By Jove, I Think He’s Got It!!

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With the Chicago Cubs surging toward the playoffs in part due to the play of four rookies, Third Baseman Kris Bryant, Shortstop Addison Russell and Outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, it’s easy to forget that there’s more talent in the high minors that may help the stretch drive.

Infielder Javier Baez, a top 10 prospect by nearly all judging, spent two months in the big leagues last season and he looked well, raw. He hit a home run in his first game, and in his first home game, but otherwise, he struck out a lot as in A LOT. 95K’s in 229 plate appearances, or 43.3% of the time. It often seemed as if he was swinging at balls that were closer to the On Deck Circle than the plate.

The saving grace was that Baez was only 21 at the time, young for a major leaguer. He has spent 2015 back in AAA ball, and it’s been an up and down year. He missed the first few weeks of the season due to a death in the family, Then upon his return he broke a bone in his hand and missed more time. But looky here, his last 10 games Baez has amassed 45 plate appearances and only nine strikeouts, and this plate discipline is trending. He hasn’t struck out in any of last three games. During this time he’s hitting .462, yes, I said .462, 19 hits in 42 at bats, two dingers, three walks, three stolen bases, and yes, only nine strikeouts. The nice thing is that it rings true to his season. In 63 games his slash line is an impressive .315/.383/.542 in 283 plate appearances he has struck out only 70 times or 24.7% of the time. Just for comparison, last season he struck out 30% of the time in AAA.

I think he’s getting this plate discipline thing figured out.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer has said that they’ll bring Baez up only case of urgent need. With the team winning so much, there may not be an urgent need, but a middle infielder with .925 OPS and a rapidly declining strike out rate might create his own urgency.

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Yeah, She’s Naked. Get Over It

A coupla months ago, I got together with an old friend from college. It was a friend I hung out with often in school and frequently after, but I hadn’t seen him in probably 20 years. He fell off the radar shortly after getting married. He’d moved to Delaware and now lived in Florida.

As is often the case with old friends, within a few minutes we were talking amiably and enthusiastically as if we’d traded email last week. When I mentioned my eagerness to get back in shape, he fondly recalled that I used to wear a variety of yoga pants (they were called running tights back then) and unitards as casual fashion. I reached for my phone and showed him a photo from 2002 of me in a Jean Paul Gaultier catsuit. I’m quite proud of it as it documents me at my most fit, flamboyant and fashionable. We chatted about the suit for a bit, then he decided to scroll through my photo gallery.

This surprised me, but I’m new to smartphone ettiquette. I quickly told him the rest of the gallery was of the women who inspire me toward my fitness goals or in general inspire me due to their poise and athleticism.

The first picture was of a woman bodypainted head to toe in a design that looks like a purple floral zentai with artful seams walking down Duval Street in Key West during Fantasy Fest in 2004. A woman is chatting with her and both are grinning, painted woman graciously and the other woman looks almost intoxicated by painted woman’s presence. I know I always am; she’s nude amid thousands of clothed people, many of them have been drinking for hours, yet her presence is well, charming. And why not, she’s just won the body paint competition. The picture holds consistent interest for me as the men in the picture always look constipated to me, as if they can’t quite wrap their minds around what’s going on, when to me it’s obvious, this woman overcame her inhibitions and in a very generous way is sharing that triumph. Why not identify with her rather than sulk over the fact that you can’t have sex with her?

Maybe it’s because I live in New York City or maybe its because I lived in Dallas in the ’70s when women responded to the Texas heat by wearing as little as possible, but I’m keenly aware that I’m actually going to make it with a very small fraction of 1% of the women I find interesting and attractive, so I better find other avenues to appreciate their virtues. I was taught to learn from the strengths of others around you, and as a basically shy guy, I’m always moved by those who triumph over their inhibitions. It’s something I work at every day (and occasionally succeed as in that photo of me in the Gaultier catsuit),

I looked at my friend, and to my slight chagrin, he had the same constipated look as the men in the photo. He moved on to the next picture and his constipation turned to utter bewilderment. Purple woman has asked me not to share her photos but I have permission to share the next few. It is of a bondage art piece called Double Straddled and features the model Wenona, the model/rigger Maria Shadoes and the rigger Lew Rubens. To me, it’s one of the most amazing pieces of rope artistry ever created.

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Your eyes do not deceive you. Wenona, who is on the left in the first two photos, and Maria have their legs in a Chinese split and each is bound to a bamboo pole. In my days of devout yoga practice, four or five classes a week, I could get pretty close to doing a regular split, but I never got my legs much more than 120 degrees on a side split. These ladies are at almost180 and bound! In addition, the arm position is extreme, and to be elevated puts even more strain on the body. Maria conceived the pose and she and Lew did it singly before they befriended Wenona for this 2005 shoot. I corresponded with Rubens who told me that the bind lasted about an hour in terms getting the women in rope, elevating, photographing, lowering and untying. That’s an amazing feat of athleticism and endurance.

I explained this to my friend; he nodded, but his expression remained unchanged. He pushed the phone back to me saying he grasped all that, but he said with an expression bordering on a snarl, “why were they naked?”

My friend is no prude, so this initially caught me off guard (the Groucho Marx in me wanted to point out that Lew was wearing clothes but I refrained). I started to explain that the rope marks are part of the photographic aim, and I also began to wonder what sort of outfits he expected. Then I realized his reaction was consistent with his response to Purple Woman. He was probably put off by the fact that Wenona, Maria and Purple Lady were nude without any implicit attention to the arousal he might feel. In other words, they were/are hard to objectify, but that’s kind of wonderful. Very few people like being objectified and instead there are much richer possibilities from recognizing a woman’s sexiness as one of *many* admirable traits about her.

Then I realized that that might be a mouthful for a casual conversation that was on its third beer, so we switched to updating each other on college pals and left it at that. But my rant stuck in my craw, so I put it out here.

In general, I think a woman whether nude in front of a camera or full dressed on the street briefcase in hand has her own agenda first. I like head strong people and risk takers. Take Wenona for instance, she’s developed a remarkable physique, bared it all, and trusted Lew and Maria in what has to be considered a difficult position. I’m nowhere near that dedicated to my fitness (I was and hope to be again sometime soon), nor am I physically self confident enough to bare myself in front of cameras and others (the photo shoot was the centerpiece of a party of Lew’s with a couple dozen attendees). Lastly, the trust element is also beyond me. I consider these all virtues and admire Wenona immensely for her work. I also love Maria, who sadly passed away a few years ago, for both creating an extreme position and modeling it herself (talk about walking the walk!). And of course, Lew did both amazing precision ropework then the literal heavy lifting to elevate the women and he managed the photo shoot.

My encounter with my old friend led me to believe that we haven’t come as far we think we have in terms of gender equality and that we need to get there soon. We’re missing out on appreciating  a lot of potential inspiration!!

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This is What a Window Opening Looks LIke

Chicago_Cubs2A championship contention window, that is.

The Chicago Cubs have won 15 of their last 16 games, and the team has been led by all star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a stellar pitching staff, and four rookies. Here are their slash lines in the last seven days.

SS Addison Russell (21 years old) .318/.360/.500

3B Kris Bryant (23 years old) .360/.448/.680

OF Jorge Soler (23 years old) .273/.333/.273

C/OF Kyle Schwarber (22 years old) .222/.333/.444

All four are top 20 prospects and the 14 day runs of Schwarber (.304/.400/.674) and Soler (.326/.408/.349) pur them on pace with their peers.

No, this isn’t your usual Cubs team or even your usual Cubs contending team. This bunch should be a contender for a while.

#InTheoWeTrust indeed.

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At The Root on Five Summer Beers with Michael Ferguson

I chatted and corresponded with Michael Ferguson of Beer Geeks TV about his five favorite styles of summer beers.

http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/08/_5_perfect_beers_for_summer.html?wpisrc=topstories

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At The Root on Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango

It’s undeniable and it’s the subject of a new documentary.

http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/08/tango_negro_a_new_film_exposes_the_truth_about_tango_s_african_roots.html

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At WSJ on Jenny Scheinman’s New Band

http://www.wsj.com/articles/jenny-scheinman-bridges-genres-with-violin-143863698

Jenny Scheinman Bridges Genres With Violin

Jenny Scheinman’s lates album, ‘The Littlest Prisoner,’ and a recent performance show her skillfully mixing her roots in jazz and Americana

Jenny Scheinman performing in Washington this February. ENLARGE
Jenny Scheinman performing in Washington this February. Photo: Kyle Gustafson / For The Washington Post via Getty Images

New York

Jenny Scheinman, a violinist, singer and composer who performed recently at the Village Vanguard, has crafted distinctive careers in two contrasting musical genres, progressing in both at an impressive pace.

Ms. Scheinman grew up in Petrolia, Calif. The daughter of two folk musicians, she played piano and violin as a youth and earned a degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley in 1995. She spent four years in the Bay Area as a professional musician before moving to New York 16 years ago. Quickly rising to the first rank of the city’s improvising musicians, she played her violin with such leading jazzmen as pianist Jason Moran and guitarist Bill Frisell.

In the early 2000s, she became an in-demand player on both the jazz and Americana scenes. She played with Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams and Norah Jones; and her jazz chops won her gigs ranging from Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks Orchestra to the Ben Allison Band. Her most notable gig was a weekly Tuesday evening engagement at Barbes in Brooklyn. It was there that she nurtured both sides of her musical personality, sometimes with high-profile guests. One evening Ms. Scheinman began her set by explaining “we are going to tell stories tonight, some with words, some without.” It’s an apt description of her career.

In 2005—encouraged by Ms. Jones, who employed Ms. Scheinman in her backing band on her debut recording, “Come Away With Me” (Blue Note, 2002)—Ms. Scheinman formed an ensemble to showcase her vocal talents; she has released two recordings as a folk singer. For most of the past two years, Ms. Scheinman, who is 42, has focused on her vocal career. Last year, she released “The Littlest Prisoner” (Sony Masterworks), in which she sings her own compositions. The folk recording features Mr. Frisell and drummer Brian Blade, two leading jazz musicians well known for infusing their work with Americana influences.

While the musical settings of “The Littlest Prisoner” are spare, Ms. Scheinman’s songs and titles are audacious. Messrs. Frisell and Blade are master colorists who accent the intimate arrangements so deftly that one never pines for keyboards or bass. And Ms. Scheinman isn’t afraid to place her work in long shadows. For instance, “Run Run Run” recalls many similarly titled pieces, from the Velvet Underground to Kelly Clarkson. “My Old Man” is also the title of songs by Joni Mitchell and by Rosanne Cash. But Ms. Scheinman’s songwriting holds its own among those famous names. The collection is a compelling series of vignettes about relationships, graced by her plaintive vocals and the superb backing from her bandmates.

That project followed time that Ms. Scheinman spent with her instrumental group Mischief & Mayhem, which released its own self-titled recording in 2012. The aptly named band featured ace guitarist Nels Cline and recalled the aggressive sound of early ’70s jazz rock.

July 21 saw the debut of Ms. Scheinman’s latest instrumental group at the Village Vanguard, where she performed through July 26. The band features Myra Melford on piano and harmonium, Doug Wieselman on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Rudy Royston on drums. Ms. Scheinman said the lineup’s absence of a bass appealed to her—not only highlighting the lower tones of the piano, the bass drum and bass clarinet, but allowing the bass’s timekeeping responsibilities to rotate among the band members.

Ms. Scheinman’s opening-night set was ambitious and often scintillating. Many of her compositions are built around tight staccato segments that allow for powerful group improvisations and contrast nicely with the long, fluid lines from her violin. An early high point: “American Dipper Female,” which appeared on her 2004 disc “Shalagaster” (Tzadik). At the club it featured Mr. Royston’s shimmering percussion and Ms. Melford’s percussive work on the innards of the piano. Later in the 90-minute set, the band did “Snowy Egret,” the title track from a recent recording by Ms. Melford. The gorgeous tune was effectively reworked, with all members of the band making stellar contributions. That rapport between the band members continued through the week and reached remarkable levels by Sunday night’s final set. The band’s cohesion was especially evident in material from “The Littlest Prisoner,” and it demonstrated that Ms. Scheinman is deftly bridging the gap between the different musical styles in her career.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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NYC Bodypaint Day 2015

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I went to NYC Bodypaint Day with the obliged sense of a dutiful fan but I came away with a sense of a movement and its importance.

NYCBPD began in 2014 when artist Andy Golub organized 25 likeminded artists who painted more than 50 models  in the Columbus Circle corner of Central Park. This was followed by a raucous parade to Times Square then a bus ride around the city then a party. This year it was bigger but more tightly organized. There were 50 artists and 100 models, but the painting took place in a controlled area near the U.N. There was a brief march to the U.N., where after some photo ops, they models and painters boarded a bus for a tour of the city where they were photographed around various NYC landmarks. It felt less like a party and more like an event.

I became a big fan of Golub’s in 2012 work when I saw photographs of his painting of Randi Robinson in Times Square. I fell in love with the photo of her atop a taxicab, looking far less like cheesecake than like a wild primal beast, who no longer acknowledged routine propriety. It was then I realized that in Golub I had an ally in my conception of nudity (even though it should be acknowledged that Robinson was wearing a thong in those photos). I’m a big believer that we need to lose the reflexive association between nudity and sex. First of all, for me, being nude is far more likely to be a prelude to taking a shower than it is prelude to sexual intercourse, and I suspect that I’m like most people in that regard. Secondly if we lose the reflex that binds nudity to intercourse then a much richer and realistic set of interpretations become available. For me, it’s a route to a more primal and responsive state that particularly when outdoors makes us far more receptive to nature and the world around us. And, it is a triumph over inhibition and self doubt, something that should be practiced and celebrated, not shunned and shamed. In the photos and some writing associated with Golub, I began to sense that he shared at least the first part of my point of view.

2013-06-20 19.30.07In 2013 I attended three of Golub’s events, each giving me a greater admiration of his art and the poise of his models. In the first, Dylan Spellman Hall, an artist who frequently models for Golub, was painted near The Highline and I was as mesmerized by her ability to withstand the scrutiny and keep her boyfriend engaged as I was by the intricate design of Golub’s work. I felt similarly about a model named Lilith who showcased extraordinary athleticism in a painting event in front of the Guggenheim Museum a few days later. I was particularly impressed by how involved she became in the process, evaluating angles against the Frank Lloyd Wright structure, and I loved that upon completing the photography, she simply gathered her belongings and piled into Golub’s car for the ride home. In other words her nudity wasn’t part of a job, but part of who she was that day. 2013-06-23 17.55.11The third event was a precursor for the Bodypaint days. Golub painted more than a dozen models across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater (yes, the Letterman show was being filmed inside). Afterward, the models paraded to Times Square for more photography.

For these Bodypaint Days (and NYC is only the beginning, there will be one next month in Amsterdam), Golub partnered with Young Naturists and Nudists, who helped craft the messages that countered conventional body shaming tactics that are somewhat reinforced by the TV body paint shows, Naked Vegas and Skin Wars. Instead, in 2014, there was a banner that read “All Bodies are Good Bodies.” I think this year’s banner read “All Bodies are Works of Art,” and as was the case last year, the models were a diverse group in nearly every way, body type, age, gender, and probably several others.

I simply sat outside the paint compound, taking in the cathartic energy from the painting, but two things made me realize the importance of Golub’s work. For one, a friend texted me and when he found out I was at Bodypaint Day, he asked if the eye candy was good. For another a group, two men and a woman, passed by where I was sitting after spending an hour or so taking in the paintings in progress. As they walked one of the guys walked up behind his female companion and tried to pull her dress up. It left me wanting to lecture my friend and the guy. If a woman is naked in public or in a dress or in shorts, running shoes and a t shirt, or in a police woman’s uniform, or whatever, she deserves the same level of respect, the utmost. I don’t grasp the sense of male entitlement to female bodies, but I do grasp that recontextualizing how we view the body is an increasingly urgent bit of cultural work. And with each new event, Andy Golub, YN&N and his allies have rolled up their sleeves to do projects of great significance.

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