All posts by monotrememadness

Oh, hey, I didn't see you there. Hello! My name is Alex, and I am a twenty-something Midwesterner making comical observations of everyday life. Occasionally I can call upon my bachelor's degree in biology to help me sound like I know what I'm talking about, especially when discussing animals. I am a lover of nature, science, sports, movies, and the power of rock and roll, and I love to share my thoughts on these and other subjects with anyone who will listen.

Turn the Paige

From humble beginnings in on July 7, 1906 in Mobile, Alabama was born a troublesome boy. Leroy Robert Page was the son John and Lula who lived in the “Down the Bay” area of the Gulf city. John was a gardener, and by some accounts a drunk, and as a result. Lula and her children actually would go on to change their surname’s spelling to “Paige” after John’s death, partly to signal a fresh beginning, as well as to appear more refined. Nevertheless, the fact remained that this was the Deep South still under the bootheel of Jim Crow laws, and the Paige family remained poor and black. Leroy spent his teenage years in reform school after he was caught shoplifting for not the first time. From 13-17, Leroy received his state-mandated education in his state-reform school, but his greatest learning came outdoors with a ball and a glove. Leroy’s great love was baseball, and he would do anything to play it. Skip dinner? No problem, let’s play ball. Don’t have a ball or a bat? No big deal, we’ll use this stick and a bottle cap. All that mattered was that he got to get in the game. After his reform school stint in Mount Meigs he did just that by playing with the semi-pro Mobile Tigers. It was there that Leroy started to make a name for himself, but not with his birthname; instead he was better known by the nickname he had earned as a kid carrying bags at the train station: Satchel.

Satchel Paige may be the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball. His official statistics are certainly impressive, especially considering how long he played baseball, but those numbers do not represent the monster on the mound he truly was. Satchel Paige first made his Major League Baseball debut with the Cleveland Indians on this date in 1948 as a freshly 42 year old. He had enough success to be in strange contention for the “Rookie of the Year” award, but was undoubtedly happier to go on to win the World Series in his opening MLB season (which is still the most recent championship for the Indians). Of course, one year earlier Jackie Robinson had become the first black player in the MLB modern era, yet both he and Satchel had played previously in the Negro Leagues, including on the same team, the Kansas City Monarchs. Paige was older, and had more season in the Negro Leagues under his belt, and he was hurt that he was not chosen to be the first player to break the color barrier. However, Paige would go on to declare that Robinson was the greatest black player he had ever seen.

While Robinson made more of an impact in Major League Baseball and had exceptional success after his historic integration, Paige had equally amazing success previously in the Negro Leagues, as well as in traveling Barnstormer leagues both prior to and following his MLB career. Just before the 1947 integration season, famed pitcher Bob Feller put on leagues that traveled by plane to different cities across the country to play baseball with a mix of past and current MLB stars, as well as Negro League all-stars. Feller captained one team, and Paige captained the other and the two pitchers almost always started each game day after day. This seems so absurd compared to today’s baseball; I cannot imagine that daily pitching by the best in the game in a new location each day would go over well with managers and owners, nor would having their top players galavanting about in the off-season. Yet, that is just what Feller and Paige did, and each matched up against some of the best their leagues had to offer. And I mean, the BEST. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that some of these stars were the best in the game at the time because they were some to the best of all time. Players like Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Vernon, and Bob Lemon. Before and after his MLB years, Paige played in similar travel leagues and faced the likes of Cool Papa Bell, Carl Yastrzemski, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio called Paige the best pitcher he ever faced.

Satchel Paige played his final game of baseball on June 21, 1966, and went on to serve a variety of mostly honorary positions in a few baseball organizations after his playing days. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Thanks for reading! You may always hit me up at monotrememadness@gmail.com with any questions or comments. I hope to see you back here next week!

Play ball!

Alex

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When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: An Apology to a World Long Lost

I owe an apology.

In fact, I owe a few. The biggest one I will get to in due time, but I owe one to all of you, my loyal (or casual, perhaps even stumbling upon this site for the first time) readers. A few years ago I got caught up in nostalgia and praised too highly something that I normally am quite demanding on: a movie. Specifically, I am referring to 2015, a roller coaster year for me personally that saw me come to terms with a great many things regarding myself, my relationships with others, and my appreciation of art. These are reasons why I behaved the way I did then; not excuses. Many of us were – and clearly still are – swept up in the tide of nostalgia that reboots, rehashes, and long-awaited sequels provided for us in the cinema, but this is no justification for my actions either. Now, to be clear, I do not dislike Jurassic World, the 2015 release that marked the fourth film in the vaunted dinosaur-centric series. I called it one of my favorite movies of that year, after all. I realized at its release that it was a derivative film that hearkened back to the original in a manner that often exploited our nostalgia, and I was okay with this because damn it I wanted more dinosaurs! It didn’t matter that they didn’t have feathers now, nor did it matter that the most well developed character was a velociraptor and the rest were bland at best. I got my dose of dinosaurs again, and it was a grand, old time at the popcorn palace. I saw Jurassic World three times in theaters, which pales in comparison to the five times I saw Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens that year (always with different people too!). However, while both were derivative of their original film and capitalized on the success of their predecessors, The Force Awakens offered us lovable new characters who fit right in alongside our established favorites. We are all right with the notion that these are the people who will carry our beloved franchise into new stories. I do not make apologies when I say that Star Wars succeeded at this with their latest saga film, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. I’ve spoken more on this matter, and probably will again, but the important thing is that Star Wars took things in a new direction with new characters and delivered a well-crafted story that does not call back to the original films as its most previous film did.  The Last Jedi listened to Fleetwood Mac and went its own way. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom fucked around within itself like Fleetwood Mac and has steered the series off a cliff, and not even Chris Pratt with a gun and gusto can offer much support in saving it as it sinks.

I will not provide spoilers for the latest dino-spectacle, nor will I demand you stay away from it. You are your own person, after all, and perhaps you will like it. For me though, Fallen Kingdom really fell in a manner that is disrespectful of the original Jurassic Park. To be fair, this is hardly the first disappointment of a dinosaur sequel in the franchise – in fact, none of the films that have followed the 1993 original have delivered the goods the way it did. Nevertheless, none of the sequels have lost their way as this latest one did. Jurassic Park III is a more coherent movie than this latest despite all of its flaws – of which it has many, and it should not be forgiven for simply being less underwhelming than Fallen Kingdom. Still, there is something to say about simplicity. The original film is astoundingly basic in its concept: there is a park with dinosaurs that needs a test run clearance in order to open. From there, we add on the wonder of “Wow! Real dinosaurs!” Steven Spielberg offers heaps of fantastic wonder in so many of his movies, but perhaps none so pure as in Jurassic Park. There is a moment in Fallen Kingdom where Bryce Dallas Howard, who at least gets boots this time, asks Chris Pratt if he remembers the amazing joy he felt the first time he saw a dinosaur. It, like so many other instances is a chance for that movie to take off, but it just keeps bogging itself down in an abundance of activity. Too much happens in two hours for us to ever connect with the characters or the cliche-laden plot. Unlike the first Jurassic Park where Spielberg lets scenes stew to bring home the point at the heart of the story, beyond all the dinosaurs and colorful cast of characters and incredible scientific advancements that all feel so real, what he really wants us to experience is the moral of the story: we should not play God.

That’s it. At its core, Jurassic Park is a lesson in not meddling with nature, for just because you have awesome technological power to create new life, you do not have the means to control that new life. It’s a prehistoric retelling of Frankenstein of sorts; a cautionary tale for all would-be creators. As Ian Malcolm states in that first film, “But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I realize that the story has moved on from that initial theme, yet none have extensively explored anything other than what amounts to a rehash of it.

It would also help if we got less of timely Rexy, the Tyrannosaurus rex from the first movie who has continued her role of deus rex machina through three films now. It was amazing on the first go round (I even declared her grand finale entrance to be my favorite Spielberg movie climax moment), yet her appearances in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom are a little too convenient. It’s no surprise anymore when she shows up just the good guys need saving or a bad guy needs to be stopped.

Ultimately, 25 years later, Jurassic Park is a enduring classic because it does more with less; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom does less with more. The muddled plot and shallow characters will not do it any favors in preserving it in the cinematic halls of time, and its most gracious fate very well may be to fall into extinction.

Now while I have not and will not provide any spoilers for Fallen Kingdom in this post, I will offer up some good videos on the series, some of which do delve into spoils territory, so I will mark those accordingly, and encourage you to watch them (especially if you’re in charge of the next Jurassic Park movie):

Non-spoils: “Jurassic Park – Using Theme to Craft Character”

Spoils: “The Problem with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

“Pressing the Dinosaur Button – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” – a unique take on how to fix a big problem in Fallen Kingdom

“Serious Questions -Jurassic Park Franchise” – for fun

Finally, my most sincere apologies to… The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I declared Jurassic World to be the best sequel in the franchise after I saw it, and stuck with that for too long. Again, I do still enjoy Jurassic World, and it certainly stands above Jurassic Park III and its own latest sequel. Nonetheless, I have kept what was rightfully yours on its shelf for too long. I now declare, that while it is not a perfect film by any stretch either, that The Lost World: Jurassic Park is the best Jurassic Park movie after the original. It is much maligned for being inferior to its predecessor, but let’s look at what it does right and original and give it the at fewest one thumbs up it deserves. You want more Goldblum? Check. You want intriguing new characters to join him? Check. You want more classic Spielberg suspense in sequences like trailer hanging off the cliff? Checkity check. You want Spielberg to provide awesome introductions to the established players like the T-rex and raptors while simultaneously introducing new ones like the pachycephalosaurus? You better believe check! You want Pete Postlewaite as a big game hunter bored with a lack of challenges seeking to hunt the greatest quarry that ever grace the world in the T-rex? Checkarino! Finally, do you want more of dinosaurs? Then you have come to the right place. Welcome to Jurassic Park…’s off-site dinosaur breeding island. And then San Diego.

For more on this, I encourage you to check out Filmjoy (formerly Movies with Mikey) for a more extensive defense of this still solid movie:

Thanks for reading! Be sure to come on back next week for more fun!

Go Brazil!

Alex

Have You Ever Really Looked at Your Hands, Man?

Watching the news recently brought to mind a particularly odd little man with what has to be fake hair and certainly a questionable sense of fashion, prattling on about his fantastic Space- well, just see for yourself:

Teehee! You didn’t expect that, now did you! Ahhhh, I digress, for I didn’t come her to spout off about politics. No, I came here to talk about some spacey sounds that you can really groove to. Specifically, I want to explore, what is to me, the most cohesive music album ever produced: Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

Following in the footsteps of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Pink Floyd turned their onstage jams at concerts into a continuous musical experience where each song segues into the next seamlessly. Furthermore, like Abbey Road before it, The Dark Side of the Moon offers more than just a collection of pretty songs that sound good stacked end to end. While surely a masterful complete auditory piece, the songs explore the birth, daily life, and death of man in a manner more musically layered than subtle, yet the meaning within the words is often overlooked because we’re just feeling the groove. As was the case with many of the seven prior Pink Floyd albums, The Dark Side of the Moon provides many an instrumental interlude, but none nearly as long as some of their big jams like “Echoes” that comprise half the album (and every act of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera).

 

The Dark Side of the Moon was the album that marked the blossoming of Pink Floyd’s greatest era, and the blooming of the band’s career. Released in 1973, it was followed by Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), and The Wall (1979), marking the stretch where Pink Floyd was at the top of their game. The band was moving at a clip under the direction of Roger Waters and David Gilmour, and their most famous songs emerged during this phase of the band’s rich history. For me it all comes together most magnificently with The Dark Side of the Moon. Striking the perfect balance of experimental sound and commercially appealing music, this is the quintessential album from the band that melded progressive rock with the mainstream. Beautiful, soothing, depressing, and so much more, The Dark Side of the Moon speaks to me as soon as I hear its first track:

Thanks for reading, and listening! I hope you’ll enjoy this album in whichever manner you see best, and that you’ll refract back this way next week for more fun, in any colour you like, of course.

Breathe in the air,

Alex

Anthony Bourdain was a wanderer who knew exactly where he was in the world. Not necessarily in a geographical sense – in fact, he often was quite lost in that way – but from the perspective of a man who exemplified a go-with-the-flow wisdom in numerous locations and situations that most of us would be freaking out if we found ourselves in, Bourdain saw the beauty in every back alley, every dish,  and every culture.

Looking at his beginnings in the New York City area, Anthony Bourdain was raised by a family environment conducive to cultural growth. His mother was an editor for the New York Times (the paper whose famous book bestseller list he would later find his own name on), and his father was a top man at Columbia Records. With print and music covered in the family, and younger brother Christopher going into money (no, really, he’s a currency analyst), it seemed only natural for Anthony to round out the family’s varied experience with his own mastery of cooking and sense of travel.

Bourdain is best known for his television shows, most notably, Anthony Bourdain: Ne Reservations on the Travel Channel, and then Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN. On those shows, he brought his personal expertise as a chef who honed his French style in New York’s famous Brasserie Les Halles, as well as his linguistic skills that were certainly on point in his unique culinary books like his first: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. Bourdain always added his wit and charm to every situation, every travel by rickety rail or gondala.

Sadly, we lost Bourdain, last week when he took his own life. Whatever troubled him is still being uncovered, but I want to remember the man who recognized the humanity in all through his extensive travels and trials of different food from different places. Whether you remember the man who certainly lived a life worth living through his shows, his books, his food, or his humorous appearances in shows or films like Archer and The Big Short, remember to look at everyone around you as he did: as fellow people with something to share, to learn from, and to enjoy time with.

Alex

The Cousteau Clan

Underwater wildlife, action shots, and sweeping score: that intro knows how to grab you! Fortunately, the ensuing content does not disappoint. In fact, the many recorded adventures of the Cousteau family remain timeless and stand alongside the highest quality nature documentaries today.

Speaking of today, this day specifically is the 108th birthday of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Cousteau’s extensive list of accomplishments highlight how the man lived his life to the max – essentially cramming the equivalent of 87 lifetimes into his 87 years on Earth. Best known as an ocean conservationist, nature filmmaker, and the co-inventor of the Aqua-lung (the first SCUBA device as we know it today), Jacques Cousteau was a truly incredible man. A personal hero of mine since I was a kid, he is the reason I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up. Of course, Cousteau’s influence stretches across so many involved in so much as the man did so much and shared his discoveries with the rest of the world so well. Cousteau, and especially his wife, Simone, knew how to harbor help on funding their expeditions, which they filmed and showed to the rest of the world to show us all another world we’d previously only seen the surface of. Separate, but deeply connected to us, the Cousteaus provided us the necessary glimpse into the waterways we take for granted so that we can recognize how urgently and greatly we must work to save them.

For a fuller look at Jacques Cousteau’s grand life, swim over to this SciShow segment from last year:

There is so much that has been said about Jacques Cousteau, including by me. If you want more of that, then hop in your time machine and take yourself back to my grade school living wax museum project where I stood in a hot gym in a thick, purple wetsuit while clinging my plush movie official Jaws great white shark. As much as I love the man, I’ve covered his life fairly extensively so far in my own. However, there is one aspect of Jacques Cousteau’s life that I want to emphasize as it is easily the most important, yet is often glossed over by most casual biographies. The most important thing for Monsieur Cousteau was the other Monsieur Cousteau – his son, Philippe.

Jacques Cousteau had four children in his life, two with Simone, and later two with his second wife, Francine. His sons, Jean-Michel and Philippe grew up practically underwater, and they helped their father on his many odysseys from the beginning.  While Jean-Michel has since followed in his father’s finstrokes in managing a number of conservation projects and films (including convincing then-U.S. President George W. Bush to create what was at the time the largest protected space in the world,) he and his famous father were never quite on the same wavelength. Disagreements on how to keep the Cousteau ship sailing – well, organization running, but a sailing ship is literally part of that – not to mention a lawsuit over the use of the Cousteau name at a resort of Jean-Michel’s making led to some rough moments in their relationship.

Such was not the case with Jacques and his younger son, Philippe. Philippe (an early contender for the look of “World’s Most Interesting Man”) was so attached to his father when he was a child that he would be right behind Jacques when working and wading into the water even before he could swim! Like older brother, Jean-Michel, Philippe’s interests went beyond the water, and he became trained as a pilot, a skill which would prove extremely handy for the pair when as they worked together to make films. The means to travel and explore were expanded by Philippe’s adept aviation skills, yet flying would be his doom as well. On a flight check in Portugal in 1979, the plane Philippe was flying malfunctioned and crashed. He was 38 years old.

But the legacy lived on. Philippe stated that he perceived the Cousteau expeditions not simply as adventures for the sake of the fantastic, but as a means to bring the watery side of the world to the millions who could not see it as the Cousteaus were lucky enough to. This mission that he served as an integral member of (he was the chief cinematographer on most of the films) went on long after his death. It is continued today by his brother, and by his own children, Alexandra and Philippe Jr.

Here is a clip from a BBC documentary where Philippe Jr. visits the remnants Conshelf Station that served as an extensive experiment to see if humans could live a submarine lifestyle, as well as studying the effects of longer-term time spent underwater. While the research and brave exploration were the intent of the structures and their experiment, the letter that Philippe Jr. reads shows the love that a father had for his son.

Thanks for reading and watching. I hope you made the most of your World Oceans Day (June 8), but whether you are an active ocean conservationist like the Cousteaus, of if you’ve never heard of World Oceans Day until now, I encourage you to respect all our waterways and treat everyday as a day for the water around you, for as Jacques and his sons and grandchildren have shown, it’s an amazing, yet fragile watery world we live in, and it’s worth saving. Minimize your plastic consumption, hug your children often, and float back here next week for more.

Alex

Dynamo Deliverance

Today is the anniversary of the final day of the evacuation of Dunkirk in northern France in World War II. Code-named Operation Dynamo, the massive retreat across the English Channel ran from May 26 through June 4 in 1940. Thanks to the efforts of multiple countries, strategic planning and action, and some well-timed good fortune, over 330,000 soldiers were rescued from the encroaching German forces.

As I suspect is the case with many Americans, I did not know much about the Battle of Dunkirk or the scope and importance of its incredible evacuation until seeing Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk last year. I attribute this to the tendency we have to pay attention primarily only to what is relevant to our chosen history; in this case, as a citizen of the United States of America, I don’t generally consider what happened in World War II until December 7, 1941. Nolan’s excellent movie helped to show me the amazing story of Dunkirk, yet as harrowing and exciting as it is, I still did not grasp just how big on a global scale those 10 days were and the effect the aftermath had on England, France, and the World.

From May 10, 1940, the British, French, and other Allies, including Belgium and the Netherlands, were fighting a losing battle against the Nazis. The Battle of France was a six-week series of mostly defeats for the Allies that led to the Nazis taking France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. In the midst of this fighting, the British realized their forces – called the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) – and those of their allies needed to be rescued before the Nazis overtook them and all but won the war. They ordered Operation Dynamo, which sought to bring the English and Allied troops back to England where they would be able to regroup safely to return to fight the Nazis another day.

The first step of Dynamo was to secure an evacuation route from a good port. The biggest and best in northern France was Dunkirk, so the Allies converged most of their men in northwester France around Dunkirk. Certain smaller bands were designated to stave off the German advance in key areas with the intent to buy more time for the tremendous evacuation. Furthermore, canals were dug and flooded, and the BEF and French and their Allies utilized the natural marshes around Dunkirk to their advantage to set up countermeasures to slow the pace of Nazi troops and especially tanks. The British commanders knew that the German panzer tanks would not be able to slog through the waterways and wetlands. On May 24, the Nazi leaders and high command determined that an infantry and panzer advance was to be halted and the fleeing Allies be left to the Luftwaffe. Just two days later, Hitler rescinded his own stop order and urged the tanks and men to get back to the pursuit, but it was too late. The delayed march of the panzers – which also were unable to get underway for about half a day after they would ordered back into the fray – allowed the Allies to fortify their defenses and helped secure their escape. Had the panzers continued, then it is likely that many more Allied forces would have perished and the Nazis would have dealt a major blow to their greatest adversaries, perhaps even putting themselves in position to win the war. However, quite luckily, things did not go that way, and the British were allowed more time to send ships to retrieve and rescue. According to historians, Hitler assumed that once they fled to England, the British and French would simply give up on the rest of Western Europe.

Of course he was wrong, as he was about a great many things. The British people, soldiers and civilians, were resilient, a fact that was proven when the Little Ships of Dunkirk came to aid the evacuation. These were over 800 privately owned boats of all sizes brought into service of the Royal Navy to assist their own larger seacraft in getting men from the beaches to the ships and on to England. However, as the Naval forces were understandably thin, many civilians actively volunteered and sailed alongside the Navy men to pick up the Allied soldiers.

These events were shown in the Nolan movie (which it should be clear by now I recommend), as were the aerial role on a smaller scale. The Luftwaffe was frequently vexed by weather during the evacuation, but the Royal Air Force (RAF) also did their part in protecting the waiting men from threats from the sky. Most of these dog fights took place over the English Channel, and some fleeing vessels saw them, but the general sentiment at the time was that the RAF was not a help at all simply because the soldiers and naval men did not witness their protector pilots in action!

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the evacuation that was not detailed in the movie is the three different routes that the ships ferrying men to England took across the Channel. The featured title picture depicts these, showing that while it was a relatively short journey of just a couple of hours to steam north to England, this was not a realistic option for all the ships. They had to disperse to account for avoiding sea mines, aircraft, enemy ships and submarines, and fire from the French shore that was already occupied by the Nazis. Not to mention, nighttime travels were also bound by limitations. The shortest route was about 70 kilometers and was in line with shore-based guns; the mid-distance route was roughly 100 km, but was the most densely mined; and the longest route was near 160 km and took four hours to complete.

All in all, the incredible coordination between nations helped save hundreds of thousands and helped ignite the fire anew in the British and Allies. Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his impassioned “We shall fight on the beaches” speech (the one at the end of the movie) to the House of Commons where he reminded the people that wars are not won with retreats, but added that England would never surrender, and that even if they were somehow overwhelmed, that the rest of their Empire and other allies in the world would come to their rescue in due time because they could survive until then. Fortunately, the British, French, Belgian, Dutch, and others were able to endure and retaliate in time, and were aided by their allies across the world. This is the part typically where my history lesson would begin, but it should be noted and remembered that so much was at stake on beach in northern France before 1944.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to drop me a line at monotrememadness@gmail.com with any questions or suggestions. I hope you’ll come on back here again next week for a dive into the life of one of the most remarkable men to advance our knowledge of nature.

Alex