According to MillersTime Baseball Fans…

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Finally, and happily for some of us, we’re about 10% into the 2018 baseball season, and there are some early indications of what is ahead of us.

First, however, a look at what MillersTime readers, as gleaned from their entries into the annual contest, have predicted for the season:

1. It will be a Dodgers vs Yankees World Series and a toss up as to which team will win it all.

2. The Astros and the Nats will get close but not go all the way.

3. The American League will again win the All Star game (‘”Duh,” as my daughter writes).

4. Giancarlo Stanton will beat Aaron Judge as the first to hit 30 HRs, and Clayton Kershaw will beat Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer to 12 wins.

5. Nats fans think they’ll win 96 games but most don’t believe they’ll get to or win the WS.

6. Sox fans (ever the pessimists) predict 93 wins but little chance of making it into or winning the WS.

7. Yankee fans think their heroes will win 96 and have a good shot at winning it all.

8. Dodger fans say 98.6 wins and have a 33% chance of winning the WS.

9. Pitching seems to be what most of you believe will be the determining factor in how your team fares.

10. Most of you think there will be at least one 20 game winner but no (starting) pitchers with an ERA under 2.0.

11. Most don’t believe Stanton and Judge will hit as many HRs as last year (111) and certainly not 115.

12. Those who believe there will be at least three teams with 100 wins or more slightly out number the doubters.

13. And almost everyone believes that one of my grand kids will witness in person an MLB grand slam, a triple play, a no hitter, an extra inning game, or Teddy winning the President’s race. If one of little tykes had been with me the other night, they would have seen two of those events.

As to how much we can know from the first 10% of the season, it does look as if the Nats are not the shoe-ins many predicted, and the Dodgers are off to a bad start, tho they seem to be trying to overcome that. The Yankees are struggling a bit, and unless their pitching improves, they may not even make it into post season.

On the other hand, the Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, and Angels are doing better than predicted, as are the Mets and the Phillies (watch out Nats).

And then there are my heroes, the Sox. As a true Boston fan, I swing back and forth between believing/fearing what’s happening (16-2) is not going to last and hoping that everyone stays healthy and they continue to pitch, hit, and field at the rate they are now doing.

Finally, one big concern: the attendance at MLB is down markedly (see this article). It’s not clear if that is weather related (probably not) or some other factors are at play. So, go to a game. Take a kid. Or a friend or two.

Four Recommended Books

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Rather than wait until I do a mid-year round up of readers’ favorite reads for the first half of 2018, I thought I’d mention four books that I’ve recently read and thoroughly enjoyed and might have interest for others.

All four are from suggestions by MillersTime readers, and all four are non-fiction, generally my reading of preference.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (NF) – Recommended by Ellen Hoff & Suzanne Stier.

Ellen H. wrote: “ A pure research scientist who writes well about her own adventures in science, her life, and, fascinating to me, bits of botany. If you are interested in botany, skip her struggle with mental disorders. If you are not interested in botany, some fascinating bits on her curiosity and fascination with pure research and asking new questions, and the struggles facing research scientists in finding funding and developing a lab.”

Suzanne S. wrote: “This book goes at the top of my list. It is a combination of science about trees and plants and a memoir by Hope about her journey as a scientist and her relationship with a man named Bill…who is her soul mate/twin/co-conspirator…The book is serious and funny and well written. A must read for all.”

Me: I listened to Hope Jahren’s narration of her book and that added immeasurably to my enjoyment as I felt she was basically talking directly to me. Certainly the best memoir I have ‘read’ in years. If you read and enjoyed H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, one of my favorites from last year, you’ll certainly enjoy Lab Girl. If you didn’t read Macdonald’s book, you now have two wonderful books in store for you.

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry (NF) – Recommended by Ellen Miller.

Ellen M.: “This is the story of the Tsunami that on March 11, 2011 hit the northwest coast of Japan, killing more than 18,500 people. It focuses particularly on the personal stories of several families and one community focusing on accountability for deaths in one school. It is heartbreaking.”

Me: I ‘resisted’ reading this exploration of the consequences of the Tsunami, doubting it would be of interest to me. How wrong I was. The author does a brilliant job of not just describing what happened but also of going inside the Japanese culture to give insights and understandings into a world that is often closed to outsiders.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tiva Bailey (NF) – Recommended by Melanie Landau.

Melanie: “Fascinating, meditative. Account of minutely observing a tiny snail while bed ridden and ill.”

Me: Snails? Another account of something I never thought I’d have interest in. Wrong again. A wonderful story/memoir and most enlightening both about the author and about these little creatures.

Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer (NF) – Recommended by Abigail Wiebenson.

Abigail wrote: “A totally fascinating story of saving thousands of ancient manuscripts in Mali which becomes entangled in the jihadi movement all of which the author describes with spell-binding dexterity.”

Me: Despite a totally misleading title, I found myself immersed in a true tale about so much I never knew, not only about manuscripts and the written word but also about the jihadi incursions and exploits outside of the middle east.

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If you are not already keeping track of books you’ve enjoyed/are enjoying, please consider doing so. In June, I will ask for books readers have most enjoyed over the first half of 2018, which I will then post in July.

An Apology and an Overture to Jane Austen

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(Ed. Note #1: Upon reading a recent post on “MillersTime” — “Lexicographic Gratification: Confessions of an Introvert” — another long time friend offered the article below for readers of this website. His title was “Austen Apology,” but I have taken the editor’s liberty of giving it the title you see above and below.)

An Apology and an Overture to Jane Austen

by Harry Siler

Dear Miss Austen,

Writing this letter, most forward of activities on my part, is made necessary by the surprising realization that I have grown to like you. I had been quite ready to blame you, before coming to know your writings, for the most awful state of the gender-divide in the English Speaking World.

My original mistaken complaint was related to having assumed that you had, by your influence on young women readers, taught them to make marriage their goal and having provided them, thereby, with the very handbooks of just how their goal of marriage might be achieved. Your glowing stories of pretty ribbons and long dresses were unrealistic, and your endless discussion of gender-mingling continues as an energizing human endeavor among the lay people has only offered a partial story. There was no discussion of the not-so-niceties of life such as discussion of frequent trips to the privy, with its imagined attendant complications. Nor did you offer any suggestion, or warning, that life extends beyond the wedding day and deserves its considerable consideration if those lives, thereby being bound, are to be made “for better or for worse,” as the saying goes.

Or so it seems to me.

Another of my early complaints was toward the narrowness of your stories and subject matter. England was at war for most of your life, first with the rowdy Americans rebelling and then with the French. War, it seemed, to be of no concern to you. Neither, it seemed, was what must have been the clearly lesser lives of those who served you and your family, and your uppity friends. But, I soon came to see that, despite my initial objections, by the very narrowness of your focus, the story that you were telling was quite interesting to me, and was made more so, and more focused, by what you were not saying. I found myself reading late into the night, more interested in the lives of your people than in what the lack of my own sleep would mean for my own morrow.

The matchmaking and the miss-matches being made have been of keen interest to me, as has been the revealed secret that people do not always say what they mean. That that has been going around longer than my discovery of it is also a surprise. Perhaps it will not surprise you that such is happening still. (Indeed, one might say that new means of communications having been added, some with batteries, that permit increased misreading of the mind of others even more readily and at a much greater distance.) Or, that it often misleads those of us in the irony-challenged classes to jump forward, with our wishful-thinking, into, surprisingly to us, suddenly empty places, much as an eager bull might charge at a never-intended cape.

Your written discussion in Pride and Prejudice of Mr. Bennett’s marriage, its beginnings and its effects, showed me how, again, I had misjudged you. You did see, and I can only hope those generations of your young women readers also saw, the depth of life made possible, or thereby rendered impossible, by the marriages they were seeing you illustrate.

Dear Lady, you and I, if you will entertain my overtures, will have as our guide the good offices of Lady Herring-Hicks helping us with the protocol of our various times, places and stations. I will seek her advice at each turn as I next approach you. But this letter seemed the least I should do, in the way of a warning, before I attempt to engage with you further.

Our own rowdy American, Benjamin Franklin noted in his writings that older women much appreciate the attention of a younger man, and I must tell you it adds to my excitement no end to consider myself a younger man, as I wait your reply. There may be rattlers among your friends who will say, because you’re dead, that I can’t be taken seriously. Please know that I have, in my past life, gone out and about with some women who were quite similar in their presentation, and that I thereby feel I have been more that sufficiently prepared to meet you as you are presently situated. Your views on dancing alone suggest a liveliness unknown in my own past life. As a young man I attended a college that suppressed sexual relations among its attendants for fear that dancing might break out. I will bring my own set of peculiarities with me when I come to call.

Some wise person, finally and in time, has advised that marriage was an institution whereby, “one was capable of having your burdens halved, and your joys doubled” if it be done well. That seems a more complete statement, however ideal, of the institution’s potential. Even failing at the doing of that might be the better sort of enterprise to aim for. And if, as partners in the effort beforehand, each partner is pregnant with the knowledge that practice will be required in its achievement. The word “practice” has long held special meaning for me. Ages ago, back home visiting, I crossed paths with a friend from when we were both young and just married, and asked if he had children. He said, “No, we’re still practicing.”

Please do feel free to react to this overture in whatever fashion you are moved to. It is on of the great inventions of the new age that women are now free to speak their minds and that they have assumed the role of partners in this kind of enterprise, sharing in both the design and in the manufacture of the lives that they aspire to.

Your’s, & c.

Harry Siler

(Ed. Note #2: Mr. Siler can be reached by email – harrysiler@yahoo.com – if Ms. Austen or readers of this post would like to be privately in touch with him. Additionally, thoughts and/or comments on the above Apology and Overture can be left on this website in the Comment Section of this post. Finally, I am also willing to provide Mr. Siler’s home address (‘snail mail’) to certain individuals if I am convinced of an urgent need for some one to be directly in touch with him, using that sadly outdated but certainly more private method of communication.)

 

“A Fast Ball Isn’t Enough Anymore”

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Baseball creates an endless evolutionary cycle where hitters and pitchers battle to find an edge and maintain it. The periods where one side or the other seizes control have often been measured more in decades than years. Earlier this decade, pitchers gained the upper hand and they did so — at least in part — by throwing baseballs really, really fast. The pendulum has now swung back toward the hitters in the past couple seasons, and only time will tell whether that was the result of the ball itself or some other factor. Regardless of how this unfolds, one thing is clear: Those really, really fast pitches are no longer making hitters look silly.

While more pitches than ever have been coming in at 95-plus mph,1 today’s hitters have seemingly adapted, gaining the supernatural ability to hit these pitches. Last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group, hitters faced 110,529 fastballs traveling 95 mph or faster. That’s an increase of 124 percent from 2011, when hitters saw the fewest such fastballs in the period (starting in 2009) for which this data is tracked, and a spike of 32.6 percent from 2016. But the returns are diminishing as blazing-fast heaters become the norm. In 2017, 28,749 plate appearances were decided2 on a 95-plus mph fastball, and batters’ on-base plus slugging percentage against them was .734. That’s 80 points higher than in 2014, when OPS against these pitches hit a low of .654, and the high mark for the period in which the velocity data is tracked. Hitters produced home runs on 2.8 percent of plate appearances decided by 95-plus mph pitches in 2017, also the highest since 2009, and an increase of 75 percent from a low of 1.6 percent in 2014. Weighted on-base average, which more precisely assesses the value of every plate appearance, also spiked against 95-plus gas last season, and players were less likely to make the kind of soft contact that can lead to easy putouts.

(Ed.Note #1: To see 538’s chart of how MLB hitters have fared against fastballs of 95-plus mph, by on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), 2009-2017, go to this site.)

This is a one-sided development. Think of these hitters like the cheetah evolving enough speed to catch a gazelle: This advantage doesn’t mean they can’t also catch slower prey, and MLB hitters are feasting on slower fastballs, too. In 2017, batters across the league were almost as good at hitting fastballs that came in at 95 mph or above — .734 OPS — as they had been in 2014 at hitting midrange fastballs — .754 OPS on fastballs between 92 and 94 mph. And on fastballs under 92, big league hitters sported a .906 OPS last year. In other words, hitters have gotten better at handling all species of fastball.

Of course, some are better at it than others. Over the previous two seasons, the king of smacking fast fastballs, according to wOBA, was J.D. Martinez, now of the Red Sox. In 128 plate appearances decided by fastballs at 95-plus mph, Martinez hit .360 with a wOBA of .542 (far above the league average of .327) and a 1.314 OPS that includes an .830 slugging average, courtesy of a Ruthian 10.9 percent homer rate.3 (For reference, among active players who had at least 100 plate appearances decided by fastballs of 95-plus mph, Brandon Moss was second in the league in home run rate on these pitches over the last two seasons, and he was more than two points behind Martinez at 8.7 percent.) The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo isn’t far behind Martinez in wOBA (.457) among active players, and he posted a 1.059 OPS in plate appearances decided by high-octane pitches. And while pitchers understandably try to muscle up to retire Joey Votto, one of game’s greatest hitters, the Reds’ future Hall of Famer is undeterred — he managed a higher on-base percentage (.479) and a nearly identical slugging average (.563) in 217 plate appearances against pitches at 95 mph and above as he had against all pitches in those two seasons (.444 OBP, .564 slugging).

Pitchers do find that pure velocity can still put some hitters away, of course. Fans wondered why the Rays gave up on Corey Dickerson this spring, but in 2016 and ’17, the current Pirate had one of the biggest drops in production4 (his OPS fell by 475 points) against high-octane heat compared to fastballs thrown at 94 and below. Trevor Story of the Rockies struggled after a record-setting debut in 2016, and it seems like teams have figured out that the hard stuff can get him out, as his OPS drops by 441 points against 95-plus mph fastballs compared to slower heaters. And there’s Chris Carter, who had 113 plate appearances decided by 95-plus mph fastballs in the previous two seasons, and who posted an OPS that was 609 points worse against the fastest fastballs (1.053 against fastballs up to 94 mph compared to .444 against fastballs at 95-plus mph). That helps explain why the player who hit 41 home runs for the Brewers in 2016 is currently a proud member of Salt Lake Bees.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on Yahoo and the Wall Street Journal.

(Ed. Note #2 – If you haven’t seen 538’s on going predictions, updated after all games have been completed for that day, Check out their latest MLB predictions.)

 

The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

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April & May Nats Tickets, With or Without Me

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Finally Opening Day is close, at least closer than it’s been all year.

Below you’ll find some Washington Nationals’ games at which you can join me or go with someone else. See each game for what’s available, conditions, costs, etc. Most of the games are in Section 127, Row Z, Seats #1, #2, #3., just 20 rows off the field, between home plate and first base.

UPDATED – 4/4- Several additions and a few subtractions:

APRIL

Sunday, April 8, 8:08 PM vs Mets – Three free tickets available. I can’t attend this game.

Monday, April 9, 7:05 vs Braves – Two or three tickets available. I can attend, and you can get two tickets for the price on one ($50).

Thursday, April 12, 7:05 vs Rockies – Three free tickets available. I can’t attend this game.

Friday, April 13, 7:05 vs Rockies – Two or three tickets available. I can attend, and you can get two tickets for the price on one ($50).

MAY

Thurs. May 3, 1:05 vs Pirates – One free ticket in Section 127. I’m in Sec. 117 then.

Wednesday, May 16, 7:05 vs Yankees – Two tickets for sale in Section 114, Row T, Seats 15 & 16 @ $88 each (cost to me).

Friday, May 18, 7:05, vs Dodgers – Two tickets for sale in Section 115, Row V, Seats 15 & 16 @ $80 each (cost to me).

Monday, May 21, 7:05 vs San Diego – One or two tickets available to join me. No cost to you.

Tuesday, May 22, 7:05 vs San Diego – One ticket available to join me. No cost to you.

Wednesday, May 23, 4:05 vs San Diego – One free ticket available in Section 127. I can’t attend.

I’ll have lots more seats available in June, July, and August and will post those some time in May. If you have interest in a particular game or team for the summer, let me know now (Samesty84@gmail.com).

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PS – If you haven’t sent in your predictions for the 2018 MillersTime Baseball Contests, you need to do so soon as the deadline is Opening Day, this Thursday, March 29.

Report from the Miami Film Festival – March 9-18

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Ellen Miller, MillersTime Movie Reviewer:

Attending the Miami Film Festival is always a treat for us. We’re now in the third or fourth year of making this a “spring break” activity. The weather is always (at least) 30 degrees warmer than Washington and good friends host us. We see movies, we dissect them, we eat, we laugh, we sleep, and the next day we do it all over again, for three or four days. I should also note that we even “train” for our typical three films a day: long morning walks on Miami Beach or through beautiful residential neighborhoods. Sustenance involves everything from the best ice cream in Miami, the unbelievably delicious frita cubana to be had in Little Havana, a return visit to our most favorite Miami restaurant (River Seafood Oyster Bar), and our first but not last visit to Michael Schwartz’s new, wonderful Amara at Paraiso.

The Miami Film Festival (#MiamiFF) focuses on offering a great array of Latin American and Miami-made movies, and this year they clearly have made an effort to increase diversity in film directors and to expand to films that would appeal to a younger audience. There are over 150 (168 or 195, depending upon which of our memories is more accurate) screenings shown over 10 days, and choosing the films is not easy.

This year we found more of a variation in the films we saw than in previous years. (In total we saw nine films in three and a half days.) A few I will rate with five stars — by my standards a ‘you must see this one.’ Others, including some that were widely heralded, just didn’t work for us. And of course, there were a number in between those poles: films that were great (generally because of the subject) but fundamentally flawed in the execution.

The views in these reviews are my own. (Note that Richard and I do not always agree in our ratings.)

I’ll start with the best of what we saw.

Gladesman: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys (Director: American David Abel, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and film maker)

Ellen *****   Richard ****

This film is a superb documentary that tells the story of Florida’s Everglades airboaters –- the men and women who for generations have lived, fished and hunted freely in one of the most environmentally threatened – and beautiful — areas of the US. The film is populated with these wonderful characters (a number of whom were in the audience) along with environmentalists and water engineers who also make their case eloquently. It presents both sides of the contentious issues that arise in trying to find the right balance in the area to protect it as a water source for millions of Floridians and preserve a way of life for a small group of people.

The filming is elegant, the scenery magnificent, and the complex story simply told. I wound up cheering for everyone.

(Ed. Note: Gladesmen won the Knight Foundation award for the Best Film Made in Miami.)

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Monarchs & Mexico: Thru Ellen’s Lens

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Can you remember the first time you experienced the joy of having bubbles blown at you from a wand dipped into a little plastic bottle?

Did it seem like magic?

Pure joy?

Even when the bubbles burst?

Did you ask for more and more?

Imagine that instead of bubbles, these were orange and black butterflies. Monarch butterflies. Ones you could almost touch. Or ones that landed on you and remained for many minutes.

Now, multiply the number of bubbles/butterflies and that sense of wonder and delight by many hundreds or thousands, and you get just a sense of what Ellen and I experienced on a recent trip to Mexico to see where the Monarch butterflies migrate and winter.

As you may know, many of the beautiful Monarchs travel south to winter in Mexico where they live for five or six months. Then, in the early spring they mate, go north from Mexico, lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and then die. This process repeats itself as three generations of Monarchs work their way north, often as far as the Great Lakes or Canada. Each of these generations lasts about two months.

Then the great migration begins again. Despite never having been to the mountains in Mexico, these now fourth generation Monarchs set out on a mass migration of two to three thousand miles to a place they’ve never been and arrive at the exact locations and specific trees where their ancestors wintered the previous year.

There are 14 Monarch sanctuaries, protected areas, in Mexico, and you can go to a number of them to experience what it is like for several million Monarchs to gather in one place. Under the auspices of Natural Habitat Adventures and the World Wildlife Fund, we joined with ten others and two wonderful guides to spend five days in mid-February chasing butterflies.

We flew to Mexico City, went four hours due west by bus to the town of Angangueo where we stayed for three days. We went by open flat bed truck another 45 minutes where we then went by horseback another 45 minutes up into the mountains. Finally, we hiked for another 45 minutes or so to one of the Monarch sanctuaries, El Rosario.

As we didn’t arrive until late afternoon the first day, most of the thousands and thousands (millions?) of Monarchs were huddled together on a few dozen trees, giving and getting warmth from each other. But there were some brave butterflies who left their perches and came near, some landing on us or simply hanging out on the ground or bushes nearby. The only noise we heard were our cameras taking hundreds and hundreds of photos, ‘up close and personal’ (and often just inches away). The most stunning aspect, for me, of this first encounter, however, was to see the trees laden with these marvelous butterflies.

The next day we set out early to a second reserve, this one at Chincua. Again we went by truck, horseback, and hiking, and what a reward. As we were the first to arrive and because the day warmed and the sun came out, we were able to virtually be in the midst of the Monarchs flying about. When a cloud would pass, the Monarchs would rush to find a place to retreat from the ‘cold,’ and we were then in the midst of thousands and thousands of butterflies (or as Ellen said, “It was as if we were inside a snow globe of butterflies”).

On our third day, we returned to El Rosario, and for some reason the butterflies had moved from what just a day or two previously had been their ‘trees of choice’ to different trees, new micro climates. And most exciting, these trees were next to the path where we were able to look with wonder at how they clustered together, hanging on the pine or fir trees, waiting for the sun. As the sun came from behind the clouds, they began to open their wings and the trees seemed to magically transform in color. As long as the sun stayed out, the Monarchs left their trees and flew in front of us (to search for nectar?). Then, during a passing cloud, there would be a ‘mad scramble’ as they flew about, trying to decide where to go to sit out through the modest change in temperature.

We couldn’t get enough of them.

When our three days of ‘chasing’ the Monarchs concluded, I was left with three images and one question. First, even one Monarch resting on a bush, the ground, or on one of us, just inches way was thrilling. Second, an entire tree covered with thousands and thousands and thousands of Monarchs ‘hanging out’ and occasionally spreading their wings and, as a result, changing the color of the tree was mesmerizing. And particularly exciting was seeing a burst or flurry of uncountable numbers flying around, either enjoying the warmth or looking for a place to land.

The one question, yet to be answered for me, is how do these Monarchs know where exactly to go on their great migration, given that they are at least four generations removed from having been to a specific area two or three thousand miles away?

Below are a dozen of Ellen’s most favorite shots of the butterflies. Then, if you want to see more of her photos of our Mexico trip, there is a slide show which includes more pictures from our butterfly adventure and photos from our four days in Mexico City.

If you would like to see more photos, click on this link: Monarchs & Mexico: Thru Ellen’s Lens. Then, for the best viewing, click on the tiny, tiny arrow in the very small rectangular box at the top right of the opening page of the link to start the slide show.

I’d highly recommend that you view all the photos in the largest size possible (full screen format) on a laptop or desktop computer.

Lexicographic Gratification: Confessions of an Introvert

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(Ed. note: My friend Dave chose to entitle this essay ‘Lexicographic Gratification’ and somewhat reluctantly agreed to my adding ‘Confessions of an Introvert’ to his title. I think he prefers to think of himself as an ambivert.)

By David Stang

Fred Scharf, the husband of my second cousin Anne Phillips and the only lawyer and intellectual in my whole extended family, gave me a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary bearing the same copyright date, 1957, as my graduation from high school. Bookish Uncle Fred told me to “treasure it by reading its definitions for the pure pleasure of learning new words, including synonyms, antonyms and etymology – meaning the study of word origins. Besides that,” he said, “you’ll find tons of amazing information up front before the dictionary section begins and at the end after the last word beginning with the letter Z.”

This was an entirely new way of viewing dictionaries, in fact, nearly the opposite of how I felt about them, particularly, when as a schoolboy, I would ask my mother what is the meaning of ‘X word’? And she would say,”Go look it up and that way you’ll remember it better than if I tell you.” I would usually answer her by saying, “Mom, it’s a complete waste of time to go look it up in the dictionary when you already know the answer and can tell me now.” Sometimes I could browbeat her into giving me the answer, but usually she sternly pointed to the big unabridged dictionary resting atop its own four foot high podium. As soon as she would walk out of the room, I would whisper to myself, “The hell with it. I’m not looking it up.”

But that night back in 1957 I sat on the edge of my bed near the reading lamp, opened my new dictionary and discovered that Uncle Fred was right. There was an amazing amount of essays and commentary on the history of lexicography, etymology, the beauty and depth of the English language, and on and on. And at the back of the dictionary there were tables of all kinds: names and addresses of all the colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, symbols, abbreviations, proper forms of address, and a load of other miscellaneous information. I said to myself, “Maybe Uncle Fred is right. I ought to start reading this stuff. Maybe I should become a word junkie.” But would I ever really be able to convince myself that looking up words in the dictionary is more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

Anyway, I started to read the first article in my new dictionary which was about the history of the English language and the history of lexicography. I got about as far as the author’s discourse on the linguistic influence on the English language contributed by the Angles, Jutes and Saxons. In less than a minute I concluded that ‘All this crap is complicated and boring. I’m not going to waste another minute reading it.’ Then I reflected for a moment and realized I would seriously need this dictionary when I started college at the end of the summer because if I were doing some kind of course assignment and spotted a word I didn’t know I’d be better off looking it up than faking it.

While studying to earn my B.A., J.D. and M.T.S. degrees, I relied upon that dictionary quite a bit. Even more so years later when I was reading for pleasure and didn’t know the meaning of a word or when I was researching and writing a number of articles and a few books. By my recent off the cuff estimate, I must have used that dictionary at least 25,000 times. But rarely – in fact never – did I dare take the time to wallow extensively in all that good stuff printed before and after the dictionary part of the book.

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Announcing the 2018 MillersTime Baseball Contests

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Yes.

And none too soon.

Which means it’s time for:

2018 MillersTime Baseball Contests

Contest #1:

Pick your favorite MLB team (or the team you know the best) and answer the following questions to prove whether you’re just a homer (“Someone who shows blind loyalty to a team or organization, typically ignoring any shortcomings or faults they have”) or whether you really know something about your team and can honestly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Please answer all three parts of the question.

  1. What will your team’s regular season 162 game record be in 2018?
  2. Will they make the playoffs, and if so, how far will they go?
  3. What will be the most important SINGLE factor (hitting, starting pitching, bullpen, an individual’s performance, the manager, injuries, etc.) in determining their season?

Prize: Two tickets to a regular season game with your favorite team (details to be negotiated with moi.)

Contest #2:

Which League will win the All Star Game in 2018?

Tie-Breakers: Name the first MLB player to hit 30 HRs and the first MLB pitcher to win 12 games.

Prize: Join me after the All Star break to see a Nats’ game in wonderful seats. If you don’t live in this area or can’t get here, we can work out seats to a game somewhere that you can attend.

Contest #3: True or False:

A. The new MLB rules (shorter commercial breaks and limit of six non pitching visits to the mound by manager, coach or other players) will NOT result in reducing the average game time to under three hours. (Average time in 2017 was 3:05.)

B. The New York Yankees WILL win the AL East in 2018.

C. The Washington Nationals WILL NOT win the NL East in 2018.

D. There will be no 20 game winning pitchers in either league in 2018. (There were none in 2017 and three in 2016.)

E. At least one pitcher in the regular 2018 MLB season will have an ERA under 2.0. (There were none in 2017 or 2016. One did it in 2015 and two in 2014.)

F. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge together will hit at least 115 regular season HRs in 2018. (In 2017 they ‘combined’ for 111.)

G. At least one MLB batter will strike out 220 times or more in 2018 regular season play. (Aaron Judge struck out 208 times in 2017, and Chris Davis struck out 217 times in 2016.)

H. There will be at least 8 Triple Plays in the MLB this year. (Over the last 10 years the average has been 4.1 per year, and in each of the last two years there were 7 each year.)

I. At least three teams will win 100 games or more in 2018. (Three teams did so in 2017: Astros – 101, Indians – 102, Dodgers – 104).

J. One of Grand Papa’s (c’est moi) grandchildren will witness in person (at an MLB game) a grand slam, a triple play, a no hitter, an extra inning game, or Teddy win the President’s race at the Nats’ stadium.

Prize: Your choice of one of these books: The 20 Best Books Ever Written About Baseball.

Contest #4 :

Who will be the two teams in the World Series in 2018 and which team will win it all?

Tie-Breaker: Name the five teams in each league who will make the playoffs.

Prize: One ticket to the 2018 World Series.

Additional Details:

  1. All winners get the ‘one-of-a-kind,’ specially designed and updated MillersTime Baseball Winner T-Shirt in addition to the prizes outlined above.
  2. Enter as many or as few of the contests as you want.
  3. Be sure to answer all parts of each contest you do enter.
  4. If you get a friend (or a foe) to participate in these contests, and he/she wins and has mentioned your name in their submission, you will get a prize also.
  5. First time entrants who are runners up in any contest will get THE T-shirt.
  6. Any two-generation submissions (mother/daughter, grandfather/grandson, etc.) who are runners up will also get THE T-Shirt.
  7. Get your predictions in soon. In case of ties in any contest, the individual who submitted his/her prediction(s) first will be the winner.
  8. Submissions should be sent to me in an email – samesty84@gmail.com

Deadline for Submissions: Opening Day: March 29, 2:40 PM, EST

“The White Darkness: A Journey Across Antarctica”

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If you’re a fan of David Grann (writer for The New Yorker and author of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI; The Lost City of Z; and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, among other writings by this journalist), go out and buy the current Anniversary Issue of The New Yorker (Feb 12 & 19, 2018, which is on the newsstands now).

Or, go to this link: The White Darkness: Alone in Antarctica, by David Grann, The New Yorker.

                                                  Photograph courtesy Shackleton Foundation

I don’t want to tell you too much about it other than it’s a long article about Henry Wosely, someone you may never have heard about (unless you follow current day explorers).

Think Shackelton, Scott, and Amundsen. And while Grann’s article doesn’t match Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s superb The Worst Journey in the World or Alfred Lansing’s wonderful Endurance: Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage, you won’t be sorry you spent the time on Grann’s article.

 

 

New Zealand: Thru Ellen’s Lens

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Here are a dozen of Ellen’s photos from our recent trip to New Zealand.

If you want to see more, there’s a slide show too, which I highly recommend as they far surpass this presentation. See below for details.

Auckland Harbor

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January in New Zealand

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In the last couple of years Ellen and I have taken to the idea of traveling to warm places in the months of January and February, largely to escape cold winter months and more recently to begin the new year away from the events that are hard to escape in the nation’s capital.

This year that took the form of a 17-day trip to New Zealand, a place that had long been on our list visit but had never been practical because of the time needed to explore such a far away place. It had long been recommended by a number of friends and our daughter Annie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We roughly divided our time between the North and South Island, combining driving and flying. Before you to turn New Zealand: Thru Ellen’s Lens, here’s a brief overview of the trip (with some of my own iPhone photos), starting and ending in Auckland.

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Three New Films. One Is A Must See.

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Film reviews by Ellen Miller.

The Shape of Water – Ellen ***** (Richard Didn’t See it)

Wonderful. Engrossing. Clever. Satisfying.

Take a deep sigh, hold your breath, and submerge yourself into a theater playing this film. Just sink into the world created by the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. This fantasy — which I had been putting off seeing because those sorts of movies are just not my thing — is thoroughly moving and enjoyable. It’s also very creative and clever with superb acting. It well-deserves its Best Picture (and 12 other Oscar nominations) for which it is nominated.

When summarized, the story seems odd and off-putting, but as it unfolds on the screen, it’s not: a young, mute lonely woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), is a building cleaner at a super secretive government laboratory when she discovers a captive Amazonian human-like sea creature that is being held for unknown, but presumably experimental purposes. She extends herself to it, and it responds to her. The time is 1962 and the Russians want to steal it from the US who has it locked in a top secret laboratory. She needs to save the creature from both of them. She has two friends who will help. One small warning: there are a few gruesome scenes, but they only add to the surrealism of the film. Don’t be turned off by the plot.

The film is filled with fascinating characters and wonderful acting, from Hawkins herself to Octavia Spence, Doug Jones, and Michael Shannon. The staging is so richly detailed you want to disappear into it. My advice is just to given into it and cheer for our heroine. Let the film wash over you. You won’t regret it.

(Sorry about the play on words but I couldn’t resist…)

A Fantastic WomanEllen **** Richard ****

What I love about the DC Cinema Club is that we see films we might not otherwise left to our own choosing. That’s definitely the case with A Fantastic Woman. What you see is not what you get in this film.

It is a very sympathetic and sometimes heart-wrenching portrayal of a trans woman and the struggles she faces to become the woman she is as well as how she moves forward after losing her lover. There are wonderful cinematic moments to illustrate her struggles and terrific acting throughout. Daniela Vega (Marina) has been nominated for an academy award for her performance and the film has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film Category.

Marina is a singer and a waitress in a coffee shop and she is in a relationship with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a man two decades her senior. One evening he falls ill and dies and the drama begins, unfolding slowly with considerable melodrama. His family forbids her from attending his funeral. But she insists on paying tribute to her lover.

The film is a tender love story and a story about the struggle to be true to who you are. It is a tense, well-filmed and emotional drama. It’s worth a see.

Phantom ThreadEllen **** Richard ****

Another non-mainstream film and even though nominated for a Best Picture Award, I recommend it somewhat cautiously.

But….

If you like/love looking at Daniel Day Lewis (count me in) it’s a must-see. If you like a story where two unlikable characters clash and the woman “wins” (my view), then this is the picture for you. If you love a film where the actions of the women characters are more manipulative than those of the men, go see this movie. (In this latter style, it reminded me of the 2017 film Lady Macbeth. See my review of that film).

But not a lot happens in this taut psychological drama. Lewis plays a perfection-obsessed famous London-based courtier — Reynolds Woodcock — in the 1950’s. His latest muse is Alma (well-played by Vicky Krieps), a former waitress in a country inn where he had dinner one evening. He dresses her gloriously (though the costuming was less inspiring than I expected). They marry, and his self-centered life is disrupted. When he appears to begin to tire of her, she sets about to prove just how much he needs her.

The film is lit throughout in undertones of beige, rose, and violet, which is very appealing and adds to the overall somber tone of the film and to the relationship between the two protagonists.

Although this film received six various Academy Award Nominations, I’d see this film for Daniel Day Lewis’ performance alone.

**          **          **          **          **          **          **

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was rated Excellent or Good by 90+ per cent of our Sunday Cinema Club. We both saw it, but didn’t have time to review it. We both would have rated it four stars.

The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2017

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” – A. Lincoln

Once again the MillersTime “best books roundup” is my favorite post of the year. It’s a labor of love and is only possible because so many of you take the time to send in what books you have enjoyed over the last 12 months. I’m indeed indebted to each of you and offer my heartfelt thanks to all of you.

The 2017 list is comprised of the favorite reads of 82 adults and 10 children. Fiction leads the nonfiction 56% to 44%, similar to last year. Our youngest participant is almost five month’s old; the oldest is 96. The rest of you are mostly between the ages of 35- 75. Fifty-eight percent of you are women, 42% are men.

While I don’t expect everyone of you will read all the way through this list (anyone who does can claim it as a favorite book for next year), know there is a tremendous amount of information here. I’ve organized it in several ways, hopefully to make it more user friendly:

I. The most frequently cited titles (three or more times) are listed first.

II. Next the contributors are listed alphabetically — to make it easy if you are looking for the favorites of someone you know — with the titles and authors next and then any comments made about those books.

III. Finally, there are also two spread sheet links included as easy, searchable references for you to see the titles, authors, and MillersTime contributors in summary form:

List # 1 – Organized by book titles 

List #2 –  Organized by reader/contributor’s name.

I. Titles that appear on the Favorites’ List three times or more:

Fiction (F):

  •      A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
  •      America’s First Daughter, Stephanie Dray
  •      Days Without End, Sebastian Barry
  •      House of Names, Colm Toibin
  •      Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
  •      Salvage the Bones, Jesymn Ward
  •      Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesymn Ward
  •      Small Great Things, Jody Picoult
  •      The North Water, Ian McQuire

Nonfiction (NF):

  •      Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson
  •      Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
  •      Evicted, Mathew Desmond
  •      Grant, Ron Chernow
  •      Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance
  •      Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann

For me, as is true every year, the strengths and value of this year’s list have more to do with what contributors say about a book than the number of times a book may be listed. Often, a book listed only once is one I most want to read in the coming year.

A reminder: this list is not meant to be the best books published in 2017, but rather what the title of this posting states — The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2017.

Please forgive my endless prompting for your submissions, though the results, I hope, may have been worth the reminders. (Late additions — please feel free to send them — will be posted as they arrive, without any snarky comments from the editor.)

And, of course, I take responsibility for any inaccuracies or mistakes in the posting of your names, the titles, the authors, and your comments. Please do let me know about errors so I can correct them quickly and easily.

Feel free to share this post with others — family, friends, book clubs, etc.

Enjoy.

II. The 2017 List of Favorites:  

(alphabetical by reader’s first name):

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