Sunday, January 30, 2011

The End

"and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make"

42 years ago on this date, music history was made on a London rooftop. It was January 30th, 1969 when the most popular, influential, and arguably greatest band in the history of music on this planet set up their instruments and cameras to record their swan song.

It is highly unlikely that anyone on that roof on that cold day realized what they were experiencing exactly, which would be the final 'live' performance by The Beatles.

For the legendary quartet that would be forever linked by their musical genius together, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, this was the culmination of a grueling month of work. Throughout January of 1969 the band had worked zealously on the studio recordings for "Let It Be", the album that would ultimately become their final release as a working band.

The concept for "Let It Be" was that it would be all new material which would be performed in front of a 'live' audience at the same time as it was being recorded, a process that had never been attempted previously in contemporary music. But turning this vision of Paul's into a reality proved far more difficult in practice than in theory.

The Beatles were trying to work their way through the stresses and strains that their celebrity, their personal lives and relationships, and simply a decade of working, living, and travelling together had created. These pressures would soon split the band forever, and trying to find a location to shoot this particular project highlighted their problems.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Heed the Call

Jesus Christ was approximately 30 years old, and he was ready to step from the shadows of a life which to that stage had been lived in relative anonymity.

He had learned of the fate of his cousin, John 'the Baptist', and decided that it was time for he himself to begin a public ministry. It was what he had waited his whole life to do. It was the entire reason for his being alive.

Jesus knew as he began that he would need to start somewhere. And so he set out along the edge of the waters of the sea of Galilee, beginning to spread there a message" that the people should "repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

As he made those first tentative public speeches and teachings, he was mostly alone, and he quickly came to realize that he needed help. He needed people to help him travel, to organize, to simply be his companions on the journey.

Walking along the edge of the Galilean sea he observed two brothers named Simon and Andrew, and he began to talk with them. He talked and taught, telling the brothers "Follow me, and I will make you fisher's of men!" His divine inspiration was so great that the brothers left behind their nets and began to follow Jesus.

The trio moved along the sea a bit and came upon the fishing ship of a man named Zebedee. Tending the nets with their father were his two sons, James and John, and Jesus again began to speak to the men and called on them to join him, which they did.

From this humble beginning has arisen the greatest church in the history of the world. The very church of the one true God Himself, founded by His only son.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rock & Roll Heaven: John Bonham

Embed from Getty Images
The late John Bonham was the drummer for Led Zeppelin

Sometime on September 23rd, 1980, John Bonham began to drink. This was not an unusual event in Bonham's life. He was a big drinker.

But the binge that he was about to undertake was a big one even by his standards. Over the next day and a half, Bonham, would take approximately 40 shots of vodka in a drinking binge that would end his life.

John Bonham was the drummer for the legendary rock band 'Led Zeppelin', and he was universally considered one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock music.

As he undertook that final late September alcohol binge, he and his mates in Zeppelin were in preparations for their first world tour in over three years, a tour that would never take place.

The legendary original Led Zeppelin lineup was born as a band in London, England in the latter half of 1968, at the height of the 1960's 'flower child' and 'hippie generation' crazes. Jimmy Page, who was and is universally regarded as one of the greatest guitarists on the planet, and his band 'The Yardbirds' had just broken up.

Page met up with singer Robert Plant and began to consider putting a new band together. It wasn't long before the talented Bonham, who both men knew from studio sessions, would be recruited heavily and agree to join the band.

With the addition of bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones the four men originally set out as 'The New Yardbirds', but following their first touring effort it was obvious to all that they had little in common with that original band. The band's name was changed to 'Led Zeppelin', and the rest is music history.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nobody Bakes A Cake As Tasty

1914 was an important year for beginnings. For the planet at large, the year marked the beginning of World War I, the "Great War" as it was known in those days.

This military conflict would last almost five years, eventually see nearly 70 million combatants take part, nearly 9 million of whom would perish, and would see the end of the centuries-old Ottoman Empire that had once nearly conquered the world.

The year also saw the debut film in the career of a 24-year old English actor named Charlie Chaplin who would go on to become the single most famous of the entire silent-film era.

The year 1914 also saw the Ford Motor Company, founded just a decade earlier, institute a new eight-hour work day for it's employees that would eventually be embraced in most every industry across the country.

On July 11th, a big, boisterous 19-year old pitcher by the name of Babe Ruth picked up the victory in his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox. Later that summer, the SS Ancon cargo ship became the first vessel to pass through the Panama Canal in it's long-delayed and highly-valued inaugural opening. In September, Pope Benedict XV was elected to begin his papacy.

George Reeves, who would go on to entertain millions of Americans in the early years of television as "Superman" was born in 1914. Alec Guinness, who would on the far end of the century and in a galaxy far, far away would become famous as 'Obi-Won Kinobi' in the "Star Wars" films was born.

Joe Louis, 'The Brown Bomber' still considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxing champs of all-time, was born. Wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, poet Dylan Thomas, longtime Miss America host Bert Parks, the voice of 'Tony the Tiger' and crooner of the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", Thurl Ravenscroft, and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio all began life in 1914.

In the city of Philadelphia that year there was a more modest beginning, but one that would ultimately grow to it's own popularly dizzy heights as a local and regional legend.

It was in that year of 1914 that a baker from Pittsburgh named Philip Bauer and an egg salesman from Boston named Herbert Morris got together on a business venture producing baked cakes. Morris' wife, trying a sample of their creations, said that they were "tasty", and a local legend was born.

The 'Tasty Baking Company' began to produce it's 'Tastykakes'

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eight Men Out, One Man In

Today is the 90th anniversary of a landmark day in the history of Major League Baseball. On this date in 1921, the owners elected Kenesaw 'Mountain' Landis to the newly created position of Commissioner. His job, to do whatever it took to restore confidence in the American public following the infamous "Black Sox" scandal of 1919.

The reasons for the creation of the position and for Landis' specific hiring constitute an important and interesting chapter in the history of America's pastime. The National League was founded in 1876, replacing the old National Association that had been formed in 1871 to begin some type of organization for the blossoming sport on a national level.

The American League was founded in 1900 from origins as the Western League which had been itself formed in 1893. In 1901, the A.L. elevated itself to major league status and became direct competition for the N.L.'s senior circuit. In 1903, the champions of the two leagues met in the first World Series, a competition that became permanent in 1905.

In 1919, the A.L.'s Chicago White Sox were considered the best team in the game at that time, led by one of the true early legends in the sport, 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson. The Sox had won the World Series of 1917, and were prohibitive favorites in this World Series against the N.L.'s Cincinnati Reds, but the Reds ended up winning what was then a best-of-9 games event, 5 games to 3.

During that 1919 series, rumors began to surface that a "fix" was in, that professional gamblers had successfully paid off some of the White Sox key players to "throw" the series in the Reds favor. These allegations and rumors continued into and through the 1920 season, and a grand jury was finally convened to investigate the matter. The grand jury convened as the Sox were again battling for the A.L. pennant. When Jackson and a teammate, the team's best pitcher Eddie Cicotte, confessed their involvement to the grand jury, Sox owner Charles Comiskey suspended 8 players believed to have been involved, costing them the 1920 pennant.

A highly publicized trial of the 8 players who were allegedly involved took place. One young boy is famously quoted as approaching Jackson with the plea "Say it ain't so, Joe. Say it ain't so."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Voice of God

Let's not duck the obvious challenge to the main theme of this version of the Sunday Sermon series. "Follow the Voice of God" brings with it the possibility that any particular individual will get it wrong. It won't be the true "Voice of God" that they are hearing, but instead may be a hallucination brought on by anything from an abused substance to a mental or physical illness.

That said, there is no doubt in my mind that not only famous individuals throughout history, but also ordinary men and women every single day, receive messages directly from the Almighty. Sometimes these are specific lucent and palpable words and phrases of command. More often they are whispers of direction.

When you as a normal, rational, thinking human being feel yourself being consistently and repeatedly guided by what you might simply describe as "something inside me" towards a certain path, be it in your familial relationships or career choice or general life direction, you should seriously consider that this may very well be that 'Voice of God' whispering into your mind and soul.

God has many important things that he wants done in our world. I believe that he repeatedly has used the actions of human beings who have accepted his message and direction, have listened to it fully, understood it correctly, and not been afraid to embrace it and follow through on it in their lives in order to make a difference to humanity in large and small ways.

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the trial of Saint Joan of Arc in 1431 at the English-occupied city of Rouen in Normandy, France. Joan was a young girl at a point in history when that was a particularly difficult time for someone of her age and sex to be taken seriously. But Joan heard the 'Voice of God', listened to it fully, overcame doubt and fear, took His message to action, and changed the course of world history.

Joan was born and raised at a difficult time for her home country of France. The historic rivals in England had taken advantage of a number of internal French leadership tragedies and political problems to conquer and control large portions of the country. At around age 12, Joan was alone in a field when she experienced a vision

Saturday, January 8, 2011

NFL Playoff Predictions

There is really only one way to make predictions on the outcome of some game or tournament and have yourself taken seriously, and that is to make them before even a single moment has been played.

So here we are, just moments away from the kickoff of the first game of the NFL playoffs, and that makes it time for my personal predictions on how this month-long tournament will play out.

Let's start at home with our Philadelphia Eagles. What a tremendous, in some ways over-achieving season it has been for the Birds. When the team left training camp in early September, most fans were planning on a rebuilding year as Kevin Kolb took over at quarterback after a decade behind Donovan McNabb. An 8-8 finish that showed positive signs for 2011 would probably have been considered a success at that point.

But in the opening game against Green Bay, Kolb was injured. In stepped Michael Vick. The rest, as they say, is history. Vick emerged as an uncommon weapon, and an NFL MVP candidate. The team took off behind his acrobatics, bolted to the front of the NFC East, and then capped it all with a rally for the ages in a late December game against the rival New York Giants to take the division crown.

That the team faltered in it's final two regular season games should not be as much cause for concern as it seems to have become for some fans and members of the media. The team was obviously thrown off by the sudden switch of the Vikings game from Sunday night to Tuesday night due to snow a couple of weeks ago.

That surprising defeat led to the full-scale benching of regulars for the finale against Dallas, as Andy Reid basically gave them a bye week. The result was a close, last-minute loss by the Eagles subs to the Cowboys regulars.

The more important factors for the Eagles entering the opening week matchup are their opponents, and the condition of their own players. The Eagles have lost key contributors in the past couple of weeks, while the Packers have played extremely well since the return to health of their outstanding quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

I want the Eagles to win. I will be rooting hard for it to happen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dutchman Curves Out Spot in Hall

On June 2nd, 1970, while I was just a little 8-year old wrapping up the 3rd grade year at Our Lady of Mount Carmel school in South Philly and had not yet become the big baseball fan that I have since, the Minnesota Twins called up from their minor league system a 19-year old right handed pitcher by the name of Bert Blyleven.

In that first abbreviated season of four months length, the kid with just 21 minor league starts under his belt used a devastating curveball to help him rack up 10 victories for Minnesota. For that debut performance The Sporting News selected him as it's American League 'Rookie of the Year' for 1970.

Over the ensuing two decades, Blyleven continued to bedevil hitters in both the A.L. and N.L. with what became widely regarded by the end of his career as the best curveball ever thrown in the long history of the sport. He used that curveball to help two different clubs, the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1987 Minnesota Twins, win the World Series. He was the 1989 A.L. Comeback Player of the Year, a 2-time All-Star, and pitched a no-hitter in 1977.

Blyleven completed more than a third of his 685 career starts over 23 seasons, winning 287 games and registering 60 shutouts. He also used that curve to strikeout 3,701 batters which leaves him fourth on the all-time list behind only a quartet of living legends: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, and Roger Clemens.

On Wednesday afternoon, a long injustice was finally, mercifully righted when Bert Blyleven was voted permanent enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His election came in his 14th year of eligibility, leading to the obvious question: what took the voters so long?

The facts show that at the time he was first eligible in 1998, Blyleven was the best eligible pitcher not in the Hall of Fame at that point. Now that, of course, does not in itself mean he should have been enshrined. However, with his statistical achievements over a storied career, the man known as "the Dutchman" do to his having been born in Holland should certainly have been enshrined early in his eligibility.

Instead of early enshrinement, Blyleven found himself being named on only 17.55% of the necessary 75% of the voters ballots that first year. By the 2nd year of his eligibility, Ryan was elected to the Hall, and Blyleven had dropped to just 14.1% of the voters support.

Voters then seemed to begin slowly evaluating Blyleven's stats and his worthiness. He had climbed to over 35% of the voters by 2004, and by 2006 he had received 53.3% of the voters ballots. No one who has ever received more than 50% has failed to eventually become enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and Blyleven's support continued to rise as more and more voters began to realize the injustice of his having been passed over for so long.

The ridiculousness of what is running through the minds of some voters is a topic for another, lengthier article. Suffice it to say that during the period in which Blyleven was being passed over for enshrinement, votes were being cast for players who had no business receiving the support from any voter who knows what they are doing.

Good but obviously unworthy players such as Walt Weiss, Rick Dempsey, John Candelaria, and Steve Sax received votes for the Hall of Fame. Phillies fans will be happy to know that some voter in consecutive years cast ballots for John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, and Darren Daulton. Nice players all. Hall of Famers, none. Ludicrous.

Finally the voters have gotten it right, although it says here that Bert Blyleven, who has gone on to a colorful 2nd career in the game as a broadcaster for his beloved Twins, should still have received even more than the 79.7% of the vote that he did eventually receive. He will enter the Hall of Fame officially in ceremonies this coming summer that will also honor 2nd baseman Roberto Alomar and former Phils GM Pat Gillick.

Now the question will turn to the next Blyleven, candidates who are worthy of selection but who have not yet gained admittance to baseball's most exclusive club where less than 1% of those who have ever played the professional game have managed to enter. The Hall of Fame voters take up the cases next year of players such as Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell and Lee Smith, all of whom would have joined both Alomar and Blyleven on my own personal ballot this past year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Better Way Forward

Earlier today while you were busy at work or taking care of yourself or your family at home, a sea change occurred in Washington, D.C. that will affect your life in a very positive way for years to come. Today, the Republican Party took control of the U.S. House of Representatives officially, and the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was elected.

Not only will Boehner's self-effacing, emotional, heart-on-his-sleeves style be in stark contrast to the blathering and blustering that American has suffered through over the past four years with Nancy Pelosi in the Speaker's post, but the concrete results that the country will begin to see over time will  be even more profound.

Back in November, the American voting public sent a clear message to lawmakers that the controlling Democratic Party led by Pelosi and President Barack Obama had grossly overstepped their bounds in beginning to lead the country down a path towards Socialism. No longer would irresponsible bailouts to big business, massive increases in government control of our daily lives, and repressive taxation be permitted to continue.

In taking the gavel of Congressional power today, Boehner promised to return government to the people with a renewed focus on the Constitution and the principles of transparency, honesty and accountability. Of course in actuality it was we, the people, who had returned government to ourselves