What Books Have You Bought Lately?

February 29, 2012

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I love to read, but it often comes in fits and starts, generally dependent on how easily my kids go to bed (which directly affects the amount of free time I have).  I’ve been doing a bit more reading lately, and have purchased  fair number of books lately.  Here’s a quick rundown of a few.

I’ve been buying almost exclusively for my Kindle lately … great little device.


11/22/63 by Stephen King

I really enjoy King’s writing, but my favorite books of his are the ones he writes outside of the horror genre.  Perhaps my all-time favorite is Apt Pupil, although Shawshank Redemption is also quite good.  FYI: you can find both of these novellas in King collection Different Seasons.  Buy it.  Now.

In 11/22/63, the protagonist, Jake Epping (current day resident), receives a call from the owner of his favorite greasy spoon.  The guy has found a portal into the past.  He’s become too sick to take advantage of it, but wants Jake to go into the portal and save the life of John F. Kennedy.  I’m 20% of the way into this book and loving every page so far.  Really nothing supernatural about it, aside from the whole aspects of time travel (and I’m a sucker for a good time travel novel).  I’m beginning to have some thoughts about a few characters in the book and might have an idea about a sub-plot that might develop, but it’s far too early to tell if I’m right or wrong.


Enough Rope by Lawrence Block

Enough Rope is an omnibus of short stories by mystery grandmaster Lawrence Block.  The wheels on the omnibus do indeed go round and round.  The stories include popular Block characters Bernie Rhodenbarr, Matt Scudder, Keller, Tanner, and Chip Harrison, as well as dozens of other stories.  It’s nearly 900 pages in hardcover.

I’ve actually talked about the book before.  Probably more than once.  Until recently, it held a fairly unique distinction of being one of just a handful of books that I owned in paperback and hardcover.

Now, it is the only book that I own in three formats.  I finally broke down and bought the Kindle edition.  Yeah, it’s that good.


What it Was by George Pelecanos

With several dozen (eh, probably as many as a hundred) books in my “yet to be read” queue, I buy a book from an author I had never heard of before.  I must have had a very good reason for doing that, right?

Well, yeah.  Lawrence Block told me to.  Here’s a pro tip: if you want me to buy your book, have Lawrence Block say something nice about it.

Also, the pre-order price was just 99 cents (and as of Feb 28, 2012, it’s at that price again).  I’ll gamble a dollar on an unfamiliar author.

Like 11/22/63, What it Was is also set in the past (1970s), but via the normal method (by having the author set in in that period) rather than time travel.


A Changed Man by Martin Kelly

Ok, I’ll be honest with you on this one. I didn’t actually buy this book.  I have a publisher’s copy, since I’m the publisher.  As the regular readers know, Martin is a longtime writer for this site.  A few years ago, he knocked out A Changed Man during the month long NaNoWriMo event.  He’s been refining it ever since.  Last week, he flipped me the Word file, and a few days later, it had been Kindleized.

The book is about how a man reclaims his life after being involved in a serious accident.  He was drunk and the other driver died.  I’m not very far in yet (Martin’s going head to head with 11/22/63, and Stephen King’s a tough draw in the “books Kosmo is reading” bracket), but I like what I’ve read so far.  I’m definitely wondering why the DA dropped the charges, though.  I’m sure there’s a reason, and look forward to finding the answer and exploring more about John Lickler’s life.


OK, now let’s turn the tables.  Which books have YOU bought lately  – and what are you currently reading?


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Why Does Golf Only Have Four Major Championships?

February 28, 2012

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Harry Vardon, the golfing great from Jersey wh...

Harry Vardon won The Open Championship six times between 1896 and 1914.

This is a question I ponder all of the time, being a golf historian. First one has to remember that coverage of golf tournaments in the infancy stages of golf was done strictly by word of mouth, or an occasional coverage of a big tournament by a local newspaper.

Golf was also a game of few players that were considered Professional golfers in its early days, and many of the top players in the game were truly amateur players. Because of this, the majors consisted of the Open Championship, the United States Open Championship, the United States Amateur and also the British Amateur Championship.

Or should I say…these were considered the major golf championships if you were an Amateur golfer.

Robert Tyre Jones Jr, won all four of these tournaments in 1930. It was deemed the impregnable quadrilateral. Aka….the Grand Slam.

This gave meteoric rise to the term “Major” when referring to golf tournaments. It was basically accepted that these were the four Majors for amateur golfers in that day and age.

This past week if you are a golf fan you likely tuned into some of the coverage of the WCG Accenture World Match Play Championship. This tournament is a match play format, where competitors play head to head against one other golfer over 18 holes. Low score does not win in match play format, but the person winning the most holes wins.

In our “modern era” of golf, there are four recognized Major Championships. They are:

  • The Open Championship
  • The United States Open
  • The PGA Championship
  • The Masters

 Let’s look at each of these and why they are currently considered a Major:

The Open Championship

Notice it is called The Open Championship, only Americans have added the word “British” to the title.

The Open Championship is considered the first true major. Why? Mainly as it has been around the longest and at the time first played (1860 at Prestwick in western Scotland) it undoubtedly brought in the strongest field in a golf tournament being organized anywhere in the world. This tournament more than any other tournament is one of the reasons if not THE reason that golf really expanded and took off and became more of an accepted sport, and not just something done by the upper middle class people in their spare time.

Early players and winners in this tournament were most often club makers, ball makers, caddies, greens keepers people schooled in a combination of all of these professions. Also due to lack of people’s ability to travel, it almost exclusively featured players of primarily from England and Scotland in its first 30 years in existence. The first winner from outside of Scotland or England was France’s Arnaud Massy in 1907. This one gets in to the realm of major championship as it was the first to the dance.

The United States Open

The United States Open was first played in 1895 in Rhode Island. Immigrants had brought the game of golf from Scotland to the Northeast portion of the United States and it was a game catching on quickly among the upper classes in society. In the early days of the tournament, most of the winners had come across to the United States and were funded to do so with the sole purpose of claiming this title, and then returning back to England or Scotland, or in some cases the professional set themselves up nicely for a full time job as a club professional after adding this trophy to their fireplace mantle.

The first American to win the title was John McDermott in 1911, (previously all were won by players native to England or Scotland) but it was really the combination of the tours of Harry Vardon, culminating with Francis Ouimet’s upset win of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913 at Brookline that really propelled this tournament – and golf for that matter – into the sports limelight in the United States. This paved the way for the popularity of Hagen and Jones in the 20’s in the golden era of sports.

The PGA Championship

The Professional Golf Association Championship – or commonly referred to as the PGA Championship – was first played in 1916, after the formal creation of the Professional Golfers Association of America (pretty hard to have a PGA championship without the PGA,isn’t it). From its inception in 1916 up until 1958, this tournament was played as a match play and not a stroke play tournament.

Due to the strength of golf in the United States, and the initial origins of it being a more grueling match play format instead of stroke play, this tournament has really been considered one of the more important tournaments throughout its entire existence.

The Masters

We are all familiar with the Masters, but it is the new kid on the block. Originally called the Augusta Invitational Tournament by founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones. Gene Sarazen hit the “shot heard ’round the world” in 1935, holing a shot from the fairway on the par 15th for a double eagle. This put Sarazen in a 36 hole Playoff against Craig Wood which he eventually won. Sarazen was one of the more popular players of this era and this shot, coupled with the fact that it was Jones’s tournament gave this event all the steam it needed.

While Jones always intended this to be a get together for his golfing buddies, the tournament really became considered a major during the early 1960’s for two main reasons – Sportswriters became more enamored with “counting” major championships and television started covering golf with the rivalry developing between the golf fans of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in particular.

The Forgotten Majors

 Back when the amateur tournaments were considered more along the lines of majors for the amateur golfers, there were other tournaments that were considered “Major’s” of the time for those who were golf professionals. I will mention three of them that were at least under consideration of being majors in their time.

The Western Open

In the United States, the Western Open was definitely considered a major. It began play in 1899 and just like the United States Open, the formative years of this tournament were usually won by players travelling to the US from England and Scotland. Many sources you will see will indicate that this tournament was not considered an “official” major at that time, but I would argue that back in the pre- World War II era of golf, nothing was really considered a Major outside of the four tournaments mentioned previously.

When you look at former Champions it is an impressive roll call, especially from its inception up until the 1950’s when this tournament started to go to the wayside and things at Augusta started to pick up.

The British PGA Match-Play Championship

This tournament was every bit as important to the European golf scene as the PGA Championship was to the American golf scene. The British Match Play started in 1903 and was played up until 1979. The event was sponsored by a newspaper – The News of the World, and in many cases when referencing the tournament it is called by this name and not the British Match Play.

This was the top prize money tournament in the British Golf genre, even more than the Open Championship. In the early days of the tournament, particularly pre-World War I, this tournament was assuredly considered a major by its participants and the players were without question the finest group of players on the planet year in and year out.

The World Championships of Golf

This was a tournament that did not have a long storied history as it was only played from 1946-1957. During that time however, it boasted one of the largest pay days on tour for the winner, and from 1952-1957 the winner of this tournament won the money title for the year…and by a lot.

The event provided one of the few showcases of its time for leading international players to compete against the best U.S. professionals, who rarely travelled outside of their country to play. The tournament got into a dispute with the PGA in 1958 and that essentially ended a short run for this high pay day affair for the professionals.

At the very least, the Western Open and the British Match play should be considered Major Tournaments for part of their existence. I won’t go into my personal feelings here in this article, but due to the strength of the fields in those tournaments and the perception and status those tournaments held – once upon a time at least – many of those wins should be counted for those players as major championships.

Today’s 5th Major?

In recent years, two tournaments have gained some momentum as being considered a 5th major on the professional tour.

The Players Championship

The one with the most following to make this happen is surely The Players Championship. Originally known as the Tournament Players Championship, this event started in 1974, moved to Colonial the following year, and then relocated to Ponte Vedra Beach Florida starting in 1977. It has been played at the TPC Sawgrass course since 1982 which is most known for its island green 17th that forces players to hit a short iron shot to a green surrounded by nothing other than water.

The field for this event is a bit more limited and includes almost with certainty all of the top 50 players in the world, under difficult conditions. The prize pool is enormous by any standard and this event yields a total prize purse of 9.5 million dollars as of 2011. It is also the tournament that seems to have the most tour players promoting it as a 5th major.

The Memorial Tournament

This tournament would likely fall just under the realm of the Players Championship, but is given a lot of credence on the PGA tour for a couple of reasons. First, it was founded and is still ran by Jack Nicklaus, who many consider the greatest golfer of all time. Second, the tournament is always played at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, which is considered an outstanding, beautiful and difficult golf club, and third it is one of only five tournaments on the PGA tour that are considered “invitation only” tournaments.

The course is usually set up unusually difficult, and the fact that Nicklaus has attempted to turn this into an Augusta like atmosphere adds to the psyche of the tournament. The main feature of this tournament which has been held since 1976, is that the tournament honors a past golfers who is forever enshrined in the annals of the tournament and a plaque featuring their inductions is permanently kept on the course grounds near the clubhouse.

What about the World Golf Championships?

The World Golf Events started in 1999 as three events, expanded to four events in 2000, and this year will be expanding to five events with the addition of the Tournament of Hope held in South Africa.

Let’s look at each of these individually:

The WGC Accenture Match Play Championship

In my mind this is a no brainer to be considered a major. It is the top 64 players in the world rankings playing head to head, and you have to win 6 matches to claim the title. This harkens back to the beginnings of golf when it was match play, this is arguably the toughest of any title to win in professional tournament golf.

The WGC Cadillac Championship

Has been previously under different title sponsors including WGC-American Express Championship and also WGC-CA Championship. This basically replaced the “old” tournament on the PGA tour that was held at Doral each year, so not sure that this one is elevated to the level of being considered a major in anyone’s book.

The WGC Bridgestone Invitational

Another one that used to be something else on the regular tour – basically the tournament stop at Firestone. Once upon a time this was called the World Series of Golf tournament, and while big, was never under the mention of being considered a major.

WGC-HSBC Champions

This tournament was added to the World Golf Championships in 2009, it has been played in China, so it often times get skipped by many of the US players due to travel distance.

Call it what it is!

I for one would argue that the World Golf Championships should have the World Match Play tournament recognized as a Major Championships. Why? The strength of the field is second to none, the prize money is larger than pretty much anything on tour, and the tournament is recognized around the globe, regardless of tour as a big event. You have the top 64 in the World Golf rankings so there are truly no fluke winners. This is the best of the best and a truly international field.

Time for us to put away outdated views of sportswriters from the 1960’s and earlier. Golf needs to do the right thing here and consider that the number of Major tournaments does not have to be limited to just 4, but instead awarding that distinction of those events that were or are considered to be the biggest and best tournament of the era in which they are played.

Until next time, Stay Classy Cruden Bay, Scotland!


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What is The Hardest Part of Writing?

February 27, 2012

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English: penulis = writer


Actually getting started is the first hurdle in writing.  Choosing a topic, establishing an outline, actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), are all part of that start.  Although this can be difficult, the opportunities are countless.  Any idea floating around in your head is a starting point.  There is no need to have the entire work planned to get started, just the impetus to write.


Completing a story may seem much harder than starting one, and it is.  Binding all of your ideas together into a comprehensible whole, knitting a compelling picture with threads of your words can be a daunting task.  Sometimes getting to the end is a marathon, sometimes a sprint.  Knowing when to stop and accept what you have created as being of its own is also a hard.  You have created this thing, yet it has become like a child.  You want it to be perfect before anyone else is allowed to see it.  Just like your living children, you have to let go, let them out into the world to succeed or fail as they can.  This is difficult, but still not the hardest part of writing.


Publishing is the one part of writing where you as the writer have no control.  You are dependent on  others to take your work and proffer it to the world.  In the past, publishers were limited to a small group of large houses (if you wanted wide distribution).  They had to be large to take the risks of producing many physical copies of a story that may never pay off.  Small publishing houses existed, but they went for smaller runs, and therefore smaller audiences.

Today is very different.  There are literally thousands of publishers on line.  Although this provides a lot of options and opportunity, there are also more risks for the writer.  Many of these options can result in the loss of your work and someone else earning from your effort.  To pick the right venue, research the publishers you are considering.  What is their policy for sale and protection of your story?  What is their support level?  How long have they actually been publishing and have they been successful?  Remember, even on line publishers are taking a risk when they choose to host you.  That risk is a negative reflection that your work could bring to their site.  This can have the effect of eliminating that site from the internet.

No matter how you publish, build the relationship with your perspective host.  If something is rejected, you have to remember that it is a business, not a charity.  If you are faced with continuous rejection, you should re-evaluate your relationship, just as you would in a personal relationship.  Just as starting and finishing your work are challenges, so is the act of publishing.  Never give up and keep writing.

Editor’s note: I’m happy to announce that Martin has published his debut novel, A Changed Man.  You can buy the Kindle version on Amazon.  Don’t have a Kindle?  A Change Man is also available in PDF format on the Hyrax Publications site.  Or you could buy a Kindle (or download a Kindle viewer for your computer or smart device).


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Your Lithograph Makes Me Look Fat: George Bellows and Reducing

February 24, 2012

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George Bellows, Reducing, 1916, lithograph, 17.5 x 16.5
University of Iowa Museum of Art.


In 1916, artist George Bellows produced this lithograph, the second of three in a series depicting women doing calisthenics while their husbands slumber peacefully unaware. Best know for his depictions of men’s lives in rough and tumble turn of the century America, these lithographs are a distinct departure for the artist, and represent his acknowledgment of the changes in store for women in the early 1900s. The woman depicted is forcing herself through exercises to meet the changing standard of beauty. The transformation in the ideal female figure from voluptuous to slim was as dramatic, and, for many women, challenging, as any other modification of modern 20th century life.

The Eternal Debate

A slender physique was often an available body ideal in Western culture, from the Aristotelian moderation of the Greeks to Christian ascetics whose revulsion of gluttony and the overweight came to America with the Puritans. However, until the last few decades of the nineteenth century, plumpness was largely the preferred physique for women. Full-figured women have a long tradition in Western art (Ruben’s chubby goddesses being perhaps the best known example of this), and the art of the nineteenth century largely maintained this tradition.  Prominent nineteenth century stage actresses endorsed the popular body type by adding prominent bustles to their undergarments, adding boost to prominent derrieres to match the ample bosoms created by corsets. Women, especially those who had given birth, were supposed to be curvy.  While thinness was seen as a sign of impending nervous disorders and general ill health, women with meat on their bones were linked to successful motherhood and genial good health.

An American Tale

This proclivity for plump figures, while fairly universal in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, had some overtones that were specifically American.  America was a land of plenty, and the sheer size of their food and the large portions offered were drew frequent comments from foreigners.  Visitors used to slight European portions at meals were stunned by the size of American game and produce, and the subsequently enormous meals that graced their plates. Women’s magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book began publishing multiple recipe features in each issue, often concentrating on high-calorie offerings like cake.  A single issue of the magazine could offer instructions on how to create pound cake, cream cake, chocolate cake, strawberry cake, and spice cake.  Apparently the domestic prowess of American women was best expressed through fattening desserts.

One of the most influential illustrators of women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was Charles Dana Gibson, whose work could be seen in essentially every women’s magazine in America.  His iconic “Gibson Girl” established a new standard of beauty that was distinctly modern and American. His illustrations of women, particularly famous for their high-piled hairdos, present fine-featured women notable for their tall and elegantly slender carriages.  Whereas earlier fashion plates featured curvy busts and derrieres, the Gibson Girl was much more linear, her curves much less emphasized than in earlier depictions of idealized females.


Between 1895 and 1914, The Gibson Girl ideal was broadcast throughout America in a slew of prominent periodicals, illustrating to women what was expected of themselves and their bodies in the new century. Bellows was certainly aware of this new feminine ideal.

Loosen Your Corset

By 1914, the battle between the desirability of plump and slender silhouettes had been unanimously decided in favor of thinness.  Beginning in the 1890s, fashion had begun to fall out of love with tightly corseted dresses and embrace a more natural look with fewer constrictions.  As these modern fashions left the body to assume its own shape (and tended to be tighter-fitting than earlier clothing), a slender figure was required. As clothing production moved from hand-tailored to general manufacture, women with especially large figures often dresses in their size hard to find. In 1916, when Bellows created his Reducing print, women were dealing with constant societal pressure to be thin.  Plump bodies were no longer seen as healthy, calm, and desirable, but lazy and gluttonous.  A slender physique was emblematic of a whole host of moral and social virtues.  The woman illustrated by Bellows is attempting to conform to this new national ideal.

If You Can’t Be Good, Be Thin

From where did this obsession with thinness come? From a purely medical point of view, the twentieth century saw cases of infant mortality and death from contagious diseases in a steep decline, and the population overall became more likely to live into old age.  This allowed physicians to direct their research to degenerative, rather than infectious diseases, and the associated problems of the mature adult.  With this emphasis on degenerative diseases came increased information about the correlation between weight and health issues.  Extra weight, previously thought to shield man against nervous conditions and sickness (especially tuberculosis), now became associated with the causes of many illnesses like heart disease. In addition to strides in medical knowledge of obesity, the war between fat and thin began to take on strong moral overtones.  American consumer culture was thriving in the first decades of the twentieth century, as department stores emerged, mail-order catalogs thrived, and manufactured goods became more and more accessible to all Americans.  In the midst of this purchasing frenzy, many Americans worried that they were losing the moral fiber that came with Puritanical self-restraint.  Middle-class Americans, concerned that they were losing their staunch religious character in the midst of a shopper’s paradise, turned to weight control as a substitute for religious fervor.

Although he will continue to be remembered for his evocative portrayals of the masculine, rough-and-tumble side of early twentieth century America, 1916’s Reducing proves that Bellows, husband and father of two daughters, recognized that times were changing for women, too. The dramatic transformation in the ideal female figure from voluptuous to slim was as important, and, for many women, challenging, as any other modification of modern 20th century life.

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Republican Race Remains Undecided

February 23, 2012

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MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Republican presidenti...

Now that Rick Santorum won his trifecta of Colorado, Minnesota and a non-binding primary in Missouri, the race for the Republican nomination stays heated up and unsettled. However there is one thing that has seemed to return to the forefront, the so-called culture wars. My question is did they really leave? Sure, the Republicans tried to focus on the economy, but without offering any real plans they have returned to their bread and butter, forcing their views upon society. A big government intrusion into your life that they fully support and agree with. The “return of the culture wars might have been brought to the forefront by recent actions with healthcare access and the rise of Santorum in the race, but they have been there the whole time.

After taking over many statehouses this past election cycle on changing the economy, what was the first action of the legislatures in each of these states? Was it something to create jobs or balance budgets? No it was not. It was creating personhood amendments to their constitution to make life defined at conception.

Then you have issues like the recent proposals in Virginia that require anyone seeking to get an abortion to have a medically unneccessary transvaginal ultrasound without the womans consent and against any dissent from her own doctor. Yes Virginia, your state really wants to rape you! Granted now that the national spotlight has shined down on him and more importantly his ambitions to be a Vice Presidential candidate, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has said the law should be amended to require consent. However it does not appear that the GOP in the legislature will consider such an amendment as the Senate has already has said no to such amendment. Going as far to say they would rather not pass the bill than require consent in it. Also there is no word if McDonnell and the GOP would retake up old measures they had in the past of require the investigation of a woman’s moral views and sexual history before an abortion. In the end though if they want to take up this I really do think they should take the other medically unneccessary exam that has been proposed for men. In order to get a Viagra prescription, men must undergo an involuntary rectal prostate exam and cardiac stress test. It brings gender equality into the stupidity and after all if God intended for you to have an erection, wouldn’t you have one without medicinal help?

Then you have the same bill from Virginia now being introduced in committee in Illinois. However, the anti-abortion Democrat (pretty much in name only) has decided that women must be animals or something. The committee he brought the bill before is the Agriculture committee. Mainly because of the conservative makeup of that committee, but I think it is a huge statement on what conservatives really think of women and their issues. It has passed that committee, but will thankfully will likely fail going forward from here.

It’s not just probing vaginas and abortion that the conservatives are getting all fired up for. Now birth control, something an overwhelming number of people in the country use or support is now under attack as well. Granted I get the issues the Catholic Church had with a mandate causing them to pay for something they did not believe in, but with the valid compromise that issue is a moot point. Not to them and conservatives and their new champion Rick Santorum that is 100% opposed to all birth control. It should not be allowed for anyone to have is what they are now clamoring. Now if I was a Jehovah’s witness and I don’t believe in blood transfusions as a matter of principle under my religion, should I deny any of my employees coverage for such healthcare as a matter of my own religious principle? With what the “We are all Catholics now” crowd is shouting at the moment that should be exactly the case.

Then you have a couple of pieces of legislation in my own new state of Tennessee. First you have one law being touted as the “Right to Bully” law which redefines the anti-bullying statute of schools to protect people from it being enforced if the bullying resulted from their own religious or political beliefs. Mainly if you hate gay people because your religion tells you so, then you are free to bully the crap out of them without fear of punishment for your actions. However it can be taken many ways, I have a deep down political hatred of Republicans, so if my kid took up my views and bullied some conservatives kid then heck he is rightfully free to do so under their new proposed law. The other piece of legislation to note here is a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits teachers from teaching about the existence of gay people in K-8. Granted I really don’t know of much that is ever taught in those grades about homosexuality before this law, but I doubt it was even a blip. However with the new law it prohibits the teacher from any discussion about any material inconsistent with natural human reproduction, so you can’t even talk about gay people. Afterall in conservative world they do not exist, they are just all evil fornicating demons.

Speaking of things that do not exist, Santorum’s recent remarks on things have brought back things he has said in the past. He has had some missteps in discussing the theology of Obama. Back in 2008 Santorum said that there is no such thing as a liberal Christian. That the two do not exist together, as you can’t pick and choose which doctrines you choose to follow. So being a liberal and a Christian are not two things that can go together. Well Rick isn’t that what you do on a regular basis? Don’t you yourself pick and choose what parts of scripture you abide by and which you choose not to pretend exist. I am sure I have seen some picture of Santorum with a pork product in his hand and aiming towards his mouth.

As the figment of Rick’s imagination I must be, in being a liberal Christian myself. I take big offense to things like this that Rick and the “real” Christians like his spew out. I can have my own beliefs without thinking I need to force them upon others. Rick, if you actually followed those biblical passages I “pick and choose” the nation would be a much better place. As clearly one of my favorite passages such as Matthew 25 clearly have absolutely no value to a “real” Christian and the conservative movement.

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Zemanta Review

February 22, 2012

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Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Regular visitors to The Soap Boxers have probably noticed  changes in the past week.  Yes, we’ve become more image conscious.  I’ve often wanted to add images to articles (because they give articles an extra bit of flair), but finding royalty-free images for every article seemed like an impossible undertaking, and using images without permission is a no-no.  What to do, then?

Enter Zemanta

Our friend Elizabeth West had a lot of her images get wiped out and needed to replace many of them.  Commenter Arlee Bird of Tossing It Out recommended the WordPress plug-in Zemanta.  Always intrigued by software with strange names, I decided to give it a short – I added Zemanta to my WordPress installation.

How does it work?

Welcome to Elizabeth, West Virginia

Welcome to Elizabeth, West Virginia (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

Zemanta uses the text of the article to find images that might be appropriate.  Sometimes the choices are spot on.  Other times, you get images like the one you see on the right.  Sure, we mention Elizabeth in this article, but not that Elizabeth.

Don’t worry – if Zemanta doesn’t automatically find an image you like, you can change the search criteria and have it try again.  I can usually find something I like within a  minute or two.  Once you find an image, you can choose to justify it left, center, right and also choose the size (small, medium, large, or the custom option which allows you to specify the width.

Where do the images come from?

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 20:  Pitcher Yu Darvis...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Over time, you’ll probably notice that a lot of the images are from Wikipedia.  This is not by accident.  A basic rule of Wikipedia is that only royalty-free images can be used.  So when Zemanta plucks an image from Wikipedia, it knows that the images is OK to use.

If Zemanta was just pulling from Wikipedia, it’d be a time saver, but not a big deal.  But Zemanta doesn’t stop there.  It also finds images that can be used, but with certain restrictions.  The restriction that I’ve seen is that a small version of the image can be used, as long as there is a link back to the originating site.  I see this as a win-win.  Bloggers get access to some cool images they might not otherwise have access to – such as this cool image of new Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish.

There’s more

There’s more to Zemanta than just images.  You can use it to automatically find related articles, and Zemanta will also suggest “tags” to add to the article and in-text links to add.  There’s also some Amazon affiliate integration, although I haven’t figured out exactly how that works yet. 


Image via Wikipedia

How much does it cost?

Like much software on the internet, Zemanta is free. 

Naturally, this begs the question of how they make any money.  I don’t know the internal workings of the organization, but I’ve spotted a couple of their profit-making opportunities.

You can opt to use Zemanta’s Amazon Associates account if you don’t have your own Amazon Associates account.  This allows Zemanta to get a commission on sales derived from your links.

Some of the ink-text links are marked as “promoted”.  Promoted simply means the site’s owner is paying Zemanta for suggesting their site as a link.  While I don’t use the in-text links myself, I really haven’t seen anything glaringly inappropriate.  The sites are always related to the actual topic, it’s just that by using the promoted link you might link to news site A instead of news site B.

It’s worth noting that it would be very difficult for an experienced WordPress user to accidentally activate any of these options.  You have to actually take an action to trigger them. 


At this point, I’m only using a subset of the features that Zemanta offers.  Nonetheless, I’d recommend Zemanta just on what I’ve seem so far.  It’s free, and it’s easy to use.  While it sometimes doesn’t pre-populate exactly what you’re looking for, it has a pretty good initial success rate.

Am I going to go back and Zemantafy every article on the site.  Good lord, no.  There are more than 1000 articles.  I did take a bit of time to update the most popular articles and also add images to many of the articles from the last week.

Hopefully, this will make the articles look more attractive and will result in repeat business for The Soap Boxers.

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Johnny Goes Linsane!

February 21, 2012

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LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 21:  Jeremy Lin #7 of t...

I guess I finally have to write about it. Just when you thought Tim Tebow was the biggest story ever here comes Jeremy Lin. The Knicks are much improved since the emergence of Lin, and the only thing more impressive than his statistics on the floor in his first ten games is the price of one of his Rookie Cards on eBay.

Lin is the first notable Asian-American player to make a splash on the NBA scene. No doubt due to his ethnic background he is garnishing a ton of interest from overseas as well.

Our Monarch of the Soap Boxers, Kosmo, even wrote TWO article about Jeremy Lin last week (Jeremy Lin Reminds Me of Kurt Warner and ESPN Apologizes for Calling Jeremy Lin a Chink) and that is saying a lot from Kosmo who is totally a baseball and luge guy…I don’t EVER remember having him taking any interest in NBA basketball.


LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 21:  Jeremy Lin #7 ...

Lin in his Golden State days. Warriors brass must be kicking themselves.

This has been a perfect storm for Lin, He has bounced from the Golden State Warriors to the Houston Rockets with stops primarily in the D-League (the phrase used to coin the developmental league for NBA players)

The Knicks scooped him up this year and Lin found himself at the right place at the right time. Many injuries to key players on the team, a lack of fire or desire or whatever you want to call it but bottom line is the New York Knickerbockers were not winning games.

Enter Jeremy Lin – and things turned around. Since February 4th when he was inserted full-time into the lineup, he has been on fire. The only notable deficiency really at this point – and Lin admits it himself – is that he is turning the ball over too frequently.


The Knicks were beat at home last night against the New Jersey Nets, and it appeared to be due to two main factors. First, a number of players that have been out of the lineup were back in action including Carmello Anthony and Baron Davis. Matter of fact it was an injury to Davis that really propelled Lin into the limelight and gave him his chance. Secondly, some red-hot shooting by Deron Williams of the Nets.


The Knicks looked like a team trying to find a rhythm, which is not unusual this year. The offense that the Knicks run – if you want to call it an offense, is primarily spreading the floor on the half court and allowing for pick and rolls, drive and dishes and pick and pops. Sorry for the basketball jargon here, but basically think of what they do as similar to the Dallas Mavericks offense….a lot of guys that are great one on one players and great shooters so they try to space out the defenders as much as possible.

One of the keys to running an “offense” such as this is familiarity with each other, and keeping proper spacing on the floor. Last night it was apparent with Anthony as well as Davis in the Lineup that this was out of sorts to a large extent. This should improve as they team plays more together with actual game minutes.

Also teams will be better now that Jeremy Lin has played a few games and will begin to try different strategies against him defensively. It will be interesting to see how he continues to refine his game in the upcoming weeks.


WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22:  Sheets of freshly m...

Those who read here regularly know I also follow the sports card and memorabilia marketplace. Of course with the instantaneous popularity of Jeremy Lin, there are some folks trying to snap up his scarce rookie cards as well as make a quick profit.

There is a Jeremy Lin 2010-11 National Treasures Prime Patch Auto Jersey numbered to just 20 of 25 made that is currently bid up over $20,000 and the reserve price is not yet met!  Safe to say the seller that has a reserve higher than that amount is Lin-sane and the fact that someone has bid it up that high already is Lin-credible!

Until next time…Stay Classy Palo Alto, California


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The Race is On

February 20, 2012

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Tony Stewart...

This story originally ran on January 8, 2010.  As NASCAR season begins once again, I’ve opted to re-run it.  Enjoy.

The radio crackled to life as her spotter’s voice filled the car. “Debris on the track. Stay high and prepare for caution.”

A moment later, the crew chief’s voice came over the radio. “Yellow is out. Come in to the pits.”

“Two and fuel?” asked Sarah.

“You got it. Left sides and a splash of fuel.”

A moment later, caution was out on the racetrack and Sarah Churchill eased the #14 car into her stall on pit road. The tire changers quickly replaced the worn left side tires while the the fuel was topped off. Sarah charged out of her stall seconds later and found herself jockeying for position as she raced off pit road.

The pit strategy had paid off in the short term. Most of the field had opted to change all four tires, allowing Sarah to improve her position from fifteenth to fifth. Two of the cars ahead of her had made a quick splash and dash – just fuel, no new rubber. James Jackson had chosen a pit strategy identical to Sarah’s and had simply beaten her off pit road.

The other car ahead of her had chosen to stay on the track during the caution and had inherited the lead. It was no surprise that this driver was Ron Barth. The legendary driver was the last of a dying breed who threw caution to the wind and raced for wins rather than racing for championship points. Sarah thought that Barth was probably a lap or two short on fuel, but wasn’t taking this for granted. Many times in the course of his career, Barth had picked up wins while his opponents patiently waited for his tank to run dry. Barth was the king of fuel conservation.

Behind Sarah was a mixed bag – most of the drivers had changed all four tires, but a handful had chosen to change two. This was the classic choice between track position and tire wear. Sarah was confident that her fresh left tires would allow her to run down the drivers who had taken fuel only, but she had to hold off the drivers in her rear view mirror who were sporting four new tires on their cars.

The green flag waved, and Ron Barth timed it perfectly, jumping out to sizable lead over the second place car. The car in front of Sarah missed a gear during the restart, and Sarah flew past him and into fourth place.

James Jackson was riding the bumper of Gordon Jeffries, trying to find a way around the #24 car. Jeffries was having none of it, blocking Jackson’s every move. Gordon Jeffires could run three wide when he was the only car on the track. Their cat and mouse game slowed their racing speed and allow Sarah to creep on them. They were intently focused on their duel and seemed oblivious to her presence.

Jackson made another move for the lead, trying to get past Jeffries at the top of the track. As Jeffries went high to block, Sarah drove her Chevy down to the bottom of the track. By the time Jeffries noticed, it was too late to block her – Sarah was into the lead. Jeffries took out his frustration on Jackson, banging fenders with the defending champ. Jackson made a great save to avoid making contact with the wall.

Sarah’s car kissed the bottom of the track as she tried to put distance between her car and those of Jeffries and Jackson. All that stood between her and her first big win was the legendary Ron Barth – the man who taught her everything she knew about racing. Her mentor – and more importantly, her father.

Sarah knew that she couldn’t yet out-race her father on the track. She needed to force him to run out of fuel. First, she needed to catch him. Sarah set her mind to catching him, and began driving an aggressive style that bordered on dangerous. She drove deep into the corners before easing up on the throttle. This allowed her to maintain a lot of speed through the corner, but also greatly increased the risk of a crash.

The strategy paid off, and six laps later, Sarah was on the bumper of Ron Barth. Sarah’s aggressive driving had put significant distance between herself and the rest of the pack. It was a two driver race at this point.

The safe route for Ron Barth would have been to ease off, hand over the lead, and go home in second place. He was running dangerously low on fuel and his worn tires were inferior to Sarah’s. The riverboat gambler refused to yield, however. He aggressively blocked Sarah as she tried to maneuver past him.

As the white flag waved for the final lap, Ron had a one car length lead over Sarah. As he rounded the final turn, his engine hiccuped as his car’s fuel pressure dropped precipitously. Sarah raced past him to pick up her first win at the highest level of auto racing.

Sarah smiled at the irony of beating her father on this, Father’s Day. He would be so proud.

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ESPN Apologizes For Calling Jeremy Lin A Chink

February 19, 2012

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NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Jeremy Lin #17 of ...

As you probably know, Jeremy Lin has been taking the NBA by storm lately.  He even managed to get me to write an article about him last week.  Considering that I’ve very apathetic about the NBA for nearly twenty years, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

On Friday night, the seven game winning streak of the Knicks was snapped.  Lin’s nine turnovers – eight in the first half – didn’t help New York’s chance.  He’d turned the ball over eight times in a game two other times, and would finish with seven in Sunday’s game (six in the second half), and while the turnovers have brought some negative press in otherwise glowing media reports of his exploits, it was different on Friday night because the Knicks lost.

On Saturday morning, I noticed a headline on ESPN.  They were apologizing for a racist Lin-related headline that had appeared on their mobile site for a half hour, beginning at 2:30 AM.  By Sunday, they had upped the ante and apologized for thee incidents.  In addition to the headline, an ESPNews anchor had said something inappropriate, as had a commentator on a radio show.

ESPN took decisive action.  While the commentator was not an employee (and thus out of their reach) the anchor and the headline guy were employees.  The anchor was suspended for 30 days … and the headline guy was fired.  ESPN (smartly) did not repeat the comment.

This made me very curiously.  I had heard all kinds of Lin-related comments (Linsanity, etc) could could not figure out how to turn “Lin” into a racist term.  So I hit Google.

Chink in the Armor

Yeah, that was the headline.  It was referring to Lin’s propensity to turn the ball over – which is fine – but used a racist term to do it.

This is a guy who was born in the United States, graduated from arguably the most prestigious college in the country (Harvard), and played the one professional sport that was completely invented by an American (as opposed to evolving from other sports).

And still, in 2012, some people see him as simply a “chink”?  I applaud ESPN for taking action.  Racism has no place in society.  The word of sports is predicated upon the concept of a meritocracy.  If you shoot a free throw, the basket doesn’t care about your race – but simply whether your aim is true.  We should judge athletes by their stats, and not the color of their skin.  And that ideal should apply off the playing field a well – judging others by their accomplishments and not their gender, race, religion, age, or sexual orientation.


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Primary Voters: Vote For Rick Santorum

February 18, 2012

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JOHNSTON, IA - JANUARY 03:  Republican preside...

I liked Santorum before it was cool. Well, I still don’t know if it’s cool…but I am thankful that I researched my candidates and decided on Santorum while it was still possible to talk to him without having to wait an hour (or two). I met him in December in Carroll, Iowa. I was able to have a discussion with him, introduce him to my Dad and we each got a great picture with him. Now I’ve read reports of people having to wait two hours for a quick picture with him.

Many friends have asked how I feel about Santorum being attacked. It doesn’t bother me at all (well, maybe a little, when it is complete lies). But that means that he’s ahead….and gaining.

Honestly, I believe that Santorum has the best chance to beat Obama in November. Romney may have the money, but remember, it was RomneyCare that was the basis for ObamaCare. Why would the GOP want to put up a candidate who laid the groundwork for the worst Democratic attempt at a Socialist takeover? Doesn’t make sense to me.

And don’t get me started on Newt. I’m not sure how any true Conservative who votes on their values can vote for Newt. Sure, he’s educated. He’s a very smart man. But ethical? Not so much. If he can’t keep his vows to his first wife…his second wife…who is to say he’s going to keep his vows to his voters? When my (very Conservative) Doctor and I were discussing gay marriage, he said, “I think everyone has the right to get married…once,” and I agree. Once. One and done. Hopefully just like Obama. As in “one term and done”.

Obama has already been compared to Carter (a lot). Back in 2007 I had a bumper sticker that read Obama = Carter 2.0 (I didn’t put it on my vehicle, I’m not one of THOSE types). I’m hoping we can continue the Obama/Carter comparisons. As in a real Conservative sends him packing after one term. Now I’m not saying that Santorum = Reagan. That would be GOP blasphemy. But I believe he is the best in the field.

By the way, if you live in a state who has yet to vote in a primary/caucus, please vote for either Santorum, Romney, Paul or Gingrich. It’s great that you’re still in love with Bachmann/Perry/Cain/Huntsman…but your vote won’t matter. None of those four have a chance to face Obama in November. Vote for someone who is still actively campaigning. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and the time of the auditor who has to count the votes.

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