Monday, October 27, 2014

Land of the free and the home of the chicken

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

To be the land of the free and the home of the brave, America sure is chicken.

Southerners have known this ever since we were old enough to say, “Is it ready yet?” We usually started saying that 10 minutes after getting home from Sunday preaching, even before we’d smelled the grease getting hot.

Now Corporate America is finding out what we have known all these years, even for a couple of centuries. Which is this: fried chicken is, in modern parlance, da bomb.

College football at its upper levels is about as Corporate America as you can get. Now, barnyard meets boardroom because … and I’m giddy here…trying to contain myself…

…we stand alerted that with the Heart of Dallas football bowl game being sponsored by Zaxby’s this week, we now have three bowl games named after fried chicken joints.


Yardbird sells. And not just in the South, but from coast to coast. Chicken means cha-ching!, literally and quite figuratively, as it cost more to sponsor a bowl game than it does to pay, I don’t know, the annual salary of your average Southeastern Conference football coach.

Starting this postseason we will have the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, the veteran Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, and the newest bowl that’s out of the fryer and onto your plate of football fare, the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.

And the Bahamas aren’t even in ’Merica! Binding us all is football and a simple feathered barnyard foul, common as a stick.

To encourage the investments made by bowl sponsors, the National Chicken Council throws out some pretty salty numbers:

The United States has the largest broiler chicken industry in the world. (For the great unwashed, a broiler is a chicken raised strictly for meat. Eggs are same ballpark, different ballgame);

Americans consume more chicken than anyone else in the world – 83.6 pounds per capita – the number one protein consumed in the United States.

Chew on those facts and consider that chicken has long made a bold statement. But those numbers don’t really speak to how far fried chicken has come.

It used to be thought of as something only the simple eat, too good for northern palates, a dish for the backwaters and dark corners. But the Wall Street Journal its ownself wrote a Big Story just within the past year – Josh Ozersky, which doesn’t sound Southern, is the author – about how “chefs” above the Mason-Dixon Line are souping up their menus with fancy dishes featuring dead fried chicken.

You have to be grateful that people like Josh, even though he is “not from around here,” spread such a good word. Journalists like Josh “get it.”

Fried chicken is trending!

Speaking of trending, the Duck Commander and “Duck Dynasty” and that whole crew/life force have taken trending to new levels. Like chicken, they even have a bowl game: The Duck Commander Independence Bowl. Do you see a progression here – dare I say mania? -- of birds and ball?

Some college football bowl games have even sub-let some chicken parts. I’m talking the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, which used to be the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. THAT is how popular chicken is, and I’m not a man usually bent to use all capital letters. But when you start naming bowl games after PARTS of animals, well, that is some kind of popular barnyard buddy.

The National Chicken Council – yes, them again – tells me that Americans will eat more than 1.25 billion chicken wings on your average modern Super Bowl Sunday. Fans of the New Orleans Saints are likely to eat an estimated 21 percent more wings on a Super Sunday than the average resident of the top 42 U.S. markets, even more proof that we live in the Broiler Belt.

And again, that is just wings. There’s a lot more chicken where that came from.

So just when you think the college bowl season can get no better, fried chicken steps up, as it has all our lives. You must admit that the Gator Bowl and the like just don’t, in comparison, bring much to the table.

But chicken does.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More about Moore, a living legend and a living lesson

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Most of us know Hal Moore from Mel Gibson’s portrayal of him in the 2002 movie “We Were Soldiers.” One year from November will mark the 50th anniversary of the bloody Ia Drang Battle, portrayed in the movie; the Vietnam War had just begun.

But it wasn’t the beginning of the story of Moore, the Spirit of Independence honoree at the 2006 Independence Bowl, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross and one of the greatest battlefield commanders of the 20th century.

In 2009, Army captain Mike Guardia began looking for a biography about Moore, now a retired United States Army lieutenant general whose memoir, “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young,” inspired the movie. There wasn’t a biography. Thanks to both Moore and Guardia, there is now.

Tank officer Guardia, currently stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, the father of two little girls and personal aide to the brigade commander, spent a week with Moore in 2011 at the 92-year-old’s home in Auburn, Alabama. The result of that visit and Guardia’s exhaustive research has resulted in the first biography of one of America’s most faithful and accomplished soldiers.

Available at most bookstores and online, Guardia’s “Hal Moore: A Soldier Once…and Always” has been nominated as a finalist in the Military Writers Society of America’s 2014 book awards. Filled with photographs from Moore’s personal collection, easily readable and informative, the 229-page book also captures the real-life drama of a man who fought in Vietnam and in the battles of Old Baldy, T-Bone and Pork Chop Hill in Korea, who served in Occupied Japan immediately after World War II, and who oversaw the Army’s transition from a conscript-based to an all-volunteer force as commander of the Army Training Center in Fort Ord, California, beginning in 1971.

“If you enjoyed ‘We Were Soldiers,’ that’s just one snapshot of his remarkable life,” Guardia said this week from Fort Bliss. “Here’s a man whose life touched so many historical events, who had such a great impact through all the theaters he served in. It’s amazing to see what an impact he had on the U.S. Army as a whole.”

When approached about the biography possibility in 2009, Moore was gracious in turning down Guardia. Moore’s wife had recently died; he was prepared to live out the rest of his life quietly in Alabama.

But two years later, Guardia sent Moore one more letter, along with a copy of his first book, “American Guerilla,” about the life of Special Forces founder Russell Volckmann. Moore called a couple of weeks later. “When can you come over?” Moore asked.

At his Auburn home, Moore and Guardia went through papers and photos and memories. “He was pretty open about the whole thing, once he saw I was serious and once he decided to do this,” Guardia said. “He didn’t put any restrictions on me. We’d see a photo or I’d say a word and it would remind him of something, and he’d take an hour to tell the story.”

Of course Ia Drang is covered, along with battle maps and on-site photographs. The first full-fledged battle between U.S. and North Vietnamese regulars, Ia Drang was the site of America’s first use of “air mobile infantry,” as well as the site of the deaths of 79 American soldiers and more than 1,200 Communists.

But the book is also a complete story of Moore’s battles before and after that November in Vietnam, about his beginnings in the foothills of Kentucky, about his role in helping to revive the country’s post-Vietnam army. His is a life every American would do well to know more about, to learn from, and in many ways, to mirror.

“He told me, ‘Mike, if you tell them nothing else, I’d like it to be my philosophy of never giving up,’” Guardia said. “His one core principal is that no matter how bad things get, there is always one more thing that you can do to improve your odds of success. In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out. But three strikes doesn’t mean you’re out in the real game of life.”


Sunday, October 5, 2014

How a pitched ball is not like an organ transplant

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

“Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
“I don’t care if I never get back…”

I do. I do care if I never/ever get back.

I need the baseball game to be over, eventually. I’ll need to go to sleep or to work or to the store. Something.

But baseball is making it hard on people who don’t have anything to do but watch baseball, and even those people have to go buy a stamp or to the ATM sometime, surely.

I bring this up because if baseball, unchecked, keeps getting longer, then eventually our grandchildren are going to see the Fall Classic being played in March, which is when spring training starts. There won’t be an off-season because there won’t be time for it. Do you want your husband involved in a baseball fantasy league every day of the year? Do you want people asking you for a Padres score in January?

I think not.

October baseball began this week. Along with air conditioning, plumbing, cable television, the wedge, the inclined plane and possibly Dolly Parton, October baseball is one of man’s greatest inventions. But even it is being marred by the length of time it takes to play a simple nine-inning contest.

In the early ’60s, the time of the average major league baseball game was 2 hours and 25 minutes. Today, the average length of the very same game is about two minutes short of 3 hours.

Part of it is advertising and part of it is an increased number of pitching changes. But the main reason games are longer is because the pitcher and batters are, in general, treating each pitch and swing as if the history of civilization as we know it hinged on the outcome.

Every …

single …


and …

swing …

There are other things wrong with the game, sure. Nobody will pull their pants up high enough to show socks anymore; (every rookie needs to see a picture of Lou Brock around 1969 and be made to wear his uni like that. Man could wear a uniform like Pavarotti could hit a high C.)

Plus, concessions rival the cost of tuition, and people singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during seventh inning stretches are, generally, already physically at the game so…does that make sense? (You do the math.)

But none of that slows down Today’s Game. What does is the pitcher pretending to do calculus in his head before delivering each one of the 80-to-110 pitches he’ll throw during the game. Meanwhile, the batter takes more time adjusting his gloves and digging in – after most every pitch – than most people take to buy an automobile.

Throw the ball already! Stay in the box! You guys aren’t teaming up to perform a liver transplant. It’s a simple at-bat.

In the corner I keep an old television, and often I have discs in there of baseball games from years ago, decades ago, playing with no sound. I just look over and feel comforted. Recently I saw Mickey Mantle of the Yankees come to the plate against Vern Law of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Vern Law got rid of the ball like it was on fire, and Mantle never left the batter’s box. It was a beautiful thing.

And this was during the seventh and deciding game of the 1960 World Series.

The whole game was like that. It would have taken a pry bar to get Yogi Berra out of the box.

So it can be done. There are even rules in place governing pace of play, but baseball does a poor, poor job of enforcing them. (By “poor job” I mean they don’t enforce them at all.) Instead, almost every pitcher and batter are allowed to constantly get ready for their “Sunset Boulevard” moment, their “close up,” another sad example of how ESPN has changed the world.

October Baseball is here, and I can’t wait…so throw the ball!