Sunday, July 29, 2007

Teen Titans

My first exposure to the Teen Titans was in 1967 on "The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure." This Filmation cartoon series spotlighted 7-minute cartoons (just long enough to keep my 3-year old attention span) featuring Superman, Aquaman, Superboy, and then a variety of DC characters, including the Titans. Why Kid Flash was drawn with pitch-black hair is a mystery to me, but I thought it was great that kids could form a superhero team just like the adults could.

It wasn't long after that that I discovered the Teen Titans comic book and was deeply involved in their adventures. Nick Cardy was and is a great artist, and Bob Haney's stories have always been among my favorites, especially in Brave and the Bold. I was thrilled, though, when I found out that Robin was actually one of the Teen Titans. He had not appeared on the cartoon, instead remaining at Batman's side.

During my "dark age" when I was living with my mother and stepfather, I only got to read comics when I visited my father and paternal grandparents. One Christmas (1975) my grandmother bought us the "Christmas with the DC Super-Heroes" treasury. You probably remember those oversized comic books, ridiculously priced at $1.00! Who in their right mind would pay $1.00 for a funny book? Anyway, one of the stories in that book was a reprint of Teen Titans #13, "A Swingin' Christmas Carol." While a direct lift of Dickens' classic, it was at least acknowledged in the story that it was! I still have a copy of that treasury and I pull it out and re-read it every Christmas.

When my brother came to visit during the period where I was living with my father, we picked up DC Comics Presents #26, featuring the first appearance of the New Teen Titans. I was beyond comics by that point (girls > comics), but the story looked really interesting. I didn't know who half the characters were, and I'm sure that had a lot to do with that. You can see more of that story here.

The Teen Titans came and went, undergoing many changes over the years, but then it was announced that Warner Brothers would be producing a cartoon based on the New Teen Titans that Wolfman and Perez had created. Given Bruce Timm's track record I had total faith that it would be done well. Much to my chagrin, I was shocked to see Americanized anime, complete with a theme song performed by a Japanese pop group. I didn't see how they could go from this concept:to this:

When I first saw the promotional image I thought that someone should probably tell Calvin's dad (of Calvin & Hobbes) that his son was dying his hair black and dressing as Robin. I watched the first couple of episodes to give it a chance, but it just wasn't for me. I've never been a big anime fan (although I've tried) and put it aside.

Recently, I've taken a second look at the Teen Titans, but not with the jaded eye of the middle-aged comic book fan looking for validation of the form as serious art. I've started looking at them as forms of fun and ways to get kids to read. I had lost that sense of wonder and resented cartooniness. I thought that if you couldn't draw like Neal Adams or paint like Alex Ross, then you shouldn't be in the business.

I was wrong.

The Teen Titans cartoon, and this is the part I missed the first time around, is fun. The characters are not full of themselves and facing world domination every day. They're kids who get to be superheroes and hang out at this big tower and play video games and eat pizza. As a teacher of middle school kids I should have really caught that Raven was being portrayed as a moody Goth girl. Cyborg is the jock. Starfire is the cheerleader. Beast Boy is the class clown. Robin is the one who takes everything seriously. Now I get it. The same kids who are being represented by these characters are into anime and manga and they are the ones for whom this cartoon was being made. As I work on my secret project I have to remember what the producers of Teen Titans knew: The audience is the most important factor in creating entertainment. Teen Titans succeeds at that.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Six Million Dollar Man

"Steve Austin, astronaut: A man barely alive.
We can rebuild him. We can make him better than he was before.

The Six Million Dollar Man was my childhood idol. When my stepfather took away all of my comic books and burned them in front of me ("They'll give you bad dreams.") I needed a hero. Steve Austin was that hero.

For those of you who don't remember or are not old enough to remember, the Six Million Dollar Man from the TV show was an astronaut who was severely maimed from the crash of an experimental spacecraft. The Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) replaced both legs, his right arm and his left eye with bionic (cybernetic) parts. Steve Austin then had tremendous strength, could run at 60+ miles per hour tirelessly, and could see great distances and in the dark. In short, he became a secret agent with super powers.

The television show was clearly made for kids. Steve refused to kill people, and usually only hit people with an open hand. The physics of the show were often questionable. There was no explanation given how when his non-bionic hand was handcuffed to his bionic one, he could simply pull his arms apart and the handcuffs would snap.

Eventually the TV show would spin off The Bionic Woman, featuring Steve's girlfriend Jamie Sommers, a tennis pro who just coincidentally fell victim to nearly the same kind of injuries while skydiving. She got a bionic ear instead of an eye. There was also a Seven Million Dollar Man, who went bad, a Bionic Boy, with leg implants that compensated for his paralysis, and of course who could forget Max, the Bionic Dog?

During the summer when I was 10 years old, my grandmother took my brother and me to a bookstore in Traverse City, Michigan. Horizon Books was just a hole in the wall on the south side of Front Street then. When we asked if they had any Six Million Dollar Man books, the clerk showed us the original novel upon which the Six Million Dollar Man was based: Cyborg, by Martin Caidin. My grandmother asked if it was appropriate for my age and the clerk replied that it was. I was so excited to see this book that I couldn't even wait to get back to her house to start reading it.

To my dismay, I found a mistake. The book claimed that Steve Austin had lost his left arm, not his right! I immediately took a pen to the book, crossing out "left" and writing "right" in the margin above the line. And Steve didn't work for the OSI, he worked for the OSO (Office of Special Operations). What was this?? My grandmother calmly explained that when books were made into movies or television shows, details could be changed like that. Satisfied with (and more than a little surprised by) that knowledge, I went back to reading.

The Steve Austin of the novel was a whole different character from the one in the TV show. This Steve Austin could not see out of his bionic eye, but it did hold a camera that could take up to 20 frames of film. The camera was activated by a button just under the plastiskin at Austin's temple. His arm could not lift great weights because it was still attached to muscles and ligaments in his shoulder. He used it primarily as a bludgeon. But one huge difference in the arm was the CO2 airgun in his finger that shot cyanide-tipped darts. They definitely never had that little contraption in the television show! He also had a supply of flares that he kept in his wrist joint. There was a plug he could pull out to gain access to them. Austin's legs were also far different. He couldn't run 60 miles per hour, but he could run without tiring, since his respiratory and circulatory systems were only working to supply oxygen and blood to one limb.
His feet had swim fins that could deploy from the underside, just behind his toes.

Austin was much more ruthless in the novel to say the least. He undertook two missions, one to steal a Soviet MiG and one to infiltrate a Central American military complex. He was basically James Bond with built-in gadgets.

I've been thinking for a couple of years how an updated version of this character could be great if done correctly. When it was announced that there would be a comedy version of the Six Million Dollar Man featuring Jim Carrey, I cringed. Fortunately this project seems to be dead. This fall, though, one of NBC's new shows is called, "Bionic Woman." It's being produced by some of the same people who re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica," so I have very high hopes. With the right approach, this show could really work well, and the guys who produce BSG haven't let me down yet.

Wouldn't it be cool if the Six Million Dollar Man was the spinoff this time?

They're Back!

Magi and Sera returned last night after a nine-day trip to see Magi's family. When Sera saw me outside the car from her car seat, she smiled and smiled and smiled. I think she smiled at me with a big, toothy grin for five minutes. It might have been the second happiest moment of my life.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Buffing the Dark Servant

No, it's not dirty. Last night, while my friends and I were playing City of Heroes, Rob asked "Would you buff my Dark Servant?" There was a sudden burst of laughter and a quick volley of "NO!"

When we play City of Heroes, a Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), we talk on Skype. This program allows us to communicate verbally instead of typing dialogue in the chat window. Even if someone's computer can't do both (it is a resource hog), Skype can be used over telephone lines too. We used it in China to talk to friends and family over the Internet instead of paying outrageous international long distance fees.

When you play MMORPGs, there is a whole new vocabulary you must learn. Buffs occur when you add something to a character, whether you are increasing its accuracy, speed, recovery, endurance, ability to do damage, or its defense. Effects that subtract from those same characteristics are called debuffs. They are very handy to use against the opposing villains in City of Heroes. Some heroes (and villains) can summon allies called pets. These minions can do damage for you, or heal you, or provide some other support. Rob's Dark Servant is one of these pets, so when he asked me to buff his dark servant, it was quite innocent. Funny, but innocent.
The Dark Servant

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Grammar and Spelling

I am not immune to making typographical errors, but one thing that irks me to death is the number of people on the Internet who think that grammar and spelling don't matter. The same problem exists in my classroom. If I had a dollar for every student who said, "But this ain't English class," I'd have retired ten years ago. Grammar and spelling do matter. They are the tools of effective communication, whether you are communicating about art, mathematics, science, or any other topic of note.

When I emphasize vocabulary in my classes students immediately trot out,"But this ain't English class." They are right about that. But thinking about prefixes and suffixes give students an insight to what not only these words mean, but what other, similar words mean. If one understands that geometry is the measure (metry, from meter) of the earth (geo), then they might further apply that logic to determine that geography is the description (graphy) of the earth (geo). These are important, if not critical skills when learning about mathematics. The numerous properties of equality alone (reflexive, symmetric, transitive, et. al.) are enough to give students headaches, but they are all important in their own way when it comes to providing explanations for proofs. If anything, we should be hammering them with this stuff because it's so important to mathematical topics that will be introduced later in their academic careers.

Education aside, I hang out at various message boards and forum communities to read and share ideas with people who have similar interests. What many posters don't seem to understand is that to be taken seriously, you have to at least pay cursory attention to how you write.

The thing that has me really going this week is the sheer number of reviews of the new Harry Potter book that criticize J. K. Rowling as a terrible writer, while the vast majority of them can barely construct a coherent sentence. When criticizing someone's writing you should demonstrate at least minimal competence at the same skill. "She uses exposition to much," removes any thought in my mind that I should pay attention to the rest of the critic's opinion. If one doesn't know the appropriate uses of to, too, and two, then they shouldn't even be talking about the writing style of the most published children's author in history.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


One of my friends read my blog the other day for the first time and saw that photography was one of my interests. I think this surprised him because I had never mentioned it in any of our social gatherings. Of course, most of our social gatherings include our small gaming circle, so it would have been an unusual topic of conversation. So, I went out Friday afternoon and snapped a couple of pictures in the back yard.

My favorite subject is baseball, but I haven't been to too many live games this year. My buddy Doug got us tickets to a Tigers game in Chicago back in April, but I haven't been able to make my way to Detroit this year. Here is the best baseball photo I've taken:
This one was taken on September 11, 2005 at Comerica Park in Detroit. John McDonald was only a Tiger for a few short months. He came to the Tigers from Toronto in a trade for a player to be named later. After the season, he turned out to be the player to be named later. He was literally traded for himself! McDonald was ahead on this changeup and fouled the ball off into the seats along the third base line. Notice the Red Cross symbol on the Kansas City Royals catcher? This game was only a few days after Hurricane Katrina and the players were promoting relief for the victims. I was able to walk right down behind the first base dugout because the whole front row was empty. Look at the empty seats along the third base line. You won't find the stands looking like this now!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Spoiler-Free Review

Well, I finished it. With Magi and Sera visiting family in Alabama, I had little else to do. So I went to Toys R Us this morning, where I knew there wouldn't be any kind of wait, and purchased Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read it in one sitting, if you don't count warming up some pasta in the microwave, and devoured all 759 pages.

I loved it. The characters were all there, the classic battles of good versus evil, heroes acting as heroes should, everything. Several elements of the story provide satisfying closure to the literary series that began 10 years ago. I'm even more impressed that Ms. Rowling could complete these books at such a rate. Her mastery of internal consistency is a tribute both to her and her editors.

Expect some surprises, expect tragedy, expect satisfaction, and most of all, expect to feel great when you finish the last page.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Saturday Mornings

Man, watching these Space Ghost cartoons made me start having flashbacks to childhood. That happens to me occasionally. I have a very good memory. Tell me to remember something and I do it. Telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, even credit card numbers are no problem. I remember the most arcane details of comic book stories, movies, and trivia. The only drawback is that I remember bad things too, and recall them in vivid detail. Well, another time for that.

While writing about Alex Toth and Space Ghost, I decided to read up on the old cartoons. While doing so, I discovered
this blog. I could spend hours watching some of these old shows. Then I discovered why I didn't remember Birdman all that much from when I was young: This website shows that in 1968, Shazzan was on at the same time, and I watched that show instead!

Some of my fondest memories from childhood were watching cartoons on Saturday morning with my dad when he got home from working third shift. We ate Cool Pops (anyone remember those?) and watched until about noon, when he went to bed. Good times!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Alex Toth

When I was young, I loved cartoons. I still do. I loved Space Ghost as a child. The Herculoids were cool too. Birdman was okay. Jonny Quest was possibly my favorite cartoon. Shazzan, Super Friends, Thundar the Barbarian, the Fantastic Four, all were appreciated. The Three Musketeers, Sealab 2020, the list goes on and on. What do they have in common? Character designs by Alex Toth. (see right)

I recently purchased the complete Space Ghost series on DVD. The cartoons are great, but what a treasure I found on the reverse side of disc 2! There is a full-length documentary on the life of Alex Toth. I had read that a documentary on Toth was going to be shown at Comic-Con International in San Diego next week, but I had no idea that I would be able to see it first! From his lengthy handwritten correspondence with friends to his curmudgeonly battles against those with whom he disagreed, it's there, warts and all. I found the entire feature riveting. I have two books of his designs, both purchased in the mid-90s at a cover price of less than $25, and both now sell on eBay for well over $100, regardless of condition. I will never sell mine. They are well-loved and dog-eared.

Professionally, Alex Toth is the person I wanted to grow up to be. Character design is what I do to relax. Ask anyone who has been in a role-playing campaign with me. I will design heroes, villains, non-player characters, anything to flesh out written concepts to give visual appeal. I like to think that I improve on them by making helpful suggestions while I think their designs through, but the players and gamemasters to whom the characters belong might disagree! There was a time when I designed characters for all of my friends. They would have a concept and a name, and I would take it home after our Sunday night game, and have their completed character back the next Sunday, with suggestions. I'll try to get their permission to post them here in the next week or so.

One thing I found funny about the Alex Toth documentary was his childrens' description of his workspace. He called it his Batcave. Reference magazines stacked here, books piled up there, he knew where everything was at all times. I have seen many photos of artists' workspaces, and they all seem to be hodgepodge collections of things that inspire them. With that in mind, I am doing that very thing at home this week while my wife and daughter are away visiting her family. We need to clear some space in the basement for storage now that Sera's home and we need to get some of our more dangerous furniture (like floor lamps, coatracks, candlesticks, etc.) out of her reach. I also need to clear some space for a shipping table so I can get my eBay store back up and running so we can pay back the money we borrowed for the adoption. I'd like to have a little studio space too, where I can draw without Sera's help. She's a fine artist and everything, but her sense of design and mine don't always coincide. It may have something to do with the way she holds her pencil in her full fist instead of using the first few fingers. She also hasn't quite decided which hand she likes to use best to draw.
When all is said and done, I hope to have the basement in good shape again. And like I said in this post, I will call it my Batcave. Let's see if I can get it done before they get back!

Monday, July 16, 2007


As I was thinking about old TV shows that I liked as a kid in a previous post, Buck Rogers made me think of Battlestar Galactica. Whereas the original Battlestar Galactica only lasted a season (we're just not going to mention Galactica 1980), Buck Rogers made it three. Both series were produced by Glen Larson and were very similar, except for one very important factor: Setting.

Battlestar Galactica took place in a self-contained universe. Earth was only mentioned as a place to which they were going. Buck Rogers, on the other hand, was about a 20th century red-blooded American male (and all that implies) who wakes up still on Earth, but in the 25 century. There was a connection there to be made with the American public. Buck brought sometimes-archaic 20th century sensibilities into the sterile world of the future, trying to reawaken the pioneer spirit and drive in the highly-evolved technologically-driven future. Be that as it may, I thought that Battlestar Galactica was the better show of the two.

Battlestar Galactica supposed a civilization "far across the heavens, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans." Their civilization paralleled our own, but clearly their ways and cultures were alien to us. Prostitution was legal, yet frowned upon, and gambling occurred in the open.

What I found charming about Battlestar Galactica, and probably what most people found annoying and alien, was its use of unfamiliar terms to describe familiar things. A "centon" was a measure of 1/100 of a "centar" roughly equal to a minute, and a "micron" was a tenth of that. Not only were centons and microns measures of time, they were measures of distance as well. A year, or the equivalent, was a "yahren." A unit of money was a cubit (I can hear Bill Cosby now: "Riiiggghhhht...What's a cubit?") Here's a list of these fascinating terms.

But the funniest parts of this translation were the swear words. Battlestar Galactica literally allowed you to say some very bad things on television. "Felgercarb" was solid biological waste. And "frak," well, frak was the equivalent of one of our four-letter expletives that also starts with f and ends with k. I'm not going to tell you which one.

When the recent
remake of Battlestar Galactica premiered, it was nearly unrecognizable, yet superior in so many many ways. Characters were different, story elements were changed radically, many fans swore they'd never watch it, myself included. But when I saw a repeat of the miniseries on NBC one summer (smart move, by the way), I was hooked.

One thing that I truly appreciated from the 1978 show was retained. "Felgercarb" was nowhere to be heard, but boy, did they make up for it by saying "frak." "Frak you," "Frak off," "You motherfrakker," it's all there and there's not one thing censors can say about it. It's frakking hilarious!

Of all the shows, though, I think
Firefly had the most charming way of masking profanity. "Did a piece just fall off my gorram ship?" or "Ain't no ruttin' way I'm doing that." Firefly also used Chinese profanity to great effect.

The common use of masked profanity makes you realize just how silly swearing is and how much sillier people are for getting upset by its use. They're just words, and mostly words that have no meaning except to provide shock value. So why are we not shocked with abandon when someone says, "Frak?" It means the same thing but it spelled and pronounced differently. Sometimes my students accidentally curse in front of me. They are surprised when I don't send them out of class for it. I simply tell them that what they said was inappropriate. We give so much power to certain words, it's just easier to dismiss it when they accidentally let one slip. When we overreact, they are actually encouraged to say it more in private because it evokes such a response.

But I have no idea how I'm going to react the first time a student says, "Frak you, Mr. McClain!"

Postscript: Other science fiction media apparently did this years ago. Check out this article from Oxford University Press for details. I discovered it while writing about this topic.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Happy Birthday, Magi!

Today is my wife's birthday.

Ordinarily I would buy her roses, one for every year, but last year she made me stop. This year, she didn't want me to spend any money on her birthday at all because she says that she has everything she could want. I didn't obey, of course, and I bought her a few things that I knew she would want, like a large bottle of the perfume that she used to wear all the time, but has been wearing more sporadically since she has been running low. With the adoption, money has been tight and she has gone without far too often.

I didn't spend as much as she deserves, because not even Bill Gates has that much money. Magi has given me everything anyone could ever ask for. She has changed my life for the better in uncountable loving ways. She has given me the one thing that had eluded me my whole life: Happiness. Sweetie, happy birthday. I love you!

Happiness is...

Blueberry pancakes!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Welcome to the Future!

In my last post, I mentioned that my daughter will be 14 in 2020. When I was a little boy in 1972, there was a cartoon called Sealab 2020. I remember thinking, wow, they will have undersea laboratories in the future! Well, the future is not far away, and some of the science fiction genre's future is in our past.

It's always guesswork to try to anticipate what technology will exist by a future date and some movies and TV shows have been closer than others. George Orwell is said to have chosen 1984 as the setting of his famous novel simply by transposing the last two digits of the year of its publication, 1948. Some movies, like the popular X-Men franchise, wimp out by setting their films in "the not-so-distant future."

The 1979 Buck Rogers TV series always started with this narrative: "The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap Ranger 3 and its pilot Captain William 'Buck' Rogers are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns Buck Rogers to Earth 500 years later." Strangely enough, the deep space probe looked just like the Orbiter. And I've yet to see a manned deep space mission, so perhaps that was a bit optimistic, especially since the beginning of the show was only set eight yeares into the future.

In the Star Trek (original series, of course) episode Space Seed, the Eugenics Wars of the mid-1990s is mentioned. As far as I know, Khan Noonian Singh didn't take over 25% of Earth, so we're good. Star Wars had the Clone Wars, though, and that's just another example of George Lucas "borrowing" from TOS.

Lost in Space, set in 1997, sends the Robinson family in search of a habitable planet in the nearby Alpha Centauri system suitable for human colonization. I'm glad things aren't that bad just yet. I do want a B-9 Robot, though. They only cost $24,500!

In Space:1999, Moonbase Alpha is torn from its orbit by an explosion of nuclear waste and hurled across the cosmos. I always thought this show had the most realistic-looking ships of all the science fiction genre, taking elements from the actual Apollo spacecraft with bell-shaped thrusters, but in reality, we would be years away from establishing a permanent moon base even if we started the program today. Still, it was a pretty cool show.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic of science fiction and the technology depicted was generally considered to be attainable. Some of it was. I still want to ride the Pan Am space plane. Unfortunately, Pan Am went out of business in 1991.

I wonder how many more science fiction shows there were that were set in a future that has now come to pass. I have to think that they had no idea that they would be remembered now.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


During our weekly City of Heroes session last night, my buddy Rob was talking about the negative publicity that violent video games get and how it sometimes simply helps to allieve stress to go out and beat up some pixelated thugs. That got me to thinking about how the public always seems to find a scapegoat for what ills the world.

If you are not a comic book fan, you may not have heard of Dr. Fredric Wertham. Back in 1954 he published a book called Seduction of the Innocent. In his book, Dr. Wertham suggested that comic books were a leading cause of juvenile delinquency. He said that because many of the delinquents had them in their posession when they were brought in. Back in those days, almost all kids read comics, so to that I say, "Duh." The book also made parents stand up and take notice and soon activist groups were rounding up all the comics they could find and burning them. Ever wonder why the first appearances of Superman and Batman were worth so much money? Thank Dr. Wertham.

In the late 1950s attention turned to rock and roll music. It was feared that the moving and shaking would lead to, you guessed it, juvenile delinquency. From "1956--After the June 30th trouble at Asbury Park, Bill Haley and His Comets are denied permission to play at the Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. A city ordnance was passed that read: 'Rock and roll music encouraged juvenile delinquency and inspired young females in lewd bathing suits to perform obscene dances on the city's beaches.' "

In the 1960s, rock and roll was still a culprit, and violent cartoons became a cause, according to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (Baker & Ball, 1969).

In the 1980s, video games came into play (so to speak) and remain under constant scrutiny for their violent content.

In the 1990s, rap music became popular and took some of the heat.

So what is it that makes people blame external sources for their children's behavior? I think it may have something to do with their not wanting to take responsibility. As a teacher, I see parents at every parent-teacher conference who have no idea what their kids are doing in school, after school, before school, or at any other time.

As I watch my daughter grow physically, cognitively, and emotionally each day I wonder what scapegoat will take the blame for bad behavior in 2020, when she is 14. I bet it won't be parents.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Crying in Baseball

From "A League of Their Own:"

Jimmy Dugan: Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!
Doris Murphy: Why don't you give her a break, Jimmy...

Jimmy Dugan: Oh, you zip it, Doris! Rogers Hornsby was my manager, and he called me a talking pile of pigsh!+. And that was when my parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see me play the game. And did I cry?

Evelyn Gardner: No, no, no.

Jimmy Dugan: NO. NO. And do you know why?

Jimmy Dugan: Because there's no crying in baseball. THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL! No crying!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you that Jimmy Dugan is full of it. From last year's ALCS, the call by radio announcer Dan Dickerson:
"Swing and a fly ball, left field, it's deep, it's way back ... THE TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!! Three-run, walkoff home run! OHHHHH MAN! Ordonez around third, he's into a mob scene at (sob) home! The Tigers have beaten the A's, 6-3, completing a four-game sweep in one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history! The Tigers, three years after losing 119 games, are going to the World Series! Magglio Ordonez with his second home run of the game. What a sight at home plate!"

I was in the stands that night, sitting in the nosebleeds even higher than the foul pole, but I will never forget that blast. Craig Monroe was on second base and Placido Polanco was on first. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-3 tie. Oakland's closer, Huston Street was pitching his second inning, and was showing signs of fatigue. When Magglio hit the ball, I had the camera ready. I was snapping pictures on every pitch. We all knew something great was about to happen. Maggs was up in the count,1-0, and I had a feeling and it just felt right.

As soon as the ball landed in the stands Comerica Park exploded. People were jumping for joy, and tears were streaming down the faces of thousand, my wife's and mine included.

Last night on ESPN, they showed the greatest home runs of all time, separated by decade. The last one they showed was this one, and the emotion just welled up in me. It struck me as funny how a baseball game can bring out feelings strong enough to overwhelm a person, but that night stands out as one of the greatest of my life. When I think of non-family moments (wedding, adoption day, etc.) this one is #2 on my list behind our high school state championship, which now that I think about it, was also a baseball game.

So what is it about this sport that brings out such emotion? You don't hear about football fans breaking down after a Super Bowl, or NBA fans weeping when their team cuts down the nets. I think baseball is ingrained in all of us as a country. Ratings for baseball games are at an all-time low, yet attendance is at an all-time high. I think that's because there are so many options available for entertainment that there's room for many sports, but baseball is special because it's the oldest American sport, dating back to the 1840s in its earliest incarnation.

I wonder sometimes if it will fade away into obscurity as other sports (and NASCAR*) gain more and more popularity. I don't know. It might fade away, but I just think it's amazing to hear things like Dan Dickerson's radio call of Justin Verlander's no-hitter where he mentioned that it was the "sixth no-hitter in the 107 year history of the Detroit Tigers." Yes, my team has been around for 107 years. Not only did my late grandmother (born in 1914) follow them, but her father did too, from their inception in 1901. That kind of generational continuity makes it special.

I have already begun the brainwashing process with my daughter that I hope will make her a Tigers fan. We watch games together, and she has a Tigers t-shirt, hoodie, and cheerleader outfit. We will be going to her first Tigers game in September and I can hardly wait to have our pictures taken in front of the 20-foot tall tiger statue in front of the ballpark. I want to do that every year until she moves away, and then I want it to be a special trip that she can share with her children. I think it is one of the great things that is truly American to go to the ballpark and have a hot dog while keeping score at a game. As French historian Jacques Barzun once said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

I wonder how many more times I will hear that home run call before the emotion is wrung out of it. Since it's the ringtone on my cellpone and I hear it most every day, I think it's going to be a long time.

*I'm sorry, but NASCAR is not a sport. It's driving. You didn't play a sport on your way to work this morning, did you? I agree that NASCAR is highly competitive and requires great skill and stamina, and many people, including some of my best friends love watching it, but it's not what I would classify as a sport. On the other hand, I would pay real money to watch high school NASCAR races, as athletes compete for college scholarships. Driver's education would be better funded, that's for sure!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Back to Work!

Well, my vacation went by too quickly.

Nine days ago I finished the first session of summer school and had a nice break to look forward to. Last night I couldn't go to sleep and couldn't sleep well in anticipation of heading back. I wondered who I would have back in the class and who would be gone. I wondered if I would be able to get my new classroom (we have to change classrooms due to construction projects) set up quickly. I wondered how I would get the 100+ pounds of materials and books up the stairs to my new classroom. Just when you need to get to sleep to get back to getting up to 5:30 AM you find 1,000 things going through your head to prevent you from doing just that. The long and the short of it is that everything went fine. None of the poorly-behaved students came back and most of the well-behaved students did. I was directed to an elevator to get the materials up the stairs and there was time to set up before class because there were still students registering first thing this morning.

It occurs to me that a few people reading this don't know what it's like to get started teaching a session of summer school, so let me go over the finer points:
  • You don't know whose classroom you're going to be using, so you have to bring your own textbooks or acquire them from the department chair of the host school.
  • Since you don't have access to your own classroom you have to bring everything with you that you think you'll need: Stapler, pencils, sharpener, dry erase boards/markers/erasers, paper, rulers, protractors, reward candy, file folders, etc.
  • You may not have a working printer for your computer, so don't count on that. Last session my printer never worked, so I had to save my documents on my jump drive and print them out in the media center or at home. This session, my printer works! Woohoo!
  • There is continuity with the students who were with you in the first session but you have to break in new students who don't know you, so you basically have to start your whole spiel over again, despite the fact that more than half of the class has heard it already. That's okay, though, because it's likely that half of them were asleep the first time.
  • When you leave, everything should be back the way it was when you got there. Leave the classroom as the teacher expects to find it. It's the least you can do.

The nice thing about the session is that it will go quickly. After 17 days of the second session I get 12 days of vacation, including weekends. I'm really looking forward to that!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Dark Knight--More than Meets the Eye

While I'm in a ranting mood, let's take a look at the new Batman suit from the upcoming motion picture, "The Dark Knight."

What does he transform into? The Batmobile?

Every live-action Batman suit since 1989 has looked like a life-sized action figure and has just about as much flexibility. This suit is reportedly made of 200 molded pieces.


Is it that hard to cover a muscle suit up with fabric and imagine that it's bullet-resistant? I mean, if you can suspend your disbelief enough to buy that a guy goes around town dressed as a quasi-batlike Transformer, surely it's not that much farther to go to make that leap. I'm not even going to get into the Heath Ledger picture as the Joker. It may be an early version of the character, and I will give it a chance. But I don't care what the reason is for wearing this new armored suit. It's not my Batman.


At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I hate fireworks.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good fireworks display put on by professionals over a lake or a ballpark, but here in Indiana fireworks are readily available and I think every darn neighbor in our subdivision is setting them off. They don't just shoot them off on Independence Day; they shoot them off the entire week before and after. They shoot them off from before dark until midnight, keeping me awake and scaring my dog. He's curled up under my desk right now. I don't know what these people do for a living, but I bet they're not teachers who have to get up at 5:30 AM. Thank goodness I'm on vacation this week and I don't have to get up that early, but Sera will be up at 7 AM and I will be up with her.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Bullpen

Last night I had an interesting experience. Buy Me Toys, our LCS, has a biweekly night of drawing. Local artists bring in projects that they are working on, sit around the outside perimeter of a set of tables arranged in a rectangle, and draw. I sat in for the first time yesterday.

Topics of conversation flew around the room, ranging from movies to comics to music to books to artists and back to comics again. Casual insults bounced to and fro, and at one point the artist sitting next to me said, "Can't you tell we love each other?" What's funny is that I could. In my experience, comic book fans and gamers have to develop a thick skin from all the abuse we take from the general public and I think that it's part of the process of being a geek that we practice taking it by dishing it out on one another. It's a form of affection as long as it doesn't go too far, and last night it didn't. It was just gentle ribbing. I didn't join in because I had just met everyone, but it felt good to sit in a room with other people who share the same interests and to focus on something that I've been struggling with artistically. I imagined that this was what the old Marvel bullpen must have been like in the 60s when many artists shared the same studio space.

It may not be tabletop gaming, but I'll take it.