Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best Theatre You've Never Seen

There’s a little theatre in Richmond that no one in the theatre community seems to know about.

Out in the West End, where Staples Mill Road meets Glenside Drive, behind a Shoney’s and next to a Radio Shack sits a small storefront theatre with a tiny stage and a huge heart. If you haven’t heard of ComedySportz Improv Theatre, or if you have never visited their theatre, that may be partially because the local media declines to treat them as theatre, instead lumping them in with stand-up comedy. ComedySportz is apparently not deemed to be “theatre.”

I’m telling you, my friends, that nothing could be further from the truth. The actors at CSz, and actors they are, just may be the most skilled and best-trained performers in Richmond, and if you haven’t been out to see them work you owe it to yourself to rectify that mistake.

CSz’s players put on four unrehearsed shows on a standard weekend, two on Friday and two on Saturday night, with generally six players per show. It’s not the same thing every weekend; there are adult shows, specialized troupe shows, and this year they added iProv, a musical improv show.

If you think memorizing and rehearsing is hard, folks, try improv for a few hours. It’s the most demanding thing in acting that I have ever done. Hands down. It’s not about being funny all the time; the guys who are just naturally funny tend to be poor at making their partners look good, and they run out of jokes pretty quickly. It’s not even about being quick-witted; if you get ahead of your partners you often end up on an island alone. It’s about listening, saying yes, and doing everything in your power to make your partner look good.

In short, it’s about everything that makes acting good.

ComedySportz is run by my friend Christine Walters, who is, by the way, currently serving as vice president of the Richmond Alliance of Professional THEATRES. Christine is one of my heroes. Her business acumen and administrative skills are impressive (they certainly dwarf my own), but it’s her role as a teacher that makes her so special. Her players, numbering in the dozens, meet weekly to practice, to train, and to develop skills; she adjusts the session to fill the gaps in her players’ abilities. She is constantly building her players’ skills to make them better. And she reaches out into the community, using her expertise for team-building sessions and workshops at businesses and high schools in the area.

I’ve played with them on a couple occasions, and I would be there every week if my schedule allowed it.

I’ve played with them. They are actors. What they do is theatre. They create stories and characters, their plays have structure and conflict, and their shows are delightful. It is thrilling to sit in the audience and watch them play, watch this pure collaborative creation, watch them boost each other up, cheer each other’s successes and prop up their failures. I would love to find a way to get some of these players to do some Shakespeare; I have no doubt that, with a little text training, they would be fantastic in roles like Dromio, Mercutio, Feste, Puck, Bottom, etc.

It’s unfortunate that they don’t fit into newspaper definitions of “theatre,” and even more unfortunate that their shows aren’t regularly reviewed. ComedySportz is creating some of the most engaging theatre in town, and they deserve more attention.

When I talk about ComedySportz with Richmond theatre artists, the standard response is something like, “Oh. I’ve never been there. I’ve heard it’s really funny.” It’s more than funny. It’s brilliant, and it’s theatre. If you haven’t been out to see them, I hope you’ll make a date. I’ll be there tonight for their New Year’s Eve bash.

A couple of ComedySportz’s actors came to Drew Vidal’s stage combat workshop a few weeks ago. They filled out registration forms that ask the participant how much experience as an actor. One of them wrote, “Amateur. I’ve been playing with ComedySportz for 4 years.”

I’ve got news for you, brother. You’re a pro.

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Redskins Head Past Cowboys Into Playoffs

Unashamedly copied from the AP:

Redskins Head Past Cowboys Into Playoffs

By JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer
Mon Dec 31, 1:27 AM ET

LANDOVER, Md. - From disarray to dominance, the Washington Redskins will enter the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFC.

And with the hottest quarterback in the conference. And maybe the hottest running back. And with a defense coming off a game in which it allowed exactly 1 yard rushing.

The Redskins reached the postseason Sunday with a 27-6 victory over the archrival Dallas Cowboys, capping an emotional renaissance to a season that appeared lost less than a month ago. Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, seemingly on the ropes after a four-game losing streak, received warm embraces from players and assistants as the final seconds ticked away.

The Redskins did it by beating a Dallas team that rested anyone who was questionable with an injury because it had clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs the week before. Still, the Cowboys played their healthy starters most of the game and were trailing 20-3 when quarterback Tony Romo was pulled for Brad Johnson with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.

The Redskins (9-7) will travel to Seattle on Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. game, a rematch of a 2005 division playoff won 20-10 by the Seahawks. Washington will be riding a four-game winning streak, the longest currently in the NFC. Its last three victories have been by double digits, a remarkable turnaround for a team that stayed afloat with close, ugly victories before losing four straight, the last coming days after the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor.

The Redskins are 4-0 since Taylor's funeral, and all the victories were engineered by backup quarterback Todd Collins after Jason Campbell dislocated a kneecap in the first half against Chicago on Dec. 6. The 36-year-old Collins went 22-for-31 for 244 yards and one touchdown Sunday and is 67-for-105 for 888 yards with five TDs and no interceptions since relieving Campbell.

Clinton Portis ran for two touchdowns and had 104 yards on 25 carries and 27 yards on four receptions, setting a career high for yards receiving in a season (389). His yards from scrimmage in the four-game winning streak: 122, 126, 124 and 131. Santana Moss caught eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

The game ultimately turned out to be irrelevant — other than to serve as a possible preview of a postseason game two weeks from now. Minnesota lost 22-19 to Denver and New Orleans fell 33-25 to Chicago, giving Washington the two out-of-town results it needed to make the postseason without having to beat Dallas.

The NFC East champion Cowboys (13-3), who will have a bye next week, tried to muster any motivation they could find, but almost none of their goals were realized. They had hoped to win a 14th regular-season game for the first time in franchise history. Jason Witten caught only two passes, falling four short of becoming the second tight end to get 100 in a season. Receiver Terry Glenn, active for the first time all season, failed to catch a pass.

Marion Barber not only finished 25 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season, but Barber (minus-6 yards) and Julius Jones (7) combined for 1 yard — setting a new franchise record for rushing futility. The Cowboys defense allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season. The offense went 0-for-11 converting third downs, and Dallas lost its season finale for the eighth straight year.

At least Romo (7-for-16 for 86 yards and an interception) set the single-season franchise record for completions (335). And four injured starters — receiver Terrell Owens (ankle), cornerback Terence Newman (knee), center Andre Gurode (knee) and nose tackle Jay Ratliff (knee) — will get extra time to heal before the playoffs.

Former Redskins great Dexter Manley revived memories of the old days by taking the microphone and leading cheers of "We want Dallas!" from the field before kickoff. The Redskins obliged by outgaining the Cowboys 105-14 in the first quarter.

The first four Redskins drives ended in Dallas territory, although they produced only 10 points. Portis somersaulted into the end zone to celebrate the end of a 23-yard scoring run; he broke free after Cowboys defensive backs Anthony Henry and Roy Williams collided trying to tackle him.

Back-to-back completions to Moss and Portis set up a 46-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham, giving the Redskins a 10-0 lead. The score was 13-3 at halftime, and Portis' 1-yard run in the third quarter pushed the lead to 17 and turned the rest of the game into an exhibition.

All week long, I told anyone who would listen that I thought the Redskins might beat the Cowboys by three touchdowns. Dallas would rest their starters early, Romo would only play a couple series, T.O. and Glenn would be out. If the Cowboys stayed in it, I acknowledged, it would be because of Marion Barber and Julius Jones.

Well, Dallas didn't rest many starters after all. Romo played most of the game and couldn't get anything done. (In his defense, he did throw a pretty pick to Shawn Springs, and he lay down pretty well after Chris Wilson sacked him on the final play of the first half.) Jones and Barber, the best one-two rushing punch in the league, combined for one freaking yard. Yes, the Cowboys had nothing to play for. But if you're a Dallas fan, you've got to be concerned that your team really looked like a team with nothing to play for. They didn't show up, not just the starters but the backups who should have been using this opportunity to show what they can do.

Dallas Fan is blowing this game off. He says his team is 13-3, they had nothing to play for, and no reason to risk injury. He might even point out that the 1991 Redskins put in a similar effort in their season finale, losing to finish 14-2 before plowing through the playoffs and the Super Bowl. But the Cowboys haven't been able to run effectively for a few weeks. They haven't had a consistent passing attack with Owens injured. They haven't won a playoff game in more than a decade; they lost one to the Cardinals, for crying out loud. They're 13-3 in a weak, weak conference (one that has a once 5-7, now 9-7 Redskins team as the sixth seed--I'm a fan, but that's weak). They have no reason to believe they can turn it on and off at will. Maybe they'll turn it around in two weeks for their divisional round playoff game, which could be against these same Redskins. But I'm not sure I'd bet on Dallas in that matchup.

Meanwhile, the Redskins are playing like the best team in the NFC. Not just the hottest, the best. Much like two seasons ago, when the team ran off five straight to finish 10-6, they finish on a four-game win streak, the current longest in the NFC. Portis, who missed the entire preseason, is running like mama's homemade biscuits: hot and fresh. Backup QB Todd Collins is really connecting with Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. The defense is playing like eleven #21s; they're flying around the field, making big plays, and hitting like sledgehammers. And they're stopping the run like a brick wall: the one thing which has been the Redskins' downfall for years. Seriously, NFC playoff teams, raise your hand if you want to face the Redskins right now. No hands? Sorry, Seattle. You're up next, Saturday at 4:30.

So I predicted a three-touchdown victory and the Redskins delivered. It was the players who noticed that the margin of victory was 21, Sean Taylor's number. Multiple Redskin players told the same story after the game: After the last defense meeting before the game, coach Gregg Williams put a photograph up on the projector. It was a picture of Sean Taylor, taken by a fan during training camp. Taylor had signed his name on the pic, and under his signature had written, "WE WANT DALLAS!"

Shawn Springs with the interception!

Antwaan Randle El dances... or something.
Santana Moss makes the defenders miss! Moss is a certified Cowboy killer, and I wear his number every time the 'Skins and 'Boys tangle.
The Cowboys' vaunted two-headed rushing attack combined for a grand total of one yard.

My man C.P., last week's NFC Offensive Player of the Week, scored two touchdowns. He just keeps getting stronger as the weeks go by.

Chris Coooooooooooooley with the first down catch!

Touchdown Santana Moss! You know, it wasn't just that they pulled some starters; the Cowboys looked like a downright bad team yesterday.

I wasn't sure I wanted Joe Gibbs to stick around any more, but after this winning streak I'm okay with the two-year extension that's been rumored...

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, family and friends!

Aunt Ginny gave me a bunch of awesome Redskins and Red Sox stuff!

I love the Redskins Crocs, even though Karen thinks Crocs are the stupidest thing in the universe.

She gave Karen some cool Christmas oven mitts. She's flashing holiday gang signs in this picture.

I gave Karen Terri Irwin's book, Steve & Me.

Karen gave me some shirts and fun stuff, but the best present was the home improvement book. Isn't a wife giving her husband a home improvement book as a gift the same thing as me giving her a vacuum cleaner?!

Mercutio and Sebastian enjoy the day as well. We gave Mr. M a puppy chew toy, which he and I played with quite violently. It's a pink bunny rabbit (he loves pink toys) with a loop for me to hold it by. Mr. S just likes to lie down on my pile of loot.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Auburn to visit Karen's family. We'll probably be largely out of email communication until we get back Saturday night.

Everyone be safe and good this Christmas! The blessings of Christ's birth be upon everyone on Earth!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Incredibly, the Redskins Are in the Hunt!

After beating the Vikings 32-21 last night, the Redskins unbelievably find themselves positioned to win the sixth playoff spot in the NFC. Why "unbelievably?" Let's examine:

The Redskins currently have nine players on injured reserve. Four were week 1 starters. Pro Bowl RT Jon Jansen was lost for the season in week one; pro Bowl RG was lost for the season in week two, so there's the right side of your O-line shattered for essentially the whole year. Starting CB Carlos Rogers was having a great year until tearing up his knee against New England: gone for half the season. LB Rocky McIntosh was tearing stuff up until tearing up his knee against the Giants last week. Then of course there's our starting quarterback Jason Campbell, who dislocated his kneecap with four games to go - the very day I first wore my new Jason Campbell jersey, naturally. Campbell isn't on IR because he just might be able to come back for a first round game, but he missed the last four games of the season.

Then, of course, there's the eleventh player gone for the year: safety Sean Taylor, who led the league in interceptions at the time of his death despite the fact that he had missed the previous two games.

Clinton Portis has been reported with injuries to his knee, ribs, other knee, back, and shoulder. Both starting receivers, Anwaan Randle El and Santana Moss, have missed games with leg injuries. Number three receiver Brandon Lloyd has been one of the biggest free-agent busts in league history, and he's on IR with a broken collarbone anyway. His replacement James Thrash has missed several weeks with injuries, and the team has signed Reche Caldwell and Keenan McCardell off the street to pick up the slack.

The football fans who say to the above litany, "Boo hoo. Everybody has injuries" are out of their minds. I've never seen a team so snakebit in my life as a fan, at least not one in playoff contention.

And that, my friends, is the bottom line here. The Redskins have won three in a row (after losing four), and they sit at 8-7 in position for the sixth playoff spot in the NFC. A win against Dallas next Sunday at 4:00 and they're in; and this is against a Dallas team that has already clinched home-field and has nothing to play for at all. No T.O., probably very little Romo, and no real incentive for the Cowboys to risk much of anything. Not a gimme, but certainly something to be taken.

So merry Christmas, Redskins. A season that looked awfully bleak after 5-3 turned into 5-7 has officially turned. Honestly, with all those injuries and after losing #21, 8-7 almost feels like the Super Bowl.

One thing's for sure: no one in the NFC relishes the idea of playing a wild-card Washington team right now.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Coming Full Circle with Dan Fogelberg

I swung by Best Buy in Short Pump on the off-chance of finding one of the many Fogelberg albums I don't have, and surprise! They had Full Circle, his 2003 final album.

I've just started listening to it, and it is just delightful. It's a real throwback to his early sounds and influences, complete with a downright country Gene Clark song. Most amusing of all is the "Musicians" list, which begins:

Dan Fogelberg - all guitars (electric, acoustic, lead, rhythm, and otherwise), mandolin, bass, piano, keyboards, percussion, lead and background vocals).

I am reminded of the credits for the Who's Quadrophenia, which read:

Roger Daltrey - vocals
John Entwistle - bass, horns
Keith Moon - drums
Pete Townshend - remainder

Anyway, I'll post a more complete review when I get a couple listens.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Curt Schilling on the Mitchell Report

From Schilling's blog, 38 Pitches. Schill has been a very vocal advocate for cleaning up the game for many years, and has never been shy about giving a controversial opinion. He's also my favorite active baseball player.

It is a long, complex read, and these excerpts don't do it justice. But if you don't have 20 minutes to read the whole thing, you should at least see these parts:

On admitting guilt:

...These three guys (Andy Pettite, Brian Roberts, and Gary Bennett) were man enough to admit they were caught, made a huge mistake, and asked for forgiveness. There will be many who say they only admitted what they did because they were caught, which is probably true in every case, but the fact of the matter is that when you look at how many names are now out there, very few have chosen to own up to the mistake and take responsibility. To dissect the manner of their apologies, or try and discern intent is irrelevant to me. I know all three guys are good people. The world is full of good to great people that have made mistakes of this magnitude or worse. I’ll argue that this mistake in many cases doesn’t define the people I know, but merely points to another fact of our lives that people continually dismiss.

We’re human, we make mistakes, some bigger than you, some smaller, but at the end of the day it’s what makes us human. These guys made mistakes and I do mean mistakes. They didn’t accidentally do this, this was a conscious decision with far reaching implications and they should be held accountable. Problem is the fans version of accountable is completely dependent on their opinion of the player in question. If you are a fan then all is forgiven, or there is much less vitriol than you might have for other names mentioned....

On Jose Canseco:

...The problem I have, and the opinion I have, is based on the fact that he (Canseco) lied his entire career, every single day of it. He cheated his entire career, and lied about it. He spent his entire career on the record claiming he didn’t use PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs), yet only when his life was in shambles and only when it served Jose Canseco the most, did he ‘come clean’. Only then did he become this bastion of truth and honesty. Is that not the scam of scams? He made his hundred million or so, and when he was no longer good enough to compete up here, only when cheating stopped being enough to keep him competitive, only then did he scream ‘blackballed” and vow to get his revenge. Only then did he tell the truth, or his version of the truth.

Which in the end gets us here. Say what you want about Jose, and there are things I disagree with and think he’s wrong about, but I have yet to find someone he’s named who’s NOT been guilty or tried to clear their name. The view I have on that is maybe a bit too simplistic but I look at it like this. If Jose had named me in his book, it would have taken about 20 minutes for me to issue a press release vehemently denying the allegations, which would have been as closely followed as possible by as large a legal action as I could have possibly taken to sue for slander, libel, defamation of character and anything else I’d have been able to legally do. It’s either that, or I’m guilty. There is no gray area here, you either did, or you didn’t and Jose, up through today, hasn’t called out anyone that’s sued his ass off for false representation, slander, libel or whatever you would do if someone said something like this about you, that you didn’t do....

On Roger Clemens:

...So as a fan my thought is that Roger will find a way in short order to organize a legal team to guarantee a retraction of the allegations made, a public apology is made, and his name is completely cleared. If he doesn’t do that then there aren’t many options as a fan for me other than to believe his career 192 wins and 3 Cy Youngs he won prior to 1997 were the end. From that point on the numbers were attained through using PED’s. Just like I stated about Jose, if that is the case with Roger, the 4 Cy Youngs should go to the rightful winners and the numbers should go away if he cannot refute the accusations....

Schilling's focus on the lack of libel suits is an angle I hadn't thought of. When is Alex Rodriguez going to sue Canseco; when is Bonds going to sue the writers of Game of Shadows? If they don't sue for defamation of character, we can only assume that they are refusing to do so to keep evidence out of court.

He's got me softening a bit on the guys who apologize; if they're guilty and have even half of a conscience, what other choice to they have? The only problem with that, Andy Pettitte, is that HGH has to be in your body for months to do anything. It's not something you take once or twice, look in the mirror, admire your new six-pack, and move on; it's not something you take once or twice and your torn rotator cuff is all better. I think it's likely these guys are plea-bargaining in the court of public opinion; admitting to enough for us to get mad for a few seconds, then forgive them. I maintain a high level of skepticism with these guys who claim to have "only tried it once or twice." If you believe that, you probably believe Bill Clinton didn't inhale.

But regarding Slimeball Canseco, look: It wasn't going to be an angel who named names. It was going to be a user, it was going to be a sleazebag, and it was going to be someone who had a lot to personally gain. It was going to be someone who had as few scruples about calling out former teammates as he did about cheating in the first place. Canseco is our mob informant, and a seven-figure book deal is his immunity. This final bit of slime is the one redeeming moment, the necessary evil, his overall reason for being, before he drifts away into the oblivion of some horrible VH1 celebreality show.

One thing does have to be mentioned here, though: Last season was a great one. From top to bottom, start to finish, it was full of drama and as many great stories as a year of baseball has had in a long long time. Is that because of PEDs? Of course not; if the Mitchell report has brought nothing else to light, it has confirmed the idea, long held by me, that pitchers are benefitting as much as the hitters. The field isn't exactly level, but both sides of the ball have benefitted. I'm not ready to throw out entire seasons. Steroids and HGH didn't create Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, the Rockies' win streak, Buchholz's no-no, or the chapion Red Sox. Most or all of that would have happened in a clean league.

I'm not ready to give up on baseball yet. Not as long as there are Curt Schillings and Jimmy Rollinses in the game.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Dan Fogelberg: 1951-2007

Singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg died Sunday morning at home in Maine. He had been battling advanced prostate cancer since 2004.

More than any other single musician, Fogelberg was the reason I am a musician and a songwriter. My sister Lisa introduced me to him in the early '80s with The Innocent Age, an album that remains one of my favorites. Every time Lisa and I went anywhere, I wanted to hear The Innocent Age on the stereo, mainly the first side of the tape. I must have worn out her cassette. Every time I hear that album, I can remember where the squeaks and thin spots in her tape made funny noises 20 years ago. He was the first person I would ever identify as "my favorite 'band'." I sang "Leader of the Band" for my first musical audition in 1987.

Dan Fogelberg was a pioneering voice of what would become soft-rock, which leads many to miss his folk and American roots influences, not to mention his intricate songwriting. He was a master musician, a guitarist and pianist both. And he was a magnificent songwriter, able to swing from the deeply personal to the the soaring epic at will.

Like Rich Mullins, my current musical hero (also deceased), Dan was a product of Midwestern upbringing. Like Rich, Dan played every instrument he needed to get the song out right, and like Rich he wasn't afraid to overdo or underdo an orchestration, from pedal steel twang to solo piano to rock guitar to fully orchestrated grandiose works. It's amazing to me, as I sit here typing this, how much Rich and Dan have in common: musical similarities, mid-American background, passion for the natural world, and death far too young.

Dan Fogelberg was never ever cool. His sound ended up becoming the template for soft rock, with too-earnest hits like "Longer," "Leader of the Band," "Run for the Roses" (a song I frankly can't stand), and "Same Auld Lang Syne" defining his career. His approach, and especially his voice, were painfully earnest and passionate; he seemed to care too much about what he was singing. You wanted him to calm down a little bit; he was embarrassing himself.

Like me. Dan Fogelberg sang the way I feel almost all the time.

He was never cool, but managed to be accessible to a large audience. He had a long string of hugely popular albums: 1974's Souvenirs, 1975's Captured Angel, 1977's Nether Lands, 1978's indescribably wonderful and completely unique Twin Sons of Different Mothers (with floutist Tim Weisberg), 1980's Phoenix, and 1981's epic double-album The Innocent Age. You know a half dozen songs of his by heart and don't even know it: "Part of the Plan," "Heart Hotels," "The Power of Gold," and the ones referenced above, just to start. He continued to record after his heyday was over, and while the records didn't sell huge numbers, the concert tickets did.

I was fortunate enough to see Dan on the Exiles tour in the mid-'80s. He pulled out an acoustic guitar to play a solo number and told us that we were the first audience to hear this new song, called "Forefathers." The only person he had played it for was his immigrant grandmother, and he wasn't sure if he was going to record it or not. He played it; it was beautiful. After the applause died down, a lone voice in the audience shouted, "RECORD IT!" He did, on his next album, The Wild Places.

It's easy to dismiss Dan Fogelberg as having a sound rooted in 1970s rock. But it's more accurate to say that 1970s rock had a sound that was rooted in the songwriting of Dan Fogelberg. Modern music may not have another pioneer quite as overlooked. He suffers from the legacy of schmaltz that followed his example, tarred with a brush he never quite deserved. It isn't schmaltz if you're sincere, and Dan Fogelberg's music bleeds painful sincerity with every note.

Dan Fogelberg is the biggest reason, aside from my essential design by God, that I am a musician. He is a big part of why I endeavor to play both piano and guitar. And he sure as hell is the first person who made me want to write songs. Because of Dan, my first memories of playing piano and guitar are of writing my own songs, not learning anyone else's — not even his.

Like me, Dan Fogelberg has never quite been cool. Like me, he didn't seem to care at all; his artistic voice was his voice, and it was going to be what it was.

Today I've lost a mentor I never met. Godspeed, Dan Fogelberg. The leader of the band can rest at last.

* * *

Dan's website still has his final public statements, including a May 2004 plea for men to get a prostate exam.

CNN's coverage reads, in part: "Fogelberg's music was powerful in its simplicity. He didn't rely on the volume of his voice to convey his emotions; instead, they came through in the soft, tender delivery and his poignant lyrics. Songs like "Same Old Lang Syne" — in which a man reminisces after meeting an old girlfriend by chance during the holidays — became classics not only because of his performance, but also for the engaging storyline."

All Music Guide's beautiful obituary reads, in part: "It’s odd to say that a singer/songwriter with four Top 10 singles and four Top 10 albums each, along with a stack of gold and platinum records, slipped through the cracks, but in an odd way Dan Fogelberg — who died on December 16 after a three-year struggle with prostate cancer — was often taken for granted.... [H]is music was so song-oriented — his albums sounding so clean, pure, and tasteful.... All of this was delivered with the gentle, easy touch that was his signature. It may have been a signature that was never, ever hip but that doesn’t quite mean that he was square. He was too much a child of the ‘60s to be square, too much a true believer in the music — specifically folk-rock — and what it meant and could be."

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Sunday, December 16, 2007


In years past, it was a tradition for me to make homemade chili on football Sunday afternoons. In college, my roommates knew that they didn't have to cook on those days, that I would have dinner taken care of. After Daniel Snyder bought the Redskins, he revealed in an interview that his childhood football tradition was to sit on the floor of his living room and eat chili. So even when I've had disagreements with his football decisions, I've always felt chili kinship with my team's owner.

Yesterday, I decided to try to make vegetarian chili. It's been years since I made chili of any kind. I would start with my mother's recipe, the template I've always gone from. I've made it with ground turkey, ground chicken, chicken breat, and even steak, but never with no meat or fake meat (or, as I like to call it, feat.)

Over the years, I've added a few refinements; a bit of steak sauce for pop and a few teaspoons of sugar to reduce the bitterness of the tomatoes. I've used specialized ingredients that no longer exist; Del Monte Mexican Style stewed tomatoes are much missed. And I like peppers. A lot. But Karen doesn't like food too spicy, so I also wanted to cut down on the bite in favor of flavor.

So I decided that, since this would be an all-new dish, I would write down the amounts and document the process. That seemed like just the kind of thing to put on this silly blog! So here is an illustrated guide to the chili I made today.

(Bear in mind that it is still simmering as I type this; I have not yet tasted this concoction. It may be awful. But it smells great!

Here are the ingredients:
2 1/2 cups of chopped vidalia onion (1 large one)
2 cups of chopped red bell pepper (1 large one)
2 cups of chopped green bell pepper (1 large one)
2 cups of chopped yellow bell pepper (1 large one)
4 cups of diced tomatoes (approximately 3)
15 oz. can of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz. can of light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
12 oz. of corn (frozen)
16 oz. of Yves meatless ground (the feat)
2 tbsps. chili powder
1 tbsp. steak sauce
2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. crushed garlic
1 tbsp. salt

Look at those gorgeous peppers! And an almost-equally colorful assortment of beans. Here's a chili secret I've learned in recent years. Much of the undesirable gas produced from eating beans actually comes from the juice. So I drain and rinse my beans.

And the other ingredients:

I began by sauteing the onions in a wok with some vegetable oil. Usually, I add the crushed garlic at this point, but today I forgot and added the garlic and salt to the simmering end mixture about half an hour before serving. That's bad.

After the onions have become translucent, add the feat.

Next add the peppers to the wok.

Stir them.

Once the peppers have just begun to change texture, throw the whole thing in a crock pot.

Add the tomatoes, corn, beans, and everything else. Stir.

Steak sauce, which is mostly tomato sauce and vinegar, adds a cool kick that you can't really identify.

It's a good idea to add some of the spices, stir, then add some more, then stir, etc. until it's all in. If your crock pot is anything like mine, you need to stir carefully in order to avoid spreading chili all over the counter and floor.
The sad end result is a LOT of dishes.

Like I said, I forgot to add the garlic and salt until quite late in the game. Also, my old crock pot was not performing up to spec; after 90 minutes it still wasn't hot enough to simmer, so I moved it into a stew pot on the stove top.

Ideally, the chili should simmer for at least an hour, maybe even two or three. Of course, all of my assumptions are based on cooking with meat, which really likes spices to be slowly cooked in. I'm not sure how the soy feat will respond.

Serve with beer (something fairly light and hoppy like a pale ale is my favorite), and optional sour cream, cheddar cheese, and minced uncooked onions! And watch in front of the TV on the living room floor while rooting on the Redskins!

So that's the chili story! I'll let you know how it turns out. And I'm really interested in hearing your recipe suggestions! What should I have added?

EDIT! The chili was delicious! A little cheddar cheese, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and a 22-10 Redskins victory made for a lovely evening. Karen also made corm bread from scratch and it was a delicious accompaniment.

I have to say that I do prefer meat in my chili, especially some nice lean chicken breast or steak, but this was very good. And it's easy enough to simmer two pots next to each other, one with meat and one with feat.

I'm going to have some more for lunch!

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

F.P. Santangelo: Baseball (Closestthingtheycanfindtoa) Hero


Santangelo admits HGH use, says he'll 'face the music'
By Wayne Drehs
Updated: December 14, 2007, 10:18 PM ET

As he sat in front of his television Thursday, waiting for the official release of the Mitchell report, former major league outfielder F.P. Santangelo feared the worst. He knew he had purchased human growth hormone from former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. He knew Sen. George Mitchell's investigators had asked to speak with him, a request he had denied.

And yet as Santangelo watched ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap on live TV, quickly thumbing through the report's 409 pages before Mitchell eventually spoke, Santangelo prayed that his name wouldn't be read.

"I just kept saying, 'Please Lord, don't name me right here, right now. Don't be one of the first guys. Don't be one of the first guys,'" Santangelo told on Friday. "And I wasn't. That was a relief."

But the relief didn't last long. Minutes later, when the report was released online, Santangelo was one of at least 86 people accused by Mitchell of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Yet Santangelo has handled the 24 hours after his appearance in the report differently. While the aftermath of the report's release has been littered with no comments and vehement denials, there was Santangelo, who now works on Sacramento's KHTK Radio as a member of, "The Rise Guys" morning show, on the air Friday morning, admitting what he had done and taking calls from listeners who were equally eager to praise and condemn him.

In an emotional two-hour radio appearance, the seven-year major league veteran, who last played with the Oakland A's in 2001, confessed to using human growth hormone, explained how and why he did it and publicly apologized to his two kids, his ex-wife, his parents and listeners. He talked about the difficulty he had in explaining it all to his children, and the concern he had that his son, F.P. Jr., would be teased Friday in middle school.

He even shared a story of reporters hiding outside his home Thursday evening and the guilt he felt each time the doorbell rang and he saw a look of fear on the faces of his kids.
"That was the part that made me feel, as a Dad, as bad as I've ever felt," Santangelo told listeners. "They were scared. That was the one thing that really hit home is that I made these bad decisions and now my kids are scared. I almost felt like a pedophile." (story continues)

So this is what passes for remorse in America now? This is penance, this is reconciliation, this is a sympathetic figure? No doubt this is just the beginning of a landslide of major league baseball apologies and confessions by dozens of the 86 names in the Mitchell report. And, just like Michael Vick and Sean Taylor's killers, FP Santangelo is sorry for one reason: because he got caught.

He has a two-hour radio show in the Bay area. If he was really haunted by the spectre of what he's done in the past, if he really felt bad for his kids, if he really felt any real remorse at all, he had hours on the air every week to make things right. All it would have taken was a few seconds: "I took HGH, and I'm sorry."

This is bull. This isn't sorry. Sorry is when you confess and make things right because of your conscience, because of internal motivations. This is like when you hit your little brother and your mother grabs your arm and makes you say you're sorry; you mumble "I'm sorry," but you still love the way you made him cry. FP Santangelo, who Mama Mitchell forced into the open, isn't sorry enough to give a big portion of his salary--which he earned by cheating--to a steroid education charity. He just wants to get this over with and hopefully keep his radio show.

Plagiarists and people who steal research lose their jobs. They lose their money, they lose their grants, they lose their reputations, and they lose their awards. This is exactly the same, exactly the same.

If it takes being caught for you to know what you did is wrong, you don't know a damn thing about right and wrong.

Apology rejected.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

An Open Letter to Major League Baseball

Dear Baseball,

As you may have guessed, I need to talk to you about the Mitchell report.

First of all, I'm not quite sure whom I should address this to. Is it the players, or maybe the players' association, union bosses, and agents? Is it the corporate paymasters, the owners, the advertising dollars? Is it the broadcasters and reporters, or is it the Commissioner, supposedly at the top of the whole organization? Or is it the real people in charge of the sport, the fans who have bought record numbers of tickets in recent years?

You see, I have to include the fans in this, because they're what addiction counselors refer to as "enablers." Sports radio may buzz with outrage over the cheapening of baseball's gaudy records, but the outrage doesn't extend to the box office or the souvenir shop. People are going out to the ball park in droves to see 40-year-old flamethrowing pitchers with HGH-healed bodies face down big-headed, roided up batters. They're buying jerseys with their names and numbers on the back. And they're cheering juiced-up homers and strikeouts in record numbers.

My point is, we're all culpable here. We're all to blame, but I'm going to take my medicine first, before I hand any out to anyone else.

Steroids in baseball is my fault.

I was drawn back to interest in the game by the 1993 Phillies, then the 1995 Indians. We've known for years now that both teams were led by chemically enhanced stars. (To be fair, John Kruk and Curt Schilling never exactly had the bodies of an Adonis.) Red Sox fandom came later, from the timeless smell and feel of Fenway, so very different from the stew of entitlement I experienced in New York. I seldom bought tickets, but I bought hats and jerseys and coffee mugs, MLB Showdown cards and the like, I watched a lot of ball on TV and discovered SportsCenter. I probably bought a lot of things advertised in games. And in 1998 I watched with everyone else as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa smashed Roger Maris' home run record. I cheered and hollered and screamed with excitement as if nothing smelled funny here. It was fun, and it was exciting as hell. It's not just chicks who dig the long ball.

So it is with complete acknowledgement of my part that I address the rest of baseball nation.

Players: Just stop. Stop. Put down the needles, spit out the pills. Stand on your own two feet or fall, like a human being does. Sports attract us because of their purity, the unerring "our guys did it better than your guys" factor, the score at the end being the undisputable result of superior preparation and effort on a level playing field. I can't shoot myself up with something to make me a better actor, administrator, musician, leader, teacher, or writer. You're not just cheating in your game, you're cheating the allegory. Baseball isn't a George-Will-ian microcosm of life if you can only succeed at baseball by cheating.

I know it's impossibly naive of me to expect you to stop because of poetry, but I'm asking anyway. Stop because stopping is the right thing to do. Stop because if you can't make it as a major league baseball player without cheating you aren't really a major league baseball player. To fail as a man is infinitely better than to succeed as a sham.

Commissioner Selig: Give total amnesty to offenders who confess before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. This is your fault as much as theirs. You knew this was happening, Bud, you knew. And you did next to nothing until Congress - Congress, for crying out loud, the most useless and impotent body this side of the U.N. - made you. Give amnesty and start again. If, after the amnesty offer, players fail tests, strike their stats from the records. Erase them from history. All their stats, even their names, gone from the record books as if they never played. It's the only way; it's the only penalty that makes sense. Of course you can't know if steroids helped Jason Giambi to 20 home runs or 200, but you know it helped him to home runs. So if, after offering the carrot of amnesty, players merit the stick of erasure, drop the stick on them. Hard.

Yes, I know the Barry Bonds thing isn't addressed by the above scenario. He's never going to play again, so he'll never test positive. That's fine. Let his numbers stand as a monument to your own stupidity, as a cautionary tale. Let his so-called records tell us, "When we sacrifice integrity for money, this is what happens." Leave his seven hundred whatever up there to remind us all to never let this happen again. We all know the home run king is Hank Aaron.

Baseball Fans: Go to minor league games until you're convinced that Major League Baseball is actually substantially cleaned up. Better yet: if you've got an independent league team, like the Northern League, nearby, go there. Trust me; a live minor league game is the best sports experience in the world. The seats are closer, the tickets and beers are cheaper, the lines are shorter, and the whole experience is just more pure. Yeah, the minor leaguers are roided up too, but at least they're not making millions, or most of them aren't. Go to high school games, go to college games.

If you absolutely must follow your favorite team (and, I must admit, it's going to take a lot more than this to make me stop following my beloved Red Sox and Phillies), watch them on TV or listen on the radio. Don't buy tickets, don't buy that new jersey, don't buy a new hat. Wear the old ones. Until you're convinced that baseball is taking real steps to end the culture of drug use, stop giving them your money.

And while I've got you listening, fans, educate yourself about the game. There's a lot more to cheer for than the home run and the strikeout. A ground-ball pitcher's duel is one of the most sublime and beautiful things in sports. Watch the beauty of a 4-6-3 double play and cheer. Shout out loud for defense and the struggle for control of the strike zone. Stand up and applaud your team after they score a run on a walk, a sac bunt, a steal, and an infield single in a tough inning. In my opinion, that's way more fun than a home run. It's the most complex and beautiful game in the world; there's more to love than just the fireworks.

Fix it, baseball. Do the right thing for a change, not just because of money or PR, but because it's right. You're baseball in America, and you should be right.

Yes, the Mitchell report is largely a political document. Yes, it's largely non-prosecutable, and most of the offenses detailed in it are from four-plus years ago. Yes, much of the information came from dirtbag drug dealers with plea deals. But this is your chance, baseball. This is your chance to start something new.

Fix it.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don't Miss the Geminids!

(Copied for your reading pleasure from

Best Meteor Shower of 2007 Peaks Dec. 13
By Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist

What could be the best meteor display of the year will reach its peak on the night of Dec.13-14.
Here is what astronomers David Levy and Stephen Edberg have written of the annual Geminid Meteor Shower: "If you have not seen a mighty Geminid fireball arcing gracefully across an expanse of sky, then you have not seen a meteor."

The Geminids get their name from the constellation of Gemini, the Twins, because the meteors appear to emanate from a spot in the sky near the bright star Castor in Gemini.

Also in Gemini this month is the planet Mars, nearing a close approach to the Earth later this month, and shining brilliantly with yellow-orange hue. To be sure, Mars is certain to attract the attention of prospective Geminid watchers this upcoming week.

Reliable shower

The Geminid Meteors are usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers, even surpassing the famous Perseids of August.

Studies of past find the "Gems" have a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs as well as faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness.

They are of medium speed, encountering Earth at 22 miles per second (35 kps). They are bright and white, but unlike the Perseids, they leave few visible trails or streaks. They are four times denser than most other meteors, and have been observed to form jagged or divided paths.

Geminids also stand apart from the other meteor showers in that they seem to have been spawned not by a comet, but by 3200 Phaethon, an Earth-crossing asteroid. Then again, the Geminids may be comet debris after all, for some astronomers consider Phaethon to really be the dead nucleus of a burned-out comet that somehow got trapped into an unusually tight orbit. Interestingly, on December 10, Phaethon will be passing about 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) from Earth, its closest approach since its discovery in 1983.

The prospects for this year

The Geminids perform excellently in any year, but British meteor astronomer, Alastair McBeath, has categorized 2007 as a "great year."

Last year's display was hindered somewhat by the moon, two days past last quarter phase. But this year, the moon will be at new phase on Dec. 9. On the peak night, the moon will be a fat crescent, in the south-southwest at dusk and setting soon after 8 p.m. That means that the sky will be dark and moonless for the balance of the night, making for perfect viewing conditions for the shower.

According to McBeath, the Geminids are predicted to reach peak activity on Dec. 14 at 16:45 GMT. That means those places from central Asia eastwards across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska are in the best position to catch the very crest of the shower, when the rates conceivably could exceed 120 per hour.

"But," he adds, "maximum rates persist at only marginally reduced levels for some 6 to 10 hours around the biggest ones, so other places (such as North America) should enjoy some fine Geminid activity as well.

Indeed, under normal conditions on the night of maximum activity, with ideal dark-sky conditions, at least 60 to 120 Geminid meteors can be expected to burst across the sky every hour on the average (Light pollution greatly cuts the numbers).

The Earth moves quickly through this meteor stream producing a somewhat broad, lopsided activity profile. Rates increase steadily for two or three days before maximum, reaching roughly above a quarter of its peak strength, then drop off more sharply afterward. Late Geminids, however, tend to be especially bright. Renegade forerunners and late stragglers might be seen for a week or more before and after maximum.

What to do

Generally speaking, depending on your location, Gemini begins to come up above the east-northeast horizon right around the time evening twilight is coming to an end. So you might catch sight of a few early Geminids as soon as the sky gets dark.

There is a fair chance of perhaps catching sight of some "Earth-grazing" meteors. Earth grazers are long, bright shooting stars that streak overhead from a point near to even just below the horizon. Such meteors are so distinctive because they follow long paths nearly parallel to our atmosphere.

The Geminids begin to appear noticeably more numerous in the hours after 10 p.m. local time, because the shower's radiant is already fairly high in the eastern sky by then. The best views, however, come around 2 a.m., when their radiant point will be passing very nearly overhead.
The higher a shower's radiant, the more meteors it produces all over the sky.

But keep this in mind: At this time of year, meteor watching can be a long, cold business. You wait and you wait for meteors to appear. When they don't appear right away, and if you're cold and uncomfortable, you're not going to be looking for meteors for very long! The late Henry Neely (1878-1963), who for many years served as a lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium, once had this to say about watching for the Geminids: "Take the advice of a man whose teeth have chattered on many a winter's night – wrap up much more warmly than you think is necessary!"

Hot cocoa or coffee can take the edge off the chill, as well as provide a slight stimulus. It's even better if you can observe with friends. That way, you can keep each other awake, as well as cover more sky. Give your eyes time to dark-adapt before starting.

Bundle up and good luck!

Online Sky Maps and More
Sky Calendar & Moon Phases
Astrophotography 101

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Vegetarian Delight!

We had a hankering for hot subs at lunch yesterday, so Karen and I decided to eat lighter for dinner. She busted out her Linda McCartney cookbook and made stuffed peppers.

They were awesome. Organic green peppers stuffed with rice, tomatoes, pine nuts, and a meat substitute which I like to call "feat" (fake + meat). It was flipping awesome. We determined to eat a nice vegetarian meal every weekend and more vegetarian during the week.

That said, no one is taking my meat away. As soon as scientists can develop a melon that tastes and feels like boneless buffalo wings or a gourd that moos, I'm down. But I love meat.

A side note: Did you know that God designed Adam and Eve to be vegetarians? They may even have been fruititarians, in fact. It isn't until after the fall that God ushers them out of the garden and shows them the uses of animal flesh that they start wearing fur coats and eating meat. So why did Adam and Eve have canine teeth? It's a mystery...


Friday, December 07, 2007

New Richmond Shakespeare Blog!

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to unveil Richmond Shakespeare's new official blog. Head on over to for all the Elizabethan festivities.

Spread the word.

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Good Morning!

He started in the front yard around 7:30 this morning and alertly made his way around the cul-de-sac for about ten minutes before trotting off into the deep woods.

I'm pretty sure this is a different buck from the one I saw last month. I didn't see that one for as long as this morning's, but I'm pretty sure Mr. November had four points, and this one had six.

Pretty soon we're going to have to start giving these guys names to keep them straight.


Monday, December 03, 2007

"A Christmas Carol for Two Actors" Opens!

Dear friends,

Please come to see A Christmas Carol for Two Actors, which opened last weekend at the Richmond Shakespeare Theatre.

Grant Mudge, who co-adapted the script with Cynde Liffick, returns (of course) as Scrooge et cetera, joined (and in his own estimation completely overshadowed) by Julie Phillips, one of my favorite actors in the world, playing Marley, Cratchit, all three ghosts, and everything else. Julie played seven or so characters in Richard II and every time I see her work she reminds me of so many things I love about acting.

This show is always special, but this year it's extra-special. Three more weeks, with live musical sing-along before Friday and Saturday night shows. all 1-866-BARD-TIX for tickets!

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