Head to Head look at 8 Games Ahead

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Down to 16 teams – 8 games over the next few days to whittle it down to the elite 8.  Here’s a look at the history of the 8 matchups.

  1. Loyola-Chicago v. Nevada. The two teams have never met.
  2. Kansas v. Kentucky. Kansas remarkably has never beaten Kentucky in 7 tries.  The two teams last met in the Second Round in 2014 with Kentucky winning 56-49.
  3. Florida State v. Gonzago.  Florida State is 0-1 against the Zags.  The last time the teams played was in the First Round of the 2010 tournament with the Zags winning 67-60.
  4. Michigan v. Texas A&M. The teams last met 56 years ago in a game the Wolverines won 82-79.
  5. Villanova v. West Virginia. Villanova is 22-20 against the Mountaineers. They last met in 2011 with West Virginia winning 83-69.
  6. Texas Tech v. Purdue. The teams have only met twice with the Boilermakers winning both contests. They last met in 1988 with Purdue winning 63-54.
  7. Kansas v. Clemson. Oddly, the two teams have never met.
  8. Syracuse v. Duke. The two teams have met 11 times with Duke winning 6 of the meetings. They last met in February with Duke winning in convincing fashion 60-44.
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Trump’s enduring friendship with Putin

 

2014-04-11 19.22.19.jpgThe journalists and political commentators seem confused or mystified as to why Donald Trump continues to act as a close personal friend to Putin and Russia. It’s not too complicated, in my view. I don’t know whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, but it seems obvious that Trump and his campaign knew Russia was trying to help. During the campaign Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails and praised Wikileaks for all the “surprises.” Of course, Trump denies that Russian meddling had anything to do with his victory even though he surely knows better. For Trump to admit that he got help would make him look weak and illegitimate.  Insecure bullies like Trump want to look strong to mask their fears and insecurities. Trump looks up to Putin as a model dictator who has absolute authority and power. Trump has no patience for checks and balances which he thinks are meddlesome roadblocks.  He refers to any opposition as the enemy and to critics as being part of a witchhunt.  He seems to have no understanding of how a democracy works and no experience or respect for it; rather all he knows is how to run a family business that is accountable only to himself. And he is trying to run the country as if it were a Trump enterprise.

Another explanation for Trump’s bromance with Putin is that Putin may have something on Trump; the idea that Trump is compromised. This is not an original thought and many have wondered the same. It is not entirely clear what Putin has on Trump, but it may be that both are trying to cover up a money laundering scheme or other illegal financial activity which could explain why Trump refuses to release his taxes. Who knows, Putin may even have a tape that proves collusion or some other compromising evidence that has been out there for a while now. Or Trump may simply fear being poisoned like some of Putin’s opponents have been – there have been reports that Trump only eats fast food purchased by anonymous aides and brought to him secretly because he thinks these meals are poison free. It is just as likely that Trump has been promised a Trump Tower in Moscow, something I’ve read he’s wanted, in exchange for a friendly stance toward Russia – a quid pro quo so to speak. Whatever it is, Trump appears to be a lackey to Putin based on his behavior and actions since he’s been in office. Here is what Trump has seemingly delivered to Putin so far: delayed the sanctions that Congress passed for as long as possible; took a meeting with key Russian officials in the White House with no Western reporters allowed; berated NATO to demand they pay their fair share; hung out with Putin at the G-7 – shunning the leaders considered to be America’s closest allies; pulled out of the Paris Climate agreement; insulted Mexico; lied to Trudeau about trade deficits with Canada and has not rubuked Russia for its unleashing of nerve agents in England. He has also fired Secretary of State Tillerson, who Russia lobbied to have Trump hire initially, and then later soured on when he took a hard line on Russia. Don’t forget that Trump fired Comey and McCabe who he felt weren’t loyal to him (even though loyalty to Trump was not part of their jobs) and thought they didn’t do enough to stop the Russia investigation. And he has never publically rebuked Putin by name for his hand in meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Instead, he congratulated Putin for his “victory” as Trump himself contemplates the dream of being in the league of dictators – a  “president” for life, accountable only to Vladimir Putin.

There, I’ve said it and feel better now.

16 Teams & 16 Oddities: March Madness

From the Sporting Desk of Ribbie’s Weblog

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  1. There could be an all TX Final – Texas Tech v. Texas A&M.
  2. There could be an all KS and All Big 12 Final – Kansas State v. Kansas.
  3. There could be another All Big 12 Final – Kansas State v. West Virgina or Texas Tech.
  4. There could be an All ACC Final – Florida State v. Clemson, Syracuse, or Duke.
  5. There could be an All Big Ten Final – Purdue v. Michigan.
  6. There could be an All 11 seed Final – Syracuse v. Loyola-Chicago.
  7. The two teams with State in their names are 9 seeds: Kansas State and Florida State.
  8. Texas and Kansas are the only states with more than 1 team represented, both w/ 2.
  9. Half of the teams in the Sweet 16 are from the ACC and the SEC, each with 4.
  10. The East is the most competitive region left – seeds total 11.
  11. The South is the least competitive region left – seeds total 32.
  12. Nevada has no players from Nevada on its roster.
  13. Duke has no players from North Carolina on its roster.
  14. Texas A&M has 13 players from Texas on its roster; Texas Tech has 8.
  15. Syracuse has 1 Senior on its roster.
  16. Duke has 1 Senior and 8 Freshmen on its roster.

The Post: A film review

unnamedI saw The Post last night at a packed theatre near Boston.  I don’t go to the cinema for a picture show very often given my schedule, but when I do, I try to be as selective as possible. I really couldn’t pass up a film about the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers.  I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War and nightly news coverage.  And like most of the other baby boomers in the audience, I have fond memories of reading the newspaper.  In my hometown, there were two major newspapers; one delivered in the morning and the other in the evening; my family subscribed to both.  As a youth, I was even a paperboy for a few years with my own route in the neighborhood where I lived. I delivered the newspaper on my bicycle and in a convertible MG midget when I was old enough to drive.  I remember there always being someone reading the newspaper in the house and there being pages strewn on the couch and coffee table as kind of permanent fixtures.

The film plot was fairly straightforward.  The New York Times had just published a series of articles from a leaked classified study commissioned by the U.S. government on the U.S. role in Indochina from World War II to the late ’60s. I believe Bob McNamara was its principal author.  Stunningly, the study concluded that the chances of winning the Vietnam War were next to nothing. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the document to the Times happened to be a friend of a Post employee played by Bob Odenkirk, of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad fame.  He obtained the documents from Ellsberg after the Times had been hit with a court injunction on national security grounds to stop publishing the leaks from the study.  The Post, then owned by Cathyrn Graham, played by Meryl Streep, had to decide whether to publish portions of the papers they had obtained from Ellsberg, during this injunction period knowing it would be in violation of the law.  I won’t tell you whether they did or not – you’ll have to see the film to find out, but I will say there was a lot of drama around what to do, complicated by the fact that the Washington Post was in the process of becoming a publically traded entity, to try to become a nationally viable newspaper.

The acting was serviceable in all respects; even understated.  No character dominated the action or stood out as the star.  Meryl Streep probably captured Cathyrn Graham exactly as she was, somewhat overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking over a newspaper that had been in her husband’s family for years, but courageous particularly in the face of the male-dominated newspaper business. Though she was depicted as more of a socialite, by the end of the movie, she had evolved into a significant feminist influence. Tom Hanks, who played the editor Ben Bradlee, was an important force and one who Graham clearly trusted.  Their on-screen chemistry was not magical, but appropriate for an editor-owner relationship.

My quibble with the film was the shots of protests and other street scenes.  I did not get the feeling of the ’70s which seemed inauthentic and staged.  The hippies were too clean.  The smokers looked like they had not yet learned how to smoke.  The cars were not representative of what one might have seen on the streets at that time – like the hippies, too clean; straight out of central casting.

What makes the film compelling is not the acting or the cinematography but the subject matter.  Just as then, freedom of speech is under assault by an authoritarian President who is not fit for office.  Trump’s endless attacks on the press are concerning.  He has been trying to bring down the press because he believes it provides too many checks on his power.  He fears reporters and authors, not to mention the special prosecutor, have gotten too close to exposing his misdeeds and possible crimes during the campaign and as President.  He lashes out with the phrase “fake news” anytime something is published about him that he doesn’t like.  He has repeatedly called reporters awful people; he has called the Times the “failing” New York Times even though it is thriving; he just threatened lawsuits against an author and publisher for an unflattering book about himself and his presidency.  And his threat to strengthen libel laws is clearly an attempt to silence his critics.  His dictatorial style cannot be tolerated, and our free press must continue to call him out and not be intimidated.  He may have bullied his way into the presidency, but now he must function within a constitutional democracy with checks and balances. The Supreme Court upheld the power of the first amendment, ruling in favor of the press publishing the Pentagon Papers which ultimately led to the end of the Vietnam War and the Nixon presidency.  Trump, are you listening?

Finger Laking Good!

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I am embarrassed to say that I had never been to the Finger Lakes until recently even though I only live about 6 hours away from them by car.  And for those of you who may not know, the Finger Lakes are in upstate New York, a few hundred miles south of Lake Ontario and were carved out by glacier streams millions of years ago.  There are actually 11 lakes, in an area that was once the heart of the Iroquois nation.  The largest three are Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga, which are also home to hundreds of vineyards.  In fact, you might be surprised to learn that New York is the third largest wine producing state in the country after California and Washington.

Which brings me to the point of this post, Finger Lakes wine.  And my what wine.  The area really is a gem, even a national treasure for high-quality wines from grapes grown on estates of many of the vineyards along the lakes. I had the good fortune of visiting some of those vineyards with my wife this past week and sampling some of the delicious new releases.  Actually, we visited 7 vineyards, sampling wines at 6; buying several bottles at each, while wining and dining at another.  Nearly all of the vineyards/wineries were located on top of a hill overlooking a lake and the vineyards below. One of the reasons for the impressive wines can be found in the microclimates the lakes create which extend the growing seasons by moderating the temperatures – cooler in the summer; warmer in the fall.  The generally cooler climate of upstate NY makes the Finger Lakes perfect for grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and a range of hybrid and native grapes perfect for blending.

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Bully Hill Vineyards, Hammondsport, NY

We stayed in the quaint town of Penn Yan, between Keuka and Seneca Lakes. If you plan on hitting the wine trails, Penn Yan is a good place to stay.  You’ll be within 20 minutes of dozens of wineries that are generally open for tastings year round. While we only visited a half dozen or so wineries, we did go to some of the better known ones including, Dr. Frank, Ravines, Bully Hill, Herron Hill, Anthony Road, Keuka Spring and Fox Run.  For recommendations on which wines to buy, I would urge you to sample wines in a wine flight first.  Most of the wineries offer 5 selections for 5 dollars.  Buy what you like.  If you don’t want to spend the money on tastings or prefer just to buy wine, definitely look for the many outstanding examples of dry Rieslings some of the best on the planet, and what the Finger Lakes are increasingly known for, but don’t discount the drier reds as well – you can find delightful Cabernet Francs, Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Lembergers at nearly every winery you visit. The late harvest Rieslings and Vignoles and Ice Wines, if not sold out, might also be good values if you like sweet wines. Fox Run has a tremendous Tawny Port for the fortified wine lover. The cheaper table wines, what the Finger Lakes were once known for in the early days of the industry, are mostly sweeter and from hybrid grapes or native grapes that while quaffable, may not be as complex as the vinifera variety you may be accustomed to drinking.

FLX Wine

Trump Could Withdraw From Bird Treaty

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A little over 100 years ago, the U.S. and Canada signed the Migratory Bird Treaty to protect birds. The treaty limits the number of months hunters can shoot migratory game birds. Trump’s secretary of interior Ryan Zinke has recently moved to expand access to game hunting on public lands. It would not surprise me if Trump were to withdraw from the treaty citing the threat of avian flu, or some other trumped up charge against the birds. Volunteer field reporters from Ribbie’s faux political desk familiar with Trump’s golf outings have reported that Trump regularly feuds with Canadian geese who leave excessive droppings on his manicured greens and the sandpipers that dig around in the bunkers.

There has also been some unconfirmed chatter that Trump wants to require migratory game birds, including those close to extinction, to pay a border crossing tax based on wingspan. Naturally, the cranes are up in arms and the albatross have argued that it creates an undue burden. A group of rough-legged hawks have already begun to organize a migratory bird union, but are having trouble with the warblers who just want to be left alone, and the mockingbirds who won’t take anything seriously.

File under: real fake news, broken news, snark, satire, humor or humour if you like

Elderly Bridge Denied Health Coverage

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A bridge badly in need of medical care recently received news that given its preexisting condition, it would no longer be covered under Trumpcare.  Distraught, the bridge called the Trumpcare hotline for help.  A transcript of the conversation has been obtained by the investigative unit of Ribbie’s Weblog and reads as follow:

Trumpcare: You’ve reached the Trumpcare hotline, how can I hurt help you?

Mr. Bridgey: Yes, I received a letter indicating that my preexisting condition will not be covered under Trumpcare.  That CAN’T be true.  Trump promised preexisting conditions would be covered.

Trumpcare: I’m awfully sorry, what he meant was that you would have access to health care in a high risk pool.

Mr. Bridgey: But I can’t swim.

Trumpcare:  That’s why it’s a high risk pool.

Mr. Bridgey: How much will my premium be?  It’s currently $1,700 a year.

Trumpcare: Well, that depends on your age, condition and salary.

Mr. Bridgey:  I’m 64 and earn $27,000 a year and I suffer from crumbling infrastructure.

Trumpcare: Let’s see, just a minute – ok, that would be $13,000 a year, assuming your state does not request a waiver of rules under Obamacare.  In some states, the rehabilitation services you may need will no longer be available.

Mr. Bridgey: That’s crazy, I can’t pay that and you are saying that even if I could, rehabilitation services might not be available at all.

Trumpcare: That’s right. However, if you live in Alaska, and you are a bridge to nowhere, you might just be in luck.

Mr. Bridgey: But I don’t understand.  I paid into medicare and social security dutifully my whole life. I have helped millions of commuters get to work over the span of my lifetime.  Whatever happened to the social contract?

Trumpcare: Sir, I’m afraid that’s been renegotiated.

Mr Bridgey: So this is it.  A death panel.

Trumpcare: Is there anything else I can hurt help you with?

Heavy Metal Dogs

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I ran across a disturbing article that got me thinking about food safety.  Trump’s plan to gut most of the regulatory agencies including the FDA puts corporate profits ahead of the interests of the people.  Fortunately, one hot dog maker recalled something like 200,000 pounds of franks after alert consumers found metal in some of the weenies.  There is no report on which metals were found, whether heavy, precious or rare earth elements, but I can assure this, metal won’t easily melt when boiled, broiled or grilled.  It would not have been the intent of the makers of Nathan’s Hot Dogs to provide the consumer a bit of crunch or a metallic aftertaste.  But what would stop an unregulated company from using whatever meat could be procured cheaply, say, horse, dog, chipmunk, squirrel, possum, house sparrow, cat, or rat? For that matter, might we one day find recycled cell phone parts in our hot dogs in the form of rare earth metals that make the meat look fresher and last longer sporting a half-life shelf life of nearly a thousand years? Imagine a heavy metal dog with an expiration date of 2112 guaranteed to produce noble gases.

Top 10 Reasons For Comey Firing

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Rod Rosenstein must be wondering how he got on the sinking ship, as did both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Being forced to write a memo to justify Comey’s firing would not have been a pleasurable task for the career bureaucrat, that is unless he had chosen to have some fun with it.  And if he had chosen the later, he might have offered this top 10 list of the best reasons to can Comey.

10) As a Chemistry major, Comey believes in Science.

9) He’s friendly with former Univ. of Chicago classmate Dem. Senator Amy Klobuchar.

8) He promised to be truthful rather than loyal.

7) But her emails!

6) Comey called you “crazy” and “outside the realm of normal”; he may not even like steak well-done with ketchup – talk about crazy!

5) He likely wire tapped all the microwave ovens in the White House.

4) He’s said to be the most promising athlete to come out of the Yonkers/Queens area. But as you know Mr. President, YOU are the best baseball player ever to come out of New York.

3) No longer a registered Republican, he could be your chief presidential rival in 2020.

2) At 6’8″, Comey grandstands everyday.

And the NUMBER ONE reason to fire Director Comey:  He asked for a second scoop of vanilla ice-cream at your dinner meeting!

Beethoven No. 6 “Pastoral” Reviews

20150425_132906_001Beethoven completed Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (“Pastoral”) in 1808 writing most of it during the spring and summer, no doubt inspired by the countryside in his beloved Vienna.  It is one of my favorite works by the composer. To honor the spirit of this symphony on this fine spring day some 200 years after its first performance, I thought I would put together a list of recordings of the 6th that are of merit along with notes on the performances, recordings, and pricing.  As a bonus, I am also recommending a handful of Beethoven Symphony cycles that can be purchased at bargain basement prices for the budget minded listener.

Let me say at the outset that I purchased almost all of the recordings I reference as MP3 downloads through Amazon, not iTunes. That is to say that you might not find all of the music or the same prices on iTunes. For the “record”, I do have an iPhone and cannot purchase digital files from Amazon on it, although with an app, I believe it is possible.  I did, however, create a wish list of albums to buy and then accessed the wish list on my PC laptop and purchased the titles on Amazon. You see, I am a Windows guy mostly and until very recently had never used an Apple anything of any kind.

After carefully listening to 7 complete Beethoven Symphony cycles from the ’50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and the ‘00s, AND comparing movements of No. 6 from 9 different recordings back to back; AND after reading countless on-line reviews of what critics and devoted listeners have said about them, here are my opinions and recommendations.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral)

The following are listed in descending  order of preference:

9 Blomstedt – Staatskapelle Dresden $8.99 (1975-1980)

The Dresden State Orchestra under Blomstedt plays flawlessly but it is too bad the quality of the recording from Berlin Classics is not of the highest standards.  The sound is murky and muddled when the strings unite and the full orchestra blends.  The soloists seem to be playing muted instruments at times as if banished to the penalty box, to borrow a hockey phrase.  The pace throughout is fairly even bordering on monotony and on the slow side, similar to Bohm and Szell.  Beethoven seems to be walking with a cane taking care not to stumble on the rocks all around.  The storm in the 4th movement is somewhat agitating and reminds me of rolling through a tortuous car wash with the windows down.

8 Leibowitz – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) $2.69 (1961)

Leibowitz leads the RPO on a fast-paced romp through nature.  His tempi are nearly as brisk as the versions conducted by Krivine and Toscanini.  The storm is a cyclonic burst that sounds artificial, almost comical or melodramatic, but fun I must confess.  Like the Blomstedt recording, the orchestral soundscape here suffers from a lack of clarity at key moments.  I have not heard the original 1961 pressing from Reader’s Digest from which these have been re-issued on The Genius of Beethoven: 100  Classical Masterpieces, but the sound here is slightly distant.  However, considering that you get all 9 symphonies from a widely acclaimed set plus many other Beethoven classics for $2.69, what are you waiting for?

7 Morris – London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) .99 (1987)

Morris commands the orchestra confidently.  The pacing seems on the brisk side in all the movements as if Beethoven were on a 45-minute power walk.  The violins have a tinny, razor-like sound.  This shrillness adds a rough edge to the performance that gives it character and spirit.  However, the recording lacks the richness of sound that I prefer,  rather like skim milk in coffee – it helps to cut the bitterness, but not enough to smooth it out.  Movement No. IV is positively terrifying.  Here, Beethoven takes cover from violent lightening strikes, and tornadic winds emerging with a disheveled look but otherwise undeterred.

6 Boult – Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra of London .99 (1957)

The Boult performance of the No. 6 found on The Beethoven Big Box has grown on me after repeated listens.  The pacing is uneven and the dynamics give the piece an odd level of excitement.  The British Boult evokes a startled Beethoven who might have encountered a bear or lost his way in Epping forest, pausing periodically to check his compass.

5 Tennstedt London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) 9.49 (1984)

The LPO under maestro Tennstedt deliver a solid performance of the “Pastoral.”  Coupled with excellent sonics in a package that also includes Symphonies 3, and 8 plus the Overtures,  this is a desirable recording.  One caveat is that the storm in movement IV of the 6th is a letdown, frankly, with only a few thunderous timpani strikes. I would characterize it as a dreamy thunderstorm that produced a torrential downpour for a few seconds after which a dazed Beethoven wakes up to ask what just happened.

4 Toscanini – NBC Symphony Orchestra $29.99 (1952)

I bought the renowned ’50’s Beethoven cycle on used vinyl for $1 at a Public Library book sale in Warner, New Hampshire some 10 years or so ago.  The vinyl was in “decent” condition so to preserve it, I converted the records to MP3 files.  The sound is pretty rough because of all the pops, scratches, and skips, not to mention the original lackluster mono RCA recording.  It’s hard to get past the limitations of the recording, but if one can, the rewards are the glorious historical performances of the NBC Symphony Orchestra passionately guided and inspired by one of the greatest conductors of all time.

3 Szell – The Cleveland Orchestra $6.99 (’60s)

Szell’s version of No. 6 is almost as good as Bohm’s.  Perhaps his tempi are a bit slower and somewhat plodding and mechanical like a fine tuned march at times, but the Cleveland Orchestra play magnificently throughout.  The instruments are not as present in the soundscape as in the DG recording of Bohm and the VPO, but the sonics are clean and silky. If you want to calm your nerves, Szell may be all the medicine you need.  Even the 4th Movement is serene, never menacing, just a quick and proper no-frills thunderstorm.  At $6.99 U.S. for all 9 Symphonies, brilliantly played, this is the bargain box of the century.  One caution, as some reviewers have pointed out, the 9th is alleged to be a hybrid – starting off with Szell and ending with another conductor and choir.  I haven’t verified this yet, but even if true, it should be no reason to shy away from the set.  The complete Beethoven cycle of Szell on Sony with the full 9th, would run you $30 U.S.  Is the 9th worth 23 bucks?

2 Krivine – Le Chambre Philarmonique $11.97 (2009)

If you like period instruments, this recording is the one for you.  The tempi are faster than most, making one wonder whether they were speeded up as a result of a recording glitch; actually, the brisk pace feels quite natural.  The sound is crisp and clean.  The storm in Movement IV sounds like a twister rolling through the countryside uprooting trees and bushes in its path before petering out.  This bargain price collection of the 9 symphonies was recorded live in 2009 making it the newest and freshest among the group surveyed and highly recommended.

1 Bohm – Wiener Philharmoniker (VPO) $9.49 (1971)

This one is the gold standard. I should point out that I already had the CD in my collection, so I did my own rip.  I wanted to hear the MP3 format so that I could fairly compare the recording with the other selections reviewed, all or most of which I ONLY own digitally. Bohm’s interpretation feels the most realistic. Nothing is rushed or forced. The tempos just seem right.  The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) sounds passionate, yet controlled. The instruments blend beautifully and shine when individually highlighted. The sound quality of the recording is simply outstanding.  At 9.49 for the digital download, it is not the best bargain among the group reviewed, but it IS the one you want if you only could have one recording of No. 6.