Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: The Bully Pulpit

They were best friends. Then politics got in the way. Drawing from numerous personal accounts Doris Kearns Goodwin takes us inside the White House and into the relationship shared by Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. We see how, with support from the press and a new form of reporting called "muck raking," the two men worked to change the course of our nation only to see a bitter political campaign leave them and their political party deeply divided. For those who love history The Bully Pulpit is a treasure trove of stories, delivering an up close and personal view of the two men and of the establishments of government and of the press.

I suspect Goodwin might spend a little too much time in the weeds for all but the biggest fans of U.S. history and/or fans of old style storytelling. As a narrative The Bully Pulpit is as much about character development as it is about history. Facts are delivered in a context that helps the reader get to know the people involved in taking us to the historical outcome. As a result The Bully Pulpit tells a true story without becoming a textbook. That being said, The Bully Pulpit is a very long book, best suited for patient readers who enjoy giving a story time to unfold.

Both educational and entertaining, I recommend this book to anyone who loves history. It's size and depth make it a book that can't be rushed but with Goodwin's very detailed research this book is full of historical treasures waiting to be unearth. I give The Bully Pulpit a very high recommendation for those who love history and for those who enjoy a well developed story line. Overall it's a solid one and a half thumbs up for a book that will change how you see Roosevelt, Taft, and the relationship between the White House and the press.

The Bully Pulpit available at Barnes and Noble

For information on Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We Cut the Cord

My children watch You Tube more than they do the cable networks. My wife mostly watches classic shows found on over the air sub-channels. When not watching sports, I watch mostly cooking and travel shows. For what and how much we watch tv we were paying way too much for cable. In fact, we were paying too much per month just to have two cable boxes taking up space next to our tv’s (programming not included). So we cut the cord. And after several months, I see no reason to go back.

Having had cable since I was a child, the thought of a tv without a cable box did seem a bit odd. My earliest memory of the box was of this thing with a bunch of buttons which only seemed to make the over the air channels come in clearer. Yes there was HBO but outside of that there were only a few local access channels that were not worth watching. Later we got WTCG out of Atlanta, which would eventually become Superstation TBS. But TBS showed the same programs as WGN out of Chicago. In Gary, Indiana we were able to watch WGN with an antenna and without TBS’s very strange five minute (Turner) delay. Even with that somewhat anemic start, cable became the go to for watching television only interrupted by a couple of years of experimenting with satellite (a story for another day).

Last year, after not having seen rabbit ears in quite some time, I decided to make a trip down to the local Best Buy. There I found shelves full of various types of antenna. I quickly learned that not all are created equal. Back when tvs came with built in antennas there were no discussions of types and ranges. Either you used the rabbit ears or you hooked into an outside antenna, usually mounted on the roof like every other house in the neighborhood. I found out the hard way what happens if you do not properly ground the outside antenna (again a story for another time). Having been hooked by the cable box, I had not thought about antennas since the 70’s.

Now tv antennas come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with different specifications. Some do well when the stations are far away. Others do better at holding the signal though often at the expense of range. The model that worked well upstairs in our house failed miserably down in our family room, forcing a second trip to the store. Prices are all over the map but we found two fairly basic models (one from RCA the other a Terk) which do the job (even though I managed to bend one side of the RCA).

The over the air signal, after a few antenna adjustments, gives a picture that is even better than what
we had with cable. And while both deliver HDTV, somehow free is a lot more fun to watch. But we have found the need to supplement the over the air programming with a pair of Roku’s, delivering program from over the internet. Our go to app most often is the Sling app which gives us the same channels we watched on cable. With Sling and a few free apps, we have almost exactly what we use to pay too much for with cable.

In fact only one thing is missing. Our local cable conglomerate is also the owner of two of our area sports franchises. By exploiting a loophole in the law the company does not have to negotiate with companies like DISH (owners of Sling) about carrying our local sports channel. This has made it difficult to watch the local teams. I can still watch the Eagles but not the Flyers nor the Sixers. The biggest punch in the gut is the fact that as a baseball fan I cannot watch the Phillies. But all is not lost. I have returned to my childhood habit of listening to the games on the radio.

As a child I spent many a summer night listening to games on the radio. Back then I listened to the the White Sox, often staying up well beyond my bedtime. These days, with satellite radio, I can still listen to the Sox but more often than not I listen to the hometown Phillies. Still, whether the Sox or the Phillies, I find I enjoy listening to the games as much as I did as a child. The same goes for the other area teams. Plus I am a sports fan. The door is now open to watching other teams and other sports even while the local teams play in the background.

Of course cord cutting is about saving money. We now get our programming at what it used to cost just to rent two high definition cable boxes. The savings have allowed us to do a number of things we could not afford while paying for cable. Perhaps, with the money saved by cutting the cord, I will attend a baseball game or two in person this year. I might even bring my radio along for company. Perhaps I will invest the money on renovations at home. These are two of many choices I can make now that cord cutting has given my family a raise along with better control over what we watch.

We are always looking for ways to save money. Therefore I'll gladly adjust the rabbit ears to stay away from a large monthly bill. Just don't move once we get a clear picture.

So are you streaming or are you still tied to your cable?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Date Night at the Philadelphia Orchestra

Powerful! That's the word my wife used to describe Mahler's Third Symphony as performed by the
Modigliani Cello Player
Published before 1923
Public Domain in U.S.
Philadelphia Orchestra. Neither of us had ever gone to a live performance by a professional symphony. So when we received complimentary tickets we decided it was time for a long overdue date night.

This was our first visit to Verizon Hall located inside Philly’s Kimmel Center. The hall is a building within a building, sharing the Kimmel Center with the Lenfest Theater. The hall itself is a beautiful wooden structure, stained in a color that reminded me of a very large cello. Once inside I realized we were in fact stepping into the body of a large cello, complete with side curves reminiscent of C-ribs. The color and shape are appropriate as the acoustics make the building an important instrument in delivering the sound of the city’s top notch orchestra. And though we were in the third tier, this architectural wonder did a fine job of bringing each instrument cleanly to our listening ears.

The orchestra used their wooden home to its full potential, delivering a performance that kept my novice ears fully engaged. Mahler's third symphony is long but the orchestra, under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, made the listening experience fun. I understand why these musicians are invited to travel the world, representing the city of Philadelphia with a sound of which we should be proud. I should have long ago taken advantage of having a world class orchestra nearby. After seeing them in person during their last performance of the 2016-17 season, I will definitely be back for more.

If you live near or are planning a visit to Philly I suggest you consider a trip to Verizon Hall. The orchestra's season runs from September to May and the full calendar can be found at: www.philorch.org. Also the orchestra offers an etiquette page for us newbies, with tips on how to dress (I was overdressed) and when it is okay to applaud (very important).

I am looking forward to future visits to Verizon Hall. This was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon with my wife. I think we both have a new favorite place.

Friday, June 2, 2017

June 1st: A New Celebration

Celebration on the Water: Taken by Dennis Coleman
There was a time when the first day of a new month meant absolutely nothing to me. Codependency
made life something to be survived, not lived. As a result each day was no different than any other: each simply another day of suffering. Morning was a bit of a reprieve but I knew that each day we would eventually wind up on another riding upon our alcohol fueled rapids. With my mom serving as captain, we would spend most days running aground or crashing upon the rocks.

This time around the 1st of June was different. For the first time in memory, I woke up celebrating. I woke up, not as a codependent, but as a living thriving human being. Having been set free in Christ, I had the opportunity to thank God for all the wonderful things we did in the month of May. It was a month in which He changed my heart by opening my eyes to the truth of what for too long has held me back. I came out of the month of May with a new attitude towards life, knowing that I can do more than my mom’s teachings allow.. Now I am ready to live, having grown from codependent child to independent son of God.

With May behind me I also thank God for the opportunities that will come to me during this new month. I know I can do good. I can enjoy blessings from God. I can use the talents and opportunities He has and will give to impact those around me. This is a month where each day I will take a step or two forward on the path to my dreams. Now I can wake up each morning ready to enjoy the adventure that is my life. I will invest in others while enjoying the fullness that comes with being human. This month I will enjoy time with family. I will finish a book or two. Perhaps I’ll even knock a few things off my honey-do list. In short, this month I will live.

At the end of this month I will be ready to celebrate once again on the 1st. No longer will the first be a day hidden under a codependent stupor. It will continue to represent a new beginning and I plan to enjoy each 1st as well as every other day of every future month.