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I have run this blog for ten years now, but recently I have been posting extremely rarely as I have simply not had the requisite combination of time and energy to continue this project.
So thank you to all who stopped by to read, whether you agreed or not. I expect to be back in the near future in a different incarnation when I also expect to be doing this from a different location.
While there is little to debate about Hal David's contributions to American popular song, - although I note that no one is making much mention of the treacly To All the Girls I've Loved Before, arguably Willie Nelson's lowest moment - I always felt that what endured were the Burt Bacharach melodies.
I worked for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for some twenty years, during which Hal David was either on ASCAP's board of directors or served as president. Rumors abounded about his temper, but the only example I ever witnessed was his arrival for a board meeting. When one left the elevators at ASCAP's headquarters on the sixth floor, one normally went to the front reception desk, to get the attention of the security guards if one wanted to be let in to the board room and executive offices on the opposite side. I routinely saw other board members do that: Marilyn Bergman, Cy Coleman, Johnny Mandel, Morton Gould, Paul Williams among others.
One day, I was in the elevator with him and as I exited, noticed that he turned in the opposite direction and waited by the door, without making the slightest effort to get the attention of the guards' who were busy assisting others. Rather than walk the twenty feet to get their attention, he simply bellowed - yes, bellowed - "Hal David!", at which point he was buzzed in.
Rest in peace.
Oswaldo Payá died on Sunday in a car accident that has, at minimum, raised some suspicions as to what actually happened.
Payá was a brave man who attempted who established the Varela Project to use Cuba's constitution to effect change. Obviously, it didn't work, but it did expose the procedure for the sham it was.
Rest in peace.
Mércia and I have no children of our own, so I'd like to extend a heartfelt happy father's day to my brothers Michael and John, who learned from one of the best fathers to have walked the planet.
Allow me to add my voice to the others: the sending of Sokratis Papastathopoulos (hereinafter referred to as Sokratis) was one of the worst decisions I have seen in some forty years of watching this sport. The first yellow card seemed like a perfectly legitimate challenge and the second one, while one could make the argument that it was a foul, didn't seem to be card-worthy.
Note to Greece: you need to defend the right side of the pitch as well.
Giorgos Karagounis' penalty was one of the worst taken on-target penalty attempts I have ever seen.
I believe Greece's tie with Poland benefits Greece and may very well hurt Poland. The Czech's are greatly disadvantaged by the goal differential and the Poles must, at minimum not lose to Russia.
Andrey Arshavin must not like London. If he had played as well for Arsenal as he played yesterday for Russia he wouldn't have been loaned to Zenit St. Petersburg.
Arshavin's pass to Shirokov for Russia's second goal was a thing of beauty. It seemed positively laser-guided. The same can be said of the pass made to Vaclav Pilar for the Czech goal (I don't remember who made it).
Please for the love of all things decent, stop this. Now!
England, England: so many of your countrymen start out enthused; so many end up disappointed. Will this year be different? I was concerned that Wayne Rooney's suspension for two of the three group matches would be disatrous. The first game for which he'll be eligible is against Ukraine and depending on how well they do in the first two, his return may be critical to their advancing. Please share your thoughts as to who will start in his place. I believe it will be Danny Welbeck. I'm a little surprised by Daniel Sturridge's absence The ongoing debate over whether Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together effectively has been mooted by Lampard's injury and the rest of the midfield offers speed (Theo Walcott), skill on the ball (Gerrard and Ashley Young) and Scott Parker anchoring the central midfield. I believe their defense is only slightly diminished by Gary Cahill's absence (I don't know much about Martin Kelly, his replacement) and Joe Hart should put an end to the goalkeeping horror show of WC 2010. France will clearly benefit from having a new coach who, unlike Raymond Domenech doesn't rely on astrology for team selection. Karim Benzema should be the lone striker with Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri also guiding the attack, Yohan Cabaye anchoring the midfield with Yann M'Vila. I'm not sure who will be in the back four, I'm guessing Phillippe Mexes, Laurent Koscielny Patrice Evra and perhaps Adil Rami. Hugo Lloris remains as the keeper. I have to plead ignorance on much of Sweden's lineup. I'm most familiar with Zlatan Ibrahimovic of course, but was surprised to see that Olof Mellberg is still playing in central defense at 34. Johan Elmander should pair well with Zlata, but any success for Sweden will depend on Zlata: if he does well he may be able to carry the team out of the group. Here's a stray thought: the next time the execrable Jim Rome decides to trash this sport, I hope he does so while interviewing Zlata. I'm half-Ukrainian, but I feel safe in saying that if they weren't co-host, Ukraine would have not been involved in this competition. They had a goal differential of zero in their last ten friendlies, losing by 4 goals to the Czech Republic and 3 to France. Andriy Shevchenko will start at forward at 35. I hear good things about Ruslan Rotan and Andriy Yarmolenko in midfield, but I have yet to see them play. Indeed, I have seen few of the Ukraine players in action, but I don't expect much from this group. Look to England and France to go through, although if Zlata plays well, Sweden may pose a threat.
I like a lot of Croatia's players: Eduardo, Nikica Jelavic, Darijo Srna, Luka Modric and Niko Krancjar to name a few. I have to admit to ignorance about most of their defenders, the sole exception being Vedran Corluka, who is with Tottenham Hotspur on loan to Bayer Leverkusen. Their defense may be their biggest problem as everything that I have turned up in research indicates that they are a slow, which puts them as a distinct disadvantage against the other teams in the group.
Ireland also has some good attackers (Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, and Kevin Doyle) and a decent back four with Richard Dunne and John O'Shea coming to mind. I believe that their problem in this group will be maintaining possession and in a group that has Spain and Italy in it, that's not a formula for success.
Italy facing a major crisis in the sport in advance of a major tournament is nothing new: the Calciopoli scandal erupted right before the 2006 World Cup and they won; Paolo Rossi won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball and Italy won the World Cup in 1982 after Rossi had come off a two year match fixing ban (he claimed he was innocent). Accordingly, I don't believe that this latest scandal will cost them anything other than Domenico Criscito's participation - for now. Their team is still deep enough, especially with the seemingly ageless Andrea Pirlo in the midfield, but critical to their success will be if the volatile Mario Balotelli and the recuperating Antonio Cassano will live up to expectations. If it were up to me, I'd go with Antonio di Natale.
This is not the Spain of Euro 2008 or even World Cup 2010. Carles Puyol is out injured. David Villa, so crucial in World Cup 2010 and Euro 2008 still is not fit to play after his broken leg in the World Club Cup. Gerard Pique has disappointed in club play this year. Nevertheless, take a look at their roster. They have an embarrassment of riches in the midfield and David Villa's absence notwithstanding, they still have Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Pedro, and Fernando Llorente as forwards.
I believe that Spain will go through and as much as I would like for Croatia to as well, I believe Italy will advance.
Some are calling this the "Group of Death," but bear in mind that only two teams have to advance and I feel it's pretty clear which teams will advance.
Denmark will have to rely on Nicklas Bendtner for much of their offense, with help from gifted young attacking midfielder, Christian Eriksen. Bendtner is skilled and talented to be sure, but he has always struck me as lacking intensity to the point of nonchalance. He'll need to be set up well and Eriksen has the playmaking skills to do that, but he has all too often seemed invisible for club and country at critical moments. Denmark's fine goalkeeper, Thomas Sorensen is out of the tournament due to a back injury and Anders Lindegaard will probably be the starter instead. In a weaker group they might have had a chance, but I don't see them going through.
Germany is deep in every position and plays excellent fundamental football. Their forwards scored an aggregate of 24 goals in qualifying and they have an excellent playmaker in Mesut Ozil, whose play will be critical for them if they plan to win this competition. Their goal differential was plus 27 in qualification.
The Netherlands is the other formidable team in this group. If Robin Van Persie can continue his remarkable year at Arsenal in this tournament, alongside Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who scored 48 goals in all competitions for Schalke, complemented by Rafael Van der Vaart, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder (assuming he stays healthy), they possess one of the most formidable and well balanced attacks. What will be critical for their success will be how their defense responds and this is where I would give Germany an edge in this group. Much of the talk seems to indicate that their harsh behavior in the 2010 World Cup Final is a thing of the past. I truly hope so. They have a terrific tradition of skill and lovely play. I look forward to seeing that again. They had a plus 29 goal differential in qualification
Portugal squeaked through in qualification (plus 7 goal differential including the Bosnia playoff), continues to rely primarily on Cristiano Ronaldo for much of its attack and Nani to a lesser extent and gave up 4 goals to Cyprus and 3 to Iceland in qualification. Their central midfield is fairly solid with Raúl Meirelles, João Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, but they are in a tough group.
I believe, to no one's surprise that Germany and the Netherlands go through to the quarterfinals.
It's safe to say that the European Football Championship is probably the second biggest international football (soccer) championship, coming strong on the heels of the World Cup in importance and certainly its equal in terms of the quality of play. Sixteen teams will be vying for the continental championship this year (it expands to 24 teams in 2016) and the braagging rights that go with it, along with a spot in the Confederations Cup next year in Brazil.
For the next four days I'm going to examine each team in each group and make some predictions informed guesses as to who will go through to the quaterfinals. The teams in Group A are the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland and Russia.
The Czech Republic: I have to confess that the only players who I see play regularly are Arsenal's midfielder Tomas Rosicky and Chelsea's goalkeeper, Petr Cech. Rosicky is an extraordinarily skilled and creative player, whose recent play for Arsenal has shown signs of resurgence. Provided he stays healthy, he will direct the offense. Here's where the problem lies: the rest of their attackers are either very young or on their thirties. I had no idea Milan Baros was still playing. In addition, their qualification group was rather weak. They finished runners-up to Spain in a group that included Scotland, Liechtenstein and Lithuania and qualified in a playoff against Montenegro. While Cech is arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the rest of their defense looks reliable, I believe that their offense looks a little uninspired.
In many respects a new coach notwithstanding, Greece's style is precious little changed from the team that won the Euro 2004 Championship: solid defending, but precious little creativity with only 14 goals scored in qualifying and only more than two scored once, when they beat Malta 3-1.
Poland did not have to qualify as they are cohosts with Ukraine, but they have only lost two of their last ten friendlies: against France and Italy. The players I have seen play regularly are Wojciech Szczney, Arsenal's goalkeeper who has managed to secure firm control of that position for club and country as well as Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Błaszczykowski who play for Borussia Dortmund, where Lewandowski scored 22 goals and Błaszczykowski was a solid player on the wing, scoring 6 goals.
Russia was one of the major surprises at Euro 2008, beating a heavily favored Netherlands with two goals in extra time in the quarterfinals. They are still coached by a Dutch coach, the experienced Dick Advocaat, still have a very solid defense and some decent attacking potential, depending how well Andrey Arshavin and Pavel Pavyluchenko (a Mutt and Jeff striking combination if there ever was one), especially how well Arshavin stacks up physically against Greeke and Polish defenders. They should do well in a somewhat weak group.
I believe Poland and Russia will go through to the quarterfinals. Either one could win the group.
Erik brings up the question as to why we still have 50,000 troops in Germany. It's a legitimate question and while I have no expertise in answering the question, I would like to address some of the issues involving my experience growing up for a portion of my childhood in that environment.
My dad was a civilian employee of the US Army and we had the pleasure of living in the Kaiserslautern Military Community on two occasions (my parents lived in Germany by themselves for three years on a later occasion). I graduated from Kaiserslautern American High School in 1974 and would consider my experience there one of the formative experiences of my childhood and adolescence. Notwithstanding the physical distances, time, etc. that separate us, I still maintain contact with a number of my friends from that era.
As wonderful as it was, these things do cost money and time. While what is normally focused on are the issues involving the direct military expenses (barracks, equipment, facilities), what is rarely discussed is the amount of support ifnrastructure developed in the area. Kaiserslautern is an excellent place to address this issue as it was when I lived there - and still is - the largest American community outside of the US.
What essentially took place was that a small American city is relocated outside the US. In addition to the schools, the scope of which can be best examined in detail at this link, there are any number of recreational facilities, including snack bars, restaurants, officers clubs, NCO clubs, enlisted men's clubs, libraries, PXes/BXes, commisaries, swimming pools, gyms, etc.
The school facilities were excellent. I went to my first integrated school at Landstuhl Elementary (my first one in the US was in the 8th grade in Alabama). We went on excellent field trips: Speyer am Rhein, Worms, museums in Darmstadt, Frankfurt and the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. We had a sort of Outward Bound lite program, put on plays, had athletic teams, any number of student activities programs and special buses to take us from school back to Fliegerstrasse, for after school activities (play rehearsals, athletic practice, etc.) where I lived in downtown Kaiserslautern.
Movie theaters ran first run films some six months after release in Vogelweh, Ramstein Air Force Base, Sembach. and in a number of other facilities. Housing was built for families, "teen clubs" for the children of residents to play ping pong, pool, foosball, have dances and hang out. For those not able to find space in housing (usually married enlistees), housing allowances were given to ease the expense of living on the local economy. Not to belabor the obvious, but schools also need teachers and adminstrators and there were plenty of them in Kaiserslautern; not only for the schools in the immediate area, but also for district administration.
For two summers I worked on bases: once at Panzer Kaserne for the Rheinland Pfalz Support District and once at the now defunct US Army Medical Material Center in Einsiedlerhof. I worked with a number of local nationals (i.e. Germans) and spouses of military personnel. Organization Day was always the best time: not having to work and plenty of burgers!
I would not begrudge any of this for the military and civilians working under these circumstances. For me and my family and most of my friends, the experience was beyond merely memorable, but there were plenty of people who were always homesick or who rarely left the posts or bases. None of this is accomplished for free and I mention all this to give you a sense of what is involved in creating these sorts of communities. Kaiserslautern is an extreme example of this; few facilities these days even come close to its size.
Indeed, if this Wikipedia entry is correct, the number of facilites that have shuttered since I lived there nearly forty years ago is impressive.
This heart rending op-ed from last week in the New York Times drew this twisted, callous response in the letters on Tuesday:
To the Editor:
A truly sad situation, but not so much an indictment of the health system as a warning to young people about the importance of the choices they make in life.
A young couple can’t afford health insurance but can afford a child? Freedom is the opportunity to make choices. Make the right ones, and you’ll be rewarded with more choices in the future; make wrong ones, and you’ll have fewer choices ahead.
They could have taken many steps to reduce expenses and buy health care, but they didn’t. And now their future is bleak.
Edwards, Colo., April 6, 2012 [my italics]
How could this person divine this from the op-ed? Were they intimately aware of this couple's financial situation? Somehow I doubt it. They're speaking from ignorance in a baldfaced manner to advance their own agenda. For shame.
This should make for interesting reading:
The government has finally made public a critical report of the mistakes made by its military dictatorship in its war against Britain to recover the Falkland Islands in 1982. The so-called Rattenbach report was so critical of the military junta that Argentina’s last dictator ordered it kept secret for 50 years.
For those of you who can read Spanish, you can find it here with several pdf links.
My life's been busy and exhausting, but a lot has happened since I last posted anything meaningful, so here are several short takes.
I believe that England is in real trouble heading into Euro 2012. It's not merely Wayne Rooney's suspension for the first two games of group play, but the coaching situation with Fabio Capello's resignation and the impending disunity on the back line if both Rio Ferdinand and John Terry are selected, given that it's Ferdinand's brother that Terry is accused of racially abusing.
André Villas-Boas has some formidable coaching skills, but I don't believe that he was quite ready for the egos that make up Chelsea FC. Hindsight is 20-20, but another year at FC Porto would have served him well. That being said, he's not responsible for Daniel Sturridge completely botching a one-on-one against West Brom's goalkeeper last weekend, nor is he responsible for the fact that Ashley Cole hasn't scored a goal for two seasons (I know he's a defender, but he never had a dry spell that long at Arsenal). The team is aging and they were just barely able to beat 10 man Stoke City today.
I believe Real Madrid will win La Liga this year. Barcelona has too great a gap to make up and I don't see Real Madrid losing to some of their remaining games - except against Barcelona at the Camp Nou on April 21.
At least one commenter has accused Leo Messi of diving, something for which I see no evidence. Consider the replay at 6 minutes 35 seconds of this clip and you'll see him being pulled back by a much larger defender to no avail. His acceleration to get the return pass is astonishing.
Honestly, is there any team more nerve-wracking than Arsenal? Losing weakly to Sunderland in the FA Cup a week after they rallied heroically against them to win in a league game. Getting crushed by Milan at the San Siro and then nearly making up the difference at home. A solid victory against Spurs and a shocking win against Liverpool at Anfield. Not for the faint of heart. I would imagine that every time Robin Van Persie hits the ground, Arsene Wenger's heart skips a beat.
About a year ago I said that Andy Carroll will be a more cost-effective purchase for Liverpool than Fernando Torres was for Chelsea. I was wrong: both have been huge disappointments.
It looks like my Kaiserslautern Red Devils are headed for a return to the Bundesliga's second division. Well, at least I'll get a good price on my jersey purchase when I'm there in May.
I just finished watching Tottenham lose to Everton. They may yet hold on to third, but they're still a work in progress. That's three in a row by a 9-2 aggregate. Suddenly much of the talk of Harry Redknapp for England manager seems to be quieting.
It's been ten years since you left us, Dad and there's not a day that goes by when I don't sense yours and mom's absence.
You two were the fount of wisdom, hard work and whatever decency exists in me. How I wish you both were here.
Many years and a couple of employers ago, I had a passing acquaintance with Bingham Ray. He, along with such luminaries as John Pierson,with whom I did work at Films, Inc. in the 1980's, was a major figure in the growth and development of indie films from the 1980's. His work was characterized by a passion for fine work, something all too rare these days.
There's precious little I can add to what has already been said, written and sung regarding Etta James, except to direct you to her work in the jazz genre singing standards. The other day I was walking home from the subway, when her version of I'll Be Seeing You popped up on the Ipod. Her voice was a perfect fit for the wistfulness and anguish over a parting that one senses will be permanent. She also recorded one of the best covers of Blue Gardenia, one of the great ballads dealing with the grief of abject rejection.
Cesária Évora, languished in obscurity for far too long and that may be the biggest tragedy of her death. Her music was the music of displacement; displacement mandated by poverty and forced separation from those one loves. To give one an even greater sense of this, consider the films of Pedro Costa: Ossos, No Quarto da Vanda and Juventude em Marcha, collectively known through the Criterion Collection edition set, Letters From Fontainhas. Costa drew his inspiration for the films from the Cape Verdeans who he encountered in Cape Verde, who, upon finding out he lived in Lisbon, pressed letters in his hands and implored him to deliver them to family members in the Fontainhas neighborhood of Lisbon.
At least Ms. Évora will be remembered by Cape Verde: a three meter statue of her will be installed next month at the airport in São Vicente.
Clare Fischer was one of the great and most under appreciated composers/arrangers in jazz. Such compositions as Morning and Pensativa stick in my head every time I hear them. Fischer and Cal Tjader were among the earliest non-Latin proponents of Latin Jazz.
Bob Brookmeyer labored behind the scenes for so long, well known among the cognoscenti, but deserving of so much more attention. His 1964 recording, Bob Brookmeyer and Friends hasa stunning lineup of sidemen: Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Gary Burton, Stan Getz and Brookmeyer on valve trombone. It's one of my favorites - and the rhythm section makes it memorable - but it was one of a few recordings of his on a major label. His legacy is solid and he will be missed.
I certainly don't mean to diminish the tragicness of Whitney Houston's death, but we could please ratchet down the hyperbole? Yes, she had a great voice, but to say there was no one like her - as Gladys Knight did - merely displays one's ignorance.
There was another singer from Newark, who had a long and storied career, who had a voice with a range that extended from baritone to soprano, whose discography spans 43 years and has two recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Her name is Sarah Vaughan, and if you're not familiar with her, you ought to give her a listen.