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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The 12 Days of Christmas Begin Today (or Tomorrow)

This is my annual reminder that the 12 Days of Christmas are not the 12 days leading up to Christmas, but the 12 days after, running from either December 25th to January 5th or from December 26th to January 6th, depending to which tradition one follows. Either way, they culminate on Epiphany (January 6th), which is when the wise men present gifts to the infant Jesus, who may have been up to 2-years old when they reach him.

Of course, when most people think of "The 12 Days of Christmas," they think of the song. The song's origins are unclear, but one story, which has little historical support but is fun to consider, claims that the song originated as a Roman Catholic "Catechism Song" during a time when Catholicism was "discouraged" in England (1558-1829). According to this tradition, 
  • The "true love" in the song refers to God, while the "me" refers to those who receive the gifts mentioned in the song from God 
  • The "partridge in a pear tree" refers to Jesus Christ whose death on a tree (i.e., the cross) was a gift from God 
  • The "two turtle doves" refer to the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God 
  • The "three French hens" refer to "faith," "hope" and "love" three gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13) 
  • The "four calling birds" refer to the four Gospels, which sing "the song of salvation through Jesus Christ" 
  • The "five golden rings" refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Torah. 
  • The "six geese a-laying" refer to the six days of creation 
  • The "seven swans a swimming" refer to the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:8-11) 
  • The "eight maids a milking" refer to the eight beatitudes 
  • The "nine ladies dancing" refer to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) 
  • The "ten lords a-leaping" refer to the Ten Commandments 
  • The "eleven pipers piping" refer to the eleven faithful disciples 
  • The "twelve drummers drumming" refer to the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed
For a more scholarly take on the song's origins (but far less entertaining), see its Wikipedia article.

Note: If you add up the number of gifts for each of the twelve days -- one on the first day, three (1 + 2) on the second, six (1 + 2 + 3) on the third, and so on -- you get 364, which (of course) is the total number of days in the year if you don't count Christmas (learned this from watching a Hallmark movie).

Monday, December 24, 2018

Mary's Magnificat: Where Do We Find God?

This past Sunday was the 4th Sunday of Advent, and one of the lectionary readings was the Magnificat, also known as the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55):

46        And Mary said,
               “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47        and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48         for he has looked with favor on the lowliness
               of his servant.
            Surely, from now on all generations will call me
              blessed;
49        for the Mighty One has done great things for
              me, and holy is his name.
50        His mercy is for those who fear him
               from generation to generation.
51        He has shown strength with his arm;
               he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of
                 their hearts.
52        He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
               and lifted up the lowly;
53        he has filled the hungry with good things,
               and sent the rich away empty.
54        He has helped his servant Israel,
               in remembrance of his mercy,
55        according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
               to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

I daresay most people hear or read the Magnificat without thinking too deeply about the words, but as several theologians have pointed out, it is quite subversive, in particular, verses 1:52-53:
He [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
The Magnificat's subversiveness has certainly not been lost on authoritarian governments. At least three times in history, governments have banned it from the public square. When the British ruled India, it was banned from being sung in church. And after it became a song of inspiration for the poor of Guatemala in the 1980s, the government banned it from being publicly recited. And at about the same time in Argentina, when thousands of children disappeared during Argentina's "Dirty War," and in response the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo plastered posters with the Magnificat's words on them all over the capital plaza, the Argentinian government outlawed the public display of Mary's words.

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that the Magnificat has lost its subversive edge. It's tempting to blame the commercialization of Christmas, but I think it was tamed long before that. Regardless, now we quickly jump over it to the story of Jesus's birth (Luke 2:1-7), the praise of the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20), and the visitation of the wise men (Matt 2:1-12). But even the rest of the story contains subversive elements: feeding troughs (i.e., mangers) and shepherds point to a God more interested in the plight of the poor than the problems of the wealthy. Moreover, visible from Bethlehem would've been Herod's palace, the Herodium, which was located at the top of a 2,500 foot high manmade mountain and the largest palace in the Roman world at the time.

This contrast between rich and poor was succinctly captured by John Dominic Crossan in an article that appeared in the Christian Century back in the 1990s: "Where are we to find God?", he asked. "Among the poor in a lowly stable, or in the halls of power of Herod's Palace?" An excellent question. A question, unfortunately, I don't think we ask enough this time of year.

(Note: Crossan's quote isn't verbatim because I was unsuccessful in my quest to track down the original article; thus, it is "from memory.")

Monday, December 10, 2018

101 Holiday Songs

Although the continuous playing of Christmas songs can get a bit annoying, I still love listening and singing them. Thus, here's 101 of my favorite holiday songs (they hopefully appear in alphabetical order). There's a few new changes from last time, and all but one of the songs should link to iTunes Preview, so you can listen to (or at least preview) the songs:
  1. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
  2. Almost There - Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant
  3. Angels We Have Heard on High - Glee Cast
  4. Auld Lang Syne - Colbie Caillat
  5. Ave Maria - The Carpenters
  6. Away in a Manger/Child in a Manger - Michael W. Smith
  7. Baby, Just GO Outside - The Holderness Family
  8. Believe - Josh Groban
  9. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
  10. Breath of Christmas - Amy Grant
  11. Carol of the Bells - The Carpenters
  12. Carols Sing - Michael W. Smith
  13. Celebrate Me Home - Kenny Loggins
  14. The Chanukah Song - Adam Sandler
  15. Christ is Born - The Carpenters
  16. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
  17. Christmas Can't Be Very Far Away - Amy Grant
  18. Christmas Canon - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  19. Christmas Hymn - Amy Grant
  20. Christmas in Your Arms - Alabama
  21. Christmas is Coming - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  22. Christmas Island - Jimmy Buffett
  23. The Christmas Shoes - NewSong
  24. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
  25. Christmas Time is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  26. Christmas Waltz - Michael W. Smith
  27. Christmas Was Meant for Children - Sandi Patti
  28. Christmastime - Michael W. Smith
  29. Cold December Night - Michael Bublé
  30. Deck the Rooftop - Glee Cast
  31. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Whitney Houston
  32. Do They Know It's Christmas - Glee Cast
  33. Emmanuel, God With Us - Amy Grant
  34. Extraordinary Merry Christmas - Glee Cast
  35. Feliz Navidad - José Feliciano
  36. The First Noel - Josh Groban & Faith Hill
  37. Frosty the Snowman - Jimmy Durante
  38. Go Tell It On The Mountain - James Taylor
  39. God is With Us - Casting Crowns
  40. Going Home For Christmas - Phil Coulter
  41. Good King Wenceslas - The Piano Guys
  42. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - Elmo & Patsy
  43. Greensleeves - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  44. Grown Up Christmas List - Amy Grant
  45. Hallelujah - Pentatonix
  46. The Happiest Christmas - Michael W. Smith
  47. Happy Xmas (The War is Over) - John Lennon
  48. Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Diamond Rio
  49. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Vonda Shepard
  50. Hey Santa - Carnie and Wendy Wilson
  51. High Plains (Christmas on the High-Line) - Philip Aaberg
  52. This Holiday Night - Margo Rey
  53. Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  54. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Casting Crowns
  55. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - John Mellencamp
  56. I Saw Three Ships - Craig Duncan
  57. I Wonder As I Wander - Sandi Patti
  58. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Michael Bublé
  59. In the Bleak Midwinter - Phil Coulter
  60. It Snowed - Meaghan Smith
  61. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
  62. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Frank Sinatra
  63. Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring - Amy Grant
  64. Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
  65. Jingle Bells - Michael Bublé
  66. Joy to the World - Amy Grant
  67. Last Christmas - Glee Cast
  68. Let it Snow - Dean Martin
  69. Linus and Lucy - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  70. Little Alter Boy - The Carpenters
  71. Little Drummer Boy - Bob Seger
  72. Manger 6 - Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio
  73. Merry Christmas Baby - Bruce Springsteen
  74. Merry Christmas Darling - The Carpenters
  75. Mister Santa - Amy Grant
  76. Mistletoe and Holly - Frank Sinatra
  77. Nothin' New for New Years - Harry Connick, Jr. & George Jones
  78. The Nutcracker Suite - Various
  79. O Come All Ye Faithful - Pentatonix
  80. Pat-a-pan - Various
  81. Please Come Home For Christmas - The Eagles
  82. River - Joni Mitchell
  83. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Burl Ives
  84. Santa Claus in Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
  85. Santa Baby - Madonna
  86. Skating - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  87. Silent Night - Sarah McLachlan
  88. Sleigh Ride - The Carpenters
  89. Snoopy's Christmas - The Royal Guardsmen
  90. Snow - Bing Crosby, Danny Kay, Peggy Lee, and Trudy Stevens
  91. Song For A Winter's Night - Sarah McLachlan
  92. Sweet Little Jesus Boy - Casting Crowns
  93. Tennessee Christmas - Amy Grant
  94. There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays - Perry Como
  95. This Christmas - Vonda Shepard
  96. To Be Together - Amy Grant
  97. Walkin' Round in Women's Underwear - Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio
  98. What are You Doing New Year's Eve? - Ella Fitzgerald
  99. Where Are You Christmas? - Faith Hill
  100. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
  101. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Thurl Ravenscroft

Sunday, December 9, 2018

18 Christmas Movies Worth Watching (Revised)

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles Schultz)

It's been over 50 years since "A Charlie Brown Christmas" first appeared on TV. It's probably the best of the Charlie Brown movies (although "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is right up there) and is one of the few Christmas movies that refers to the biblical story. After Charlie Brown asks, "Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?," Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and  the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"
And then Linus concludes, "... and that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." Note that Linus lets go of his blanket as he says, "Fear not!"

2. A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott, David Warner, Susannah York, Roger Rees)

There are several great versions of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," but this is my favorite. When George C. Scott's Ebenezer Scrooge yells, "Mr. Cratchit!", there's little doubt that he holds poor Bob in contempt. Plus, Scott is (was) such a great actor. That said, several other versions are worth considering, such as the one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge ("A Christmas Carol"). When I was kid, I was especially taken with "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." An alternative is listening to Jonathan Winters's reading of Dickens's book, which is also quite good.

3. A Christmas Story (Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon)

Adapted from a memoir by Jean Shepherd (who narrates the film), the movie is primarily about Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a young boy living in Indiana in the 1940s who desperately wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas and tries to convince his parents, teachers, and Santa that it's the perfect gift for him, while they counter that he'll shoot his eye out. In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." I confess that it isn't one of my favorites, but I'm clearly in a minority on this point, which is why I include it my list.

4. Christmas with the Kranks (Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Akroyd)

It's too bad that the movie's producers didn't keep the title of John Grisham's book on which the movie is based: "Skipping Christmas" (see picture at right). I think the movie's title leads people to expect one kind of movie when in fact it's something quite different. It tells the story of a couple (Luther and Nora Krank) who, because their daughter (Blair) is going to be Peru for Christmas, working for the Peace Corps, decide to skip Christmas (i.e., don't buy a Christmas tree, hold their annual Christmas party, decorate their house, etc.), and use the money they save to go on a cruise. Their decision to skip Christmas doesn't sit well their neighbors (especially Dan Akroyd), who pressure them to get into the holiday spirit. A battle, of sorts, plays out between the Kranks and their neighbors. Then Luther and Nora get a call from Blair and learn that she's coming home for Christmas after all, and they now have less than 24 hours to prepare for their annual party. How the neighborhood comes together to pull this off and what Luther does with their cruise tickets speaks volumes about the true meaning of Christmas.

5. Die Hard (Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson)

OK. Not your traditional Christmas movie, but it takes place on Christmas Eve, is a battle between good and evil, and includes some traditional (and not so traditional) Christmas songs. It stars Bruce Willis as NY police detective John McClane, who flies to LA to reconcile with his wife. He meets her at her company's Christmas party, but while he's changing clothes in the men's room, the party's taken over by a terrorist group (headed by Hans Gruber -- played by Alan Rickman, who a few years later played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies), which holds them hostage, all except for McClane, who sneaks away before they know he's there. The rest of the movie is the battle between McClane (good) and Gruber (evil) and includes a lot of classic lines ("Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs...").

6. Elf (Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel)

This movie is too fun. Will Ferrell is great as someone (Buddy) who thinks he's one of Santa's elves but is actually a human being who, through a twist of fate, was adopted by an elf (Bob Newhart) when just a baby. Unfortunately, he's not a very good at elf things (e.g., making toys), and once he learns that he's not an elf, he heads to New York where his biological father (James Caan) lives. There he falls in love with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), helps NY recapture the Christmas spirit, and has a heck of a lot of fun along the way (well, most of the time). The movie is also educational. We learn, for instance, that the four main elvish food groups are candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. There's also allusions to other Christmas classics like "Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer" and "Miracle on 34th Street" (see #13 and #14 below).

7. The Family Man (Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle)

One of my favorites. It's is a cross between "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol." It tells the story of Jack Campbell (JC = Jesus Christ?; his boss/advisor is named Peter), played by Nicholas Cage, who chooses to spend the year after graduating from college in London as an investment banker rather remaining in New York with his girl friend (Tea Leoni). Unsurprisingly, the relationship doesn't last, and when the movie begins (13 years later), Cage is a successful investment banker who loves money and fine things, but cares little for women or family. However, when he wakes up one Christmas morning, he's living the life he would've lived if he hadn't moved to London. He's married (to Tea Leoni), has two kids, and works as a car tire salesman (for his wife's father - Big Ed). Although he initially despises this life, he eventually comes to love it more than the one in which he drove fast cars, wore designer suits, and had his pick of women. The movie's climax occurs after he wakes up back in his old life, tracks down his old girlfriend, and convinces her not to leave for Paris to take a new job.

8. The Family Stone (Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson)

This tells the story about a Christmas gathering of the Stone family when the eldest son (Dermot Mulroney) brings his very uptight girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) home with him to introduce her to his family, as well as propose to her with his grandmother's wedding ring. Parker's reception by Mulroney's family -- played by Diane Keaton (mom, who is dying), Craig T. Nelson (dad), Rachel McAdams (younger sister), Elizabeth Reaser (older sister), Luke Wilson (younger brother), and Tyrone Giordano (youngest brother) -- is chilly, to say the least. So chilly, in fact, that Parker begs her sister (Claire Danes) to join her. Mulroney ends up falling for Danes (and vice versa), Wilson for Parker  (and vice versa), and McAdams for her ex-boyfriend (and vice versa), who is played by Paul Schneider. Chaos ensues, poignancy follows, and although critics greeted it with mixed reviews, over time it has become a holiday favorite for many.

9. Hallmark Christmas Movies (Various)

There isn't one Hallmark Christmas movie, of course. There are hundreds. In 2016 Hallmark produced 21 new movies, in 2017 it produced 33, and in 2018 it produced 22. A new one premiers almost every night in December. And almost without exception, they're corny and predictable. They're almost always a love story, and one or other of the couple has sworn off Christmas because of some bad experience (e.g., divorce, death in the family). Moreover, you can pretty much count on them breaking up with about 15-20 minutes to go (usually due to some sort of lack of communication) and then getting back together with only a few seconds left on the clock. However, in a world where our President seems to be more bent on creating divisions than building community, I can do with a corny (cue the next movie).

10. The Holiday (Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Eli Wallach)

This movie tells the story of two women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) who, suffering from guy-problems, swap homes with each other (they don't know on another -- they "meet" through an on-line home exchange website) where they each meet someone and fall in love. Diaz's character (Amanda) lives in LA, is a producer of movie trailers, and breaks up with her boy friend after she discovers that he's cheated on her. Winslet (Iris) is a journalist working in London, who's in love with someone who wants to keep her around but doesn't want to commit. When she learns that he's engaged to another journalist, she becomes suicidal, but luckily chooses to spend the holidays in LA instead. A side story concerns elderly gentleman (Eli Wallach--the "ugly" from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"), who lives near Amanda and whom Iris befriends. It turns out that Wallach is a widowed and retired screen writer whom the screen writer's guild wants to honor. He doesn't want to attend, but Iris talks him into it. Personally, I think Wallach should have won a best supporting actor for his role. A pleasant surprise about the movie is that shows that Jack Black can actually act. It's too bad he doesn't get more parts like this.

11. Home Alone (Macaulay Culkin, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern)

When adjusted for inflation, Home Alone is the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time at the North American box office. It tells the story of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), an 8-year-old boy who is accidentally left behind when his family flies to Paris for their Christmas vacation. Kevin initially relishes being home alone, but soon has to contend with two highly incompetent burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), whom he continues to foil with numerous booby-traps. The rest of his family doesn't realize they left him behind until they are mid-flight to Paris and then struggle to find a flight back (all her booked). Kevin also ends up befriending Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom), who is rumored to have murdered his family. Like many holiday favorites, it received a mixed reception from critics, but many consider it one of the best Christmas films of all time.


12. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff)

One of the best holiday movies ever (the animated version, that is, not the one that Opie Taylor directed several years later). In it the Grinch, a cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small," lives on Mount Crumpit, a steep mountain above Whoville, home of the Whos. His only companion is his faithful dog, Max. Every year from his perch atop Mount Crumpit, the Grinch hears the "clangy" noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed and unable to understand why the Whos are so happy, he sneaks into town on Christmas Eve and takes all of their Christmas presents, decorations, and food in order to prevent Christmas from coming. However, when Christmas morning arrives, the Whos still celebrate Christmas even though all their presents and decorations have been stolen. Realizing that Christmas is more than gifts and presents, the Grinch's heart grows three times in size, and he returns all the presents and trimmings and joins the Whos for the Christmas feast.

13. It's a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore)

I'm not sure how much I need to say about this movie since it is so well known. Briefly, it stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has repeatedly given up his dreams in order to help the dreams of others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve (because of a financial disaster not of his own doing) brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who has yet to earn his  wings (he's an angel second class). However, by showing what the world would have been like if George had never been born, Clarence keeps George from committing suicide (and thereby earning his wings). George sees that his life hasn't been a waste but has in fact touched (and improved) the lives of almost all those around him in Bedford Falls. He is, as his younger brother Harry puts it, "The richest man in town." Although the movie opened to mixed reviews, it has become a perennial Christmas classic that captures the true meaning of Christmas. There is a scene at the railroad station when George Bailey learns that his younger brother is not going to take over the family business so that George can go to college. For about 5 seconds, Stewart says nothing; his (i.e., George's) disappointment and frustration only shows in his facial expressions. It's a wonderful example of why Stewart was one of the greatest actors of all time. For more on the movie, see the following post ("It's a Wonderful Life").

14. Love Actually (Numerous)

A 2003 British Christmas-themed romantic comedy explores several separate stories involving a wide variety of individuals, whom we learn as the movie progresses are connected with one another. The movie begins five weeks before Christmas and plays out in a weekly countdown to Christmas, followed by an epilogue that takes place a month later. The movie includes numerous British stars, including Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alan Rickman. You may be skeptical, but recently FiveThirtyEight called it the greatest Christmas movie of all time ("The Definitive Analysis Of ‘Love Actually,’ The Greatest Christmas Movie Of Our Time").

15. Miracle on 34th Street (Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood)

Although the 1994 remake of this movie, starring Sir Richard Attenborough (as Santa Claus), Dylan McDermott, and Elizabeth Perkins, is decent, it doesn't come close to the original with Maureen O'Hara and a very young Natalie Wood. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day and focuses on the impact of the Santa Claus hired to work at the Macy's on 34th St. in NY City, who claims to be the real Santa and acts accordingly. For example, he some times he ignores instructions to steer parents to goods that Macy's sells like the time he directs one shopper to another store for a toy fire engine that Macy's doesn't have in stock. And he tells another mother that Macy's rival Gimbels has better skates for her daughter. The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture but lost to Gentleman's Agreement with Gregory Peck.

16. Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer (Burl Ives)

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for this to come on TV. I only got to see it once a year, and it was a big deal when it came on. Not just for me, but for most of my friends. Now, of course, you can get it (and virtually any other Christmas movie) on DVD or Blue Ray, or download it from iTunes or Amazon, so it (and other Christmas movies) has lost its "specialness." Nevertheless, I still love watching this retelling of the original Robert L. May story ("Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer"), in which Rudolph's rejection by his peers (for his shiny nose) leads him to run away from home with by a similarly-outcast elf (Hermey) whose dreams of becoming a dentist. These two eventually join up with a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, and after a battle with the Abominable Snowman, they return home to the North Pole just in time for Rudolph to lead Santa's sleigh through a terrible snow storm, thus keeping Christmas from being cancelled.

17. The Santa Clause (Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz)

Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a cynical, divorced, advertising executive for a toy company, who accidentally causes a guy dressed like Santa Claus to fall to his death from his roof on Christmas Eve. Scott and his son Charlie (who is spending Christmas Eve with Scott) discover a sleigh with eight reindeer on the roof, and they conclude that the man must have been Santa Claus. They also find a card in the Santa's suit, instructing that if something should happen to him, that whoever finds the clothes, should put them on and get in the sleigh. Charlie convinces Scott to follow these instructions, and the reindeer take Scott to children's houses around the world to finish Santa's deliveries. After this, the sleigh takes them to the North Pole where they learn that Scott is the new Santa (because of the clause in the instruction card they found -- that is, the "Santa Clause") and convince his former wife that he's the new Kris Kringle.

18. White Christmas (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen)

What more can you say about this one? It's got Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" (not once, but twice); it has Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen dancing (several times); it has George Clooney's aunt singing and dancing; and it tells a nice, heart-warming story that some may think is  a bit corny. But, to paraphrase Kate Winslet's character in The Holiday (see above), sometimes corny is just what the doctor ordered. The song, "Count Your Blessings" (written by Irving Berlin), was nominated for an Oscar (White Christmas won the Oscar 12 years before for the movie, Holiday Inn), but my favorite (aside from White Christmas) is Snow, sung by Crosby, Kaye, Clooney, and Vera-Ellen on the train from Miami to Vermont (pictured above).

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

What Christmas Should Be About

Here's what Christmas should be about (and if you can't figure out why, you need to read more about Jesus). Congregation Sha'ar Zahav was founded to serve the LGBT Jewish community in San Francisco, which has made it the target of the both anti-Semitic and homophobic attacks (yes, even in San Francisco).

After the recent shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, it (understandably) became a bit anxious. However, a Mennonite congregation, which uses the Sha'ar Zahav building on Sundays, volunteered to stand vigil outside during Sha'ar Zahav's Friday evening services. Sha'ar Zahav's rabbi remarked, "I'll take 20 Mennonites over one armed security guard any day." (Christian Century, December 5th, p. 8).

We could learn a lot from the Mennonites (if we'd just pay attention).

Friday, November 9, 2018

Democrats Have Their Work Cut Out for Them

Election night was pretty good for Democrats. They retook the House and will probably flip between 35-40 seats. That will beat the historical average for a party not controlling the White House in the midterm elections. They also picked up at least 7 governorships although they had hoped for 9. It's possible that the governor races in Florida and Georgia will head to a recount, but seldom do recounts change the outcome ("Recounts Rarely Reverse Election Results"). Interestingly, although there are more Republican than Democrat governors, more US citizens will live in a state with a Democrat governor than in one with a Republican governor (if you can't figure out why this is true, then you probably need to revisit what you learned in your 5th or 6th grade math class). Democrats also made impressive gains at the state level, picking up approximately 300 state legislative seats. These gains, along with the gain in governorships, could have major implications for the 2020 elections since district lines are typically drawn by state legislatures.

If there was a disappointing outcome for Democrats, it was in the Senate where it looks like they'll lose at least two seats to Republicans. Although they won at least 23 of the 36 seats up for grabs this year, most of these were seats where Democrats were incumbents. In fact, they had to defend 10 in states that Trump won in 2016, and they lost at least three — and maybe as many as five — of those. The silver lining is that the electoral map will shift in their favor in 2020 when Republicans will have to defend more seats than Democrats. There are three races still to be decided: one in Arizona, one in Florida, and one in Mississippi. Mississippi will almost certainly break for the Republicans, but Arizona may end up in the hands of Democrats. Who knows about Florida. What is it about Florida?

Finally, it's helpful to recall that after Republicans wrested control of both houses of Congress from the Democrats in 1994 (Clinton was President), many assumed that in 1996 Clinton wouldn't be reelected. However, the economy improved and Clinton won a fairly easy reelection over Bob Dole. There's a lesson there. It always is tough to beat an incumbent President and even more so when the economy is strong. Thus, in spite of the fact that the results suggest a switch back to the Democrats in midwestern battleground states ("The 2018 Map Looked A Lot Like 2012 … And That Got Me Thinking About 2020"), it will still take a lot to unseat President Trump if the economy remains strong. It won't be impossible, but in order for that to happen, Democrats have their work cut out for them.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Election is Looking Good for Both Democrats and Republicans

The election's tomorrow, and if we're to believe the polls and prediction markets, Democrats should recapture the House, while the Republicans should hold on to the Senate. FiveThirtyEight's model, which is based largely on polling but includes other factors that tend to influence midterm elections (e.g., which party controls the White House, fundraising, strength of the economy, etc.), places the probability that Democrats win control of the House at around 88% and that the Republicans maintain control of the Senate at around 81%. Prediction markets are a little less sanguine on the Democrats chances. They only give Democrats a 70% chance of winning the House and a 11% chance of  winning the Senate.

Probabilities are just that, however. An 80% chance that something will happen means that given the current conditions (related to whatever event you're considering), 80% of the time the event will occur, but it also means that 20% of the time it won't.

An intriguing question, though, is how this time around pollsters have handled "outliers." Outliers are survey responses that lie outside of the population trend. They can result from chance or measurement error, and they can throw statistical analyses out of kilter. Pick up almost any academic article that employs a form of statistical analysis (e.g., multivariate regression), and there's a strong chance it'll include "robustness" checks that test or control for outliers.

The key, of course, is whether a perceived outlier is actually an outlier or whether it reflects ground truth. Given what happened in 2016, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn that pollsters have been a little conservative when encountering results that appear to favor Democrats. That is, because 2016 polls seemed to have underestimated support for Donald Trump, I can imagine pollsters  dropping any "outliers" that seem to overestimate support for Democrats. If this has indeed occurred (and to be clear I have no evidence that it has), it could mean that Democrats might do better in their quest for seats in both House and the Senate than predicted by current models. That would indeed be a surprise. Almost as surprising as the 2016 presidential election (but not quite).

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Best Team Doesn't Always Win the World Series (but it did this year)

The American theoretical physicist, Leonard Mlodinow, has noted in his wonderful book, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, that a 7-game World Series isn't long enough to absolutely guarantee that the best team will win. He notes that
if one team is good enough to warrant beating another in 55% of its games, the weaker team will nevertheless win a 7-game series about 4 times out of 10. And if the superior team could beat its opponent, on average, 2 out of 3 times they meet, the inferior team will still win a 7-game series about once every 5 match-ups. There is really no way for a sports league to change this. In the lopsided 2/3-probability case, for example, you’d have to play a series consisting of at minimum the best of 23 games to determine the winner with what is called statistical significance, meaning the weaker team would be crowned champion 5 percent or less of the time. And in the case of one team’s having only a 55-45 edge, the shortest significant “world series” would be the best of 269 games, a tedious endeavor indeed! So sports playoff series can be fun and exciting, but being crowned “world champion” is not a reliable indication that a team is actually the best one. (p. 70-71)
Mlodinow's a very smart guy, and I have no reason to doubt that his math is correct. That said, I think we're safe in assuming that this year's World Series winner, the Boston Red Sox, were the best team ("The 2018 Red Sox Are Baseball’s Best Champions Since The 1998 Yankees"). They won a franchise-best 108 games during the regular season, and took 11 out of the 14 games they played during the playoffs. Nevertheless, there was no guarantee that they'd win the World Series, and after Yasiel Puig put the Dodgers ahead 4-0 in the 6th inning of the 4th game, I thought there was a real chance the Dodgers just might pull off the upset. But at least this time, randomness didn't step in and ruin the Red Sox's amazing season. Instead, Dodger manager Dave Roberts did ("Dave Roberts Does it Again"). He pulled Rich Hill, the Red Sox came back, and the rest (as they say) is history.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dave Roberts Does it Again

I've been ranting about this for several years ("Let Starters Finish!", "Not to Beat a Dead Horse", "The Closer Temptation is Hard to Resist", "MLB's Ridiculous Obsession with Closers", "Not Everyone Can Throw Like Mariano Rivera"), but why do today's MLB managers feel the need to pull starting pitchers when they're throwing great? When someone has the entire offseason to rest, who cares about pitch counts? Evidently, Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts does. Tonight, with Rich Hill shutting down the Red Sox bats (and the Dodgers leading the Sox 4-0), Roberts pulled Hill after throwing 91 pitches (and striking out the last batter he faced), and the Dodgers bullpen promptly imploded. The Red Sox scored 9 runs and ended up winning 9-6.

This isn't the first time Roberts has done this ("Thank You, Dave Roberts"). Back in August when the Giants were still in the hunt for a playoff spot, Roberts pulled Clayton Kershaw after pitching 8 innings with the Dodgers leading 2-1, and the Dodgers' relievers gave up 4 runs and the Giants won 5-2. And as Dodgers' fans will remind anyone who listens, Roberts pulled Hill after only 4 great innings in the second game of last year's World Series, which ultimately led to a Dodgers' loss.

Of course, a part of me isn't complaining (I am a Giants' fan, after all). Nevertheless, maybe MLB managers will one day figure out that although pitch counts are important and it's great to have a shutdown closer, sometimes you need to need to let your starters finish and not every closer is as good as Mariano Rivera ("Not Everyone Can Throw Like Mariano Rivera").

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Lamenting Bill Cosby's Fall From Grace

The sentencing of Bill Cosby for indecent assault for 3-10 years was a stark reminder of how far the former comedian and television star had fallen. I grew up listening to his comedy records: Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow...Right!, I Started Out as a Child, Why is There Air?, and Sports. It didn't matter how many times I listened to them, I always laughed at his sketches about "Noah," "Neanderthal Man," "Street Football," "Rigor Mortis," "Driving in San Francisco," "Track and Field" (High School and Mile Relay), and so on.

And like most Americans in the 1980s, I made a point to flip on the TV when The Cosby Show aired. After so many years, it's easy to forget that it upended a number of stereotypes. At the time some criticized the show for not being more explicit about civil rights, but I've always thought that by portraying a middle-class Black family where the lead characters were an attorney and a doctor, and the kids aspired to attend college, The Cosby Show shattered the stereotypes that many people had about African-Americans. And that's nothing to sneeze at.

Thus, along with many others, I lament Cosby's fall. Not that I don't believe the charges against him. I do. It's just hard to get my head around how someone who did so much good, could also do so much bad.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Do Umpires Favor the Home Team?

So, I've been playing around with the pitch locations and related umpire calls in order to see if there's a umpire bias. Here, I'm just looking at home vs. visiting team, and it is only one game. Still it is interesting. The first graph is for the visiting team's pitcher, Dereck Rodriguez ("Pudge" Rodriguez's son), while the second is the home team's pitcher, German Marquez (from last night's game between the Giants and Rockies). The pitch locations are for called strikes and balls -- in other words, pitches at which the batter didn't swing, so the umpire had to decide whether the pitch is a strike or a ball.



There's a statistical test for this, but a quick glance suggests that the home team received better calls than the home team did. This, of course, is only one game, so we shouldn't generalize. I will return in a later post with a more substantive analysis that will examine umpire patterns for all of major league baseball, dating back until 2008. I first need to figure out how to store all that data, however.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Here's One Giants' Fan Who's Rooting for the A's


A few years back someone who worked for me asked if I was gearing up for the big rivalry games that coming weekend. "Who's playing?," I asked. "A's and Giants", my friend said. "You're kidding, right?," I replied, "The A's aren't the Giants' rivals. The Dodgers are." And so it is. While it's true that when the Giants and A's play one another, I pull for the Giants, the reason why I don't consider the A's the Giants rivals is because when the Giants aren't playing the A's, I'm usually pulling for the A's. That's not true for the Dodgers. It's a very rare day when I pull for the Dodgers -- in fact, it's only when a Dodger win will benefit the Giants. Someone far wiser than I once stated that they had two favorite teams. The Giants and whatever team's currently playing the Dodgers. I couldn't agree more (in other words, I was a Mets fan today).

If you find this weird, blame my parents. They raised me to root for ALL of the Bay Area teams: the Giants, A's, Niners, Raiders, Warriors, and all the local universities: Santa Clara, Stanford, Cal, San Jose State, St. Mary's, and so on.

In other words, I'm really happy that the A's will probably reach the playoffs this year, and I sure hope they beat the Yanks in the play-in game (just like they did today). To be sure, when Bay Area teams play one another, I pull for my favorites (e.g., Giants over A's, Niners over Raiders), but don't confuse a "favorite" with a "rival." They're not the same. At least not in my book.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Uncivil Agreement: Social Identity and Political Polarization

In 1954 Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif, along with several colleagues, conducted an experiment at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma (Sherif et al. 1988). They invited 22 fifth-grade boys (all of whom were strangers) to take part in a three-week summer camp. The researchers divided the boys into two separate, 11-person groups, and during the first week of the experiment the groups worked independently of one another in a series of team-building exercises designed to create group solidarity and were unaware of the other group's existence. In the second week, the groups were brought together for a five-day tournament where the winning team received medals and pocket knives (that wouldn’t happen anymore). The groups took on names (Eagles and Rattlers), created flags, and once the competition began, they engaged in trash-talking, name calling (e.g., “dirty shirts”), burning the other group’s flag, raiding the other team’s cabin, and so on. When they began to collect rocks to use in combat, the researchers sent them back to their separate camps in order to “avoid possible injury” (Sherif et al. 1988:115).

In the 1960s the social psychologist Henri Tajfel and his colleagues (Tajfel 1970; Tajfel et al. 1971; Tajfel and Turner 1982) drew upon the insights of the Robbers Cave experiment in order to conduct a series of experiments in order to explain group discrimination. Their basic premise was that intergroup conflict gives rise to discrimination between groups. The first experiment involved 64 boys, 14-15 years old. All of them knew one another well before the experiment. The boys were told that the psychologists were interested in the study of visual judgement and were then shown a number of dots on a screen and asked to estimate how many. In one condition, they were told they were either an overestimator or underestimator; in another, they were told they were highly accurate or poorly accurate. In reality, however, they were randomly “assigned” to their subgroup. Moreover, they had no idea who else was part of their subgroup or the other group. The boys were then asked to allocate money to the other boys in the experiment (but not to themselves). Although they did not know the identity of the boys to whom they could give money, they did know whether the boys were members of their group or not.

The researchers considered this to be a baseline experiment and did not expect it to generate intergroup discrimination, but a large majority of the boys awarded more money to members of their own group than to members of the other group. A second experiment where a different group of boys were sorted based on their (supposed) preference for paintings by either Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky yielded similar results. In fact, in this experiment, the boys had the opportunity to maximize the joint profit of both groups, but they still awarded more money to members of their own group. And finally, in a third experiment, where the subjects were explicitly told they were being randomly being sorted into groups because it was “easier,” intergroup bias still appeared.

These and subsequent experiments have given rise to social identity theory, which argues that people derive their sense of self-esteem from both their personal accomplishments and the accomplishments of the groups to which they belong. However, because part of our sense of self-worth is tied up in how our own groups compare to other (relevant) groups, we tend to view other groups as inferior to ours, which leads us to prefer ingroup over outgroup members, which led Tajfel and his colleagues to observe that “winning,” rather than fairness or maximizing profit, seems to matter most. And this is true for even minimal group identity.
These respondents were not fighting for tangible self-interest, the money they allocated went to other people, not themselves. They simply felt psychologically motivated to privilege members of their own imaginary and ephemeral group—a group of people they had never met and would never meet, and whose existence they had only learned of minutes earlier. People react powerfully when they worry about a group losing status, even when the group is “minimal.” (Mason 2018:11)
Imagine what these experiments mean for maximal group identity, that is, groups where we intimately know one another and probably have for years. Many researchers have imagined such scenarios, of course. For example, Marc Sageman (2017) has drawn on social identity theory to explain terrorism, arguing that people engage in political violence not for personal reasons but for group reasons. More recently, the political scientist Lilliana Mason (quoted above) uses it to explain the polarization that characterizes so much of politics in the United States today.
We, as modern Americans, probably like to think of ourselves as more sophisticated and tolerant than a group of fifth-grade boys from 1954. In many ways, of course, we are. But the Rattlers and the Eagles have a lot more in common with today’s Democrats and Republicans than we would like to believe… As American partisan and ideological identities have grown more sorted, partisans have grown more intolerant of their political opponents… [They] now have more to fight for, not in terms of the trophy itself, but in terms of their own commitment to the group and the stakes of losing. These stakes include the potential sense of humiliation in seeing your group be the loser. As multiple groups line up behind one party or the other, they all win or lose together. The humiliation of loss is amplified. Victory, then, becomes more important than policy outcomes. Even when both sides hold the same policy position, the priority is often to make sure the “dirty shirts” don’t win. (Mason 2018:2, 22-23) 
To be clear, Mason doesn’t target one political party or another (although I’m sure some will read her book that way). In her eyes (and in the empirical data she presents) both parties are guilty of placing “winning” above what might be good for the country. Although reducing polarization is not easy, in the final chapter of her book, she does offer a few strategies that could possibly “fix” the situation. In a later post, I'll explore some of these. For now, it is suffice to say that apart from the emergence of a goal that transcends the goals of our respective groups, it's unlikely that the current polarizing situation will change any time soon.

References

Mason, Lilliana. 2018. Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Sageman, Marc. 2017. Misunderstanding Terrorism. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sherif, Muzafer, O. J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, and Carolyn W. Sherif. 1988. The Robbers Cave Experiment: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Tajfel, Henri. 1970. "Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination." Scientific American 223(5):96-103.

Tajfel, Henri, M. G. Billig, R. P. Bundy, and Claude Flament. 1971. "Social Categorization and Intergroup Behavior." European Journal of Social Psychology 1(2):149-78.

Tajfel, Henri, and John C. Turner. 1982. "The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior." Pp. 7-24 in Psychology of Intergroup Relations, edited by S. Worchel and W. G. Austin. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Republicans Have a Decent Shot at Holding on to the House

A couple of years ago when I was sitting in church I noticed that according to my phone's weather app, there was a 30% chance that it would rain that afternoon. We tend not to think of 30% as a lot, but imagine that you have a six-shooter, and you place bullets in two of the six chambers. After spinning it, how many of you would be willing to place the gun to your head and pull the trigger? I suspect not too many even though there's ONLY a 33% chance that you'll "lose," so to speak. It did rain that afternoon, by the way.

Thinking probabilistically is not one of our strong points, however. If we see that an event has a 60% chance of happening, most of us automatically assume there's a 100% chance it will happen. That's not what a 60% chance means, though. What it means is that given the current conditions (related to whatever event you're considering), 60% of the time the event will occur. However, it also means that 40% of the time it won't.

So now consider FiveThirtyEight's model predicting how Republicans and Democrats will do in the November election (Forecasting the House Race). Currently (August 19th), it predicts that Democrats have (approximately) between a 70 and 75 percent chance of gaining control of the house. Put somewhat differently, Republicans have between a 25 and 30 percent chance of retaining control of the House, a probability that is in line with the 25 to 30 percent chance similar models gave Donald Trump of winning the presidency back in 2016. In other words, although the current conditions favor Democrats gaining control, it won't take much for things to shift so that Republicans hold on (and President Trump will be safe, at least for a couple of years, from being impeached). Thus, Democrats shouldn't become complacent (not that they would after 2016, but you never know), and Republicans shouldn't abandon hope (not that they should after 2016); maybe there will be that "Red Wave" that Fox News keeps talking about.

It should be an interesting two and a half months.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thank You, Dave Roberts

Good grief, I hate the idea that MLB teams fell the need to turn to their closers in the 9th, regardless of how well their starters are throwing. I've complained about this on numerous occasions  ("Let Starters Finish!", "Not to Beat a Dead Horse", "The Closer Temptation is Hard to Resist", "MLB's Ridiculous Obsession with Closers", "Not Everyone Can Throw Like Mariano Rivera"), but it's getting ridiculous. It used to be that if someone was pitching great, you'd let them finish the game. Not any more. Complete games are almost a thing of the past, and sometimes it costs teams games.

Like tonight. Tonight, the Dodgers, behind the pitching of Clayton Kershaw, led the Giants 2-1 after 8 innings. Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts could've sent Kershaw out to pitch the 9th, but he didn't, and the Dodgers' relievers gave up 4 runs and the Giants won 5-2. To be sure, Kershaw had thrown 110 pitches, but let's get real. As long as someone's arm is getting adequate rest, 110 pitches just aren't that many. When I played Little League, I threw more than 100 pitches a game, but I only threw once a week and didn't pitch from August to March, which is why I never had arm problems.

Of course you can't compare Kershaw to me (although I had a pretty wicked knuckleball in Little League), but it wasn't that long ago when MLB pitchers regularly threw between 100 and 150 pitches a game (as long as they were effective). In fact, in 1963, in what has been called the greatest game ever pitched, both Juan Marichal (who was 25 at the time) and Warren Spahn (who was 42!) threw 15+ innings before the Giants finally won it in the 16th inning on a Willie Mays home run. In the game, Marichal threw 227 pitches, and Spahn threw 201. To the best of my knowledge, Marichal and Spahn never had arm problems, but I think it's unlikely that you'll ever see anyone throw that many pitches in a major league game again.

Not that I'm complaining (i.e., about Roberts's decision to pull Kershaw). As one of my high school classmates recently remarked, there are few sweeter words for Giants fans than, "Dodgers lose." May it always be so.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Should the Giants Be Buyers or Sellers?

Should the Giants be buying or selling as the trade deadline approaches? Buyers are typically teams that believe that they have a chance to win it all, while sellers are those who are throwing in the towel for current year in the hope of acquiring prospects that will yield a title in the future. So, should the Giants be buying or sellers?

They definitely shouldn't be buyers, and they might consider being sellers (for the right price), not because I think they should give up reaching the playoffs this year, but because so many of their younger players (Austin Slater, Alen Hanson, Steven Duggar, Andrew Suárez, and Dereck Rodríguez) are playing so well. The Giants have been forced to use these guys because of the numerous injuries they've had this year. But, instead of dragging the team down, they've helped keep the team afloat. As a result, not only are the Giants much "younger" than they were at the beginning of the season, they are also a lot faster ("Steven Duggar and Alen Hanson have really made a difference in team speed").

That's why I'd be inclined not to waste giving up young talent to acquire a player who may help them reach the playoffs (does anyone remember when the Giants traded for Carlos Beltran?). Instead, I'd roll the dice with their young talent and see if they can help the veterans on the team (Posey, Crawford, Belt, Panik, Hernandez, Sandoval, McCutcheon, Bumgarner, Holland) bring home the pennant (or at least reach a playoff spot). They may want to consider seeing what they can get for Mark Melancon and Hunter Strickland; the Giants' don't really need them given the emergence of Tony Watson and Will Smith. And they also might want to shop Evan Longoria but only give him up for a very good price.

The upside of such a strategy is that they will have a decent (not great) shot at reaching the playoffs this year, and they'll be well-positioned to make a run next year (and several years after that). And that strikes me (as a Giants fan) as a good thing.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Outer Bay's Best Craft Breweries

Continuing my compilation of the Bay Area's best breweries ("The South Bay's Best Craft Breweries","The North Bay's Best Breweries"), here I present the rankings of craft breweries located in the "Outer Bay" (i.e., from Santa Cruz to Monterey). As before, the rankings are based on Untappd scores, which is probably the most popular app for rating a craft beers. It's not a perfect approach since successful breweries are more likely to experiment, which increases the probability that they'll brew a bad beer. And, the rankings are constantly in flux. Nevertheless, Untappd's ratings are probably the best available, so here are the rankings of the Outer Bay's craft breweries:

 1. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Capitola (4.25)
 2. Alvarado Street Brewing, Monterey (4.02)
 3. Humble Sea, Santa Cruz (4.01)
 4. Boulder Creek Brewing, Boulder Creek (3.65) -- closed
 4. Discretion Brewing, Soquel (3.65)
 6. New Bohemia Brewing, Santa Cruz (3.63)
 7. Craft Artisan Ales, Pacific Grove (3.59)
 8. East Cliff Brewing, Santa Cruz (3.56)
 8. Peter B’s Prewpub, Monterey (3.56)
10. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, Santa Cruz (3.47)
11. Seabright Brewery, Santa Cruz (3.44)
12. Santa Cruz Ale Works, Santa Cruz (3.43)
13. Uncommon Brewers, Santa Cruz (3.42)
14. English Ales Brewery, Marina (3.33)
15. Carmel Valley Brewing, Carmel Valley (3.23)

I have yet to visit Sante Adairius, but good friends assure me that it's a great place, one that offers a wide array of craft beers. It's rating is exceptionally high -- in fact, it's one of the highest in the country. Alvarado Street in Monterey and Humble Sea in Santa Cruz are two of my favorites. Alvarado Street also has an excellent restaurant, as well as a beer garden out back. Humble Sea is located not too far from Natural Bridges State Beach and around the corner from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. Boulder Creek used to be a favorite, one that our family patronized annually after cutting down our Christmas tree at a nearby farm; however, it closed after a fire, and I don't think it ever reopened. New Bohemia differs from most of the other breweries in the Outer Bay in that it offers German style lagers. East Cliff Brewing is somewhat unique in that half of its beers are traditional English Ales, while the other half are "traditional" American craft brews. I've never been too wild about Seabright Brewery's beers, but its location is excellent. Enjoy!

Note: Those interested in starting a craft brewery will probably enjoy "An Inside Look at Humble Sea Brewing," which includes videos, interviews, and so on.