Prayers for Nepal

The images of the devastation in Nepal since Saturday’s earthquake are incredible.The death toll stands at more than 4,000 and seems to be climbing by the hundreds with every passing hour.

We have 46 students from Nepal at the university, and the earthquake’s impact on them is deep. Some have lost family members, almost all have lost their homes. It's been a heartbreaking realization for some of our American students to wrap their minds around such a tragic event and try to put themselves in the shoes of our Nepali students – to be attending a college in a foreign country halfway around the world and left to view images of your hometown in ruins with little to no contact with loved ones who live there.

As usual when these types of things happen, after the news broke Saturday, our staff went into action, working on ways to assist these students in any ways possible.

Tonight, our university gathered with our Nepalese students as one community to offer support. As we did to mark the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 and when one of our students was tragically murdered a few years ago, our community surrounded the iconic bell tower that stands in the middle of the campus, and candlelight filled the darkness. It’s always a powerful scene that gives me both chills and great joy just thinking about it.

But there was something more tonight. The gathering culminated with a walk to the university’s international flag plaza – where flags representing the countries of all of our international students are flown. The Nepal flag had been lowered to half-staff in honor of our Nepali students and that country. At the conclusion of tonight’s vigil, Nepali students returned the flag to full-staff and joined in singing their national anthem.

We expected the crowd to blow out their candles and disperse. But instead, some of the Nepali students set their candles on the ground around the flag pole. And the crowd followed, creating a heartwarming tribute to our Nepali students and victims of the earthquake and a beautiful scene.

Frozen fever and two dueling piano siblings

I caught this video on Facebook tonight ... and it's awesome.

On a side note, it's fun to know I can count on anything "Frozen" to stop Faye -- who still requests the "Frozen" soundtrack for her bedtime music on a nightly basis -- or Phoebe in their tracks and distract them from whatever mischief or unending questions they're thinking up.


No baseball today

Last night was the University show choir’s annual spring show, and Kates and I took both girls for the first time. The performance, as usual, was fun and a wonderful showcase of our amazingly talented students – not to mention an opportunity to be introduced to some show tunes with which we were previously unfamiliar. I particularly enjoyed one soloist’s performance of “Stars and the Moon” from “Songs for a New World” and haven’t been able to get it out of my head today. (I just Googled it and learned it’s a Jason Robert Brown composition, which is interesting because I noticed a resemblance to “The Last Five Years” right away.) But more importantly, Phoebe and Faye enjoyed the show, too, and the usually squirrely Faye barely moved a muscle on my lap as long as there was action on the stage.

Of course, we came home and flipped on the Royals game to find the boys playing in a pouring rain in Chicago, which only appeared to make the cold conditions more miserable. The White Sox eventually tied the game, leaving the umpires to suspend play and prevent the game from going into what surely would have been extra innings for the second night in a row. … The remainder of the game was supposed to be played today, along with today’s regularly scheduled game, but both were called off because of more rain.

It worked out well because Phoebe’s afterschool program sponsored an ice skating clinic this afternoon. I took her for the ice skating while Kates and Faye did some shopping. … Shortly after the skating session started some instructors corralled everyone to the middle of the ice to offer some pointers and practice help. But after a few maneuvers, Phoebe only wanted to skate around the rink on her own. She took off right where we left our first skating trip at Crown Center in January. We skated for nearly two hours straight and closed the rink down long after most of the others in her class had left.

But about those Royals …

I had been watching Thursday night’s game but left the room to take care of something in another part of the house as the bottom of the seventh inning was beginning. … I returned to hear the broadcast team referencing a fight that apparently had just occurred. Not again, I thought. Then they began showing the replays.

Five players were ejected, including good ol’ Yordano Ventura, who, in four starts so far this season, has yet to leave a game because of managerial move. Two games by injury, two games by ejection.

Today, four Royals and White Sox players were suspended for the fracas. Fair enough. They all deserved it and no one more than Yordano Ventura and Jeff Samardzija, in my opinion.

But after last weekend's brouhaha with Oakland and now this weekend's series against Chicago, all this talk of the Royals being the “bad boys” of Major League Baseball is getting ridiculous.

Last year, the national media, which wasn’t accustomed to watching the Royals scrap out hits and runs every day, was astonished to see the team make the playoffs. Then, they didn’t give them a fighting chance in their preseason predictions. And now, they’re being knocked around by columnists because they play with emotion and they’re responding to opposing teams are taking shots at them.
To be clear, I don’t like pitchers intentionally throwing at batters, no matter what teams are facing off, and the Royals could have handled all of this better on the field. But they have every right to be playing with a chop on their shoulder.

The Kansas City Star’s Lee Judge does a nice job of breaking down Thursday night’s fight here. …
“Baseball fights tend to involve two guys who are actually mad and a bunch of teammates who come out on the field because baseball protocol demands it. If a teammate gets into an altercation and you don’t come out on the field to protect him, you might as well get on a bus back to Triple-A the next morning; you’ll be an outcast. …

“It’s a fine line: the Royals have to show that they won’t be pushed around — and it seems like teams are trying to push them around — but at the same time the Royals have to keep their eyes on the prize and not let suspensions or fight-related injuries keep them from reaching their goal.”
(Update: 04.27.2015) As he usually does, Joe Posnanski nails it in a column today. …
“So, something is working … and I don’t think the Royals mind this new business of being the heel. I’m quite sure most Royals fans don’t mind it. For years, they were irrelevant. Last season they were fluky. Last October they were quaint. This offseason they were written off.

None of those identities are sustainable for very long. But this theme – loathed, despised, viewed as punks – getting booed in every town, having writers rip them and having players gripe … well maybe it works.”
In other news …


John Mayer's take on "American Pie"

Well, this is pretty cool ...

I was working late Friday night when I noticed several tweets referencing John Mayer performing "American Pie" on the Late Show with David Letterman. And the reviews were positive.

So tonight, Kates and I were catching up on TV and knocking things off our DVR when I cued up Mayer's performance.

The chills started running up and down my spine the moment he started in on this classic, and the feeling continued almost non-stop as Mayer pushed through every verse.



Watch the 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer

So the newest Star Wars trailer was unveiled today.

And, holy crap, it's awesome. To hear the narration of Luke Skywalker. To see the burned-out mask of Darth Vader. And to see Han Solo and Chewie together again o mall their glory.

Can December just get here already!?

The good read of the day comes from the Chicago Tribune. ...
You have never seen more grown men do the no-I'm-not-crying subtle swipe at a tear drop on their faces than you did the moment Harrison Ford turned to his large brown furry sidekick, Chewbacca, and said: “Chewie, we're home.” On Thursday morning here at the Anaheim Convention Center, director J.J Abrams debuted about 90 seconds of new footage of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to a packed room. The occasion was “Star Wars: Celebration,” the enormous, every-once-in-a-Tattooine-moon, Lucasfilm-organized “Star Wars” convention, and when Ford, as Han Solo, and Chewie appeared at the end of the footage, Ron Stein, of Maryland, turned to his brother and said:

“The hair stood on my head.”

Stein is bald.


Hillary Clinton To Nation ...

So Hillary Clinton is back in politics and running for president in 2016. And The Onion captured it hilariously.
... make no mistake, I’m not f***ing around. Got it?” Clinton then ended her announcement by vowing to fight for a better future for all working-class families like the one she grew up in.
In the meantime, see Every Hillary Clinton TIME Cover.


No Wisconsin, part Duke

I thought I would feel better this morning, but this is proving a little harder to swallow than I thought it would be when I went to bed last night.

After so much success against Kentucky Saturday night, our hopes of a national championship for Wisconsin were dashed last night. Duke got the best of them for the second time this season.

Sigh. It sort of has the feeling of the Royals losing Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, with Alex Gordon on third base in the bottom of the ninth inning. … Then again, I consider myself pretty lucky to have had the chance to see two of my home teams reach the championship games in their respective sports within the last year. Plus, I can count on the Packers to be a Super Bowl contender for as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy and sticking around, but I digress …

Much like the day of Game 7, I found it hard to concentrate on much else yesterday. The girls and I met at home after school and work. Then I took Phoebe to her gymnastics class at 7 and anxiously sat through it, knowing the game was tipping off around 8:15 – and I had set the DVR to record it, knowing I was going to miss the first part of it. Phoebe’s class ended at 8, we came home and it was my night to put her to bed. By 8:50, with both girls in bed and settled, Kates and I settled on our living room couches and started watching the game with the national anthem and introduction of the starting lineups. We zipped through the first half commercial-free and caught up to real time about midway through the halftime break.

They opened the second half well and took a nine-point lead with 13 minutes left in the game. All was well.

Then the freshmen, Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones, took over for Duke, and when Allen tied it at 54-54 with an off-balance jump shot, my heart started to sink with the feeling that the game was changing in Duke’s favor. Wisconsin held in, but the momentum was pretty much in Duke’s favor the rest of the way.

Even then, I said at halftime that Wisconsin should have had a five or six-point lead at that point. They were relying a little too freely on outside shots that weren’t falling. And they missed some key opportunities inside. They weren’t aggressive enough driving to the basket. Sam Dekker was off. As one CBS analyst said afterward, it wasn’t the same Wisconsin team that beat Kentucky Saturday night …
On Monday, Wisconsin opened the game uneasily. Sam Dekker’s first shot was an air ball, and Nigel Hayes dropped his first pass. The Badgers missed 12 of their first 18 shots, falling behind, 21-17. After driving for a layup attempt midway through the first quarter, Winslow looked at Cook and mouthed, “They’re soft.”
Then again, Duke fans could have said a lot of the same things had Wisconsin won the game. Duke missed a share of opportunities in the game also that could have helped them put away Wisconsin sooner.

And there’s no need at this point to even touch the ball that supposedly didn’t roll of the fingertips of Duke’s Justise Winslow.
Two minutes, probably dozens of views of multiple angles of replays and three highly trained officials, deemed good enough to be reffing in the biggest game of the year, disagreed with all three CBS analysts, all of Twitter and every American watching. Even a non-delusional Duke fan had to know this ball was out on Winslow.
It hurts, but it was still a darn fun game to watch. And a darn fun run to watch with the Badgers.

Here's a good read about the team by the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot. ... And from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ...
The Badgers will have to settle for a 36-4 mark, a runner-up finish and the knowledge that they took their followers on a magic ride and captivated others with a mix of on-court wizardry and off-court goodwill.
At the same time, it's hard for me to begin to think what the future looks like for Badger basketball. To me, Dekker seems like a guy who is wise enough to stick around and finish what he started, but then again I'm not wearing his shoes.

And so another college basketball season ends, and I’ll wait to see what the next season holds. The chills covered my body the second “One Shining Moment” tipped off, and I felt as though I was holding back tears as the highlight reel played out.

Bring on the baseball. The Royals won 10-1 yesterday, while the Brewers lost 10-0. And the Cubs opener, by fans’ accounts, was a disaster.


On Wisconsin!

Holy moly, they did it. Wisconsin beat Kentucky in the Final Four tonight, ending Kentucky's bid for a perfect season and claiming a spot in Monday night's national championship game.

Just as I predicted when I filled out my bracket, thank you very much. 

All week long, rightly so, the national media were categorizing tonight's game as a title bout, and it totally lived up to the billing. Already the guys on Sportscenter are calling it one of the greatest college basketball games. 

On the other hand, it also seemed as though the national media was barely giving Wisconsin a chance of winning the game. Meanwhile, me and every other Badgers fan who has paid any attention to this team believed Bo Ryan and Wisconsin had the DNA to knock off John Calipari and Kentucky.
Yes, the Wildcats were undefeated: 38-0 entering Saturday’s Final Four rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium, the well-earned favorites to win a ninth national title. But if you thought Wisconsin was going to be intimidated, was going to quake before Kentucky’s mountainous frontcourt and its N.B.A.-quick guards, oh, boy, were you wrong.
Even now as I'm watching the postgame and Sportscenter, the so-called experts are debating Kentucky's place in history as the greatest game. I don't buy it. 

Only when Kentucky went up 5-0 - emphasized with an ally-oop and dunk - to start tonight's game did some doubt creep into my mind. Then Wisconsin came right back to tie it and take a lead, and I thought, Oh yeah, this is going to be Wisconsin's night.

I stood pat in front of TV, cheering and pumping my fists for most of the first half, turning away to do other tasks only during the commercials and whenever Kentucky players were shooting foul shots. Phoebe wanted to watch some of the game with me while Kates put Faye to bed, and we let her even though it was past her bed time, even on Easter eve with a big day tomorrow. I put Phoebe to bed at halftime, and told her as I tucked her in to dream of a Wisconsin victory tonight. Man, is she going to be happy tomorrow - especially since she had Wisconsin winning this game in her bracket, too.

Once the second half began, I couldn't look away if I tried. Wisconsin came out again and clearly played as the better team, even though Kentucky stayed close. The Badgers are too patient, so efficient, so fundamentally sound. 

Yeah, there were some bad calls by the referees. Yeah, Wisconsin should have been slapped with a shot clock violation.

But Kentucky never took advantage. Wisconsin continued to execute - even when they were down by four and the defense pinned Kentucky for three straight shot clock violations.

By the final minutes I had dropped from my standing position in front of the TV To a crouch and was banging the floor on every critical play. Kates was upstairs preparing the girls' Easter baskets for the morning, and I held off from calling her down until I was sure the Badgers were going to hang on. With about a minute left in the game, I called up to her, "Kates, you gotta come down here." She did, and we cheered together for the final minute as Wisconsin absolutely closed it out.

A game for the ages. No matter what happens Monday night against Duke, I will cherish this win for a long time. ... But if Wisconsin wins, I win my office bracket pool.

Good reads (Updated 4.06.2015) ...
"Immersed as we are in the ephemeral freshman star era of college basketball, let us take a moment to appreciate the rare senior who is a different kind of one-and-done. We will watch Kaminsky play his final game for Wisconsin on Monday night, and there likely will not be another like him. Who could imagine another faintly recruited prospect enduring two generally anonymous years at a power conference school, staying the course to become a national player of the year, all while demonstrating no discernible self-awareness as he danced and strapped GoPro cameras to his chest and defended his skills in FIFA 14 Soccer. ...

"Few 7-footers are as slippery and slithery as Kaminsky, with nimble footwork and nifty finishing ability around the rim, while also representing a threat at the arc. (He’s hit 6 of 11 three-pointers during the NCAA tournament.) And fewer still of these players appear out of thin air as college juniors. And still fewer stick around once affixed with first-round draft pick grade no one would have applied to them just months earlier."