Friday, October 19, 2012

Superheroes and Cheeseburgers

A special guest today on Thinking The Lions:  PT Dilloway is the author of over 40 (!) books; his latest is "A Hero's Journey", the first in what will hopefully be a long line of books about the newest/oldest superhero, The Scarlet Knight

Thanks again to Briane for letting me take over yet another of his many blogs.

From reading Mr. Pagel’s blogs, I know how much he loves McDonald’s cheeseburgers.  I decided then I should dedicate one of these guest posts to McDonald’s cheeseburgers.  But how could my novel A Hero’s Journey possibly relate to cheeseburgers?

In a broader sense, McDonald’s cheeseburgers and superheroes share a few similarities.  First, both have been a part of the fabric of American life for a long time.  Superheroes first came about in 1938 while McDonald’s cheeseburgers were introduced in the 50s.  And they still remain popular today.

The most popular superheroes like Superman or Batman or Spider-Man may not be the most innovative or original titles anymore, just like the McDonald’s cheeseburger is not the most creative example of a cheeseburger anymore.  They’ve both stuck to the same basic formulas for all those decades, which helps to maintain their popularity.  And really the familiarity helps sell superhero movies and McDonald’s cheeseburgers all over the world.

Of course I’d like to think my superhero book is more delicious than a McDonald’s cheeseburger, at least for the mind.  Eating a book would just give you a really bad case of indigestion.

If you’re ready to sink your teeth into my book, you can buy it from Solstice Publishing here.   

The book is also available from other retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  To find out more about A Hero’s Journey including character bios, deleted scenes, and a visitor’s guide to Rampart City visit my blog at PT Dilloway: Tales Of The Scarlet Knight.


Me again: Like I said, I've read the book, finishing it last night.  I give it five stars.  It's an incredible read: superheroes, magic, crime, friendship, love, superheroes, and a great villain.  Plus, THE ENDING! It's great.

PT talks more about the Scarlet Knight and her powers here on The Best Of Everything, but you can learn everything you need to know by just buying the book.  At $2.99, it's a great deal.

Leave a comment!  If you leave a comment here, you are automatically entered in a contest PT is having to give away  a free PDF copy of his book to one lucky commenter!

Get yourself some free books for the weekend.

This morning it was politics.  Tomorrow it will be cheeseburgers and superheroes.  But for right now, it's a plug for Andrew Leon's latest installment of his ongoing serial horror story, Shadow Spinner.

Part Seven in this ongoing serial is available for free on Amazon, right now, for free, and this book definitely deserves readers and reviewers.  The ongoing story of young Tib, a 10-year-old whose mom is out of it for unknown (as yet) reasons, but who is being pursued by haunting shadows and The Man With No Eyes takes a dramatic turn when Tib's journey home from school is interrupted by...

... go read it, will you?  Click here to go buy Part Seven of Shadow Spinner.

Also: Andrew is giving away a free book of your choice just for reviewing one of his stories.  Details are here on his blog.  You have until Monday to review one of his stories and then win your book.  GO DO IT!  You're not doing anything else anyway.  It's Friday afternoon. You're just killing time until 5 p.m. anyway.  At least if you're clicking and typing reviews it'll look like you're working.

I wonder what the list of names of people whose loans were forgotten might have in common with Walker donors? (Publicus Proventus)

It's too bad nobody cares what I think about politics because what I think about politics is always correct.

On December 29, 2010, I wrote a post titled

Apparently, "less government" means "less powers, but more pay for friends." Also: Lying is cool.


 in which I discussed the then-pending creation of the "Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation," and pointed out that it might not be the best thing to create a quasi-government agency staffed with Walker cronies who would be given the ability to manipulate millions of government dollars with little oversight or regulatory authority

Now, today, I check the headlines on and see this gem:

Walker calls for 'dramatic' changes after WEDC lost track of $8M in past-due loans

For the life of me, I can't imagine why "lost track" isn't in quotes.  If there was ever a two-word phrase dripping with sarcasm, it's that one.

That story, though, does what journalists call "burying the lead." Let's play "WE ARE ALL JOURNALISTS" and see if you can spot the story in this, the seventh and eighth paragraphs of the story:

The newly-uncovered loans to 99 businesses, which are past due by 30 days or more, amount to 16 percent of the state agency's total loan portfolio of $51 million in loans, WEDC chief operating officer Ryan Murray said. He said they are still trying to determine how the problem occurred and working to clean up the mess, adding that the problem was uncovered during an audit of the agency.

The head of the agency didn't mention the mishap when he testified at length Wednesday morning before the Legislature's Joint Audit Committee, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported.

I mean, I suppose it's important to point out to readers that Gov. Patsy, who created this boondoggle just over a year ago, now wants to completely revamp this patronage position tohelp pay off people who refuse to testify against him in the John Doe proceeding I mean "make it more effective" or something that sounds innocuous, but wouldn't these potential headlines have also been effective?

State agency staffed by Walker buddy not sure what happened to $8,000,000.


Walker crony deliberately hides evidence from legislative inquiry because he didn't want to talk about it yet.

I at least saw the collapse of the WEDC coming.  What still stuns me, as always, is the complete lack of journalism that goes on.  There are lots and lots of people -- my in-laws -- who swear Gov. Patsy is like a God to them, and part of the problem is that journalists no longer are.

Not only does this story lean in Gov. Patsy's favor -- it does not call him out or remind people that he created the agency but apparently did so without ever bothering to put in place employees to monitor a $51,000,000 portfolio:

Murray added that some of the businesses had paid back at least a portion of their loans. But he added that WEDC loan collection appears to have been lost in the shuffle as the former Commerce Department was transformed into the new quasi-public WEDC.

"It's pretty clear that the Department of Commerce had this function — they had staff that handled this — and it's clear for the last year that WEDC hasn't," Murray said. "I think the important thing is clearly we dropped the ball — the staff here did — but while the system collecting loans didn't work, the system for catching this did."
(would this be a good time to point out that Walker fired 400-some people from the old Commerce Department when he created WEDC? The "journalists" in that story didn't mention it, but I bet some of those 400 people were part of "the system collecting loans.")

(FYI, Mr. Murray: To say "the system didn't work" implies you have a system.  You didn't.)

but beyond presenting the story the way the site did -- essentially saying "Here is a problem that nobody could have foreseen but Walker will fix it, when the story is "Here is a problem entirely created by a poorly-thought out, ALEC-driven revamping of a political system to reward people with patronage jobs, and now we're going to trust the same guy to fix it? -- the "journalism" which is completely not on display in that story leaves out several critical factors, which include:

Chief Executive Officer Paul Jadin announced last month that he is leaving the WEDC on Nov. 1 to take a job as president of Thrive, a Madison-area economic development agency.
That's what they published.  But they didn't mention that Jadin, usually called a "Former Green Bay Mayor," also sits on the board of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.  WMC spent $2,000,000 alone on supporting Gov. Patsy in the recall this past summer.

Now, Jadin is going to "Thrive," which was conducting a nationwide search for a leader but which then asked Jadin to submit a resume, recently.  (I wonder what prompted that?) Jadin's first job at Thrive will be to meet with Chinese investors.  
One might wonder what "THRIVE" is, exactly -- and one would go on wondering if one were to rely on or "journalists-who-are-not" to report on it.  
Thrive is the economic development partnership for the eight-county Madison Region with a vision to create a dynamic environment where people and businesses prosper.
 THRIVE has three "executive" board members:  Mark Cullen, Gary Wolter, and Bill Johnston.  Bill Johnston publishes the Wisconsin State Journal, which is a part of  Gary Wolter is the head of Madison Gas & Electric.  (Wolter, it might interest you to know, made $1,080,000 in 2008.  He's doing better now; Forbes reports his 2011 compensation as $2,019,789.)  

None of that says what "THRIVE" does, exactly; they're "about" page suggests they will help businesses relocate or start up in the region, using their 121-page "Advance Now" action plan. Some of that action plan involves trips to other cities.  I'm sure most of those cities will be in the north, during the winter.

Anyway, enough about shadowy organizations designed to help banks steer money to Chinese investors!  Let's focus on the other part of the story, the NEW head of WEDC.

Whereas the outgoing guy, Jadin, was an incompetent who never realized that if you have $51,000,000 in outstanding loans, you might want to have at least one person responsible for knowing about that...

...I'm paraphrasing: what Bill Johnston's publications said about him was: "Walker praised Jadin for helping to build "a strong foundation" for the WEDC."...
 ...the incoming guy is clearly suited to lead the WEDC into at least the 15th century -- that being when "bookkeeping" was invented, so it's not surprising that only 6 centuries later, the heads of Wisconsin's economy hadn't yet heard of the remarkable way to keep track of money -- because the new guy is Ryan Murray, who previously worked as "Walker's campaign policy director and a former Senate aide" before being called up to the majors, which will no doubt add to those 307 contacts Murray has on LinkedIN.

Ryan was the deputy chief of staff for Governor Patsy, but this 30-year-old up-and-comer has been the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of WEDC since July, 2012, so it took him only about three months to come up with a completely competent plan of "Let's try to figure out who we've lent money to while also lying to the legislature about what's going on." 

Some might doubt the competency and brilliance of that plan, but then, those people would likely not have seen Ryan Murray's resume, which is available online here, and which, while it doesn't mention actually graduating from a college or getting a degree, at least notes that Mr. Murray apparently did in fact attend some colleges, so that's good.

But really, his economic-agency, $51,000,000-portfolio-managing- expertise comes from things like running the campaign of Randy Hopper (now currently out of office), running the campaign for Terrence Wall (never elected), directing policy for something called "Friends Of Scott Walker" (they held their meetings in a telephone booth).  SOUNDS VERY PROFESSIONAL AND ECONOMICISH.

Ryan Murray did do well at the Mock Trial while he was at Macalester, though.  Let's give credit where credit is due: he is very good at pretending to do something professional.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Semi-timely funnies: "A binder full of women."

These were more timely yesterday, but my phone is acting up transmitting pictures to the Internet.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Invisible Runner, and the End of Whiffle Ball. (I Dreamt Of Pole-Vaulting, 2)


I Dreamt Of Pole Vaulting is essays about my own personal experiences with sports, whether as a fan or participant.  We'll see if it lasts.  Don't get too attached -- like avocadoes and fate, I can be fickle.)

Part One: "I Decided To Try Out For The Track Team" is here.

When I was younger, so much younger than today, the first organized sport I ever tried was "T-Ball."  But there were sports we played before we were organized into playing sports.

Back then, when I was younger, sports wasn't really such a big deal.  They were largely unorganized, unprofessional, things, with "sports" being divided into "games we played amongst ourselves" like Whiffle Ball, and "games we played with parents as coaches," like T-Ball.  These games were played with, largely, the same level of talent and organization, the chief difference between them being that in the former, we had "Invisible Runners."

I wonder if kids still use the "Invisible Runner" and the Geneva-Convention-like rules that went along with the Invisible Runner, rules that were necessary because in games like Whiffle Ball, the fields were necessarily ad hoc -- a tree for second base, varying distances between the outs-of-bounds on football fields because fences do not always run in straight lines -- and the teams were never even. 

Baseball, especially, is an endlessly malleable game, playable with a variety of equipment, a severely-limited number of people, and rules that are made up on the spot and argued about because of course the Invisible Runner cannot go more bases than the Actual Runner.

Before we played T-Ball, we played Whiffle Ball in our yard and in the Barquists' yard next door -- a home-and-road series that didn't involve jet lag.  Each yard had its plusses and minuses.  The Barquists' yard had fewer trees and a clearer shot for the fence that separated our yards from the back-side neighbors', the Herros and Schroeders living their mysterious lives in the cul-de-sac around the corner, Hartwood Lane turning left onto Oxford Drive and then left again onto the three houses that made up the dead end of Penbrook Way, houses that stood only 100 feet from our own but which were in another world as far as we were concerned, our playing areas extending south from Hartwood Lane, never north.

In the Barquists' yard, home plate was a stone taken from the wall of their little rock garden.  First base was, too, while second base was the edge of the rock wall itself.  Third base was usually right around the lot line between our yards, a lot line that as of that point, when we were little, wasn't yet obscured by the row of bushes my family would later plant between the yards, separating us not from the Barquists (who had by then divorced, moved, and left our neighborhood) but from the Riedis, whose young son, Lucas, would come over to watch He-Man with my sister, Katie, in the afternoons.

In our yard, meanwhile, home was usually a Frisbee, placed near that same lot line.  We were not allowed to take stones from the rock walls in our yard.  First base went uphill, stopping short of the pine trees, while second was the birch tree, surrounded by a base of chunk bark, and third was the corner of the patio.

In Whiffle Ball, the teams were made up of two or at the most three people, a pitcher and an outfielder, who usually played left, or left-center, because that was where 99.9% of all hits went when they didn't go over the fence.  This lack of people led to two of the greatest innovations in rules, innovations that would, if carried over to the higher levels of the sport, revolutionize the game.  Those rules were, as I said, the Invisible Runner and "Pitcher's Hand Out," the latter with its own corollary, that you could be hit with the ball and be tagged out.

In real baseball, of course, you are out if the ball is thrown to the first (or other) baseman before you get there, a "force out," but that rule requires that there be a baseman, and while a two-person Whiffle Ball team could theoretically field a man on first base, doing that would leave a critical gap in left field, where the ball is going to be hit.  To make up for that, we played Pitcher's Hand Out.

This is where I'm a little mystified, the origin of that rule.  I am 1000% certain that we did not make up "Pitcher's Hand Out."  I'm sure that around the country, kids playing baseball have played a version of Pitcher's Hand Out, kids in California and Alabama and Brooklyn (which never seems like a real place to me, but only a place that exists in Neil Simon plays) making the runner be out when the pitcher touches the ball, because that was how it worked: In Pitcher's Hand Out baseball, when the ball is hit and the runner is heading to first, that runner is out if the pitcher gets the ball before the runner reaches first, a force-out that has the benefit of being easy to play with only two people and the detriment of being almost impossible to judge who wins on a close call, because you're not looking at the same area of the ball field, so what happens on close calls is that the fielding team inevitably determines that the pitcher had the ball before the runner touched first, while the batting team always determines just the opposite, and the game devolves into a satisfying grudge match that eventually will result in someone throwing the ball directly at someone else.

Which brings up the Invisible Runner and hitting people with the ball as part of the game. 

The Invisible Runner, like Pitcher's Hand Out, is another rule that just existed, the way gravity existed: I have no more recollection of someone suggesting we have an Invisible Runner than I do of someone telling me that things get held to the ground.  It just has always been that way, and so I wonder if the Invisible Runner is (as I imagine) a universal rule that all kids develop on their own independently, or if we are all learning the rule from older kids or adults but forgetting that we did so.

(That would be an easy question to solve if I had ever seen our own kids play baseball in an unorganized setting, or had played baseball with them, but I haven't.  So far as I know, our kids never played Whiffle Ball at all, possibly owing at least in part to the fact that our yard is terminally unsuited to baseball at all, being filled with trees and hickory nut shells and being an ever-steeper slope towards the lake that sits a couple hundred yards away.  Our yard has been eroding in the direction of the lake more and more obviously in the last few years since we removed the old shed that served as a breeding ground for raccoons, and I have proof that the erosion is occurring because the Sorta Great Wall is being gradually covered by dirt that, glacier-like, is marching inexorably away from my yard and towards the neighbors', and the lake, the result being that each day I own a little less of this world than I did the day before.)

What happened with the Invisible Runner was this:  A team would be up to bat, say, me and Paul.  Paul would get a hit, and get to first base, and we would argue for 20 minutes about whether my brother Bill had the ball before Paul got to first and eventually Paul would stay on first base and I would get to bat, and the process would repeat, but then Paul would be on second or maybe third, and I would be on first base, and our team would have no batters to hit again.

So Paul would have to get up to bat, which meant that we had to preserve our runner on third, and to do that we used the Invisible Runner.  As the action settled down and we all observed the situation, Paul would say "Invisible Runner on second base" and go back to Home Plate to bat again.

The Invisible Runner was not a very aggressive ball player: he never stole a base or even took a lead, but instead usually advanced only as fast as the runner behind him advanced, so if Paul hit the ball and I started running and made it to second and Paul made it to first, the Invisible Runner, if he started on second, would advance to third, and I would then announce that there were Invisible Runners on second and third, and go bat.

The real problem occurred when the Invisible Runner was a base ahead of me, on third when I was on first and Paul was batting; we could never agree on what happened then.  Would the Invisible Runner use his common sense, heading for home while I sprinted for second?  Or would he only move when forced to, a cowardly, timid base-runner who would never have lasted in this league except that we needed to fill that (invisible) roster spot?  That was the subject, too, of endless debates.

The third innovation was the one that was the most fun, and the least likely ever to be adopted into the world of "organized" sports: tagging the runner out by throwing the ball at him.  The rule needs no explanation; it works exactly the way you'd think it would work, and like all other rules of Whiffle Ball, was adopted because of the expediency of it.  It's easy to imagine tagging a runner out to avoid an extra-bases hit if you have basemen, a second-baseman or shortstop to throw the ball to and get the tag, but when the only people you have are a pitcher and an outfielder, the runners would have a field day unless there was something to keep Paul or Marty or someone from trying to stretch that bloop-flyball into a double or triple, and so we determined that in Whiffle Ball you could be tagged out if you were hit by the ball: try to round second and into third, and you ran the risk that the outfielder was in range of pegging you with a well-aimed shot.

That worked well enough, until we graduated from Whiffle Balls, the hard-plastic, white balls with the cutout holes that made them behave unpredictably, hard to throw far and harder to hit far, and moved on to tennis balls.

The adoption of tennis balls in the Whiffle Ball game changed the complexion of the sport just as much as aluminum bats would the majors.  We played Whiffle Ball with one of two bats available at the time: the thin, yellow plastic bats that had a sort of faux wood-grain on them,

or the more-popular Giant Pink Bat:

Which the Internet says is red but which I remember as being pink, so I'm going with that.

Either bat was unsatisfying in Whiffle Ball, as in most cases it was impossible to hit the ball much out of the infield, especially if there were weather conditions that adversely affected the flight of the Whiffle Ball, and every weather condition adversely affected the flight of the Whiffle Ball.  The slightest breeze meant the ball would be whipped off course or, if the breeze was coming in from the outfield, would cause even the strongest hit to drop short of the pitcher's mound.  But Whiffle Balls seemed to be affected by humidity, the presence of clouds, and even sunlight; it's not impossible, I suppose, that the photons which sunlight crams at us had an outsized effect on the Whiffle Ball.

I don't remember at what point the tennis ball was adopted as the official ball for Whiffle Ball; I just remember that it was, at one point, selected.  We always, all of us kids, had tennis balls laying around our houses.  Our own house was a shelter for tennis balls, filled with dozens of them and three or four old wooden rackets, as well, even though I don't recall my parents ever playing tennis.  It's possible, I suppose, that my parents before we were old enough to tear around the yard chasing Invisible Runners, had played tennis, because my parents did things before we were born, as evidenced by slides of them on vacation that would show a younger, thinner version of my dad standing in front of a motorboat next to my mom and my Uncle Joe and Aunt Ann, all of them getting ready to waterski and swim, things they no longer did by the time we were old enough to know what they were doing.

The adoption of the tennis ball led to many more home runs, the ball flying over the backyard fences much more easily, reducing the roll of the Invisible Runner, and increasing the likelihood that the game would fall apart faster, because nobody wanted to run all the way around the fence to go get the ball, over and over, but we were forbidden from climbing over the fence, which meant we had to do it quickly and quietly and hope that Mrs. Schroeder or Mrs. Herro was not out in their yard.  (Mrs. Herro would eventually become quite well-known for sunbathing in her backyard, but we were too little to have cared about that at that point.)

(She wore a bikini.  She wasn't nude.  This was the late 1970s, when sunbathing in a bikini was scandalous enough that my parents would talk about it quietly over dinner and remind us never to repeat what they were saying.)

The adoption of the tennis ball also meant that you could more accurately, and from farther away, hit the runner trying to advance to the next base, and cause a great deal more pain, too, which was half the point. 

The effect on the game was dramatic: from a small-ball game of managing runners and eking out dribbler-singles that sent Invisible Runner invisibly streaking across the Frisbee Home Plate, to a Home Run Derby battle that saw runners scrambling to get to first base and then not daring to move further because even Jim Hug could get you in the head from center field with a tennis ball, and Whiffle Ball became much more gladiatorial, a face-off between muscle batters and wiry throwers, leaving behind kids like me, fat unathletic kids who wore glasses and were constantly misjudging pitches and throwing errantly, letting runners get two, three extra bases while our pitchers tried to get the ball we'd thrown into a window well. 

The tennis ball spelled the end of my Whiffle Ball career, and presaged how I'd do in other sports:  The actual Whiffle Ball was a great equalizer, its uselessness making it impervious to the greater athletic abilities of the other kids and thus helping hide my own inadequacies; the tennis ball, on the other hand, lent itself to the better kids' sports abilities and demonstrated just how terrible I was (and how much I feared getting hit with it, causing me to be a less effective runner than the Invisible Runner.)  The game of Whiffle Ball moved from innocent childhood past-time to a sport that required coordination and muscle and the ability to withstand pain at least to some degree; but I hadn't yet (and never really would) get much past the level of Whiffle Athlete.


Next time: Superball Baseball.  

(Not sure what The Sorta Great Wall is? The story behind that is here.)