Monthly Archives: September 2009

Film: The Maltese Falcon

Bogart and Astor on the poster, not Lorre and Greenstreet. Duh. Uploaded by content.artofmanliness.com.

Bogart and Astor on the poster, not Lorre and Greenstreet. Duh. Uploaded by content.artofmanliness.com.

Dashiell Hammett wrote the book. John Huston directed the film. And Humphrey Bogart made it memorable.

The Maltese Falcon, which premiered in 1941, is usually considered the first entry in the film noir genre. It was Huston’s directorial debut, and also marked the first film appearance of the corpulent Sydney Greenstreet. Also in major parts were the lovely Mary Astor and the supremely creepy Peter Lorre.

Uploaded to Flickr by SonomaPicMan.

Uploaded to Flickr by SonomaPicMan.

The movie was made with three variations from typical filmmaking techniques that would amaze the modern movie maker. First, the entire film was shot in sequence, which the actors loved. Second, production was so meticulously planned that almost no lines of dialogue were cut. And third, much of the dialogue was taken directly from the novel. Imagine that, respecting the source material.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, but didn’t win. It battled for Best Picture against Citizen Kane (Great American Thing No.: 110), Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Suspicion, and the winner, How Green Was My Valley. The American Film Institute named it the number 32 Greatest Movie of All Time, and number 6 in the Mystery genre.

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Singer: Tony Bennett

Think of all the people who lose it as they get old. Not Tony. Uploaded to Flickr by General Erin.

Think of all the people who lose it as they get old. Not Tony. Uploaded to Flickr by General Erin.

Anthony Benedetto turned 83 in August, and here’s a news flash: The man can still belt a tune. My wife and I went to see him in Atlanta a couple of years back, figuring we might not have another chance. But he’s still touring, and still “has it.”

Tony is one of “The Greatest Generation”, a World War II veteran who began his singing career after the war. He was discovered by Pearl Bailey, and signed to his first major record contract by Mitch Miller. He recorded his first number one song and million seller, “Because of You,” in 1951.

1951. As in 58 years ago.

Uploaded by alscenter.org.

Uploaded by alscenter.org.

Tony has always stayed true to himself and his style, even when rock music seemed to sweep away all the attention from those who sang jazz standards. He went through some difficult years, a divorce, financial hardship, and finally no recording contract. Oddly, the person who helped change his life was his son, Danny. He booked Tony on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien so he could be seen by a younger audience. And they liked him. Tony remembered, “I realized that young people had never heard those songs. Cole Porter, Gershwin – they were like, ‘Who wrote that?’ To them, it was different. If you’re different, you stand out.”

Over the years he’s received the recognition he’s due. Fifteen Grammys, two Emmys, recognition by the Kennedy Center Honors, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s an incredible talent, and no less a critic than Frank Sinatra said of him, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more.”

Bingo. Benedetto.

The Arts: Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe in Santa Fe, by photographer Tony Vaccaro for Look Magazine (1960).

Georgia O'Keeffe in Santa Fe, by photographer Tony Vaccaro for Look Magazine (1960).

When Georgia O’Keeffe first pursued her art, she found herself stifled by the demands of imitative realism, the style taught in art schools. Though she won awards, she didn’t feel comfortable. Fortunately, she came under the influence of a teacher who helped her realize she could use art to express her feelings and ideas, and her imagination and creativity were unleashed.

In 1924, O’Keeffe created Petunia, No. 2, her first large-scale painting of a flower at close range, as if seen through a magnifying glass. These paintings sold for large sums, making her one of America’s most successful artists of the period.

Uploaded to Flickr by blores.

Uploaded to Flickr by blores.

Another theme for which O’Keeffe is known came as a result of her visit to New Mexico in 1929. Traveling through Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, she grew to love the rugged mountains and deserts of the Southwest. These landscapes, stark architectures, and animal bones became an integral part of her work. She spent time in New Mexico almost every year, and finally moved there permanently in 1949.

More than 500 examples of her works are in over 100 public collections in Asia, Europe, and North and Central America, and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford in 1977.

Travel: Greenwich Village

Every Village street is like finding another surprise. Uploaded by cs.helsinki.fi.

Every Village street is like finding another surprise. Uploaded by cs.helsinki.fi.

The first several times I went to visit New York City, I wanted to be close to the places I came to see – Rockefeller Center, the Theater District, MOMA. So I stayed in Midtown, and it felt right. But on my most recent trip, I wanted to have a real neighborhood experience. And what better choice than maybe the most famous neighborhood in the world – Greenwich Village.

The Village is in lower Manhattan. Uploaded by modernspacesnyc.com.

The Village is in lower Manhattan. Uploaded by modernspacesnyc.com.

Physically, the Village is bordered by 14th Street on the north, Houston Street on the south, Broadway on the east, and the Hudson River on the west. A generation ago it was a home for the young and the beat generation, hosting writers such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Today, most artists can’t afford to live in the Village, which has gentrified over the years.

Reflecting its history, some of the streets are narrow and proceed at irregular angles. Good luck finding your way when West 4th Street crosses West 11th.

The famous arch in Washington Square Park. Uploaded to Flickr by wallyg.

The famous arch in Washington Square Park. Uploaded to Flickr by wallyg.

Some of the places that make the Village special include: Washington Square Park, NYU, clubs such as the Village Vanguard, The Blue Note and The Bitter End, the fabulous Magnolia Bakery, and great restaurants like Agave, Tartine, Po, Spotted Pig, and Little Owl.

If you go, the Original Greenwich Village Food and Culture Walking Tour is a great way to see the neighborhood. A local guide will take tell you about the area’s history and culture, and you’ll go to small mom and pop restaurants for tastings of the local cuisine. A feast for the eyes, the mind, and the palate!

Americana: Tailgating

It's hard to beat an SEC tailgate. Uploaded by a.espncdn.com.

It's hard to beat an SEC tailgate. Uploaded by a.espncdn.com.

Long gone are the days when tailgating was limited to fried chicken and potato salad. Go to a ballgame today and you’ll see exclusive set-ups that would be the envy of a Beverly Hills caterer.

One group at an NFL stadium builds a football temple each week. Three pop-up tents contain gas grills, cookstoves, 10 folding tables, a satellite dish, and a wide-screen TV. And the food would make the Food Network jealous. Lobster tails, steaks, crab, and turducken. (Yes, it’s what it sounds like.) And, of course, lots of adult beverages.

Hokies are as good in the parking lot as on the field. Uploaded by vtmagazine.vt.edu.

Hokies are as good in the parking lot as on the field. Uploaded by vtmagazine.vt.edu.

Of course, most people’s idea of tailgating isn’t to build a mobile four-star restaurant. Take me, for example. I’m happy with burgers on a hibachi, barbecue and baked beans, homemade banana pudding, and sweet tea. Oh, baby.

Here are 10 things to bring to a tailgate (which you could easily forget), courtesy of tailgating.com: 1. Jumper cables 2. Toilet paper 3. Plastic trash bags 4. Extra ice 5. Rain gear 6. First-aid kit 7. Sun block 8. A newbie 9. Comfortable shoes 10. Antacid

Food: Brunswick Stew

It's officially fall - time for Brunswick Stew. Uploaded to Flickr by Evening Edge.com.

It's officially fall - time for Brunswick Stew. Uploaded to Flickr by Evening Edge.com.

Sorry, Brunswick County, NC – you’re too late getting in this argument. Looks like Brunswick, GA and Brunswick County, VA are the big dogs in this fight. Well, let’s not talk about dogs in the context of Brunswick stew. Squirrels, maybe. Rabbits, probably.

Brunswick Co. Virginia makes its claim. Uploaded to Flickr by jimmywayne.

Brunswick Co. Virginia makes its claim. Uploaded to Flickr by jimmywayne.

Wherever Brunswick Stew actually originated, it’s clear that it was a “throw whatever meat you’ve got” into the pot concoction. Today, you’ll usually find chicken as the primary meat, which suits modern sensibilities.

And Georgia makes its claim. Uploaded by img.groundspeak.com.

And Georgia makes its claim. Uploaded by img.groundspeak.com.

As recently as 1939, a recipe for Brunswick Stew ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that called for (among other things) a whole pig’s head, heart, liver and feet. Hop on down to Kroger and look for that, why dontcha.

In our household, we use the Southern Living magazine recipe. We’re fixing it this weekend, as fall has officially arrived. And trust me – it’s gooood. Here’s the recipe:

SOUTHERN LIVING MAGAZINE’S BRUNSWICK STEW

1 (3 lb.) whole chicken (we use 2.5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast)
1.5 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 (16 oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1 lb. red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon hot sauce (we use a lot more)
1.5 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (16 oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (16 oz.) can lima beans, drained

Directions:
1. COOK chicken in a large Dutch oven in boiling water to cover 45 minutes or until done.
2. REMOVE chicken from broth, reserving broth for another use. Cool chicken. Skin, bone, and chop chicken.
3. SAUTE onion and bell pepper in hot oil in Dutch oven until tender. Add chicken, tomato, and next four ingredients.
4. COMBINE flour and 1 cup water, whisking until smooth. Stir into chicken mixture. Add potato and next five ingredients.
5. COVER and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes (until potatoes are tender). Add corn and lima beans, and cook 10 minutes.

They say it makes 16 servings. Not in my house…more like 8 to 10.

Actor: Robert De Niro

De Niro gained 60 pounds (after this poster, obviously) for his role in Raging Bull. Uploaded by deniro.narod.ru.

De Niro gained 60 pounds (after this poster, obviously) for his role in Raging Bull. Uploaded by deniro.narod.ru.

“You talkin’ to me?” No, Bobby, I was just doing today’s… “You talkin’ to me?” …today’s post, that’s all. Put the gun down, okay? “You talkin’ to me?” Uh, not really… “Well then, who the hell else are you talking to?” Okay, it was a great scene, but… “You talkin’ to me? I’m the only one here.”

I love Robert De Niro. I’ve seen many of his movies, and like Robert Duvall (Great American Thing No. 135) I think he’s incapable of giving a bad performance. Two of his lesser-known roles are my favorites – as Sam in Ronin (1998), probably the best car-chase movie ever, and as bounty hunter Jack Walsh opposite Charles Grodin in Midnight Run (1988).

Uploaded by smh.com.au.

Uploaded by smh.com.au.

De Niro’s made something of a specialty in playing mobster parts. Let’s see. There’s The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight, The Godfather: Part II, Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables, Goodfellas, Casino, and Analyze This and That. Dese. Dem. Dose. You know if there’s a movie in development about mobsters, the producers will be saying, “I wonder if we can get De Niro.”

He’s been nominated for six Oscars and won two (Raging Bull and The Godfather: Part II). Oh, and De Niro has a new picture coming out next year called Frankie Machine. Guess what part he plays? Yep, he’s a retired mob hit man who’s lured back to the job. What were the chances?

Person: Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted after she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. Uploaded by mindfully.org.

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted after refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. Uploaded by mindfully.org.

She worked her shift as a seamstress, a day like any other in a job that didn’t change much. She took her seat on the city bus, no more tired than usual on that Thursday afternoon in 1955. But then the bus driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white passenger. Rosa stayed seated until America at last stood up full civil rights for all Americans.

Rosa has been celebrated and honored for her action, but the immediate consequences were much less pleasant. She was arrested and spent a day in jail, then lost her job at the Montgomery Fair department store. She received so many threats that she moved from Alabama to Detroit in 1957 for her safety.

Uploaded by estatevaults.com.

Uploaded by estatevaults.com.

Rosa’s actions led to a 381-day boycott of city buses organized by a newly formed group called the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA was led by an obscure 26-year-old pastor who quickly galvanized America: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rosa Parks received a number of honors for her courageous stand, including the Springarn Medal given by the NAACP, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she was named one of the 20 most influential and iconic people of the 20th century by Time
magazine.

Sports: “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias

Babe set world records in the javelin and hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics. Uploaded by z.about.com.

Babe set world records in the javelin and hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics. Uploaded by z.about.com.

It’s a shame that so many of you will see this name, and not recognize perhaps the greatest female athlete of the 20th century. No one – male or female – has ever succeeded at such a high level in so many sports as Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

She played competitive baseball and softball. She was an All-American who led a team to the AAU basketball championship. She won Olympic medals in the javelin throw, hurdles, and high jump. She played competitive pool. She was outstanding in bowling, handball, diving, and tennis.

Babe won every tournament there was - usually more than once. Uploaded by salempress.com.

Babe won every tournament there was - usually more than once. Uploaded by salempress.com.

But it’s for golf, a sport she took up after her basketball career, for which she gained the most accolades. She won a total of 55 amateur and professional tournaments, including 13 amateur events in a row. And she was one of the founders of the LPGA in 1949. She drove the ball far and straight – “You’ve got to loosen your girdle and let it rip,” she said.

Babe was named Woman Athlete of the 20th Century by the Associated Press, and was number 10 on ESPN’s list of the top 50 athletes of the 20th century. Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote this about Babe: “She is beyond all belief until you see her perform. Then you finally understand that you are looking at the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination, the world of sport has ever seen.”

Americana: Miniature Golf

Mount Atlanticus in Myrtle Beach. Uploaded by jimvid.smugmug.com.

Mount Atlanticus in Myrtle Beach. Uploaded by jimvid.smugmug.com.

Somehow I managed to wait a week after returning from Myrtle Beach to honor miniature golf as a Great American Thing. I waited in sympathy for my wife, who thinks every year that she’ll finally beat me. She’s like Charlie Brown, thinking that this time Lucy won’t jerk the football away before he kicks.

“You’re so cruel,” she said as I read her the preceding paragraph. Just being a reporter, honey. Fair and balanced and all that.

No less an authority than the US ProMiniGolf Association (yes, the USPMGA) proclaims Myrtle Beach as the miniature golf capital of the world. According to its Convention and Visitors Bureau, it has more than 50 courses. But this isn’t about MB, it’s about m.g.

Jungle Lagoon in Myrtle Beach. Uploaded by jimvid.smugmug.com.

Jungle Lagoon in Myrtle Beach. Uploaded by jimvid.smugmug.com.

If the game you remember had the motorized windmill, you probably still have a rotary phone. Today’s miniature golf courses have elaborate, Disneyesque themes – crashed airplanes, jungle safaris, pirate adventures. They have tunnels, cable cars, train rides – a full multisensory experience.

But one thing hasn’t changed, probably since the first miniature “Tom Thumb” courses were developed in the 1920s. And that’s the miniature pencil. If you take one home, you can use them for other things, such as…uh… Huh.

Americana: Bald Eagle

I wouldn't want to cross him, would you? National Geographic photo uploaded by fatfinch.wordpress.com.

I wouldn't want to cross him, would you? National Geographic photo uploaded by fatfinch.wordpress.com.

Can we all take a moment and be grateful that, for all his contributions to our nation’s founding, Ben Franklin didn’t get his wish that the turkey become our national bird? I mean, I like turkey at Thanksgiving as much as the next guy, but for majesty and stature, it’s hard to match the bald eagle.

The bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America. It’s no longer on the list of endangered wildlife, I’m happy to report, though it’s still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. (As is the chimney swift, as I found out all too well this summer.)

Uploaded by pwlf.org.

Uploaded by pwlf.org.

For today’s lesson in Old English, we find that the word “bawld” originally meant “white,” not “hairless.” And as you can see in these pictures, the bald eagle is crowned in white, much like Steve Martin or James Coburn. Or me, for that matter.

About half of the population of about 70,000 live in Alaska, and another 20,000 reside in nearby British Columbia. One of the primary reasons for the concentration in the Pacific Northwest is the presence of salmon, the favorite food of bald eagles. I doubt if Ben Franklin ever tasted, or for that matter, ever heard of salmon. No wonder he thought the gobbler was nobler.

TV Show: Star Trek

While the cast was good, the concept mattered most in Star Trek. Uploaded by rimworlds.com.

While the cast was good, the concept mattered most in Star Trek. Uploaded by rimworlds.com.

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” First, Star Trek split the infinitive. Then they split open the entertainment world with a franchise that’s included several TV series, movies, video games, and William Shatner albums.

Hard to believe, but the original series only lasted three seasons. It premiered in 1966 and wasn’t an immediate hit. In fact, the ratings were so low after the first season that there was some discussion within Desilu, its production company, about pulling the plug. But, according to one story, Star Trek was saved by one of the earliest Trekkies – Lucille Ball, who persuaded NBC to keep the series alive. It limped through two more years, a total of 79 episodes in all, before succumbing for good.

In space, no one can hear you sing. Uploaded by tvparty.com.

In space, no one can hear you sing. Uploaded by tvparty.com.

For what was by measurable standards a mediocre program, Star Trek managed to inspire the imagination of millions. Much of the credit has to go to the characterizations communicated by its stars. William Shatner has never been the most remarkable actor, but you did believe he could have been the captain of the Enterprise. Leonard Nimoy was completely believable as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock. And DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and George Takei made up a convincing supporting cast.

Star Trek was the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry, who had a vision and saw it through to its success. Roddenberry had extensive experience writing the westerns which were a huge part of TV programming at the time, so he pitched Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the stars.”

Many of the original episodes are available in their entirety on YouTube. Here’s the introduction to the original series; maybe you’ve forgotten how incredibly cheesy the original theme music was.

Film: The Verdict

In my opinion, Paul Newman's best performance. Uploaded by kartiksingh.wordpress.com.

In my opinion, Paul Newman's best performance. Uploaded by kartiksingh.wordpress.com.

Movie fans, and Paul Newman fans in particular, can debate his most outstanding role. For me, it’s his portrayal of recovering alcoholic Frank Galvin in The Verdict.

I’d watch anything directed by Sidney Lumet, written by David Mamet, and starring Paul Newman. In The Verdict, they created a film that’s compelling as both a legal drama and as a character study.

Paul Newman as lawyer Frank Galvin. Uploaded by videodetective.com.

Paul Newman as lawyer Frank Galvin. Uploaded by videodetective.com.

Galvin, a shell of a lawyer and man, is given a medical malpractice case by a former associate (Jack Warden) so he can settle and have money to sustain himself. But Galvin realizes that if he settles the case, he’s lost – so he takes the case to court.

The film has great supporting performances by Warden, Charlotte Rampling, James Mason, and Milo O’Shea. Newman, Mason, Lumet, and Mamet all received Academy Award nominations, and the movie was nominated for Best Picture. The video is of Galvin’s summation, and you realize he’s not just talking about his case, but about his life. Notice how Lumet has every spectator remain completely still so all the focus is on Newman.

Singer: James Brown

"The Godfather of Soul." Uploaded by asymptoia.com.

James Brown closed his act as no one before or since. He’d give so much of himself, work himself so hard, that he appeared to finally collapse from exhaustion. An assistant would come with a cape, and lead Brown offstage as The Famous Flames continued playing. Then the singer would shrug off the cape and do a series of encores.

He probably had more nicknames (mostly self-proclaimed) than anyone in music history. He was “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” He was “Soul Brother Number One.” He was “Mr. Dynamite.” He was “The King of Funk.” And, probably most appropriate of all, he was “The Godfather of Soul.”

A classic move. Uploaded by heyokay.com.

A classic move. Uploaded by heyokay.com.

Brown was one of the first black entertainers to consciously work to draw young white audiences. He did it with some of the greatest songs of the sixties and early seventies, including six that made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Please, Please, Please,” “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.”

He got in trouble with the law in the nineties, and served three years in prison for drug and driving offenses. And he was arrested several times on domestic abuse charges. This is a good time to remember that not every person named a “Great American Thing” lived an exemplary life. But James Brown’s music and performances are so legendary and influential – he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s (Great American Things No: 145) initial class, and he’s number seven in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time – that he definitely earned his place on this list.

Now, watch this dancing – Michael Jackson only hoped he could be this smooth:

Travel: Denali National Park

Uploaded to Flickr by NaturalLight.

Uploaded to Flickr by NaturalLight.

I’ve not been to Alaska yet to see Denali National Park, but I’ve just been overwhelmed by the beauty I’ve seen on video and in photos. Today’s video does an excellent job giving you the Park’s story, so here are some of those gorgeous pictures of this national treasure.

Uploaded to Flickr by 4xthewildcat.

Uploaded to Flickr by 4xthewildcat.

Uploaded to Flickr by JLMphoto.

Uploaded to Flickr by JLMphoto.

Uploaded by softpedia.com.

Uploaded by softpedia.com.

Uploaded by wallpaperme.com.

Uploaded by wallpaperme.com.

Uploaded by dijitalsanat.com.

Uploaded by dijitalsanat.com.

Photo by Dave Showalter, uploaded at daveshowalter.com.

Photo by Dave Showalter, uploaded at daveshowalter.com.

The Arts: e.e. cummings

Such playful fun with language. Uploaded to Flickr by ed ed.

Such playful fun with language. Uploaded to Flickr by ed ed.

Edward Estlin Cummings kicked the staid world of poetry in its assonance.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did

Looking back, it’s easy to criticize some of his experimentation with form as silly, but it broke ground that needed to be broken. His two great themes were nature and love.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

Uploaded to Flickr by brodiemanisu.

Uploaded to Flickr by brodiemanisu.

Cummings was socially aware, and often quite satirical and caustic. But the feeling you can’t help but walk away from his poetry with is joy, a true joy of living.

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

In addition to poetry, Cummings wrote novels, plays, and children’s books, and he was a talented painter as well.

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

In lieu of a video tonight, here’s one of my favorite Cummings poems, first shown to me by a girl named Polly during my freshman year in college. Polly, thanks for pointing me toward this wonderful poetic force.

Chansons Innocentes: I
by E. E. Cummings

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and
the
goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

Sports: Secretariat

Jockey Ron Turcotte aboard "Big Red." Uploaded by best-horse-photos.com.

Thoroughbred racing has seen some beautiful and powerful steeds. Eleven have won the prestigious Triple Crown. Memorable names such as Gallant Fox, Whirlaway, and Citation. But the greatest horse ever to step onto the track was – Secretariat.

He was a Virginia horse, born at Meadow Farm in Caroline County. His mama was Somethingroyal, and his pa was Bold Ruler. He was chestnut in color, grew to a svelte 1,175 pounds at maturity, and earned the nickname “Big Red.”

Secretariat lost his first-ever race, and didn’t like the feeling. So he reeled of five consecutive wins to feel better about himself. He was named American Horse of the Year as a two-year-old, a feat only accomplished by one horse in the 37 years since.

Secretariat, charging to victory. Uploaded by circledhorses.com.

Secretariat, charging to victory. Uploaded by circledhorses.com.

Then came his Triple Crown season. He actually finished third in the Wood Derby, a major tune-up for the Kentucky Derby. Then came his first appearance on the big stage, and Secretariat made the most of it. All he did was set the track record time in the mile and a quarter, a record that has never been broken. He also ran each quarter mile faster than the one before it – he was still accelerating when the race ended. A few weeks later at the Preakness, Big Red moved from the back to the front of the pack in a quick move and never relinquished the lead.

Then came the Belmont Stakes, and the chance to win the first Triple Crown since the great Citation in 1948. With all that pressure, what did Secretariat do? He just ran the most amazing race in Triple Crown history, winning by an unbelievable 31 lengths and setting a new world record time.

ESPN Classic named that Belmont run as the second most amazing performance in sports history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. Americans love fast horses, so it’s no wonder that even now, Secretariat is revered as no horse has been before or since.

People: Orville and Wilbur Wright

Fly, Wilbur, fly! Photo uploaded by Wikipedia.org.

Fly, Wilbur, fly! Photo uploaded by Wikipedia.org.

As Orville piloted their flying machine a week before Christmas in 1903 and Wilbur ran alongside, do you think the Wright Boys had any inkling that their contraption would lead to a radical change in the mobility of the world’s population, to aerial warfare, and to travel into space itself?

Probably not. The two brothers from Dayton, Ohio just knew that they had accomplished something they’d been working on for years – the first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air flight.

They’d spent the previous years building gliders so they could get the elusive control of the aircraft that was proving to be the main stumbling block to success. Several of their contemporaries who were also striving to be first in the air died as a result of lack of control during flight, so the Wrights knew their future depended on their engineering expertise.

The Smith Brothers. No, sorry, the Wright Brothers. Uploaded by kidcyber.com.au.

The Smith Brothers. No, sorry, the Wright Brothers. Uploaded by kidcyber.com.au.

First they built kites, testing mechanisms for steering. Then they built gliders, continuing to modify wings and rudders. They took their experiments to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina because of its consistent winds and soft, sandy landing areas. During fall of 1902 they made between 700 and 1000 glider flights lasting up to 26 seconds.

Finally, they were ready for a patent for their flying machine. They had the mechanic in their bicycle shop build their first engine in just six weeks. Their final airplane was 40 feet long, weighed 625 pounds, and had a 12 horsepower engine. It was enough to get Wilbur off the ground to a height of 10 feet and a distance of 120 feet in 12 seconds, a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. The brothers alternated three more flights, the last of which covered 200 feet.

While some have disputed the Wright Brothers’ claim to making the first airplane flight, their efforts are recognized by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the international record-keeping organization for aeronautics. The original Wright Aeroplane is now on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Actor: Jack Nicholson

Jack got a busted nose in Chinatown. Uploaded by cinemaisdope.com.

Jack got a busted nose in Chinatown. Uploaded by cinemaisdope.com.

Jack Nicholson has played some of the most fascinating roles in movie history. He’s been the Joker in Batman… J.J. Gittes in Chinatown… Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest… Jack Torrance in The Shining… and Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men. And that’s just some of the high points.

H-e-e-e-re's Johnny! Uploaded to Flickr by stephen-kingdotch.

H-e-e-e-re's Johnny! Uploaded to Flickr by stephen-kingdotch.

One of the ways we know an actor is truly great is that he makes each part so distinctively his own that we can’t imagine anyone else in the role. And with Nicholson, there’s an edge about him that helps make his every character unpredictable.

I don’t consider Five Easy Pieces a highlight of his career, but the diner scene is quintessential Nicholson. He wants breakfast made his way, and the waitress won’t allow any substitutions. Look at how Jack controls every moment of this scene:

While it seems that Nicholson dominates most of his movies, in each of his movies for which he’s won Academy Awards, his co-star also won Best Actress: Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Great American Thing No. 140), Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets, and Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. In addition to the three wins, he’s been nominated nine additional times. He received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1994.

Oh, and he also played the President of the United States in Mars Attacks! Ack ack. Ack ack ack.

History: Ground Zero

We remember. We'll always remember. Uploaded by photosthatchangedtheworld.com.

We remember. We'll always remember. Uploaded by photosthatchangedtheworld.com.

The World Trade Center towers proved to be an irresistible target to Islamic terrorists. They attacked it first in 1993, hoping to topple the North Tower into the South Tower. Fortunately, “only” six people were killed. But we didn’t take them seriously. So on September 11, 2002, they finished the job they’d started, this time killing nearly 3,000.

It’s important not to forget the details of those traumatic and treacherous strikes, because those attacks were on us. Not on military professionals who accepted danger as part of their mission, but on civilians. They were our wives and husbands, our parents and children, our friends and co-workers. They were at work, providing for their families, building their futures. They held no particular animosity toward Islam, probably never gave world religions or their grievances a thought.

One rendering of what Ground Zero might become. Uploaded by hawtaction.com.

One rendering of what Ground Zero might become. Uploaded by hawtaction.com.

Also among the dead were brave New York firefighters and police officers, men and women who embodied the concepts of honor, duty, and valor. They knew their jobs and did them, without regard to their own personal safety. If you ever need an example of what a hero embodies, look no further than those who served so selflessly on September 11.

Ever since the country recovered from its initial shock, it was clear that Ground Zero is a living monument. Yet even now, eight years later, there’s not complete agreement on what should be built on the site. New York apparently sees the practical need to replace some of the office space that was eliminated. But the initial plan called for a number of towers to be built, and the current economic climate doesn’t support that much space. And as one person observed, would you place an office tower over the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor? Or allow an IHOP to be built at Auschwitz?

I think the site should be used solely as a monument to the people who lost their lives there on September 11. The rest should be a memorial park. Anything else risks turning an important part of American history into a commercial enterprise – and that could be an unforgivable desecration of hallowed ground.