Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's a brand new baseball season: Play ball!

It's a beautiful day for a ballgame
For a ballgame today
The fans are out to get a ticket or two
From Walla Walla, Washington to Kalamazoo
It's a beautiful day for a home run
But even a triple's okay
We're going cheer and boo and raise a hallaballoo
At the ballgame today

A brand new Major League baseball season starts today.

Play ball!

Every team starts with a clean slate. Zero wins. Zero losses. Zero games behind.

The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.  It lasts 162 games, stretching from March until October. Try telling that to the Steinbrenner family, which owns the Yankees and frets over every Yankees loss.  Even the best teams are bound to lose at least 60 games over the course of a season and the worst teams will win at least 60 games.  It's what happens during those other 42 games that makes or breaks a season.

Last year, the Giants finally won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco from New York at the start of the 1958 season.  For the lovable Chicago Cubs, they still haven't won a World Series since 1908 ~ that's 102 years.  The Cubs haven't even played in a World Series since 1945.  The Florida Marlins have been in existence less than 20 years and they've already won two World Series. Will this be the Cubbie's year? Time and 162 games will tell the story.

Last season was a high-def moment for Giants fans, of which I count myself among them.  Winning the division on the last day of the regular season, then defeating the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies to win the National League pennant.  I think many fans would have settled for National League champions and been happy. However, the Giants weren't finished.  Instead, they ran the table during the postseason with clutch hitting and superb pitching when it counted. The Giants beat the Texas Rangers in five games to the win the 2010 World Series.

Last season, the Giants were led by a motley crew of talented baseball players with nicknames like: The Freak (Tim Lincecum), Huff Daddy (Aubrey Huff) and Panda (Pablo Sandoval).  And, don't forget Brian Wilson ~ not the Beach Boy Brian Wilson, mind you.  Think "Fear the Beard" Brian Wilson. Today, he's 30-Down in the New York Times crossword puzzle. The team's marketing slogan suited the team's personality: "Giants baseball ~ Torture!"

Tonight, the Giants start the 2011 season as the World Champion San Francisco Giants.  It's got a pretty neat ring to it, doesn't it? Going into the new season, the Giants are deep in pitching, talented in hitting and they have 2010 N.L. Rookie of the Year Buster Posey behind the plate to guide Lincecum and the rest of the pitching staff ~ and, he'll no doubt add a little pop at the plate with his bat. Add to the mix the much-talked-about and talented rookie first baseman Brandon Belt, who could be this year's Buster Posey, and there's a lot to be excited about.

The Giants start defense of their world title against their nemesis and N.L. West rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Game on. Beat L.A.

It's a brand new baseball season and every team starts with a clean slate.  Play ball!

Play Ball! credits:
1940s blockprint of Home Run by Walter Anderson (Mississippi artist, 1903-1965).
"It's a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame" sung by the Harry Simeone Songsters (1960). 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I ♥ words: LOL with the OED ~ OMG!

OMGI'm LOL at the giddy list of new words that the venerable Oxford English Dictionary has added ~ and, believe me, there are many.

Perusing the blogosphere, I couldn't help but notice the news about noteworthy initialisms "OMG" (Oh My God), "LOL" (Laughing Out Loud), and the symbol for "heart" ♥ have all been added to the OED online dictionary. They join other initialisms such as "IMHO" (In My Humble Opinion), "TMI" (Too Much Information), and "BFF" (Best Friends Forever), among others, that have already gained recognition.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

People take notice when the Oxford English Dictionary adds new words to its lexicon. After all, the OED is the definitive record of the English language ~ it says so on their website. Achieving status in the OED means a word has gained mainstream acceptance, it's part of correct English. Of course, by the time they gain recognition, these words are behind the curve, so old school. Whatever your attitude or point of view, the English language ~ and the words we use in our daily conversation ~ is forever changing, always in revision.

Some other new and notable words added in the Class of 2011 besides the aforementioned OMG, LOL and  include: Ruthian, smack talk and ego-surfing. Ego-surfing?

Because I'm a big fan of British slang, I was intrigued by cream crackered, an adjective, a British slang term that connotes being tired and exhausted. And you thought it had something to do with food.  OMG, no. Now, I challenge you to use cream crackered in a sentence with a straight face. Speaking of food, I know that many foodies who appreciate Asian cuisine ~ and there are many here in the Bay Area ~ will delight in seeing the addition of bánh mì, a noun, which is a Vietnamese sandwich served on a baguette stuffed with strips of pork meat or chicken (tofu is acceptable, too), spring onion, cilantro, cucumber and lettuce, along with chili or soy sauce.  Think New Orleans-style po' boy or Philadelphia hoagie sandwich and you kind of get the culinary picture of bánh mì

However, after perusing the list of new and accepted words, I think my favorite new word is: yidaki. It is a noun that is defined as a long wooden instrument played by the Aborginal peoples of Arnhem Land.  

Mind you, I have no particular reason for liking yidaki over all the others I guess the wordsmith in me just likes the way the word yidaki (jɪˈdækɪ) sounds and rolls off of my tongue.

Now, it's time to head off to class and learn these newly-added ~ and accepted ~ words that are defining our language today and try using them in polite, daily conversation. Dare I say: OMG, sound the yidakis, let's enjoy a little bánh mì and, eventually, we'll all get a little cream crackered in the process! LOL. 

Here's the Oxford English Dictionary 'Class of 2011' words (presented alphabetically followed by their part of speech):

about round, adv.
ambigram, n.
banh mi, n.
Barnard's star, n.
bet-hedging, n.
bet-hedging, adj.
biker, n.
biologic, adj. and n.
calligram, n.
car crash, n.
couch surf, v.
couch surfer, n.
couch surfing, n.
cream crackered, adj.
crème de cassis, n.
Divehi, n.
dot-bomb, n. and adj.
dotted line, n. and adj.
drill-down, n.
dubplate, n.
Dutch colonial, adj. and n.
ego-surf, v.
ego-surfing, n.
English colonial, adj. and n.
fabless, adj.
fnarr fnarr, int. and adj.
gnasher, n.
gremolata, n.
headline, v.
headlined, adj.
headlining, adj.
hentai, n.
heteronormative, adj.
heteronormativity, n.
Hindutva, n.
June, n.
kleftiko, n.
la-la land, n.
lari, n.
LOL, n.1
LOL, int. and n.2
lumpenintelligentsia, n.
meep, n. (and int.)
meep, v.
muffin top, n.
non-dom, n.
non-domicile, n.
non-domiciled, adj.
OMG, int., (n.), and adj.
pap, n.5
pap, v.3
party-crasher, n.
party-crashing, n.
party-crashing, adj.
radioprotectant, adj. and n.
rotograph, v.
rotoscope, v.
rotoscoped, adj.
rotoscoping, n.
rototill, v.
rototilled, adj.
rotten egg, n.
Rotterdammer, n.
Rottie, n.
rottle, n.2
rotty, adj.
rouding time, n.
rough-cut, adj.
rough-cut, v.
rough-dress, v.
roughed-in, adj.
rough-in, n.
roughstock, n.
roulade, v.
roulading, n.
roulette, v.
roundman, n.
round-nose, adj. and n.
round-trip, v.
roupily, adv.
Roussanne, n.
roustabouting, n.
routed, adj.2
router, n.6
routery, n.
routineness, n.
rowdily, adv.
rowed, adj.3
rower, n.3
rowlock, n.2
Royal Free disease, n.
royalness, n.
rozzle, v.
RSA, n.2
Rt. Rev., n.
Rt. Revd., n.
Ru, n.
rua, n.
ruach, n.
rub-a-dub, v.1
rubber-banded, adj.
rubberization, n.
rubberize, v.1
Rubisco, n.
rubrene, n.
rubrification, n.2
rubus, n.
ruck, v.7
ruckly, adj.2
rude, n.1
rudimentarily, adv.
ruesome, adj.
ruff, n.10
ruff, int. (and n.11)
rufiyaa, n.
Rugby sevens, n.
rugelach, n.
rugulate, adj.
ruleful, adj.
rumble-de-thumps, n.
Ruminal, adj.1
rumminess, n.1
rumour control | rumor control, n.
Rumping, adj.
rumspringa, n.
run-and-shoot, adj. and n.
runathon, n.
runchick, n.
Rungu, n.
runiform, adj.
run-round, n.
ruote, n.
Rupert, n.
RUPP, n.
Ruppia, n.
rural economics, n.
Rurales, n.
ruralite, n.
Russellite, n.1 and adj.
Russellite, n.2
Russellite, n.3
Russophilia, n.
Russophobic, adj.
Russophone, n. and adj.
russula, n.
rusticate, adj.
rusticator, n.
rusticle, n.
Rusyn, n. and adj.
Ruthenic, adj.1
ruthenous, adj.
Ruthian, adj.
rutinic, adj.
rutting, n.2
ryanodine, n.
ryotei, n.
ryugi, n.
Second Coming, n.
singledom, n.
Skidi, n. and adj.
smack talk, n.
smack talking, n.
smack-talking, adj.
spinback, n.
state-run, adj.
stonewash, n.
stonewash, v.
stonewashed, adj.
suicide door, n.
taquito, n.
tetri, n.
tinfoil hat, n.
Wag, n.4
wassup, int.
yidaki, n.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An appreciation of daffodils

Daffodils / Fond memories of spring time in London

I have fond memories of visiting London in spring time.

Let's see, where to start: There's world-class museums like the Tate Modern and the British Museum to lose yourself in; there's the sight of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace to admire; there's walking across the Millennium Bridge with St. Paul's Cathedral looming bigger than ever as it draws nearer to you; and, there's a plethora of wonderful theatre awaiting on both sides of the Thames that's guaranteed to leave you feeling gobsmacked.

Yes, March is a great time to drop in for a bit of fresh air and fresh culture ~ I've done it twice, in 2005 and 2007 ~ and I can't wait to do it again.  If you go in March, you'll get to enjoy the daffodils that seem to be everywhere you walk throughout all of London's beautiful parks.

It's spring time and the daffodils are in bloom.

Daffodils in bloom /
 St. James's Park (2005)
There's an intellectual quality about daffodils worth admiring. They are hardy flowers.

Their perianth and corona are very detailed and they exude a beautiful yellow hue, although sometimes daffodils contain more than one shade or color.

Daffodils in bloom /
Regent's Park (2007)
And, personally, I like that daffodils mature very quickly. They don't waste time blooming.

My photo of our daffodils (top), in a vase, was shot just three days after we bought them last Saturday at our favorite local grocery store.

Here are a few things worth noting about daffodils:

* Daffodils are the national flower of Wales.
* Daffodils were a central part of e.e. cummings' poem, in time of daffodils.
* The Irish band The Cranberries once sang about daffodils in their song, "Daffodil Lament."
* In Nantucket, Mass., there's even a Daffodil Festival held annually during the last weekend of April that celebrates the flower.

So, you see, there is a bit of shared history ~ and meaning ~ for the daffodil.

Finally, I think daffodils are indeed a sweet image amidst all of the upheaval, disaster and tragedy that is happening throughout our world these days.

It's spring time and the daffodils are in bloom.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2008 Hob Nob: Toasting an enjoyable wine

Hob Nob / 2008 Merlot
On Saturday night, we finished our first bottle of 2008 Hob Nob Merlot.  This dynamic French red from Languedoc-Roussillon, France, made a delightful dinner companion for us during three dinners at home this week.

Last night, our glass of Hob Nob complimented a stay-at-home dinner meal of Pop-Up General Store Ribollita soup (Tuscan bean, bread and kale), Mike the bejkr's Pain Biologique whole grain bread, greens salad with a vinaigrette dressing, fresh California strawberries and a freshly-baked Bakesale Betty chocolate chip cookie.  A friend of mine from Minnesota says Languedoc wines are becoming hip, again.

With a new-found nod to hipness, our Hob Nob provided a soft, but memorable finish to an enjoyable meal ~ and, made staying home out of the rain all the more worthwhile.

I took the time to read the back of the cool, eye-catching label ~ there's always an interesting story to discover ~ and it provided an interesting "backstory" about Hob Nob that's worth sharing:

* HOB NOB pronounced \HAHB-nahb\

* 1.  Origin. 18th Century:  Two people or more drinking to each other ~ through the clinking of glasses and rubbing elbows ~ in toast and celebration.

* 2.  To associate familiarly: chum around.

* 3.  An informal sociable meeting or get together: a gathering/party hybrid.

* 4.  The perfect wine for successfully accomplish all of the above with style.

* Blackcurrant, blackberry, mind and licorice, soft finish.

Further, Hob Nob's website provided this profile for its Merlot:
* Mood ~ Dynamic
* Orientation ~ Marinara sauces, Filet Mignon, roast veal and chocolate
* Character ~ Rich like a black currant cobbler
* Social mastery ~ Favorite chapter is "Crisis"
* Book ~ Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
* Music ~ Miles Davis describes the 2008 Hob Nob Merlot as "rich as a black-currant cobbler," and "screams of ripe plum and blackberry aromas mixed with hints of mint and licorice."

I found it to be a very delightful pour and look forward to enjoying it again, soon.  With an eye-catching label and a budget-affordable price of only $9.99 at Berkeley Bowl West, what's not to love?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clouds: Appreciating the theater of the sky

"I've looked at clouds from both sides now / 
From up and down, and still somehow"

Bows and flows of angel hair,
And ice cream castles in the air,
And feather canyons everywhere,
I've looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun,
They rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now.
From up and down, and still somehow,
It's clouds illusions I recall.
I really don't know clouds at all.
~ From "Both Sides, Now" by Joni Mitchell, Clouds (1969).

Clouds / thinking Joni Mitchell
March has been a rainy month throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Good news for the trees, plants and flowers, of course. Not so great for getting outside to work in the garden. But, it doesn't come as any great surprise since the winter months are when it rains most in northern California.  When it hasn't been wet, often, the skies above me have been filled with clouds.  Even a partly-sunny day is bound to have clouds.  When I think of clouds suspended in the Earth's atmosphere above me, I am reminded of the classic 1969 Joni Mitchell album, Clouds.

Clouds and their formations are fascinating to observe. They are grouped into three physical categories: cirri form, cumuli form or convective, and strati form.  However, I'm not here to give a science lecture.  Instead, to me, clouds are democratic ~ they come in all shapes and sizes ~ and while some appear puffy like huge expansive cotton balls, others look pretty darn threatening and ready to burst at any moment.

Clouds / puffy, democratic
During daylight hours, I can stand on our deck, face east and, simply, look up in the sky.  Oh, and be rewarded, too, with a theater in the sky. Sometimes, I can see an airplane in the distant flying into the clouds, wondering what its destination might be.

Like an artist applying a paintbrush to a canvas, the clouds overhead create an atmospheric illusion, a chimera in the sky. Never content with staying in one place too long, they glide effortlessly across the Bay Area sky, usually from my left to right ~ north to south ~ as I look up at them while facing eastward.  Of course, it's best when the clouds overhead don't appear too threatening.

There's a simple reward in observing clouds.  For me, it's found in making the time ~ and having the patience ~ to appreciate their beauty.  And, if I have my camera at the ready, all the better.

"It's clouds illusions I recall / I really don't know clouds at all."

Photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Video of Joni Mitchell singing "Both Sides, Now" courtesy of YouTube.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan's powerful earthquake and tsunami

We are just guests in Mother Nature's home, wrote a friend. /
 Tonight, the ocean is dry.

"You can't control nature, but when something like this happens, you really realize the power of nature."
~ Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox pitcher

Each year, natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis strike.  No part of the world, it seems, is immune from the wrath of Mother Nature.

In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami that befell Sumatra, Indonesia resulted in over 200,000 deaths.  It's a very humbling statistic.

"We are just guests in Mother Nature's home," wrote one of my Facebook friends on Friday evening. "May Japan recover quickly."

It's a sincere, heartfelt sentiment that I'm sure many of my friends share in the wake of Friday's devastating and deadly natural disaster that jolted Japan at 2:46 p.m. local time.

Unfortunately, Japan's geographic location in the Asia/Pacific Rim is very seismically active.  So, Friday's 8.9 catastrophic earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan, coupled with the unleashing of a deadly, 10 meter-high tsunami that tore away buildings from their foundations and washed away cars stretching over a 100-mile swatch, should not come as a total surprise.  It was Japan's worst earthquake in its recorded history, which rocked buildings 235 miles away in Tokyo.

Right now, there's a struggle to reach survivors.  The epicenter occurred near the Northeast city of Sendai. While the loss of life and property is considerable ~ estimates suggest that the death toll will eventually exceed 1,000 ~ fortunately, it appears that strict building codes and disaster preparedness prevented a greater loss of life in lieu of the vast destruction, which has included deadly fires and a fear of some small radiation leaks in at least two of Japan's nuclear power plants.

From a humanistic viewpoint, it hurts to see Japan, a very proud, rich and high-tech nation, suffer such a heartbreaking natural disaster.  For that matter, it hurts to see any country endure any kind of natural disaster.  I can't imagine the pain that the good citizens of Christchurch, New Zealand suffered earlier this year with their earthquake let alone fathom the tragedy that has struck Japan.  The road to recovery facing both countries is staggering.  It will take much time and money ~ and a lot of patience.  Thoughts and prayers, I'm sure, are also a welcome resource.

Watching the incredible ~ albeit very sad and heartbreaking ~ video footage coming out of Japan throughout the day on CNN brought the maddening destruction into my living room.  It reinforced a grim reminder that I shared Friday morning with my Facebook friends:  Do not turn your back to the ocean.

Those of us who live in the San Francisco Bay Area woke up Friday morning feeling a little nervous as the tsunami wave thundered across the Pacific Ocean.  Precautions were taken, and a major northern California coastal highway was closed to traffic from San Francisco to Santa Cruz throughout the morning and into the early afternoon.  Fortunately, the worst damage to the Bay Area occurred in some area marinas and harbors, where some boats and pleasure craft were roughed up by choppy water.

As my American friends, who reside along the southern Gulf Coast and up and down the eastern Atlantic seaboard ~ whose lives often have been affected by the threat of or damage from hurricanes ~ can attest: Do not underestimate the power of water.

"Dear Almighty Father," wrote another of my Facebook friends. "Please help these victims as I pray for all who are enduring loss of their family members and their loved ones.  Help the children and adults to overcome this horrible tragedy in the days, weeks and months to follow."  Kind and heartfelt words, indeed.

For all the criticism thrown at social media outlets like Facebook, make no mistake:  It's given us a forum to convey our feelings and share our thoughts with our friends, both close to home as well as across oceans.

Today, it's been very comforting to share e-mails via Facebook in the hours following the world's latest natural disaster. From an old high school friend, who has endured several Gulf Coast hurricanes in Mississippi, to a new friend I made just a few days ago, who works in the fine arts in the United Kingdom, who asked about damage to my area and wanted to wish me a peaceful weekend.

Finally, I feel extremely fortunate to know that a longtime friend of mine, retired from the U.S. Navy, who resides near Yokosuka, Japan is alive and well, having endured by his estimate 140 aftershocks ~ and simply asks for our thoughts and prayers in the hours and days ahead.

"All is well with family and co-workers," he wrote in an e-mail I received Friday afternoon, about 24 hours after the earthquake-tsunami tandem. "Wish I could say the same for the rest of the country."

The American statesman, poet and inventor Ben Franklin once said : "When the well is dry, we know the worth of water."

Tonight, the ocean is dry, and a very proud nation is badly stricken, searching for help and compassion from its friends and neighbors, near and far, in the lonely days ahead.

Calla lily photo by Michael Dickens (copyright 2010).  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tutu: A simple, Sunday morning message

Archbishop Desmond Tutu /
"Isn't it exhilarating to be
an agent of transfiguration?"

The Most Rev. Desmond Tutu is a much beloved spiritual leader, one of the most recognizable public figures in the world.  As an apartheid fighter and Nobel laureate, he is also a man of many hats, not including the commanding mitre he wears as an Archbishop emeritus in the Anglican Church.

On Sunday, the soft-spoken and genial Tutu was guest of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, where he delivered a nearly 20-minute homily during the 11 o'clock Episcopal Choral Eucharist service that was part political, part grandfatherly wisdom.  He preached a simple message to the standing-room-only congregation numbering about 1,000, that as human beings: "We are all agents of transfiguration."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu /
"We are all agents of transfiguration."
Tutu explained that transfiguration can happen because "you have smiled on someone carrying a heavy burden. Transfiguration can happen because you uttered a word of concern."

Although much of Tutu's sermon was gentle in its tone, he did speak out about the forever-changing world political climate, one that has transformed since he was awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in defeating apartheid in his native South Africa. He chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and has been credited with coining the term "Rainbow Nation" to describe post-apartheid South Africa.

"Apartheid in South Africa gives way to a nascent democracy. You helped us gain that freedom," Tutu said in his recognizable, lilting voice.

He continued:  "A Berlin Wall tumbles down.  Soviet injustice collapses.  The horrid, oppressive Mubarak steps down.  No situation could ever be described as hopeless."

Tutu spared no punches, giving mention to oppressive nations around the world, including Burma, Tibet and Libya.  He had a warning for each:  "All those who strut across the stage of the world as if they were invincible, they, too, without fail, will kiss the dust and become the flotsam and jetsam of history."

The sound bites contained in the brief political message of Tutu's homily played well for the local TV cameras that were positioned in a corner of the French Gothic-style cathedral near the pulpit, and just a few feet from where my wife and I were seated for the Choral Eucharist service.  Our seats provided us with an excellent sight line for seeing and hearing Tutu's moving homily.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu / At the Grace Cathedral altar
for The Blessing and The Dismissal.

These days, Tutu, 79, is retired as Anglican archbishop from Cape Town, South Africa.  The global activist makes few public appearances. So, I feel privileged and honored to have shared company with this most revered of homilists.

"You, I, we are agents of transfiguration," Tutu preached. "Go forth and transform your personal relationships, your community, God's world, so it becomes hospitable to laughter, to joy, to caring, to sharing, to compassion, to justice, to freedom, to peace."

Reflecting afterward, I think what most parishioners took away from Tutu's message ~ and, hopefully will remember ~ is his thoughts and wisdom regarding transfiguration.  I know I did.

"You are an agent of transfiguration," Tutu said. "As you walk the pavement of this city, you do not need to do anything that is spectacular.  As you pass someone on the pavement, how about signing the sign of the cross over them in your mind.

"Isn't it exhilarating to be an agent of transfiguration?"


It was a simple message, but it resonated throughout the cathedral on this rainy, winter morning.  Then, the congregation rose and gave Tutu a standing ovation that left him smiling.

Editor's note ~ To listen to Archbishop Tutu's sermon:

All photos by Michael Dickens, copyright 2011.  All rights reserved.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A bit of Hugh Laurie: Laughter among friends

Hugh Laurie / Our Dr. House

I watched a delightfully funny interview this week with Hugh Laurie on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS-TV's really late late-night show that follows The Late Show with David Letterman.  Mind you, I didn't stay up late to watch it. I'm a morning person.  I taped it and watched it at a much more convenient hour, enjoying it while eating dinner last night.

Late night TV is a competitive battleground. Various late night shows (The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, not to mention The Late Show with David Letterman) covet interviews with TV and movie stars ~ and, more lately, indie musicians ~ who usually have nothing more to bare than a few quick minutes, long enough to shill their latest acting project or sing their hit song.

Imagine my surprise, then, to see Hugh Laurie, who is among my favorite actors on either side of the pond (going back to his early comedic roles in Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit of Fry and Laurie), appear on late-night TV with Craig Ferguson.  I figured he was making the rounds to say a few words about this season's House, M.D., which airs Monday nights on Fox (8 p.m. ET/PT).  Silly me for assuming rational thinking exists on TV ~ late night or prime time.

Imagine my surprise, too, that Ferguson did not depend upon any staff-prepared note cards during his interview bit with Laurie. He didn't need to ~ he's a good ad-libber and interviewer ~ and it was very enlightening to see him rely on his own comedic instincts to guide the conversation with Laurie.

However, perhaps the biggest surprise was this:  There was no mention of House, M.D., either by Ferguson or Laurie, during their chat.  Oh, sure, there was a very brief clip to set up the introduction.  Instead, what viewers like me were treated to was something special.  There was 15 minutes of wonderful bantering and repartee between a couple of witty U.K. chums (Ferguson, 48, is Scottish; Laurie, 51, is British) enjoying a bit of camaraderie in between sipping their tea.  Best of all, Laurie got to speak in his natural British voice (he speaks with an American accent on House) ~ and he told some extremely funny and self-deprecating stories about himself.  It made for great TV.

I particularly laughed hard at Laurie's observations about being a collegiate rower while attending Cambridge, even though he's from Oxford:

Ferguson:  You rowed?
Laurie:  I rowed.
Ferguson:  But no horses.
Laurie:  I believe over here it's called crew.
Ferguson:  Oh, right. You crewed over there?  Or do you like to cruise?
Laurie:  I cruised. Yeah.
Ferguson:  Yeah? You cruised up and down ... ?
Laurie:  I hate either side of that word.
Ferguson:  Well, that's lovely.  Do you still crew?
Laurie:  No, it's a miserable sport.
Ferguson:  Is it really?
Laurie:  Absolutely miserable!  I will say, though, that the great thing about it is there's nothing like winning a rowing race.
Ferguson:  Or anything.
Laurie:  Winning a rowing race is not like anything else.
Ferguson:  Really?  Explain.
Laurie:  OK, it's an intense thing. ... Here's my theory:  My theory is you're racing backwards.  So, you see, you're looking at the people you're beating!
Ferguson:  You're right!  Exquisite!
Laurie:  Runners always have that slightly panicky "Are they coming for me?" look.
Ferguson:  Yes, they do.
Laurie:  (Mimicking exasperated runner:) "I'm so relieved.  I thought you were going to come pummeling after me. " ... But rowing is just great.
Ferguson:  You don't do anymore of that?
Laurie:  No.
Ferguson:  You look in excellent shape, apart from your bad leg (Ferguson's humorous poke at Laurie's character on House, who walks with a limp and uses a cane).
Laurie:  No, I'm not in shape. ... I box a little bit.  Hardest thing I've ever done!

(Below is a YouTube link to the first half of Ferguson's interview with Laurie.  The rowing tale comes about 2 1/2 minutes into the conversation.)

All of this reminded me of watching the old Dick Cavett Show, which aired late nights in the early 1970s on ABC-TV.  The New York-based Cavett engaged in freewheeling, thought-provoking and, sometimes, humorous interviews with interesting guests like John Lennon, Gay Talese, Groucho Marx and Katharine Hepburn, none of whom you would likely see on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  The closest thing we have to a Cavett-like program today is Charlie Rose on PBS.

During a live Q & A chat session with Washington Post TV critic Lisa de Moraes earlier today, I was curious to find out why we don't see more engaging interviews like Ferguson's with Laurie on late-night TV.  She answered: "Excellent question!  Though, fact is, you do get more of it on Ferguson's show than elsewhere. ... That said, we should acknowledge Laurie just being on the show is plugging House, which has a Very Special Storyline in the works."

And here I thought I was just watching a chatty conversation between a couple of old friends, that TV had indeed turned a corner in the right direction.  Not quite.  Silly me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Across the pond: Connecting through music

Laura Marling /
I Speak Because I Can
Laura Marling is only 21.  Yet, she sings with maturity and passion that is poised beyond her years.

The singer/songwriter from Eversley in Hampshire, England, whom many have compared to a young, folksy Joni Mitchell, writes songs that are both strikingly melodic and lyrically poetic.

Simple and pure, Marling is an authentic talent, a voice for her generation.  Fortunately, her lovely and lilting voice is becoming heard more ~ and gaining recognition ~ on this side of the pond thanks to her music receiving airplay via public radio.

Recently, Marling won the 2011 Brit Award for Best Female Solo Artist, besting Ellie Goulding and Cheryl Cole, and she was bestowed the same honor from the NME.  Her anthemic song, "Rambling Man," from her 2010 album I Speak Because I Canwas also nominated for Best Original Song at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.  Could a Grammy Award be in her future?

It was during last month's televised broadcast of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in London that Marling took the stage and previewed the unreleased "Flicker and Fail". It's a song that's been passed down a generation to her from her father.

If old is suddenly the new new, could "Flicker and Fail" be the start of a trend?  After all, she's covered other songwriting greats like Neil Young ("The Needle and the Damage Done") and Jackson C. Frank ("Blues Run the Game"). According to Marling's website, "... Foundations of ("Flicker and Fail") were in fact laid down via a battered old (but still surviving!) Yamaha guitar over 30 years ago by LM's own father.  LM has revived and tinkered with the lyrics and melody somewhat and shaped it into something old but new."

As someone who has been a fan of Marling's work since first being introduced to her music by Nic Harcourt on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic in 2008, when she was only 18, I'm extremely excited about what the future holds for this wonderfully talented and passionate musician.