Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for April 2012

Just Reviewed Sprunk’s “Shadow’s Master” at SBR

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Folks, if you want a dark sword and sorcery epic, you should seriously consider reading Jon Sprunk’s SHADOW’S MASTER, the third and final book in his “Shadow Saga.”  I called it an “intelligent, violent” sword and sorcery epic, and complimented Sprunk on his characterization and plot construction — of course, me being me, I also had to point out the flaws that I really didn’t understand (such as the two female characters, who are in a “love triangle” of sorts with Caim, refusing to tell Caim the important information he would need if he really were to settle down with either one of them).

That said, this is a good story, well-told.  I enjoyed it even though dark fantasy, much less dark sword and sorcery, isn’t exactly my cup of tea; this is why I think men will find far more appealing than I did.  (To turn a phrase, I said, “. . . the younger, the better,” but that’s mostly because younger men seem more attracted to violent TV shows and movies than most women.  Not trying to be sexist, honest.)  There’s much to admire about Sprunk’s writing, so even if you’re like me and would rather read something a bit less violent, you should enjoy SHADOW’S MASTER.

Please go here to read my review, then go find Sprunk’s book and read it for yourself.  You’ll be glad you did.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 12, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Book reviews

Gubernatorial Candidate Kathleen Vinehout Visits Racine

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Yesterday, I heard Wisconsin Democratic candidate for Governor Kathleen Vinehout speak at the Labor Center in Racine, WI.  Vinehout is one of four candidates running to oppose incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) in a well-publicized recall election; Vinehout is probably the least-known Democratic candidate, as she represents Alma in the state Senate (a small border town in western Wisconsin).

While Vinehout may be little-known, she’s a woman of accomplishment; she’s been a state Senator since 2006, was a dairy farmer for ten years, and taught at a university for ten years.  This means she has ability in both the public and private sector, something we badly need in Wisconsin; she also is articulate, friendly, and knowledgable.

Vinehout is the first candidate aside from Tom Barrett (mayor of Milwaukee, who ran against Walker in 2010 and lost) to visit Racine as far as I’m aware; former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk sent her husband to represent her, but she, herself, has not visited Racine, nor has current Secretary of State Douglas Lafollette.  Vinehout being willing to come to Racine when it’s at the southern end of the state — very far from her home in Alma — showed a lot about her character and willingness to get to know every aspect of the state she wishes to represent as Governor.

I was impressed by what I heard from Vinehout; she believes she can roll back the worst of what Walker and the radical Republicans in our state house have wrought, and the way she speaks makes it clear that a razor-sharp intellect is behind her friendly, capable exterior.

To my mind, Vinehout has everything the next Governor of Wisconsin needs.  She understands what’s going on in Racine — we need economic development, we need more money for our public schools, and we need, most of all, hope and optimism.  And it seems to me that Vinehout, despite being the least-well funded of all four candidates, is willing to “go to the mat” for Wisconsin’s people, which also is a very big plus; we know this because she’s a member of the “Wisconsin Fourteen” who stood up to Walker and the radical Rs last year and because she’s visiting as many areas of the state as she can despite being a “grass-roots candidate” (meaning she has passion behind her, but not a lot of money).

I’d encourage anyone who believes in progressive principles to seriously look at Kathleen Vinehout’s candidacy.  Check out her home page at http://kathleenvinehout.org/, or look her up at Facebook — you’ll be glad you did.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Milwaukee Brewers 2012: Off to Another Slow Start

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The Milwaukee Brewers, 2012 edition, do not seem to be firing upon all thrusters.

Now, you might be wondering, “Why say that, Barb?  After all, there’s only three games in the books, and yesterday’s game was excellent!”

Indeed, it was; Zack Greinke pitched brilliantly, then the Brewers bullpen shut the Cardinals down for a 6-0 win.

But Opening Day — Friday — was a bust; Yovani Gallardo didn’t have it, gave up six earned runs (mostly because manager Ron Roenicke didn’t take him out soon enough), including four home runs, in only 3 2/3 innings.  This is the main reason the Brewers lost, 11-5; the only reason the score looks even that good is because George Kottaras hit a 3-run pinch-hit HR in the bottom of the 9th.

And then, what about today?  The Brewers lost again, 9-3; HRs by Corey Hart (who’s off to a fast start with 3 HRs already) and Braun weren’t able to do anything except perhaps salvage a teensy bit of pride for the hitters, as Randy Wolf, the game’s starter, didn’t have it, and neither did any of his replacements from the bullpen.

Tomorrow, the Brewers play the Chicago Cubs, managed by ex-Brewer Dale Sveum.  It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen at Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs), mostly because records mean very little this early (my carping aside).  Usually, these games devolve into a slugfest of one sort or another, but as off as the Brewers have looked thus far, perhaps this year I should prepare for a pitcher’s duel.

Mind you, this is a bit of a stretch as the Brewers will start Shaun Marcum; he hasn’t looked very good thus far.  But you never know in baseball, which is why it’s so endlessly entertaining.

See you at the game.  (Or at least in front of the TV.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Reflections on Good Friday

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Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day Christians observe Jesus’s crucifixion.  It can be a very depressing day, partly because the idea of anyone being crucified for any reason is abhorrent, mostly because Jesus is adjudged one of the best people who’ve ever walked the face of the Earth even by most non-Christians.  (Of course, Jesus is seen as the Son of God by Christians.)  But he died via crucifixion, in agony, despite his goodness/divinity.

Yet for whatever reason, most non-priests would rather speak of Easter than Good Friday.  Granted, Easter is a much easier holiday to speak of as it’s a day of celebration, forgiveness, and hope.  (I wrote about Easter last year.)  It’s a day that should be celebrated.  But we also need to consider the importance of the day that preceded Easter — the day made Easter possible.  That day is Good Friday, one of the worst days in the history of the world . . . the day the Son of God was “cut down to size” and forced to endure horrible suffering, then death, mostly because the politicians of his time were afraid of him.

Without getting too much into Jesus’s story (that’s for the Bible to tell, not me), I believe the reason we still observe Good Friday is because as a people, we cannot believe that perhaps the best person ever created was treated this terribly.  Most religions, aside from Judaism, see Jesus, bare minimum, as a very good man: for example, some Buddhists see Jesus as a bodhisattva — someone who’s delayed his entry into the positive afterlife because he knows people alive on Earth need his help.**  Others see Jesus as an important prophet, even if not the very last Son of God; the religions who see Jesus this way include the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and all branches of the Muslim faith (including my favorite branch, the Sufis).

That the politicians of that time could see Jesus, a very, very good man who helped others and went out of his way to do so, as some sort of threat to themselves still rings true 2,000 years later.  That even the Son of God could be treated this way, with such callous cruelty, does not sit well with anyone of any reputable faith. 

The good news is, we haven’t forgotten what happened to Jesus, and others like him (many other Christian and non-Christians).  And because we haven’t forgotten, such terrible things as crucifixions became less common in the Western World within decades, then nearly extinct within a few hundred years.

Of course,  the fact that Jesus was killed in this particular fashion — the most revolting, scary, dishonorable death known to the ancient world — resonated with anyone who heard it as the disgusting, disgraceful act that it was, which might be why crucifixion eventually died out.  (Yes, Emperor Constantine I abolished it throughout the Roman Empire in 337 due to his faith in Jesus.  But many others were disquieted by it before Constantine took his first breath, otherwise Constantine wouldn’t have been able to outlaw this form of punishment.)

Christians view what Jesus did as transforming the worst imaginable form of death into a sacred thing.  Jesus took the pain of the world on his shoulders (and hands, and feet), and was able to largely keep from bitterness.  Then, he was cut down from the cross and laid in a tomb.

Jesus died on the cross and is said, by Christians, to have saved everyone else who believes in Him from sin, and that is a weighty message indeed.  But to put it in plainer, more secular, terms, we should try not to lose hope no matter how bad things are.  Because no matter how bad we think it is, there’s always the possibility something better can happen.  Which is why the death, and resurrection, of Jesus Christ should be of interest even to non-Christians.

———

** Please excuse this very rough way of looking at Buddhism; while I know better, I can’t seem to explain it any better than this.  My late husband Michael was a Buddhist, and my late best friend, Jeff, admired Buddhism also . . . I’m sure they’d do a better job explaining Buddhist views on Jesus, but I hope this will serve.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Alleged Lottery Winner in MD Says She “Hid” Winning Ticket

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Supposedly, Mirlande Wilson — Maryland’s self-proclaimed Mega Millions winner of the biggest jackpot in United States history — has hidden her winning ticket at the McDonalds she works at.  Wilson, 37, says in this article from the Huffington Post that she wants things to “calm down” before she goes back to the McDonalds and retrieves the ticket.

Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

First, I don’t know anyone who would do this.

Second, if someone did do it, what would keep the people of Maryland from going to this McDonalds and ripping it apart in search of the winning ticket?

Third, the ticket was apparently bought with a number of other people, thus Mirlande Wilson isn’t the only winner.  So if she has hidden the ticket, she’s hiding it from the other winners to spite them — but see the previous two reasons, as I still don’t think she’d hide the ticket in a McDonalds (one she worked at, or otherwise).

And, finally, this woman’s co-workers do not believe her.  So why should we?

My view is simple: either this woman’s ticket was bought as part of the “employee pool” and she somehow grabbed hold of it and hid it (not in the McDonalds), or she’s just trying to grab attention for herself for some reason and isn’t really a winner (by herself or otherwise).

And, for whatever it’s worth, I strongly suspect litigation is in Mirlande Wilson’s future if she really does have the winning ticket, as it’s highly unlikely this ticket is solely hers.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Baseball Updates: Hart to Play Opening Day; Rottino sent to AAA by Mets

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Folks, I have the proverbial good news and bad news.

Tonight’s good news?  Milwaukee Brewers RF Corey Hart will not start the season on the disabled list, as had been previously thought.  Instead, he will be in right field for the Brewers on Opening Day on April 6.

But the bad news is that ex-Brewers farmhand, all-around good guy, and one of the most versatile players in any league, Vinny Rottino, who hit .276 in Spring Training with 5 RBI in 58 ABs — an IF/OF/C who plays just about every position except second base and pitcher — was cut a few, short hours ago by the New York Mets and was sent to AAA Buffalo (their minor-league affiliate) in what appears to be the Mets’ very last transaction before the start of the 2012 season.

Now, there is a hint of good news even to this, as Michael Baron of MetsBlog.com fame says that he doubts the Mets have “seen the last of him.”  Baron’s comment, in its entirety, is available here, but here are his kind words about Rottino:

I liked what I saw from Rottino this Spring. With all of the early injuries to the outfielders, he was given every opportunity to show what he could do, and he did everything the staff asked him to do when he played. He showed he can make solid contact and is versatile – he can play both corner positions and the outfield as well. I bet we haven’t seen the last of him.

In addition, Peter Jackel of the Racine Journal-Times is reporting that Rottino impressed Mets’ manager Terry Collins.  From Jackel’s article:

Rottino, a 1998 (Racine)** St. Catherine’s High School graduate, certainly has reason to be encouraged. He was informed by Collins last Thursday that he would break camp with the Mets if veteran outfielders Scott Hairston and Andres Torres, who had been battling injuries, were not healthy. But Hairston and Torres made the 25-man roster, leaving Rottino the odd man out.

“They sent everybody else down except me,” Rottino said. “I was the last position player in camp. (Collins) said, ‘You made an impression on everybody. You opened some eyes, Everything I’ve heard about you is exactly the kind of ballplayer you are.’ ”

So it sounds like Rottino impressed at least a few people with his versatility, his strong defensive skills, and his hitting.  Good for him!

Now, my hope is that Rottino will go on a tear at Buffalo and hit so well that the Mets are forced to bring him up (in the same way as the Brewers had to bring up Russell Branyan in 2008 from AAA Nashville whether they liked it or not).

———–

** These stars indicate an insertion, by me, for those of you who are not from Racine, WI, who read my blog, with all apologies to Journal-Times sportswriter Peter Jackel.  Jackel knows, as I do, that Rottino is from Racine; I’ve said it here at my blog more than once.  But it’s possible that some of you don’t, especially if you’ve started reading my blog recently.

An Update to the Update, AKA further thoughts from yours truly:

I view Vinny Rottino’s story as a strong lesson in the value of persistence.  I do my best to emulate it, as my own career as a writer/editor hasn’t exactly set the world on fire thus far.  (Please don’t ask me to tell you how long I’ve been trying to do this; let’s just say that it’s longer than Rottino’s been trying to get to the majors and stay.)

Ultimately, the only thing any of us can do — myself, Rottino, anyone at all — is prepare ourselves to take the next step in our development.  For Rottino, that’s playing major league ball; for me, it’s selling my novel ELFY, or perhaps another novel to start with, then selling ELFY (as I remain fully committed to the value of my worth as a funny fantasy writer).

I know Rottino has prepared himself, and will continue to be prepared; as soon as he gets that call from the Mets, he’ll be there like a jet-fueled rocket.

And I know that I’ve prepared myself, too, to see ELFY in print and to know, ultimately, that my husband’s faith in me — much less my very good friend Jeff Wilson’s faith in me, as he, too, was a huge believer in the Elfyverse — will be vindicated.

As I’ve said before, so sayeth I again: good luck, Vinny.  And may the wind be at your back, always.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Quick US Figure Skating Update (Men’s and Women’s 2012 Worlds)

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Folks, it annoys me severely when I can’t watch the United States Figure Skating Team compete, especially when they go to the World Figure Skating Championship — this year’s venue was in Nice, France.  That makes it tough to comment on what happened, because all I know is what I can read about online, or when I’m able to see YouTube videos after the fact.  And this can’t convey the energy in the arena or the circumstances of the event, as they’re just a snapshot of one person’s skating, without the context necessary in which to judge the event.

So all I can tell you is the bare facts.  Which aren’t pretty.

Here goes:

The United States men’s team, comprised of the talented duo of Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon, did not do very well in France.  This was Rippon’s first time at Worlds, so for him to finish 13th isn’t terrible — other people who’ve gone to Worlds for the first time have finished lower than that.  But it also wasn’t very good, and I haven’t a clue about why except that Rippon apparently was a bit rattled (nerves, most likely) and fell on his opening jump in the free skate.  This threw him off enough that he wasn’t able to get back on his game.

But while nerves can perhaps be blamed for Rippon’s 13th place finish, I really don’t know what happened with U.S. Champ Jeremy Abbott, who finished 8th.  I know he battles severe problems with nerves, because he sees a sports psychologist (something I admire him for doing).  And I know that when he went to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as the 2010 U.S. Champ, he finished 9th.  This sounds a lot better than it was, as Abbott had to work hard to move up to get into the top ten, as he had a disastrous short program; apparently something similar happened in France, which is a shame.

Both of these men are lyrical, elegant skaters with excellent skating skills and technique.  When they’re on, they can light up the room in a similar manner to my favorite U.S. skater, Johnny Weir; because of this, they are fan favorites (perhaps not as much as Weir, who’s attempting a comeback).  That’s why it hurts so much to have to report such results.

Here’s an article from the Chicago Tribune online that describes what happened to the men, and how disappointing it is:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/globetrotting/chi-the-truth-hurts-us-men-dismal-at-world-skate-20120331,0,1277841.column

And the women did no better; U.S. champ Ashley Wagner finished fourth only because she worked her heart out in the free skate, pulling way up.  And poor Alissa Czisny — I ache for this woman — finished a dismal 22nd after falling in the free skate five times.  Czisny also fell twice in the short program, which begs the question: was she injured?  And if so, why did she go and skate, especially as she has had trouble with her nerves before, and something like this would not help her at all?

Here’s the article, again from the Chicago Tribune, that explains this:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/globetrotting/chi-no-bad-just-good-and-ugly-for-us-women-at-world-skate-20120331,0,3166346.column

Here’s writer Philip Hersh’s assessment of what happened to Czisny:

Czisny, U.S. champion in 2009 and 2011 and second this year, wound up 22nd after what may have been the worst free skate ever by a skater with her talent and record. (emphasis mine: BC)

She fell five times in four minutes.  She landed no clean triple jumps.

She had fallen twice in the short program and finished 16th.  Seven falls in a competition must be some kind of record.

Czisny has so much talent that a result like this is unfathomable.  I’ve written posts before about her persistence and her elegance and grace; this woman always gives it her best effort, has rallied back from huge defeats, and has apparently battled nerves throughout.  When Czisny is on — and she’s on far more than she’s off — she lights up the room, especially when she spins as she’s one of the best spinners, male or female, in the world.  And she’d improved her jumping technique — her only real weakness — very much in the past few years, which is why I really don’t understand how Czisny didn’t land a single triple jump.

My only guess is that Czisny was injured, but if she was injured, why was she in France at all?  Why not withdraw rather than “take one for the team” and finish 22nd?

I’m well aware that the others who could’ve been sent — Caroline Zhang, Mirai Nagasu, and Agnes Zawadski — would’ve had a tough time at Worlds, too.  But they’d probably have done better than 22nd as this was the lowest finish ever for an American woman — much less someone with top talent like Czisny (she finished a strong fifth last year, for pity’s sake!).

My hope for all of these skaters is that they keep at it.  Abbott has tons of talent; so does Czisny.  Rippon has barely scratched the surface of what he can do.  Wagner has improved so much, she could be our next Olympic gold medalist — but of these four, she’s the only one who appears to be on an even keel.  (Though it’s quite possible Rippon is, too.  It’s not unknown to go to Worlds for the first time and finish under where your ability should put you; in fact, it’s odd when something like that doesn’t happen.)

Abbott and Czisny are both in their mid-twenties; that’s old for the sport.  That makes getting a handle on whatever went wrong for them more time-sensitive than it is for Rippon or Wagner (especially as Wagner did have an excellent free skate).  I sincerely hope for both of their sakes they will realize that this was just one bad day (very bad in Czisny’s case), and that the talent they embody continues, undimished.  They must shake this off, and keep trying; that’s the best way to win in the only way that truly counts: being your best self, and using your talents accordingly.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm