in itself; the Champaign, IL native started her concert with favorites "The Entertainer," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Sailin' Away on the Henry Clay," and "It Had to Be You."

The former University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana office manager put her tribute to ragdom's Big Three smack dab in the middle: Scott Joplin's "Pineapple Rag," James Scott's "Frog Legs Rag," and Joseph Lamb's "Cleopatra Rag." 

Faye went ahead and did one of May's followups to "Dusty" ("The Thriller") and followed it up with Adaline Shepherd's "Pickles and Peppers." "Raggity Rag" and "12th Street Rag" closed Faye's sixth R to R concert out.

Faye's mom, Erma, gave me the inspiration for my own concert.

Last year, Erma wanted to hear "Angry," a 1925 hit for a singer-pianist named Art Gillham, from me. I didn't have the sheet music with me at the time.

Fixed that here in 2019.

Matter of fact, my version of "Angry" led off a concert consisting of tunes whose titles have just one word apiece: Fellow 1925 hits "Cecilia" and "Collegiate," two compositions from 1927 ("Chloe" and a tune that somebody should've had a hit record with, "Beautiful"), 1920's "Margie," and two rags- Nellie M. Stokes' 1906 "Snowball" and another piece Scott J. came up with in 1902, "Cleopha." 

I felt better about my concert than my workshop, I'll tell you that. I'm glad the concert worked out.

Marty Mincer accompanying Buster Keaton's 1920 short, "One Week," worked out great.

We were hoping Erma and Faye would come back for the 7:00 PM showing of "One Week," and Marty vamped for a while so that the Two Ballards could see the film in its entirety.

Oh, well...

But the audience enjoyed "One Week..." as well as Marty's handling of the music.

The apple farmer from Hamburg, IA had time left in his set to fire off his version of "The Entertainer" before he took R to R 15.0 out in style with "The Stars and Stripes Forever." it's back to the drawing board to get the word out about Ragtime to Riches 2020.

Hope you can make it!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A tale of two ragtime festivals (Part 1) seems as if two ragtime festivals took place here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area last weekend.

But one and the same got on the books: The 2019 Ragtime to Riches Festival.

This year's was the first two-day version since the 2010 edition...the fourth and last R to R held at the Strauss Performing Arts Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. (UNO priced the Strauss Center out of the Great Plains Ragtime Society's reach not long afterwards, so the local rag club had to find another place for the fest.)

Since 2011, R to R has taken place at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ. 

This year, First Central got a Saturday partner: The Pink Poodle Steakhouse in Crescent, IA.

On 7-13-2019, at 5:00 PM (Central time), a "Tune-Ups Party" took place at the legendary Crescent restaurant...the eatery with some of the best prime rib in the Omaha Metro and three working antique upright player pianos.

And all three old uprights got a workout...especially the middle one, a 1913 Bellmann. (The others are a 1919 Gulbransen and a 1916 Ricca & Son.)

In the photo above, the Bellmann is on the left, the Ricca's on the right.

In the publicity for the "Tune-Ups Party," it was said that at least one of this year's featured R to R 15.0 performers would play at the Pink Poodle during an event modeled after a similar one...the Thursday night tune-ups that kick off the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

If it hadn't been for two little girls (Maddie and Brooke) and the mother of another little girl (a youngster named Echo; I wish I knew her mom's name) stepping up to tickle the keys, I would've played the entire length of the Pink Poodle tune-ups.

Three hours. 

I still had lots of fun at the Poodle, and- equally important- the restaurant's dining room was half full of customers.

When I come back, I'll tell you what R to R's 2019 Sunday session was like. 


Sunday, June 30, 2019

America's robocall epidemic

Today, almost half the telephone calls Americans receive come from automated sources. And that's according to a Federal Communications Commission report released this past February.

Last year, 47.8 billion robocalls got made in America, according to YouMail, a third-party robocall-blocking software company. And that was up 57% over 2017. (By contrast, The Wall Street Journal stated that Americans got hit with 26.3 billion of these automated calls in 2018...46% more than in 2017.)

The way YouMail tells it, that's less than 148 robocalls per person...or less than three automated calls per person per week.

Too many of us get more than our fair share.

It's one thing if you get one from your dentist's office or your doctor's office.

For me, most of the robocalls come from scammers.

I'm fortunate enough to have a caller ID unit hooked up to my phone...and until recently, I've been able to use this rule of thumb:

If, on your caller ID unit, the listing includes the name of the city where the call was made, you got a robocall. If the listing's got a person's name on there, an actual human being phoned you.  

What with scammers getting more and more sophisticated by the month (by the year for sure), that tactic no longer works.

Maybe you're in the same boat I'm in. Lots of automated calls I get are supposedly from the same part of town I live in. 

This tactic is called "neighborhood spoofing." Here, scammers use their computers to place calls that look as if they're coming from your own area the hopes that you'll more readily answer your phone.

Recently, scammers have started spoofing my own phone number. if I've got a reason to call myself. 

I've been on the National "Do Not Call" Registry (started in 2003). But the registry has its limits...especially where robocallers are concerned. After all, the phone pranksters spoof their identities and call from any number they darned well choose.

Got a landline phone rather than a cell phone (can't afford a cell phone at the present time)
...but if I had an Android or an iPhone or an iPad, it'd have a "Do Not Disturb" mode on it, that's for sure.

And I'm aware of the antirobocall apps out there, like Nomorobo, Robokiller, and Hiya. 

But I like- and I'm using- the solution How-to-Geek's Andrew Heinzman addressed in his 5-17-2019 post about America's robocall epidemic:

I've stopped answering my phone.  

I know, them's fightin' words to the average American. But if I don't pick up my phone each and every time it rings, and I, instead, wait and see if anybody left a REAL message on my answering machine (rather than an automated message), I decrease the number of robocalls I receive.

I'm trying to be proactive rather than waiting on this country's Congresscritters to come up with legislation to help fight this epidemic.

And I wonder about the FCC's efforts to hold robocallers accountable. In November of last year, agency chief Ajit Pai sent a dozen carriers a letter demanding that they come up with "a robust call-authentication system to combat illegal caller-ID spoofing."
He gave the phone providers until sometime here in 2019 to make real progress in developing this system. And if the companies don't, the FCC "will take action."

It's no surprise that robocalling in America is on the increase.

Take a look at who's calling the shots at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: The Ultimate Con Artist...the Master Swindler...the Grifter in Chief.

He's the same man who nominated Pai to run the FCC.  



Thursday, May 30, 2019

The 1980 National League batting champion

In a major-league playing career that ran from 1969 to 1990, he played in 2,517 games.

He totaled 9,397 at bats, scored 1,077 runs, got 2,715 hits (496 were doubles and 49 were triples).

Those 2,715 ranked him 66th on big-league baseball's all-time list.

This player smashed 174 homers and drove in 1,208 runs while batting .289.

In addition, he swiped 183 sacks and just about had as many walks as strikeouts. (He drew 450 bases on balls while whiffing 453 times!)

This star led the NL in two-base hits twice, getting 35 in 1981 (his All-Star campaign)
and 38 a couple of years later.

As a first baseman (he broke in as an outfielder), he led his league in assists four times (1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986); his 1,351 helps at first base got him 19th place on the all-time list.

He played in two World Series. 

Think of all the Baseball Hall of Famers who never got a chance to taste postseason action...let alone play on the team that won the Fall Classic.

And in 1980, when he was with the Chicago Cubs (the team that got him from the squad he broke in with, the Los Angeles Dodgers), he led all National League batters by hitting .324 (to go with his 41 two-baggers, 10 home runs, and 68 RBIs).

That's how I choose to remember Bill Buckner, who passed away three days ago.