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Posted by on Nov 26, 2012 in Blog, Las Vegas, Personal | 2 comments

Remembering Poker Writer Barry Tanenbaum (Video)

I loved Barry Tanenbaum.

I miss Barry Tanenbaum.

He passed away a year ago, this week.

For those who don’t remember Barry, he was probably best known for his widely-read column in Card Player magazine which ran for nearly ten years.  Barry also authored two excellent poker books — both on Limit Hold’em, which was his specialty.

Barry was a real poker pro.  He spent most evenings playing at the Bellagio, where the $30-60 Limit Hold’em game served as his office.  Barry’s contemporaries included highly-respected player-writers — including Roy Cooke, Mason Malmuth, Jim Brier, Dr. Alan Schoonmaker and others who wrote about the game as they played it for a living.

But Barry was so much more than just a poker writer and colleague.

He was one of the most decent men I ever met.  He was a genuinely good person.  He was both an intellectual and emotional mentor to those who were fortunate enough to know him.

Please take a few minutes to watch this short 11-minute video I made last year as a tribute to Barry.  The video was shown at his funeral.

A few notes about this video:  Special thanks to Betty Tanenbaum and Lupe Soto for providing many of the photos which appear.  Also, thanks to Ashley Adams, the excellent writer and radio personality who provided the two-minute audio clip of Barry which is heard during the middle of this video.

The first part of the retrospective shows Barry’s personal life.  The second interlude highlights his career in poker.

 

 

 

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Posted by on Nov 14, 2012 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

The Extraordinary Genius of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci Photo

 

Forget the two abominable movies called The Da Vinci Code that soiled his name.

Let’s talk about the real man that Leonardo Da Vinci was.

Today, he’s widely thought of as an artist and painter.  Were that the case, his masterful brushstrokes on canvass would alone be worthy of universal adoration.  But Da Vinci was so, so, so much more than that.  He may very well have been the most extraordinary man that’s ever lived.

 

There are three classes of people: those who see.
Those who see when they are shown.
Those who do not see.
~ Leonardo da Vinci ~
 

In today’s column, I’d like to tell you a little more about Da Vinci.  First, here’s a bit of what you probably already know.

Da Vinci painted what is arguably the most revered masterpiece in history — the Mona Lisa.  He also painted The Last Supper, which is the first revelation of Jesus and the 12 apostles ever in human form.

But….

Da Vinci was also a scientist.

He was an inventor.

He was a philosopher.

He was a sculptor.

He was an architect.

He was a mathematician.

He was a geologist.

He was a cartographer.

He was a botanist.

He was a writer.

He was a luminous force in a dark world trembling in fear and ignorance for a millenia.  The world was a horribly dark place largely because of that one universal inhibitor of all humanity — the church.  Which all goes to show that the 21st century we live in now isn’t all that much different from the oppressive mind shackles that buckled down most of the world way back in the 1500s.

Consider the remarkable risks Da Vinci personally took in the pursuit of knowledge.

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Posted by on Nov 12, 2012 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

58,278 Names Etched In Granite

Names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washingtoon

 

A visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC is an emotive experience.

One need not be a military veteran nor even an American citizen to recognize the immense power of this extraordinary artwork, which pays tribute to those a generation ago who went to a faraway land and never returned home alive.  It was our most tragic — and I might add senseless — military conflict.

I lived in Washington, DC for 12 years.  During that time, many friends and relatives visited what remains a mesmerizing city.  I always used those special occasions to travel around our capital, playing amateur guide to our nation’s most impressive monuments.  For me, each accompanying visit was a reminder.  A reinforcement of what patriotism really means.

The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the Jefferson Memorial and so many other attractions are powerful places to visit.  They should be seen by everyone.  In fact, I’ll go so far to say that every American has an obligation to make at least one trip to our nation’s capital to see and experience these sites firsthand.  I’m not even sure one can really call himself or herself a true American without having stood next to these structures which represent the very essence of our nation.

However, one memorial above all the rest deserved to be seen.  It moved me emotionally each and every time I visited — and always in a different way.  I must have touched the granite wall perhaps two dozen times.  Instead of becoming bored or indifferent to something I had laid eyes upon so many occasions before, each visit gave me a new perspective about our history, what personal sacrifice really means, and the value of life itself.

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Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays | 0 comments

Staring Death in the Eye and Not Blinking: On Christopher Hitchens and “Mortality”

 

hitchens-book-review

 

Readers and friends, sometimes one and the same, sometimes not, know of my profound affection for the words and ideas of the late writer and polemic Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens, who died nearly a year ago, penned some 15 books over the course a bombastically bountiful career that spanned nearly three decades — the first half spent in the U.K., the nation of his birth, and the later half in the U.S., the country to which he eventually attached himself as a naturalized citizen.  But his real citizenry was to free thought, ideas, and debate.

His writings which later morphed into hundreds of speeches and lectures, weren’t merely a concoction of loose words and phrases, they were carefully calculated steamrollers which flattened centuries’ accumulation of myths, trouncing the idolatry attached to those he so deservedly disdained, including most famously — Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa.

Love him or hate him, you had to respect the man everyone who was fortunate enough to be included his inner circle of Vanity Fair elite lovingly called “Hitch.”

Hitch was unquestionably the bravest writer of our generation, almost recklessly unafraid of the fallout he would inevitably encounter for expressing what would both literally and figuratively be blasphemous to all aspects of our popular culture.  I mean, you may not like to hear the things he said or read the things he wrote, and might not agree with the man, but one must admit — it takes balls to tear down Mother Teresa.  Henry Kissinger, less so.

Consider the answer he once gave to a question as to what’s the most overrated virtue.  Without any hestitation or ambiguity, Hitchens roared — “Faith, closely followed – in the overall shortage of time – by patience.”

There would indeed be a sad irony to Hitchens’ blistering answer here, which would be prophetic.  No doubt, Hitchens’ life did finally run out of time, at a far less than complete 62 years.  During the later stages of physical decline, mentally as strong as ever, he expressed his greatest regret at not being able to go another twenty more years, continuing to wage the war against intellectual servitude, where ever he saw it.  And yet, faced with his own impending death and awareness thereof, Hitchens never once wavered from his own faith, a faith not cast towards some imaginary heaven, but the faith focused inward to the self.  Hitchens never compromised his beliefs nor wavered in his consistency.  One had to admire that.

During the final excruciatingly painful year of his life, when he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, and as he became increasingly aware of the fate awaiting him which would have no happy ending in spite of all the best doctors and alternative therapies, many who followed his career were eager to see the final fateful chapter played out.  Instigated by his ceaseless bashing of religion with such veracity, some wondered if he might actually undergo a “foxhole conversion.”

That final melancholic year of his life, while being perhaps the most poignant era of his writing and speaking career, was also the most gripping.  It was a car crash, a rubber-necking vouyeristic exercise for many driving by on life’s conjested highway, particularly for those who may have relished in the twisted irony of seeing a man put the ultimate test of his own “faith.”  And that is the faith in one’s own constitution and belief set.  Which, no matter what one’s views, are not always easy things to stand by.

Mortality is the final book written by Hitchens.  It’s a far more personal narrative than anything previously written by the Oxford-educated iconoclast who made a career of arguing with cozy intellectual comfort zone of conventional wisdom.

To those unfamiliar with Hitchens – the man and his writings – the biggest surprise might be the absence of metaphorical violins in the narrative.  Alas, there are no strings attached to these words, though if you admired the man as I did, his brave personal toil ultimately does pull at the heartstrings.  To those more familiar with the man, remaining steadfastly convinced and comfortable with his position on matters of the spirit was hardly a surprise at all.  It was, in fact, to be expected.  It’s a walk to the gallows with a head held high.  Even deviant.

At only 104 pages long, this is by far the shortest book of the author’s career.  One plainly sees this is an incomplete work, just as it should be.  There’s really no way to wrap it all up and put a pretty bow on top, as other memoirs of famous dying people often do, and Hitchens’ previous release Hitch-22 pretty much already covered all the bases of a career from A to Z.  This is a closer examination of the “W-X-Y-Z” period of a man’s existence, embellished with far more personal revelations that previously released.  We all know how this book is going to end, and the engrossment comes not from some 24th-hour surprise or late conversion, but rather from Hitchens’ poignant honesty, his refusal to airbrush his own angst which ultimately becomes the acquiescence of fate.

Indeed, while all of Hitchens other masterful works challenged us to think and taught us how to live, Mortality teaches us how to die, with honesty and dignity, while remaining true to ourselves.  And that might be Hitchens’ most poignant parting gift to us all.

 

hitchens-book-review

 

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Posted by on Sep 18, 2012 in Blog, What's Left | 0 comments

R.I.P. Steve Sabol — NFL Films

 

 

Pro football lost a giant of a man today.

He wasn’t a player.  He never coached.  You rarely saw his face.

But you must certainly know his astonishing body of work which spanned more the four decades, and which left an indelible impression on the game that’s now been America’s real ‘national pastime” for two generations.

Steve Sabol was the architect of NFL Films.  Together with his late father, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Ed Sabol, the first family of NFL historians made football into something far more than just a game.

They made football into art.  Their productions were grand theater on the gridiron.  Many of their shows were inspirational and epic.  Everything they did set the bar higher, not just in sports journalism but in all media.

Their narrative often accompanied by blaring trumpets, NFL Films programming was often better than the actual games they covered.  They created legends out of players and coaches most of us had never heard of.  They tore down myths.  Indeed, Steve Sabol wore many hats — writer, historian, filmmaker, journalist, announcer and marketer.  Everything he did showed pro football in a more interesting light.

Steve Sabel’s body of work is extraordinary.  Dating back to his early days as a rival-league AFL cameraman during the mid-1960s, Sabol used his natural talents and creative energies to push the bounds of sports coverage into something grander and greater.  He not only helped to transform many athletes into heroes and legends.  More important, he made them human.

All NFL fans everywhere owe a great debt of gratitude to the late Steve Sabol.  He passed away today at the age of 69.

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