Monday, December 31, 2012

Man, What a Group!

Sorry about not getting this out sooner...but I'm excited to bring it to you just the same.

This promises to be one of the best (okay, at least one of the most interesting) fields to ever (at least on this computer) compete in the history of this one version of a should've been/would've been/could've been NCAA Division 1-A college football playoff.

What makes the 2012 version intriguing is the fact that NCAA sanctions have prevented Ohio State from bringing its 12-0 team to the table. (From what I heard and read, school officials' attitudes toward the sanctions didn't help, either.)

Anyway...without further ado, here's the 24-team field for my version of a 2012 NCAA D-1-A football playoff (with regular-season, pre-bowl records shown): 

1. Notre Dame (12-0; independent at-large)/ 2. Alabama (12-1; SEC champ)/ 3. Northern Illinois (12-1; MAC champ)/ 4. Florida (11-1; SEC at-large)/ 5. Oregon (11-1; Pac-12 at-large)/ 6. Kansas State (11-1; Big 12 champ)/ 7. Stanford (11-2; Pac-12 champ)/ 8. Kent State (11-2; MAC at-large)

9. Georgia (11-2; SEC at-large)/ 10. Florida State (11-2; ACC champ)/ 11. Oklahoma (10-2; Big 12 at-large)/ 12. South Carolina (10-2; SEC at-large)/ 13. Louisiana State (10-2; SEC at-large)/ 14. San Jose State (10-2; WAC at-large)/ 15. Boise State (10-2; Mountain West champ)/ 16. Utah State (10-2; WAC champ)

17. Texas A&M (10-2; SEC at-large)/ 18. Clemson (10-2; ACC at-large)/ 19. Louisville (10-2; Big East champ)/ 20. Nebraska (10-3; Big Ten at-large)/ 21. Tulsa (10-3; Conference USA champ)/ 22. Oregon State (9-3; Pac-12 at-large)/ 23. Arkansas State (9-3; Sun Belt champ)/ 24. Wisconsin (8-5; Big Ten champ)

If you're new to "Boston's Blog," these 24 teams are listed in order of playoff seeding (rather than rank in the AP, USA Today, and Harris Interactive polls). Matter of fact, the polls don't figure into how teams end up qualifying for this version of a Division 1-A playoff.

A point system akin to what the high school athletic association in your state (if it's a state of the United States) uses to determine playoff seeding in football is used here. And it breaks down like this:

*A Division 1-A team earns 50 quality points for beating a winning D-1-A club.

*It earns 45 points for a win over a nonwinning 1-A squad.

*Said club gets 40 points for a win against a Division 1-AA team that enjoyed a winning year.

*And the playoff team receives 35 quality points if it stopped a nonwinning D-1-AA entry.

This system takes out quality points for every loss...meaning that a loss to a winning D-1-A team costs a playoff squad 50 points, a loss to a 1-A team that stank costs 55 points, and if the playoff team loses to a successful D-1-AA entry, well...say goodbye to 60 quality points.

What's more, if one of these Division 1-A playoff teams should lose to a losing team from 1-AA...the defeat takes 65 quality points away. 

Plus: If a team goes undefeated, it picks up 55 bonus points.

This system also uses tiebreakers...with the first one being total number of victories racked up by a team's 1-A foes. If the tied teams saw their 1-A opponents win the same number of games, head-to-head competition is looked at. If the tied teams didn't meet during the regular season, conference records are examined. And if they're identical, point differential in conference games is next. If the teams are still in a deadlock, the next tiebreaker is point differential in all games. 

And if that's all comes down to a coin flip. 

With that in mind, Florida (which won the 2009 playoffs- unbelievably, the sole SEC team to go all the way in these playoffs!) got seeded higher than defending playoff champion Oregon, despite the Gators and Ducks racking up 475 quality points each in 2012. [The 1-A clubs that played Florida totaled 87 wins this season, while Oregon's 1-A opponents won 73 times. (Weak Washington State and even weaker Colorado didn't help the Ducks' cause.)]

Also: The top eight seeds get to duck (okay, Duck) the first round.

So...if you're scratching your head as to why Kent State (making its first appearance in these playoffs) jumped ahead of Georgia (in its twelfth appearance; its first was in the playoffs' inaugural year, 1982), here's the reason: The Bulldogs faced eight losing-or-.500 1-A teams this season, while the Golden Flashes went up against seven. (Georgia got 400 quality points, while Kent State slid by with 405.)

It's how a team did this season, rather than a team's past reputation. 

By the way...if the Buckeyes hadn't gotten put on probation, they probably would've gotten the playoffs' top seed...assuming they would've won the Big Ten title game to go 13-0. As it was, Urban Meyer's club would've received 670 points for a 13-0 record.

The result that actually took place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN (Badgers 70, Huskers 31) caused the field to have room for just one at-large nine-win team. On top of that, Wisconsin's win prevented Ball State (the Cards went 9-3) from entering the playoff field.

And it forced the Cornhuskers into a first-round game.  

Speaking of games...I'm looking forward to using Lance Haffner Games' 3-in-1 Football (computer vs. computer) to get those games played. (And I'm looking forward to bringing you the results!)

Well, that's it for me this year. I'm Jim Boston, and thanks for reading this blog! (And may YOU have a happy and prosperous 2013!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Haven't We Had ENOUGH by Now?

Like the overwhelming majority of Americans right now, I've got last Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on my mind.

It's the first time ever that kindergarten children lost their lives at the hands of a mass murderer in an American place of learning.

This time, along with six adults, twenty children- many six years old, the others seven- were killed.

It's been 37 years since the first time a school shooting taking place here in the United States (it happened in Alaska in 1975) grabbed headlines.

And yes, back then, we were discussing whether or not America's gun-control laws ought to be strengthened.  

Since 1975, busloads- planeloads- of people here in this country have been killed by mass murderers...especially at this country's schoolyards and shopping malls.

And every time it happens, we keep asking: "Why?"

We KNOW the reason it keeps taking place.  

It's that we sure love those guns here in America. (I mean, the love of guns WAS a founding principle. We didn't break off from England by just talking it out.)  

Speaking of 1996, a 43-year-old man invaded an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and picked off sixteen kindergartners and their teacher. Then he pulled the trigger one more time and bumped himself off.

In time, the British government conducted an investigation...and the inquiry led to laws that ended legal private ownership of handguns in Rob Pattinson's native country.

America's lawmakers don't have the guts to come up with anything close to that kind of a law. 

What's more, way too many of the people in Washington are TOO DOGGONE CHICKEN to discuss any of this with the National Rifle Association...much less stand up to the NRA itself.

Well, I'm glad to find out US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wants to have that talk with NRA officials. (And Manchin admits he's a gun lover.)

It's long been time for lawmakers to have that long, long overdue talk with the gun lobby. And while this country's senators and representatives are at it, they need to also invite officials from the nation's big media companies. (After all, the Adam Lanzas, Allen Muhammads, Jared Loughners, and Robert Hawkinses couldn't enact their sprees if they didn't, at one time or another, see examples on TV or at some neighborhood movieplex.)

And invite rank-and-file citizens, too, by all means...because the experience in each community- urban, suburban, rural- is different in one way or another.  

Let's strengthen the gun laws we've already got. Let's make it harder for people to get them. (After all, state after state just got through pushing legislation making it harder to vote- even if that legislation basically backfired!)

You mean to tell me we can't find a place of common ground here in America when it comes to gun control

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Now You Can't Tell the Conferences without a Scorecard

I saw this in my local newspaper and I cringed.

It was announced last week that Louisville will quit the Big East Conference (the Cardinals just got through tying Cincinnati and Rutgers for the league football title) and, effective in two years, go into the Atlantic Coast Conference...the exact same decision made earlier this year by Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

And Louisville's decision came after (1) Notre Dame decided to take all of its sports- except football, of course; can't jeopardize that contract with NBC- to the ACC from the Big East and (2) Rutgers itself decided to trade its membership in the Big East for a chance to become the Big Ten Conference's 14th member. (Maryland- a charter member of the ACC, a league that goes back to the 1953-54 academic year- will start doing its thing in the Big Ten in 2014, same year Rutgers officially becomes a member of the league that gave us Nile Kinnick, Dave Winfield, Magic Johnson, and Katie Smith.)

And I'm wondering to myself: "When will all of this end?"   

I thought it was going to end with the Big 12 Conference taking in TCU and West Virginia...a move that still leaves that circuit with ten schools, what with Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M all saying "bye bye." (I still believe that Texas A&M and Missouri wanted the bigger paychecks Southeastern Conference membership could provide...and that Nebraska wanted to go into the Big Ten because it got tired of losing to Texas in football. Oh, well...)

All of these ACC moves during this 21st Century have been all about that green folding stuff...especially the kind that football can generate. [Remember when the league snatched Miami (FL), Virginia Tech, and Boston College from the Big East during 2004-05?]

The Big East retaliated by prying Cincy, Louisville, and South Florida (they've got football teams) as well as DePaul and Marquette (schools that used to compete on the gridiron) out of Conference USA.

And then C-USA made up for that by yanking Rice, SMU, and Tulsa out of the Western Athletic Conference.

In turn, the WAC enticed New Mexico State and Utah State out of the Sun Belt Conference.

Here we are, almost a decade after the ACC sought to prove it could compete in football.

And I'm wondering to myself: "When will all of this end?"   

I remember when the Big East got started (1979-80, same year as the Horizon League and the Atlantic Sun Conference, neither of which wages a football championship). The BEC was billed as the East Coast alternative to the ACC, then- as now- the most respected circuit when it comes to men's basketball.

The Big East was the league the sports reporters up in the Northeast (especially in the New York City area) had been on their knees begging for.

And they were licking it up, all right. Between 1979-80 and 1990-91, Big East squads had won as many NCAA Division 1 men's hoops tourneys as did ACC contingents- two apiece, with North Carolina's 1982 win and North Carolina State's 1983 conquest followed by Georgetown winning it all in 1984...then getting evicted from the throne room a year later by Villanova.

All four of those championships ranked right up there in NCAA history.

At that very moment, both the ACC and BEC were building good resumes in women's basketball (at a time when the SEC and the then Pac-10 were the most respected leagues)...but the championships wouldn't start coming until the middle 1990s, when North Carolina got it done (1994), only to lose its title a year later to Connecticut.

By then, Big East officials had started offering their schools a football that they wouldn't play as independents anymore.

And it looked good at long as Miami (FL) was the dominant team in the Big East.

1991 was the first year Big East teams fought for a football championship. A year later, the SEC went from 10 members to taking in football indie South Carolina and by getting Arkansas to jump the Southwest Conference.

The SEC leaders found out they could now split their circuit into divisions and put on a championship football game.     

Within five years, other Division 1-A conferences sought to duplicate the SEC and get their own grid title games going. When the SWC imploded in 1996, the Big 8 took in four of its schools and became the Big 12. The Mid-American Conference expanded to 12 schools. (It's now got 14.) C-USA took in Houston and eventually got other universities to join.

And the WAC ballooned to 16 members...only to become a joke to sports reporters and talk-show hosts. (In 1999, eight WAC schools got tired of being laughed at by the Jim Romes of the world and formed the Mountain West.)

But now, with this current amount of movement going on among D-1-A institutions, the WAC is celebrating its 50th birthday with a limp...all because it might have to drop football.

Idaho and New Mexico State have decided to go it alone (a la Notre Dame and original WAC member BYU- one of the Mountain West's charter members). And this after Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada left the WAC in time for this current school year...duplicating Boise State in the process by going to the Mountain West.

WAC newcomers Texas State and Texas-San Antonio are already ticketed for other C-USA or the Sun Belt.

Oh, well.

The next several years really are going to be interesting as conferences and schools alike prove it's really all about The Money. 

After all, if schools and conferences won't be loyal to each other, how in the world can their fans expect to show continued loyalty?

And I'm still wondering to myself: "When will all of this end?" 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Where? Where? Where? Where? Where Do They Go from Here?

It's now been 17 days since the 2012 US presidential election took place...and the Republican Party has spent all of this time wondering just what happened (and why it happened).

Party officials (along with their cheerleaders on the nation's AM so-called news and information radio stations) have spent this time not only licking party wounds...but also trying to nail down the reason(s) why Willard M. Romney couldn't put it in his hip pocket despite an early lead on Election Night.

Some in the GOP think the party couldn't end Barack Obama's presidency because Romney didn't choose US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to run alongside the former Massachusetts governor. Others feel the loss was due to the "emasculation" of Romney's campaign.

The man the son of a former Michigan governor did select as a running mate, US Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), racked it up to "urban" voters...while WMR himself, in that now-infamous (or famous, depending on your point of view) conference call to his campaign team, chalked the 2012 results to Obama supposedly giving "gifts" to Hispanic Americans, African Americans, young voters of all ethnicities, and women of all ethnic backgrounds.

Regardless of your socioeconomic background, what would YOU do if someone offered you an actual, honest-to-goodness freebie?  

Next door in Iowa, you've got Matt Schultz, its secretary of state, who's trying to get its lawmakers to join all those other states in getting voter suppression (oops...I mean voter ID) laws put into place. ("You know...if All Those Other People hadn't turned out for this year's election...")

Only a few brave Republicans have had the guts to blame the party's overall message for why we'll have to wait until 1-20-2017 for the country's 45th commander in chief to give the inaugural address.

Yes...I could really dig all of this GOP self-evaluation and all this soul searching among the current trustees of the party of Abraham Lincoln and of Teddy Roosevelt and of Dwight Eisenhower if it were heartfelt and not mere lip service.

I keep turning on my TV set and finding US Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) trying to prevent UN Ambassador Susan Rice from accepting the State Department's top gig because they don't like how Rice has handled the Benghazi affair of 9-11-2012.

McCain thinks Rice isn't qualified to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton at State. (And that's hilarious of McCain...especially when you consider his 2008 decision to have Sarah Palin run alongside him in the former Navy pilot's effort to prevent the creation of an Obama administration to begin with!)

It all smacks of Business As Usual as far as I'm concerned. You see, if McCain and Graham can get Obama to change his mind and ask US Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to take over from Rodham Clinton on 1-21-2013...well, Scott Brown can keep his own seat in the US Senate (this time as Kerry's replacement).

So much for the Republicans' loudly-proclaimed slogan of 2008: "Country First." 

Democrats, independents, and other non-Republicans have shown themselves more likely to put America first.

With Republicans, it's- with very few exceptions- party first. (One of those exceptions has been New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's work alongside BHO in the Garden State's handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.)

Another major component of the GOP message, besides "Party First," is: "It's every man for himself. It's every woman for herself. I've got mine. You go get yours.

"In fact...I want yours, and I'm going to keep you from getting yours!"

To top it all off, Republican lawmakers and aides go to great lengths to make anybody who isn't a Caucasian-American man feel unwelcome. (Todd Akin's and Richard Mourdock's sexist remarks come to do racist jibes from Newton Gingrich, John Sununu, Donald Trump, Ryan, Romney, Brown, Palin, etc., etc., etc.)

And these same Republicans have the audacity- the unmitigated nerve- to wonder why they can't get votes from people who aren't Caucasian-American men!

I remember when the Democrats ended up having to retool their party after Richard Nixon crushed George McGovern to keep the job he'd always wanted. That year, 1972, the Donkeys held a telethon.

And on that telecast, one of the speakers (I think it was Phil Donahue) said that, instead of the Democrats holding this telethon to pump money into the party, "John Wayne ought to have a telethon for war!"

It took a lot of years...but the Democratic Party remade itself into a party that not only cares about civil rights, but also cares more about America's middle-and-low-income citizens than the Republicans do.

Let's face it: The Elephants MUST retool if they're going to remain a viable major US political party (let alone win presidential elections again).

The Republicans can crow all they want to about having won seven of the last twelve US presidential elections.

Fact remains that this party has now LOST four of the last six US presidential elections.

If the Romneys and Ryans and Boehners and McConnells ever learn that, as Mom used to say, "You draw more flies with honey than vinegar," their party will have a chance to get back to winning the most talked-about political job there is. 

But only as long as the Republicans REALLY mean what they say and say what they mean.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Darn Right I Voted!

On Tuesday, 11-6-2012, I arrived at my neighborhood polling place, Omaha's Dundee Presbyterian Church, at 11:20 AM...and cast my ballot.

And as things turned out, I got some of what I wanted. (But then, when you go out and vote, chances are you're not going to get everything you want.)

John Ewing (my choice for US Representative from this district) didn't win...and that means former Omaha City Council member Lee Terry Jr. will be back in Washington, DC, for his eighth term in the US House.

Bob Kerrey won't be back in the nation's capital. Instead, State Sen. Deb Fischer gets to supersize her gig...and becomes one of a record twenty women who'll take the oath of office the first week of 2013 as US Senators.

But I was happy about The Big One.

Barack Obama getting a second term of office in the White House means- as far as I'm concerned- that America's got a real chance to really get back on its feet.

Over sixty million people just got through telling this country's government that, among other things, for a recovery to just plain take off, the nation's 300,000 wealthiest citizens have absolutely GOT to pay their fair share (or else they're going to continue to be labeled as traitors!).

Those voters also said: "Look, Republicans, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is the law of the land. And if you don't like the law the way it is...don't repeal it! Strengthen it, okay?"

I'm excited about the possibilities ahead. (Maybe you are, too.)

And whether or not the people you preferred to win won their seats (or got reelected), it's long been time for all sides to get together and find common ground and think about We the People        and move this country forward.

Thanks for reading this blog!

Friday, October 19, 2012

You See a Pattern Here?

When I got home from work late last night, I turned on MSNBC.

And I found out, from watching The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, that Taggart Romney- the new de facto campaign manager for his dad, the ex-governor of Massachusetts- appeared as a guest on The Bill LaHaye Show, heard on a North Carolina talk-radio station. (The appearance took place shortly after this year's second presidential debate, held this past Tuesday in Hempstead, NY.)

Bill asked for Taggart's reaction to "the President of the United States calling your dad a liar."

Taggart told the listeners that he wanted to jump out of his chair at the debate site and...punch out one Barack Hussein Obama.

And he would've done it if it hadn't been for all those Secret Service agents.

Well, Taggart Romney would have to punch out a whole lot of people...starting with Lawrence O'Donnell himself. (And Lawrence said so toward the end of his own show last night...and even invited Tagg to take a swing or two or three!)

Tagg, you might as well catch a plane to come here to Omaha to punch me out, too.

After all, the last time I put up a post, I mentioned that your father (whose own dad- your paternal grandfather- used to be Michigan's governor, and had that job from 1963 to 1969) struck me and millions of Americans as an out-and-out liar.

George Romney had more class in his right pinkie than Willard M. Romney has in his entire body.

When Romney the Elder ran for this country's presidency in 1968, he proved he could afford to run for what was then Lyndon Johnson's job by releasing a tax return of his from each of the previous dozen years.

Willard Romney doesn't have the guts to turn in more than a pair of his own income tax returns.
(I STILL believe he's got something to hide!)

How about WMR's taking credit for the recovery of America's auto industry- the very industry that helped George and Lenore put food on the table for little Mitt and themselves, let alone made the family wealthy?

Yep, we're talking about the same Mitt who grew up to, a year after his stint (2003-07) as the governor in the Bay State ended, put an editorial in The New York Times to call for that very same industry to go bankrupt!

Getting Taggart's father to commit to one stand or another on abortion is harder than nailing Jell-O to a brick wall. Same for getting him to take a stand on the Lilly Ledbetter Law...the first thing BHO signed into law.

But what really took the cake this past Tuesday night was- besides his constant bullying at the debate- his lack of command of the facts on the Benghazi uprising.

Taggart's father/political client got away with pushing PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer around during the first 2012 debate (at Magness Hall in Denver, CO)...but couldn't get the same results with the next debate moderator, Candy Crowley (who hosts CNN's State of the Union program).

All Crowley wanted was the truth about how the White House handled the killing of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stephens. 

After all, if you're going to cast a ballot during an election, don't you want to know the truth about the people vying for the offices that are up for grabs?

The truth is: Willard M. Romney says and does anything to win an election. He enjoys saying different things to different groups of people on the campaign trail.

And that means he said something completely different in Denver on 10-3-2012 (with 68 million viewers watching on TV) than he did in Boca Raton, FL about five months earlier (in a closed-door speech meant for 25 of his fellow bluebloods...a speech that, as things turned out, got televised around the world, for crying out loud!).

I don't like being bullied, coerced, or forced into anything...and I've got the feeling that US Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his new puppet (that's right- Willard M.) will do lots of bullying, coercing, and forcing to America's rank-and-file citizens should this year's Republican ticket take the Big Prize.

According to a composite of the various opinion polls out there, that very thing could darned well happen. (They've got WMR leading BHO, 47.7% to 46.7%...even if the composite doesn't take this week's debate into consideration.) 

And if that result holds true on 11-6-2012, I feel it's going to be the beginning of the end for America as an independent country, let alone the world's most influential, most powerful, and most talked-about nation.

The stakes are too darned high.

I can't help but ask: "Do you REALLY want a bully in there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dear Mr. President:

I'm glad you're in there.

I'm so glad you came along when you did.

You've done a lot of great things for the United States, starting with that loan to General Motors and Chrysler. (Sorry, Republicans; it wasn't a bailout. It was a loan...and while GM's still paying off its debt, Chrysler already has paid its loan back.)

America's had 31 straight months of job growth, and now, according to information I got from reading, the nation's had a net of 325,000 gigs since you took the oath of office on 1-20-2009.

Helping out this country's auto industry WAS a bold, bold was pushing for the Affordable Care Act of 2010. (I'd been saying all along: "With America's knowhow, why should this country be the only major nation still without a universal or equivalent type of health-care insurance plan for all its citizens?")

ACA really does save lives.

Then you've got DADT, the Dream Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and...Osama bin Laden and Muammar al-Qaddafi aren't here anymore and can't check out what happens in next month's US presidential election.  

To top it all off, the stock market has skyrocketed on your watch (something the Republicans absolutely refuse to admit)...and, contrary to what the so-called GOP teaches, you've shown that you're NOT going to take people's guns away.

You really DO care about the country's low-income and middle-income households...and you really DO want all of us (including America's 300,000 wealthiest citizens) to pay our fair share to help keep these 50 states on the map. 

Mr. Obama, I voted for you on 11-4-2008...and I'm going to do this again on 11-6-2012.

I know you and the other Democrats (as well as independents and other non-Republicans) have a whole lot of things you'd like to do to help get America back on its feet.

And I support what you're doing. Big time. 

Now if you can really take it to Willard M. Romney next time you and he debate (and expose him for the out-and-out liar he strikes me and millions of other Americans as)...


Sincerely, Jim Boston

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dear Mr. Romney:

Allow me to introduce myself.

You see, four months ago, when you spoke at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, FL, you referred to a certain group of people who want the US government to feed them, house them, provide them with health care, etc., etc., etc.

You labeled them as Americans who don't pay their taxes.

You said that these people make up 47% of this country's population.

And you stated that they're going to vote to keep Barack Obama in the White House.

What's more, Mr. Romney, you made it clear that you're giving up on trying to reach them (in spite of your recent claim in Miami, FL, that you were going to be the President of 100% of the nation's population).

Yes, I'm one of the country's low-income wage earners; and yes, I voted for Obama in of 69.5 million to do that on 11-4-2008 (out of 131.3 million who voted that day...when the United States had 225.5 million eligible to cast ballots).

That's actually less than 31% of this land's eligible electors four years back...not 47%.

And as a matter of fact, I actually DO pay my taxes.  

Okay, Mr. Romney, I've received money back from the State of Nebraska every year since I moved back here in 1997 from my birth state of Iowa...but it's been years since I got a refund from the Internal Revenue Service. (Okay, all right...for tax year 2011, I received a tax refund check of $109 from our state's Department of Revenue...while paying the United States Treasury $62.)

And I didn't go for the one-time US senator from Illinois because I wanted to be a freeloader.

I filled in the oval next to Obama's and Joe Biden's names because I thought the 2008 Democratic ticket could help more Americans than that year's Republican know, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

By the way, when you gave that speech to 25 of your fellow bluebloods down in Boca Raton this past spring, you said you couldn't convince the so-called forty-seven-percenters to take responsibility for their lives.

Well, guess what?

I most certainly DO take responsibility for myself AND for my own life. 

I know you're some kind of busy right now, but if you get a chance to read this blog (or its predecessor on, you'll find that I've been at the same place of work (a factory) since 1-26-2004, and that I'm also an independent performer (old-time piano- check out

Last time I checked, that DIDN'T sound like someone not taking self-responsibility.

I remember when you made a campaign appearance late last year (at the height of the Occupy movement); a man attending the rally identified you as one of America's 300,000 wealthiest people. (Okay...he called you a one-percenter.)

I remember you calling him a divider.

As far as I'm concerned, the remarks you made this past May in that fast-growing Sunshine State city (86,445 lived there in 2009, up from a 2000 total of 74,764) are totally divisive

If telling folks that Hispanic people giving their 2012 votes to the one-time Illinois state senator would ruin this nation isn't divisive, were never governor of Massachusetts!

One more thing...I feel that this presidential election cycle, the way the Republicans have been running it, is the culmination of 48 years of- let's not kid ourselves- your party courting and attracting proven racists and sexists (in response to Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964). 

By the way...every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows (or is about to learn) that America's government works best when all three branches- executive, legislative, and judicial- actually participate in decisions. And that goes for BOTH major political parties!

Your GOP buddies in the US House and the US Senate made it clear, right from the start of the current administration, that they were going to block every piece of legislation that BHO proposed...even if previous Republican lawmakers (or the current ones themselves) championed that legislation before.

The Republicans took back control of this country's House loudly proclaiming that jobs would be what they'd be working on.

It hasn't happened.


You knew darn good and well that if you refused to work to bring America's economy back up to snuff, you'd get enough sympathy from citizens at large to get The Prize back.

Speaking of economy...if the trickle-down economic philosophy Republicans have espoused since 1980 is so darn great...why hasn't the money trickled all the way down to us rank-and-file Americans? 

After all, CEO pay here in America has skyrocketed since 1981 (and the pay for middle-income and low-income Americans has flatlined or, at times, even gone down).

That's not jive. That's research from Mother Jones. 

To wrap it up, I'm going to vote the exact same way I did on 11-4-2008. (The Democrats- and independents- not only, as a whole, are talking the talk when it comes to putting America back on its feet. They're walking the walk.) 

Barack Obama knows what and who he is.

Now, if you can just puh-leez figure out who you are...

Thank you for this opportunity to address you.

Sincerely, Jim Boston

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hey, Don't You Remember Being Sixteen?

It's been several weeks since the 2012 Summer Olympic Games (the third ones ever held in London, England) came to an end. I'm still raving about the performances of several teams and of four athletes:

(1) Both United States basketball teams- Mike Krzyzewski's men and Geno Auriemma's women- picking up gold again; (2) America's women's soccer team, which got revenge on Japan; (3) the nation's gold-winning and silver-winning women's beach volleyball teams; (4) the US setting a world record in the women's 4x100 relay; (5) American swimmers Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin; (6) South African runner Oscar Pistorius; (7) America's women's volleyball team; (8) the first US women's gymnastics team to get the team gold since 1996 (when the Summer Games were held in Atlanta, GA).

And then there's the biggest name on that 2012 US Olympic women's gymnastics squad...a sixteen-year-old Virginian named Gabrielle Douglas. 

All Douglas did was become just the third consecutive American to pick up Olympic gold in all-around competition in women's gymnastics (and the fourth American to do it)...and the first American female gymnast to claim a team medal and an individual all-around one in the same Olympiad.  

And coming into this year's Summer Olympics, Michigan's Jordyn Wieber was the name sports fans were supposed to rave about when it came to women's gymnastics.

Still, what a team Douglas, Wieber, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Co. turned out to be in London. I'm still celebrating.

What hurts so darn much, though, is just about right after Douglas made history in the all-around competition, some people got on complain about Douglas' hairdo.  

When I turned on my TV and found out how some people on the social network were dissing Gabby, I found myself asking: "WHY??"

I don't remember people going online to complain about 2004 all-around winner Carly Patterson's looks...or about those of the next all-around champion, Nastia Luikin.

And nobody here in America complained about the physical appearance of the first female US gymnast to snare the all-around gold medal, Mary Lou Retton, who got it done in 1984.

Matter of fact, many were probably wondering how soon Retton could go after the job Ronald Reagan had at that very moment.  

But here we are in 2012, and instead of celebrating the accomplishments of a teenager who's spent the last two years training in Shawn Johnson's stomping grounds (West Des Moines, IA)...we want to know what the hell is wrong with the hair of the Olympic movement's new all-around women's gymnastics champ.

And now, they want to dismiss Douglas' experiences training at one of the facilities in her birth city of Virginia Beach, Excalibur. At that training center, one (or several) of the other gymnasts treated her like a slave.

Listen, I take Gabby Douglas at her word. 

Here in America, we adults spend so much time minimizing anything said by our country's preteens and teenagers. We far too often turn a deaf ear when they're hurting inside. 

So before you start accusing Douglas of playing the so-called race card or start complaining of her physical appearance, stop and think about what it was like when YOU were sixteen years of age.

Was your sixteen all that sweet?  

I don't feel mine was...but that's a whole other story.

Meantime, Gabrielle Douglas' sixteenth year on Earth (she'll turn seventeen on 12-31-2012) has been some kind of sweet. Her two gold medals are the icing on the cake.

And I'm going to keep saying: "RIGHT ON! All the very best to you!" 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Still Have Trouble with It

Last Friday, as I was heading home from Film Streams, I saw a cement mixer that had, attached to the back end, one of the most memorable bumper stickers of all time:  

"America: Love It or Leave It."

I've always had a problem with that message...even going back to when the sticker first hit vehicles in the early 1970s.  

To me, the message implies that if you don't like anything about the United States (and would like to remedy those things you don't like), well...that's just too darned bad. You're told you've got to live with America's warts. 

Now, if you were around during the 1970s (especially if you grew up during that decade), you might remember what America was going through...starting with the Vietnam War and working through the nation's struggles with inflation, the energy crisis, the Watergate scandal and the resulting fallout, the nation's Establishment wrestling with explanations about new attitudes (especially about civil rights and feminism) here in these fifty states, ecology becoming a mainstream issue, and...and...and...

Back then, I was more attracted to another bumper-sticker message: "America: Change It or Lose It."  

I mean, what good does it do to abandon a nation when it's got problems? 

You parents out there: Would you be willing to abandon your children whenever they've exhibited problems in their lives?

Think about the problems this country's facing at the present time (some of them holdovers from the 1970s, for crying out loud!). If you and I really care about America, wouldn't we fight to do whatever it takes to keep it on the map? Wouldn't we fight to take care of the issues that threaten to implode this land of ours? 

With a Congress that's less effective than a day-care center; states whose Republican-led legislatures are out to destroy (okay, at least hamper) the right to vote; bluebloods like Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch trying to buy this year's presidential election instead of letting We the People make our choices; education no longer a real priority here in the US; and inflation, unemployment, and energy still issues out there (to say nothing of feminism and civil rights), this a good time to leave America's warts intact?

Doggone it, let's GET RID OF these warts!!  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

And Now, Back to OTPP

Now to turn the calendar back six more weeks and pick things up where we left off when it comes to the 2012 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

It was Sunday, 5-27-2012...and the spotlight was on ten Regular Division contestants.

That's right...the only ten Regular Division contestants left for 2012.

And this was a year where just three judges watched all the pianists at Peoria's Sheraton Four Points Hotel. Circumstances forced Helen Black Tapp to sit out this year's OTPP...leaving Brenda Clark, Patrick Holland, and one of the arbiters you saw in "The Entertainers," Raymond Schwarzkopf, to fend for themselves. (Well, actually, the threesome got real help from Linda Earlywine, Harriet Wall's replacement as contest judging assistant.)

Helen's OTPP judging debut came in 2000, when the contest was still held at the old Holiday Inn Select in Decatur, IL. After all the competition that year came to an end, she treated me to...what sounded to me like a kangaroo court. (Okay, it was billed as constructive criticism.)

And so, coming into 2012, I'd been reluctant to ever again play for Helen.

Okay, enough of that. Let's get to the ten who played for Raymond, Patrick, Brenda, and...a highly enthusiastic audience. 

First of all, John Remmers went up to bat. His ability to play exactly what the composers intended came through in John's versions of "The Strenuous Life" and "Alabama Slide."

Martin Spitznagel was still cookin', what with the job he did with George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch over Me" and a number from Jelly Roll Morton, "The Perfect Rag." (You couldn't accuse Jelly Roll of being bashful.)

It was "Perfessor" Bill Edwards' turn; he went with "Jim Jams" and "Row, Row, Row." (No...not "Row, Row, Row Your Boat!")

The tag-team setup Ted Lemen and Adam Swanson put together the day before continued strong, with Adam putting on a clinic. And this time, the newest undefeated RD champ- now a student at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO- cruised through a Tom Brier rag, "Razor Blades."

After that, it was Will Perkins' turn to cruise...and he did, with "The Entertainer" and "After You've Gone."

Ethan Uslan was next...and he showed why he's referred to as "The Innovator" in that documentary about OTPP. Our father of two brought out "Charleston" and "Poor Butterfly." (And he turned them on their heads!)

Well, five down...and five to go. (I'll be back to finish this one!)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's No Longer a Secret Anymore!

The 2012 Ragtime to Riches Festival turned out to be the most successful one yet.

And it couldn't have happened if Nora and Mark Hulse (the husband-and-wife duo also known as Ragtime Razzmatazz- she plays piano, he plays banjo) hadn't brought their considerable talents to Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ.

The success of 7-8-2012 also wouldn't have come if Nick Holle hadn't brought the movie he and Michael Zimmer codirected, "The Entertainers," to R to R 8.0.

On top of all that, this year's event wouldn't have succeeded without the 38 people who came to savor the workshop, the documentary about Illinois' World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival, and the two R to R concerts. Because of the fans' enthusiasm for ragtime and old-time piano, the Great Plains Ragtime Society raised $380.

But the whole thing started out slowly...and I was really nervous about that, even with more publicity about the festival than before and the added attraction of a documentary, part of which was filmed here in the Big O.

Last year, we sold just ten tickets to the R to R get-together (the first one-day Ragtime to Riches Festival ever; this started out as a three-day event before we had to shed Fridays in 2009).

And by the time Nora and Mark got well into their workshop at this year's festival, only six people had paid to take in the festivities. (A camera operator from one of the local TV stations came by and taped footage...only to leave a few minutes later.)

But by 2:45 PM (Central time), more and more old-time piano fans (and people who were curious about the existence of a ragtime event in Huskerland) started to trickle into First Central's Memorial Hall.

Fifteen minutes later, the Hulses shifted from talking about the banjo's place in America's early pop music scene (and sprinkling the workshop with a spotlight on some of the 500 women who'd written at least one rag apiece) to giving the first of two R to R concerts for 2012.

And Mark and Nora put on a real humdinger! 

The Lawrence, KS couple started it all out with "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," then turned to a composition written by one of those 500 women, "The Missouri Girl March." They then strung together "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," "The Band Played On," and "The Sidewalks of New York" before mastering "Dill Pickles," "A Spanish Serenade," and Ed Claypoole's "Ragging the Scale."

It was reminiscent of when our piano-and-banjo duo did their thing at the old Shakey's Pizza Parlor in Columbia, MO during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

And it was FUN!

Nora and Mark pulled out one of their Shakey's showstoppers, "Hava Nagila," following that up with "The Piano Roll Blues" and Dick Hyman's "Ragtime Razzmatazz-" the piece that gave the duo their nickname.

And then a photographer from another local TV station (Fox affiliate KPTM) came in to get footage...and stayed long enough to seek an interview: "Who's the organizer?"

I raised my left hand and the photographer- Eric- motioned me into the hallway to take part in that interview...while more people kept coming into the church to dig the festival.

That did it.

By the time the workshop presenters ended their concert with BOTH "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever," every seat in Memorial Hall was anticipation of "The Entertainers."

I wasn't sure how the film would go over when put in front of Omahans' eyes. It'd already passed five tests since its unveiling on 4-20-2012 (in Madison, WI)...but how would Nick Holle's and Michael Zimmer's presentation do in a city where one of the movie's six main subjects lives?

The documentary went over fine! 

The film actually rolled at 4:30 PM so that technical glitches could be ironed out. Once the movie came to an end 93 minutes later, a Q-and-A session ensued...and it lasted longer and was livelier than the Peoria counterpart. (Nick fielded most of the questions.)

After dinner, it was time for one more concert...and that one got started at 7:08 PM.

I wanted to take a page out of Burns Davis' book and build my own show around a theme...and it stemmed from a missed opportunity to use such a theme on 4-15-2012, when the Great Plains Ragtime Society held a meeting at Omaha's Hollywood Candy/Fairmont Antiques store (at 1209 Jackson St.).

That April weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (you know, the ship that was supposedly too big to sink). And I had a chance to do some of the songs that were popular in 1912.

Well, almost three months later, I went ahead and played ten of 1912's most popular cuts...starting with 1911's final Number One song, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." ("Sweetheart," recorded by the Peerless Quartet, was the top song in the land for seven was the recording that knocked it off the top of the charts, Harry MacDonough's "Down by the Old Mill Stream.")

After doing those two songs, I went ahead with "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" and 1912's most successful song, "Moonlight Bay." (When the American Quartet- probably the New Kids on the Block of their day- cut "Moonlight Bay," they took it to Number One and kept it there for eight weeks.)

I stuck in "Alexander's Ragtime Band" because Charles Prince's Orchestra tried the tune on for size in 1912...but had nowhere near the success Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan did with the song the previous year. (That duo's recording of Irving Berlin's first real songwriting triumph enjoyed a ten-week run at the top of the charts!)

It was then time for a couple of actual rags: Imogene Giles' "Red Peppers" and the Brandon Walsh-Charles Straight number, "Mockingbird Rag."

All this time, I'd sneaked in information about some of 1912's biggest news events. For instance, I told the audience- the biggest one I'd ever played for at an R to R Festival- that New Mexico became a state of the US during "Sweetheart's" chart run...and that "Beautiful Doll" peaked at Number One eleven days before Arizona got in...and that the Girl Scouts of America were founded while "Moonlight Bay" was on the charts...and that Charles Prince's ork's version of "Alexander's" was on the charts at the time the Titanic fell into the Atlantic Ocean.

More of that to come, with three more tunes: "Ragtime Cowboy Joe," Bob Roberts' smash (tops for six weeks) that came out as William Howard Taft sent US troops to Nicaragua over a debt that country owe America and some European lands; "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," another number that spent six weeks on top (by the Heidelberg Quintet, which was actually the American Quartet Plus One) while the Boston Red Sox were stopping the then New York Giants in the World Series; and "The Ragtime Soldier Man," one of Irving's lesser-known tunes and one that I wanted to send out to today's members of this country's military.

What a time everybody had at this year's Ragtime to Riches!

Finally, the club has a bank account (and now, I can tell people who want to contribute financially to GPRS that they can make their checks out to the club...and I can really mean it).

More important than that, the sky's the limit for Great Plains and for its signature event.

Thanks, Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue, for removing R to R from the area's list of secrets.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Whole Lot of Newness Going On

This itch I was happy to scratch.

It was Saturday, 5-26-2012, and I was about to join a few hundred other people in taking in the actual competition at this year's World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

A lot of newness going on: This was the first year the contest would be held at Peoria's Sheraton Four Points Hotel (the previous venue, the city's Hotel Pere Marquette, is scheduled for remodeling or the headache ball). It was going to be the first year with a new coordinator (in 2011, the only two contest coordinators in OTPP history shared the passing the torch to the other). This year's event ended up using three judges (two men and a woman, like on American Idol; the contest was meant to have four arbiters).

And on a personal note, 2012 was going to be the first year I didn't enter the OTPP Contest's main competition or even the event's New Rag Contest.

And something else was new:

Contest creator and emcee Ted Lemen got himself a cohost.

You couldn't ask for a better cohost than three-time Junior Division, three-time Regular Division champ Adam Swanson...the young man who raised the bar (and I mean RAISED the bar) to where it is today.

Well, the preliminary competition started off with a bang when the year's first contestant, Monty Suffern (Australian-born; he moved to the United States a dozen years ago and now makes his home in the nation's second-largest state, Texas), took "Moby Dink," that 1883 Weber upright, through "Bohemia" and "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." He was one of seven OTPP newcomers for 2012.

Monty sure sounded to me as if he was heading for the next day's second round. He did that great a job.

Bill McNally's done some moving, too. It took place in the three years since he and I last met (the three years since I was able to make the trip to Central Illinois). A lifelong Pennsylvanian, Bill now makes his home in New York...where his teaching career continues.

At the contest, Bill showed the audience a new way to dig "Turkey in the Straw" as well as contest favorite "Dizzy Fingers."

Then Four Arrows came up to bat...coming back after missing out on the 2011 Old-Time Piano Contest.

The Man from Mexico (he's also an author and online professor) showed he's still got that great showmanship as he pumped up "The Darktown Strutters' Ball" and "Jealous."

Next up was newcomer Alex Poyner, who turned in a couple of Scott Joplin rags: "Weeping Willow" and "Swipesy."

Just one week from OTPP Weekend, just three Junior Division pianists (if you're new to learning about the contest or new to "Boston's Blog," JD contestants are 17 years of age or younger) had signed up to take the Peoria Challenge. Then two more juniors (and their parents) plunked down the entry fee.

One of them was another first-year contestant, Bradley Mylius. The young Ohioan not only weighed in with a fine "Maple Leaf Rag," he also came up with "Creole Love Call."

And then came the second junior in a row to play that Saturday, Daniel Souvigny. 

Last year, at ten, he almost won the thing in the Junior Division...and Daniel showed that he wasn't about to back down here in 2012, what with a "Mack the Knife" that came from Faye Ballard's playbook (and she took it from Liberace's playbook). Daniel wowed the house with that one...then topped it all off with "A Handful of Keys," a Fats Waller favorite.

Another Dan followed to step up to the stage to play that 1883 Weber upright. But you can't really call Dan Mouyard "another Dan." [After all, he was the first Junior Division champion to grab a Regular Division title (after topping the other juniors in 1996, he came away with the RD crown in 2001 and came back to snatch the RD championship in 2003)!]

Dan the Elder had the first of two versions of "Steeplechase Rag" heard over the weekend, then followed that up with "Twilight Rag."

Have you had a chance to slip on over to, the contest's new site? Dan Mouyard cooked up the Website's fine, fine look. (By the way, to top all the other Regular Division contestants in 2003, Dan had to wrestle the Ted Lemen Traveling Trophy away from the second JD champ to ascend to the top of the RD heap...Adam Downey, whose junior crowns in 1991, 1992, and 1993 preceded his 2002 RD triumph.)

Speaking of Ted...he and Adam Swanson (the latest of two- thus far in OTPP history- to pocket three junior titles and three regular titles apiece) made a fine team when it came to emceeing the contest. And that really became clear when, after the Two Daniels (or Two Dans) played, Adam S. strode over to Moby Dink for the first of several demonstrations of how the Fort Lewis College student from Shenandoah, IA got all those championships.

This year's OTPP was also the first one in which Samuel Schallau (a student from Germany) competed. I liked his versions of "Weeping Willow" and "Midnight Whirl;" they were nice and steady, nice and relaxing. (I've got the feeling Samuel- who's going to start college later this year- will be a Peoria fixture for years to come. I hope so.)

The next three contestants have also been New Rag Contest fixtures...and the first of those next three was Jacob Adams, the Minnesota native who mastered a couple of the many rags I admire and have yet to feel more comfortable playing: James Scott's "Hilarity Rag" and Scott Joplin's "The Cascades."

Jacob, the 2010 New Rag champion, gave way to native Pennsylvanian Martin Spitznagel, who not only removed the NRC crown from Jacob's grasp in 2011 but also took home the Old-Time Piano Contest's biggest prize that year. (Martin had 2007's best new rag, too.) Martin made a real bid to hang on to the TLTT when he came out with contest favorite "Dizzy Fingers" and a rockin' version of "Oh, You Beautiful Doll."

And then "Perfessor" Bill Edwards, the 1991 Reg Division titleholder who aced the New Rag Contest in 2001 and 2002, capped off the first half of the 2012 OTPP preliminary competition by gliding through "Egyptian Glide" and "Hungarian Dance #5." (By the'd you like him and Adam S. in "The Entertainers?" How'd you like Faye in that documentary?)

Toward the end of that movie, Faye said she was going to scare the stuff (my word) out of people with her love of- and enthusiasm for- the OTPP.

And thus far, with the office systems specialist from Champaign, IL in there as contest coordinator, the OTPP ride was still wonderful...still groovy.

Well, an hour after the computer programer/ragtime historian from Ashburn, VA hit the final notes of "Hungarian Dance #5," Spencer Andrews (this year's third JD'er) came up to put Moby Dink through its paces. His selections were "Tiger Rag" and "The Midnight Fire Alarm."

Then Ethan Uslan strode onto the stage...and really took ol' Weber for a ride. (How'd you like him in the first documentary to zero in on an event that was initially held outdoors and was initially attended by forty people?)

This time, the New Jerseyite-turned-North Carolinian's fuel consisted of "With a Song in My Heart" and "Nina from Palestina."

Another thing about the contest's history is that the first five championships went to women. (Joybelle Squibb won it all in 1975 and 1976...only to see Dorothy Herrold knock it out of the park in 1977, 1978, and 1979. Dorothy- that teacher from La Porte, IN- decided to retire from competition after her '79 win to give other pianists a chance to get the title.)

By 1984, six of the first ten OTPP titles were won by women; that year, Illinoisan Janet Kaizer ended the three-year reign of another performer from the Land of Lincoln, Mark Haldorson...and inaugurated her own two-year stay at the top of old-time piano. (Janet had company in 1985...the first year contest organizers offered a junior championship. Before Neil Moe started his own three-year stint as the best JD performer, pianists in all age groups went after one title.)

Now we get to 2012, and on the eve of OTPP Weekend, no woman had won the RD crown since 2000 (when Mimi Blais followed up her spectacular 1994 reg triumph with another trophy). But...three of the last four junior championships had been won by girls (and that after boys had locked up the first 23 titles in that division; remember, though...four of those boys grew up to become not only RD champs, but also some of the most famous performers OTPP's ever had...with two others going on to excel in other areas of music).

That's what Tennessean Diana Stein walked into when she walked into the Sheraton Four Points Hotel's Main Hall.

And I thought Diana did a fine job, firing up Luckey Roberts' "Pork and Beans" and Scott Joplin's "Solace."

And about firing up...Bobby Van Duesen (he's a Floridian, and like Diana, a newcomer to the C&F) came out on fire, cracking jokes and engaging in lively banter with Ted L. and Adam S. Once Bobby sat down (or, at times, stood up) to play "Nickel in the Slot" and "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind," he showed why he's nicknamed "Piano Man."

Next up to bat: This year's last two Junior Division performers...Illinoisans Morgan Siever and Leo Jennetten. (Morgan topped all the JDs during 2010 and 2011, while Leo- he lives and goes to school right there in Peoria- was the last to enter the 2012 contest. His entry was the act that enabled all the junior performers this time to earn prize money.)

Morgan came out on fire, too (check out her video on, showing why she won the previous two J championships with killer versions of "Steeplechase Rag" and "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey." Leo- the last 2012 newcomer to what still seems like one of Peoria's best-kept secrets- followed that softball-playing, basketball-playing pianist with nice versions of "Ain't She Sweet" and "The Glow Worm."

Damit Senanayake (a Singaporean who moved to the United States himself and now lives in the state of Washington) turned in a couple of nice ones himself: "Clog Dance" and "Pastime Rag #2."

Now the prelims were heading toward the home stretch, with Michigander John Remmers (he's done "Pastime Rag #2" before) coming up with "Sensation" and "Elite Syncopations."

Then the retired college professor gave way to a high school teacher named Joe Mankowski (he calls his home town, Buffalo, NY, "the Miami of the North")...who made a real bid as well with Fats Waller's and Andy Razaf's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Love Me or Leave Me," a Walter Donaldson song made famous by Ruth Etting.

Joe would've been the last of the preliminary contestants...except Californian Will Perkins made it to Illinois after all. (Will made it into Richard Pryor's and Jim Thome's birth city early that Saturday...and the other contestants vowed to save the Golden Stater a place in this year's competition if his flight made it to the Land of Lincoln.)

Will proved the wait was darned well worth it, as his renditions of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "My Gal Sal" demonstrated. (By the way, check his stuff out on!)

Well, the first leg of competition for this pivotal year was finished, and while sixteen R contestants were waiting to find out who was going to play the next day, the remaining five competitors were wondering which of them would get which prize.

And as things turned out, Spencer finished fifth (and received $40 as a result), Leo got $60 for placing fourth, and Bradley earned third place- and $100.

Daniel S. prevented Morgan from pulling off the hat trick (or maybe delayed the hat trick). 

And because of that, Dan the Younger pocketed $250...twice the size of the prize Morgan walked away with.

Stick around, because I'm going to wrap up my look at the 2012 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival before this month is out.  

 But first...I'm going to talk about something closer to home. (Stay tuned!)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

If it weren't for "The Entertainers," I wouldn't have been able to make it to Peoria, IL for the 2012 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival. (That's right; this event- which dates back to 1975- has a new title, adding the "and Festival" this year.)

It all started when Nick Holle (one of the documentary's codirectors) gave me a call early in May and said: "Jim, how'd you like to come to Peoria?"

Result: The opportunity I didn't expect to get for this year.

It'd been three years since I last made the trip to Central Illinois. Since then, I'd gotten a bankruptcy discharge, gone exclusively to my debit card (no more credit cards!!), and fought to get all my bills paid up...especially my car note. I figured, in fact, that I'd have to wait until 2014 to do the kind of traveling I used to.

But then...the first documentary about Ted Lemen's claim to fame broke. (And so did increased overtime opportunities at the plastics factory I work at when I'm not writing a blog or getting involved in old-time piano.)

And so...after not being able to hit a metropolitan area other than Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue during 2011, I've been on the road three times this year. (And all three excursions were in rental cars!)

The trip to baseball great Jim Thome's birth city this past Memorial Day weekend was the best as far as renting a car was concerned: Enterprise let me use a 2011 Hyundai Accent that had (ta da!) a satellite radio.

No AM or FM for me, what with Sirius XM's 40s on 4, 50s on 5, 60s on 6, 70s on 7, 80s on 8, 90s on 9, and Motown on 49 channels to make it a really groovin' trip. (After all, Sirius gives you a lot of the tunes FM-AM chiefs refuse to put back on the air. For instance, I got to hear Larry Williams' 1957 hit "Bony Moronie" as I was coming out of Iowa City, IA. And when I pulled into the parking garage attached to Peoria's Sheraton Four Points Hotel, XM played Ral Donner's 1961 biggie "You Don't Know What You've Got." We're talking about two jams Omaha's AM and FM stations have forgotten about!)

Didn't get into Peoria until about 7:30 PM on hour before "The Entertainers" (the complete film, that is) got its first real Peoria screening.

This time, I was coming to Richard Pryor's birth city as a contest spectator, not a contestant. And Nick's and fellow codirector Michael Zimmer's offer enabled, for the first time, all six of the documentary's main subjects- Adam Swanson, "Perfessor" Bill Edwards, Ethan Uslan, Faye Ballard, Four Arrows, and me- to join with movie fans and old-time piano fans to check out a screening of "The Entertainers." In the same venue at the same time.

Felt nervous about how the movie would go over with people who'd spent one Memorial Day weekend after another checking out OTPP and lending the contest/festival legendary support.

Film festival fans had twice rated "The Entertainers" tops in the documentary field...but how would people who've traveled to Peoria (and/or previous OTPP sites Decatur, IL and Monticello, IL) dig a film celebrating the music that ultimately served as the springboard to "Goody Goody" as well as to "Bony Moronie" and "You Don't Know What You've Got," et al? 


About two hours after the screening wrapped up, another personal point of apprehension completely exploded. That's because Raymond Schwarzkopf (a first-time OTPP judge in 2009 who'd been invited back for 2010 as well as for 2012) was one of the spectators who not only enjoyed the movie...but also liked me in it.

The showing was three years to the day after I first talked to Raymond at OTPP Weekend's final event (the Red, White, and Blue Brunch) to introduce myself...only to get brushed off with a warning to "keep practicing."

I spent the next three years wanting to get even with the point of not wanting to play for him ever again

Well, this time, Raymond and I had a really good conversation. Even told him about the humiliation I felt due to his two-word message of 5-25-2009. 

And this time, he encouraged me not to give up on old-time piano.

Speaking of old-time time I post, I'm going to get to the business end of OTPP. (I'm talking about the actual competition.)

Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I've Got to Do It

On 5-15-2012, I went for a medical checkup for the first time in seven years. (Yes, I was long overdue.)

Turned out that my scorecard was one for three.

I found out that my blood pressure's normal (118/88)...but my cholesterol figures are at issue.

When my cholesterol numbers ought to be 200 and 100, the lab tests showed 220 and 151, respectively.

And yes, I was floored. I was stunned.

I asked the receptionist who'd called me with the information about my lab tests: "What can I do to bring my cholesterol down?"

She told me that a daily 30-minute walk would do that. So would cutting out red meats, cakes, beloved Little Debbie snacks.

If you've ever had a chance to see the recently-released documentary "The Entertainers," you heard me talking about putting into my lunch box foods that can be eaten quickly...and Little Debbie snack cakes are some of those foods that can be eaten quickly.

Well now, I'm replacing regular beef, corned beef, and pastrami with chicken, fish, and turkey...and, in the meantime, I'm trading those LD Oatmeal Creme Pies and other LD delights for granola bars and cereal bars.

And I'm thankful that McKee Foods markets cereal bars (in addition to all those Little Debbie products)...because I hate the thought of throwing the Collegedale, TN firm under the bus.

At first, I thought I was going to force myself to starve, I felt that devastated at first. (Besides, I'm a big, big fan of burgers!! But being able to emphasize chicken, fish, and turkey will take the sting out of getting off beef.)

Taking the everyday walks will be the hardest part. 

Nevertheless, I've gone on two such walks since getting the call from Dr. Steven Weyhrich's office. (One was here in Omaha to make a car-repair payment...and the other was in Peoria last weekend, when one of this year's OTPP contestants, a first-timer named Diana Stein, walked with me to the riverfront.)

You can bet I'm going to fight to bring these numbers down...even if I have to walk around my kitchen for a half hour each day. (The 220-151 figure didn't happen overnight...and it's going to take a while- and determination- to reduce the figure to 200-100.)

Speaking of numbers...when I come back, I'm going to talk about something I've been able to take in for the first time since 2009: The Peoria experience.