The Art of Racing in the Rain, and the Book to Movie Challenge

Transitioning a popular book to the theater screen is a fascinating challenge. One of the fun facts I learned while dabbling in the book publishing industry was that the number of pages in a book is typically a good indicator for the number of minutes it would take the average person to read it. The mean number of words read per minute is about 300, which is also the average number of words on a book page. So, with a book like The Art of Racing in the Rain, the endearing story of a dog’s relationship with his human family, told from the perspective of the dog, the task of making it into a movie is rooted in translating essentially a 5 ½ hour read into a 2 hour watch.

For something like Jurassic Park, the task is made easier by the book being such a ready-made cinematic experience, but it becomes more arduous trying to capture the emotional backbone of a story like that in Art of Racing. Being a film about a dog, there is a natural aesthetic hook for any dog lover – from the cuteness of the puppy phase to the thoughtful canine expressions once the pup has shifted into the part of its life that defines the phrase “man’s best friend” – but the book was masterful at capturing an answer to the great question that runs through any dog owner’s mind throughout their furry friend’s life, “What would he/she say if capable of talking?” You cannot help but wonder about it, during the joyous moments to the “potty” training to the addition of kids to the dynamic to opening presents on Christmas and through anything and everything in between them and the heart-wrenching final moment; that is the essence of the book. The drama is in the details in prose, and replicating it with less dialogue and more visuals one could argue is a futile exercise. Art of Racing does its best, and its best was good enough for me and my wife.

43 million families in the United States have dogs. That target audience would get this movie; others likely (and predictably) would not. Like with Marley & Me, it would have been hard to mess it up for the target demographic. Enzo the dog, voiced by Kevin Costner, certainly anchors the film, but the cast, particularly Denny, the owner (Milo Ventimiglia of This Is Us), and the ensemble featuring his wife, daughter, and in-laws does well to compliment the inherent canine-appreciation with a range of human psychological components. By the end of the movie, I felt triumph for Denny and Enzo…and, of course, I cried.

LSU’s Offense Steps Out of the Dark Ages and Into Prime-time

Listen to the podcast HERE

Welcome, college football fans. At this point in the season, it gets no better than a big non-conference game between teams ranked in the Top 10 that lives up to the hype. On this efficient 18-minute podcast, I commentate on the coaching narratives, including Tom Herman’s aggressiveness perhaps getting the best of him as much as it also contributed to the at times exhilarating drama of this match-up; I also spend a good amount of time gushing over Joe Burrow and the LSU receiving corps while simultaneously recovering from the shock of seeing the Tigers new offense move the ball so easily through the air (and with such pace), as that wound up being the real story of the game; plus, I’m both an admitted hyperbolizer and a proud over-speculator, but I try to tone it down while drawing conclusions about what this game will mean to each team moving forward.

Listen to the podcast HERE

PSA: Avoid Sugar When Fighting Illness

My son started coughing last weekend. That’s OK. He is 4 years old and his immune system is still very much developing. That said, my daughter’s friend brought a special treat (cookie cake) to a play date at our house and, even though it upset my son, I wouldn’t let him partake. On Labor Day, we gathered with friends for a float (down the river) trip and special treats (cookies) were offered. I managed to keep my son away from those too. By Tuesday morning, the cough was on its way out.

The refined sugar found in candy, cookies, cake, etc. suppresses the immune system and generally decreases the normal functioning of the very well oiled machine that is the human body. So, when already exhibiting signs – like coughing – that your immune system is fighting a stronger opponent, then one of the best supports you can provide your body is to avoid the various things that slow down immune response, like special treats.

Unfortunately, when I picked up my son from pre-school on Wednesday, I learned that he had consumed two chocolate doughnuts in honor of a classmate’s birthday. His teacher told me that his nose had been running. It was a safe assumption that the elimination of his cough – or, more importantly, the underlying agent causing it – was no longer imminent. Sure enough, the cough continued and got worse. Two days later, he had a brownie and some cheese puffs (not so sugary, but loaded with its own destructive materials) at pre-school for another birthday party. Unsurprisingly, his cough is actually peaking one week after it started instead of going away.

I certainly don’t blame anyone for this, but this is a prime example of the battle for health that we face, ladies and gentlemen. Kids are sicker today that at any point in the last 50 years. Let that sink in and then ask the obvious question, “Why?”

Many things shape our terrible American health system, but one of the least talked about dynamics is the simple lack of education on how to stay healthy. “Sugar feeds infection” is not common knowledge; it should be. Nutritional education is virtually non-existent.

Ideally, it would be written into the by-laws of every school that if a child was showing overt signs of fighting illness, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have sugary snacks, regardless of the occasion; the few minutes of being upset is well worth a healthier kid first of all, but there is also the domino effect to consider – if the immune system of one child is suppressed, then the infection gets stronger and more likely to effect other kids who are simultaneously suppressing their immune systems with the special treats (this is one of the primary ways that infection spreads, by the way). Frankly, as a parent, I’d like to be informed of the junk food my child is set to consume so that I can give my consent for it and help them prepare for it by counteracting it with constructive, nutritional foods before and after. Until health education improves, those things won’t happen.

On the bright side, just as sugar fuels infection, watching my kids stay sicker for longer fuels my fire to ramp up the educational process and further stimulate long overdue change in healthcare. So, here’s a call to action to parents, teachers, grandparents, etc.: let’s reverse the trend of today’s kids being the first in modern history to be sicker than the generation before theirs, and let’s start by recognizing simple things like “sugar feeds infection.”

Which Teams Could Break Parity in College Football Out of Purgatory?

Approaching the more traditional start to the college football season, a look at the legitimate threats to make the playoff and particularly to win it all reveals a distinct lack of long-term intrigue, with Alabama vs. Clemson capping the season for the fourth time in five years feeling Warriors-Cavs in the NBA Finals-levels of inevitable.

In essence, parity is in purgatory as it pertains to college football right now. Since 1980, six occasions have seen a team either win two national titles in a row, win twice in three years, or win three titles in four years. Four of the six instances have happened in the last decade or so, and Clemson and Alabama have traded the ‘chip back and forth since 2015.

If you’re a fan of the Tigers or Crimson Tide, then good for you; enjoy the life-enhancing success of your teams. As for the rest of us, part of the fun continues to be watching and waiting for the next team – hopefully ours – to reach their level. Here are four teams that could break the Dabo-Saban monotony:

Georgia – Clearly the most likely to break through in 2019 after getting so close to knocking off ‘Bama in the last two seasons. Kirby Smart is right there. He has the experienced and very talented quarterback in Jake Fromm, some elite skill players, and cultural momentum (losses of players and coaches but a firmly entrenched system) on defense. Add an SEC still re-developing the usual cadre of top flight teams and a visit to Athens by their toughest non-conference opponent, Notre Dame, and it’s very possible that Georgia will get its shot at the title. Unfortunately, it looks like they would have to face Alabama possibly twice (SEC Title and CFP) and beat Clemson (NC game) to win it. The vibe is that it is Clemson and ‘Bama, then Georgia, and then a few steps back to everyone else.

Ohio State – Justin Fields was the top quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class for Georgia, then transferred to OSU. Expectations are high. The Buckeyes are breaking in new head coach, Ryan Day, who took over for the legendary Urban Meyer (igniter of the current dynasty-heavy decade-ish by winning two of three national titles in 2006 and 2008 at Florida), but they remain the Big 10 favorites to me until I see someone take their crown (I’m selling Michigan stock). Don’t forget that they have been among the Top 5 teams in the country for the vast majority of the decade. It feels like a long-shot for them to win it all, but it’s definitely no long-shot for them to make the playoff. Programs as loaded with talent as they are often handle coaching changes well for a season or two, even if the new guy can’t hack it long-term.

Oklahoma – To crack the Saban code in the 2010s, teams have typically needed both a really good defense and a game-changing quarterback; and now there is the Dabo code to crack too. The Sooners were historically bad on defense last year and way too much hope is being put in Alex Grinch’s new scheme given that it is his first season in Norman, and to expect Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts to replicate even 80% of the production from back-to-back Heisman trophy winners is unrealistic. OU is a little bit over-hyped in the pre-season if you ask me, but they have been to three out of the last four playoffs and belief within the program likely burns bright until distinguished by repetitive losing – a proposition that also does not seem realistic. Stories like Hurts facing his old team and an old, familiar foe in Clemson for a chance to win it all are too awesome not to want to see.

Washington – I distinctly recall the 2014 season narrative being that the Big 10 was not going to put a team in the playoff, and that the conference was weak. Ohio State promptly emerged down the stretch and won the national championship. What have enthusiasts heard for the past nine months in 2019? “The Pac 12 is no good.” Well, the Huskies are the class of the conference right now and former quarterback Jake Browning regressed after his breakout 2016 during which he led UW to the playoff. Chris Peterson is an excellent coach and now he has former Georgia #1 recruit, Jacob Eason (a Washington state native), to quarterback his offense. If Eason lives up to past hype and the Huskies continue their defensive track record, the bad losses from the last two seasons might get replaced with big wins. It’s not at all inconceivable that they finish 13-0 heading into the playoff.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which team outside of Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia is most likely to win the 2019 College Football National Championship?

Miami vs. Florida Entertainingly Fumbles and False Starts the 150th College Football Season

If you watched Miami vs Florida start week 0 of the 150th college football season in an entertaining, mistake-filled, back-and-forth momentum pendulum of a game, then from one long-time CFB enthusiast to another, here’s a conversation-starting, quick-hitting breakdown of the pre-game thoughts, in-game takeaways, and post-game questions.

Click HERE to listen to the 15-minute podcast