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October 26, 2009 - October 19, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009


A YouTube Appreciation:
 

The 10 Greatest Sports Moments
in the Last Half Century


Maybe tops overall but not on this list.

MORE SERENDICITY. There will be time to get to the earthshaking stuff, but I'm prompted to do this entry today for several reasons. There were the posts on Victor Davis Hanson's repudiation of popular culture, specifically including sports. There was a weekend of college and professional football -- and major league baseball -- that offered glamorous spectacle (Patriots-Buccaneers in London), heartbreaking close calls (Tennessee-Alabama), truly great collisions of great teams (Vikings-Steelers), underdog triumphs (Arizona-NY Giants) and fatal failures (Angels-Yankees), as well as the usual unfolding stories of character that won't be resolved today or tomorrow but are nevertheless fascinating to watch episode by episode (Jimmy Claussen of Notre Dame, Terrell Pryor of Ohio State, and Matt Sanchez of the NY Jets.) There was also IP's post on the Obama administration's attack on Fox News, which cleverly used the Ali-Foreman fight as an example of an over-confident bully who punches himself out before the real big moment arrives.

I could have swallowed the temptations of everything but the last incitement. It's been a couple years or more since I went looking for the three sporting events I used to bore friends of mine in the Seventies with the declaration that they were the three supernally great individual performances I had been privileged to witness live (on television, of course): Ali-Foreman, Secretariat at the Belmont, and Franz Klammer at the Olympic downhill. I came up short then. This time I found them all. The video isn't uniformly good, but at least it's there. Which means the events themselves have not vanished into the ether as I had feared.

The discovery excited me. Many observers act as if YouTube is some kind of worthless warehouse of kids behaving badly, if not obscenely. That is its outer shell, to be sure, like a repulsive scab that covers a core of deep value. YouTube in reality is a kind of sensory encyclopedia, accumulating sights and sounds, nuggets of pure gold, from the entire span of human history. The amount of edifying stuff in there is prodigious, more valuable for the fact that it isn't strictly filtered and refined into routine, packaged History Channel fare. The contributors are the passionate, the ones who care the most and want to share the most. Which means that it provides the unexpected boon of being not an artfully edited time capsule but an actual time machine, operated by people with frequently dirty or damaged goggles that are nevertheless directly looking at or responding to the events themselves. I LOVE it.

It's subjective history on the fly, scraps, collages, inspirations, confessions of obsession, tributes, and an ocean of copyright violations.

[As a writer with copyrighted material myself, I can tell you my own position is simple. Borrow, steal, use all you want. Just mention where you got it in the first place if it's not too inconvenient, so that your audience can find their way if they like it to the complete version, fully formatted. They will look for it if they like it enough. The 'artists' who think they can, or should, control access and use in the Internet age are not artists at all; they're businessmen. I'd much rather have a creation of mine acquire mindshare than revenue. End of digression.]

So anyway. I came up with a list of the Ten Greatest Sports Moments. Not your Greatest Sports Moments. Mine. They're not in order of greatness but reverse chronological, starting from now and working back fifty years. I'll justify each entry unless I don't happen to feel like it. Here we go.
 
1. The 2008 Olympic Freestyle Relay in Swimming. Not because of what's-his-name, but the other fellow. The anchor who swam the swim of a lifetime, or two lifetimes. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Dr. Hanson. It was -- what's the word? -- Olympian.

2. This one's from the world of spoiled, corrupt, professional prima donnassquared. The Super Bowl. You know which one. It even involves one of the worst of the narcisssist prima donnas. But has it ever occurred to the condemnationists that participation in a transcendent event might be part of the divine plan they subscribe to for other people? Because this was a transcendent event -- and a lesson in humility for some 45 other narcissists and their several million fans who sorely needed it.

As a Philadelphia sports fan, I regularly have to listen to WIP 610 SportsTalk, where there's a daily idiot who insists that neither golf nor motor racing is sport at all because golfing and driving don't involve actual "athletic ability." They require only "hand-eye coordination," meaning, I suppose, something akin to what's needed to excel at darts, pool, and video games. I despise that guy. I'll give you my definition of athletic ability later. Until then, here's:

3. The 1997 Masters. The Grand Entrance of Tiger Woods. His first win in a major. At Augusta, which resisted (as I can't prove but do accept) the first participation by an African-American golfer just as that country club (well, isn't it?) had always angled against African-American membership. What a triumphant display of talent, resolve, and character. And talent. Did I forget to mention genius? And character?

4. My most dubious entry, I suppose. Not a triumph but a catastrophe. The 1981 crash of Danny Ongais at the Indy 500. BUT. I knew about Ongais long before he raced at Indy. He began as a drag racer, known as "The Hawaiian." Nothing about drag racing prepares you for road-racing except fearlessness at speed. Unless total fearlessness might be a kind of, uh, athletic ability, the capacity to perform coldly under circumstances most mortal men would run away from. The importance of this clip is what happened a few weeks later, which is not yet recorded on YouTube. Ongais's leg was pulverized during the Indy crash, almost to powder. Yet a few weeks later he was hoisted into an Indy car with a cage around his leg reminiscent of the Hellraiser villain, pins EVERYWHERE (can't prove this part though I remember the reporting) in order to do a few rehabilitative turns at another track; he broke the lap record the second time around. The next part I also can't prove, though I saw it on television. In his first Indy race back after the crash, Ongais kissed the wall again, bounced lightly off it and passed another car on the same straightaway. I saw it. He was CRAZY. The way most champions at anything are crazy. He's probably dead or in prison by now, but he might be my favorite on this list regardless.

5. This one you all know. But are your memories of the event itself or of the movie? Yeah, I liked the movie, too. But here's the real 1980 Miracle on Ice in all its bad-video glory.

6. I witnessed the Ali-Foreman fight live on HBO. I didn't get to see the third Ali-Frazier fight in Manila at the time because it was an extortionate pay-per-view deal and I was too poor to pay. Thus, I read all about it, in gruesome detail, before I ever got to see it -- the early rounds to Ali, the punishing middle rounds to Frazier until it looked after the tenth like Ali was exhausted and beaten. Followed by the greatest late-round comeback by any heavyweight in boxing history, which you can see here and here. But do judge for yourself. I was always an Ali fan. I listened to his first title fight in 1963 on a transistor radio under the covers while my parents thought I was asleep. I was the only one in my fifth grade class who was for the upstart Cassius Clay and thought he would beat the dreaded Sonny Liston. So I've never been exactly neutral on the subject.

7. The event itself was better than the video, but at least the video is here. Call this one the "Victory of the Overdog." Klammer was the favorite to win the downhill in the 1976 Olympics. But he got a bad draw in terms of order. By the time he skied, the course was torn up, the temperature was turning other skiers' tracks into icy ruts, and the times had been deteriorating as a result. But Klammer was Ongais on skis -- he raced not at the nine-tenths of his competitors but at ten-tenths of his ability. The fuzziness of this video makes it hard to see just how beyond the edge he seemed to be throughout his run, but 'beyond' is exactly the right word. Why else would I have remembered it for so long? In almost the same terms as this...?

8. The Triple Crown had become a distant memory by the time of Secretariat. Everyone was used to Kentucky Derby, yes, Preakness, yes... Belmont Stakes, awwwwww. Then came this. Take a look at the steady incremental retreat of the camera as television coverage tries to keep at least one other horse in the same frame with the greatest racehorse of all time. At the end, even that couldn't be done. Secretariat flies across the finish line all alone. Appropriately and magnificently alone.

9. I told you I'd cover fifty years worth. This is a remedial entry from 1966. Even those of you who think they properly appreciate Ali's greatness against Foreman and Frazier, and even those who are sure they understand the cost of his three year layoff after the title was stripped for political reasons, may not know what those three years really took away from him. (Yes, I know he chose, just as Ted Williams chose, to lose part of his career for conviction. And I admire Ted Williams's sacrifice more than Ali's by far, BUT...) Would Frazier ever have stood a chance against this fighter without the enforced idleness, legal ordeals, and rushed return to the ring of the opponent Frazier narrowly defeated in (Madison Square Garden's version of) the "Fight of the Century"? Not a chance. This fight footage is probably a record of the greatest heavyweight talent ever to appear in a boxing ring right before it got sat down for a huge chunk of its prime. Cleveland Williams was a knockout puncher, not a bum of the month. The Ali who decked Foreman and came back to stop Frazier in the 14th was no longer the prodigy of the Williams fight. He was just a champion who refused to lose, It cost him everything. (God, how I wish he'd retired after Manila... He won a lot more fights but the price of proving that the world's greatest boxer can take more punches than anyone else and still win is bitterly unacceptable. As much as I cheered Ali, I now grieve for Ali. But I include this clip because this is how I really remember him, dancing and invulnerable lightning.) I know. I'm old. Which is why Number 10:

10. I know the kids don't care about the duration of the Phillies revenge motive. But we do. The early odds put the Yankees at 2-1 to defeat the reigning World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. This final link is just a reminder that even the Yankees have had their George Foreman moments.

Just sports. Do you think? It's especially convenient for nerds and geeks like us to dismiss "jocks" as thoughtless, purely physical idiots who excel only at some combination of strength and coordination. Truth is, it's just not so. The physical talents do have to be there, but they don't result in these kinds of moments without a whole raft of other attributes, including brains, courage, character, perseverance, faith, focus, and, well, something like destiny. As with every other strain of human aspiration, the apex of "athletic ability" is synonymous with the apex of human achievement; i.e., the most achieved with ALL the resources given.

Something to think about? I think so.

Still feeling superior to the a__hole jocks, are we? Maybe not so much? The outer edge of the envelope is always pushed for a purpose, even when you think the only pressure is on the lickem-stickum. Complacency accrues to the interpreters, not the pushers.




Friday, October 23, 2009


The Fox News Fiasco

Rope-a-dope. Rope-dope. Rope-a-dope. Knockout.

SMART STRATEGY? "NO MAS."
This may be one of those topics Lake is referencing with his observation, "Sometimes you don't comment on some big event that is on everyone else's mind." Frankly, I'm not that concerned about this one. Not because nothing is at stake. A lot's at stake. But there's a point at which you relax. So much is out of your control. Ali is going to get hammered to death on the ropes by the deadliest puncher in heavyweight history, or, uh, he's not. You have to trust that a champion really is a champion and let events take care of themselves. For example, there are are guaranteed certified liberals who work for Fox News, some of them intensely annoying to conservatives like me. Like Ellen Ratner. What does she have to say about this blatant assault on the freedom of the press?

I have been working for Fox News as a confirmed liberal contributor for twelve years.

I know from the inside of the Fox News Channel operation that they are clear about the dividing line between reporting and opinion. They don't like to mix the work of reporters and the show hosts nor should they. I sit at the White House with Fox's White House reporters and they have asked the same questions as other reporters -- both during the Bush administration and the Obama administration.

As a liberal commentator on Fox News Channel I have never been told what to say and have only been asked to restrain myself once in twelve years. And when was that? -- It was on the day that Michael Jackson died and the producer asked me to keep my negative views to myself till some time had passed. That's a concern I can respect. They welcome my thoughts and views and they would welcome President Obama's views as well.

Other lefty Fox contributors like Terry McAuliffe and Bob Beckel have volunteered or reluctantly conceded the same point on the air. And don't think they aren't also working behind the scenes to defend their own integrity and point out the value of their presence on a network which has numerically more Democrats and Independents in its audience than CNN and MSNBC. Let the body-punchers do their thing. Let the guy behind the punches make the biggest mistake of all -- disdain the seemingly passive target of his contemptuous, bullying assault:

Barack Obama is pretty interesting when he gets in front of his money-givers — his biggest fans, I guess. In New York, he said, “Democrats are an opinionated bunch. You know, the other side, they just kinda sometimes do what they’re told. Democrats, y’all thinkin’ for yourselves...”

I probably shouldn't tell you what I think of the g-dropping Obama, the "One" who thinks he can really get away with sounding like a down-home preacher to his richest audiences when he insists on sounding like a Harvard know-it-all to the rest of us. So I won't.

But why did I think of the video above? Because NRO's Nordlinger, who reported the anecdote above, was also moved to remember this gem from the independent, free-thinking lefty past:

 Let me share with you a letter I published in Impromptus, my NRO column, last year. It had to do with hissing, which was a subject about which I had just written a piece:

Sometime in the late ’70s, Norman Mailer came to Zellerbach Hall at UC-Berkeley to give a talk. The place was sold out. This was during the period when he was writing pieces refuting Germaine Greer. He walked onstage wearing cowboy boots, Levis, and a shirt and jacket . . . and he had a rolling sort of John Wayne gait.

As he stepped up to the microphone, he said approximately the following: “I know that about half of you here tonight hate my guts because of my stand on feminism. So let’s get that out of the way. I want you to hiss me. I want you to let all of your feelings toward me out. Come on, hiss me!”

And the most spine-chilling hiss arose from the audience. It lasted ten seconds. I’d never heard anything like it before, and I haven’t since. It was authentic and deeply felt. And when it subsided, Mailer leaned into the microphone and said, softly, “Obedient bitches.”

Most readers here will know that I'm not over-fond of Norman Mailer. However. The ONE book of his I really liked was called "The Fight." It was about Ali versus Foreman. He had a front row seat. He was a gifted writer about prizefighting, if nothing else. And he made it clear that the punches Ali took from Foreman during his "rope-a-dope" rounds were so loud and devastatingly hard that he couldn't believe Ali was still standing after Round 2, let alone Round 7. Who is it in this war that really has the belly for a fifteen rounder with no timeouts for hurt feelings and bruised egos?

Kurtz addressed the accusations of both parties on Reliable Sources with a panel of top of journalists.

Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for Broadcasting & Cable Magazine, said that when administration officials target Fox News, it doesn't help the President's image or message, and magnifies publicity for the Fox News brand.

"[Obama] can talk to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he can't talk to Chris Wallace? So, I think it really undermines his unity credibility. And if he's not on the network and administration officials aren't on the network to counter some of the stereotypical caricatures, then, you know, where do you go from there?" Guthrie asked. "Fox News doesn't thrive on access from the administration. They're the opposition. They thrive on agitation... [Fox News President] Roger Ailes said, 'don't pick a fight with people who like to fight.'"

Because sometimes they fight back.

One, two, three, four... nine, ten, OUT, you obedient bitches.




Thursday, October 22, 2009


A Rematch MadeEyed in Heaven

It was an extraordinary series, despite the Yankee shutout.

A HALF-CENTURY ON. I obviously don't know that the Angels won't come back from the brink to beat the Yankees, and if there is a Phillies-Yankees World Series I don't know who will win. But right now I'm in the grip of the kind of baseball sentimentality that to my mind represents the transcendant nature of the sport because its roots extend so far back in time that even I, at my advanced age, don't remember the originating events. But that doesn't mean the emotions aren't real, personal, and vivid.

I've previously written about the fact that my earliest experience of baseball was the 1964 debacle in which the Phillies blew a 6-1/2 game lead when it seemed the pennant was won. But the reason I was a baseball fan in the first place was my parents, whose own Phillies-imprinting experience was the 1950 season. They were four years married and living in their first house, a colonial wreck in the country they spent all their time returning to first habitability and then beauty. They did it with sweat and determination, not money, and in those first years they couldn't afford entertainments like nights on the town. In those days they were struggling to have children -- my older sister and only sibling wouldn't be born until after the 1951 season -- and their lone companion was an Irish setter named Katie, a rescued stray for whom my father quit smoking cigarettes to afford dog food. Katie was well worth it. She was one of those scary smart dogs who really seemed to understand conversational English and once went for help, in classic cinematic fashion, when my mother was badly injured in an automobile accident. It took all their powers of persuasion to coax her back into the repaired Jeep afterwards, even though she'd always loved riding in that topless, doorless dog paradise of a vehicle, where she waited like a statue when left alone during stops and errands of all kinds.

Where was I...? Back in 1950. These were the kinds of stories we kids heard about the years before we arrived, and they were always interwoven with memories of the glorious pennant win and heartbreaking World Series defeat of the Philadelphia Phillies. The screened-in porch would only be built years later, so on the hottest summer nights they sat in the hall that ran from the front to the back of the house, with both doors propped open and a small electric fan whirring uselessly against the hot humid air. They drank icy daiquiris and listened to the "Whiz Kid" Phillies make their improbable race for the pennant. The term "light hitting," used as a description of that team by sportswriters, was grossly inaccurate because it included the term "hitting," which the Phillies manifestly didn't.

I only know some of these details of my parents' early life together because of baseball. During the wonderful and traumatic 1964 season, they wanted me to know that the Phillies color announcer, Richie Ashburn, was as important to them as Richie Allen and Johnny Callison were to me. He was the lone .300 hitter on the 1950 team, and while they didn't tell me about individual games, they continually described an archetypal Whiz Kids game in which Ashburn consistently got on base and died there waiting for hits that never came. As I think of it, this must be more than anything a World Series memory, since you don't win a pennant if your leadoff star never gets batted home. Which is also a clue to the fact that 1964 hurt them, too, not as badly perhaps since they were grownups, but enough that unlike me, they never stopped following the Phils for the rest of their lives.

When the Phillies played, my mother watched or listened, even into her 82nd and final year of life. I got used to the fact, without being particularly aware of it, that when I visited my parents in summer, there was like as not the radio background of the ballpark, that tidal murmur of the crowd and the voice of Kalas and for a long time Ashburn, no matter how well or poorly the team was doing that year. Toward the end, it may have been the case that my mother was no longer really following the game but resting instead on the comforting blur of that sound and the memories it evoked. Because it was that way for me. Despite her vagueness and frailty I could somehow still see the image of the two of them in their hot hallway, young and hopeful, hanging on the next pitch and calling each other "Bus" (short for Buster, which they eventually stopped doing as time passed), waiting for that next critical crack of the bat, which is always on the way and always will be. That's the eternity of baseball.

That's why memories of people like Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas ultimately become so personal. Unlike every other sport, baseball is a day-after-day-after-day game, ingrained in the fabric of your life. The season is not a series of big events. It's a dramatic enactment of spring, summer, and fall, which follows the life of leaves, and the bareness of winter ends when spring training starts and the old murmur of the life crowd resumes. So there is eternity. But there is also history. Which makes some years, some confrontations, more important than others in the endless life-affirming cycle.

My parents have unfinished business with the Yankees. Richie Ashburn has unfinished business with the Yankees. Because of Richie, his best friend Harry Kalas has unfinished business with the Yankees. And because of the Whiz Kids and Ashburn and Kalas and millions of sons and daughters in the Delaware Valley, the Philadelphia Phillies have unfinished business with the Yankees. It doesn't matter how long ago the 1950 series happened. In fact, it matters more because of how long ago the 1950 series happened.

The last time the Philadelphia Phillies played the New York Yankees in the World Series, the Yankees had Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, and Hank Bauer.  They wound up playing a Phillies series, all pitching and no hitting. The Yankees scored a total of 11 runs, with only two homeruns, one by Dimaggio and one by Berra. The ERA of the losing Phillies team was 2.27.

I'm not saying the Yankees didn't deserve to win. They played the Phillies game better than the Phillies did, but the Whiz Kids were still remarkable. The MVP in the National League that year was Jim Konstanty, a bespectacled relief pitcher who was the forerunner of what we would today call a "closer." Amazingly, the Phils chose him to start the World Series opener, which he lost 1-0 after an eight inning performance. He also pitched seven more innings in relief in the next three games, giving up a series total of 9 hits and 4 earned runs for an ERA of 2.40. Phils ace Robin Roberts pitched 11 innings with an ERA of 1.64.

In short, what the 1950 Phillies needed was hitting. That's what the 2009 Phillies have above all else. The Yankees and the Phillies are the two most prolific homerun hitters in Major League Baseball.

I can feel the departed Whiz Kid fans salivating in prospect of this series. Let loose the howitzers on both sides. I know I'll be watching from a hot hallway in 1950, waiting for that next breathtaking moment of remembrance... and, uh, vengeance.




Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The New Video Counterculture

Yeah, I know this is an IP rerun. If you didn't watch the
whole thing before, do so now. It's catchy and important.
Meaning it's actually a good rap video, deftly on point.

FOLLOW-UP
. At least one of you said I was being "too hard" on Victor Davis Hanson in yesterday's post. I went back to the site where his essay was posted and read the comments. The man is getting love from all over, including blanket agreement from people in their twenties and thirties. That's head in the sand stuff, folks.



Or worse. A lot of the propaganda war for the socialist Obama agenda is being fought in the popular culture. How many of you know that in the same week Limbaugh was successfully marginalized as a potential NFL owner, Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie was approved for NFL ownership? It was her husband band partner, "will.i.am," who promulgated this creepy pro-Obama video in the 2008 election:



Her own contribution to the body politic is exemplified by this masterpiece:



The libelling of Limbaugh is a story, certainly, but it's not the whole story. The head-in-the-sand crowd have no way of knowing just how shockingly insulting and dangerous the new precedents are. Imagine members of the French Resistance in 1940 preferring to remember only the "Good Germany," the blessed memories of Goethe and Beethoven, because they are simply above paying heed to the machinations of Josef Goebbels. There probably were such high-toned patriots. But they were the ones who got led away into the black holes of the Gestapo, never to be seen again.

That's why we've been at some pains here to celebrate the observations of less snobbish but no less committed conservatives like Jonah Goldberg and Jay Nordlinger. They, too, know their way around the literary canon and the classical tradition, but they're also plugged-in 21st century consumers of both high culture and pop culture. Which makes them much more alert sensors of the sinister subtlety of the left's attack on our values through the medium of popular culture. One link we've been saving because it's worthy of a thoughtful post of its own is this essay by Nordlinger on "Safe Zones." (Sincere apologies to Mr. Nordlinger for reproducing the whole thing, but there are times when the whole thing is necessary...)

Safe-Zone Violation!
Why sportswriters, and others, should be penalized

It’s an old story, but one that deserves retelling now and then: I’m talking about the injection of politics — partisan politics — into sports columns. And into other areas where partisan politics have no place. As I’ve taken to lamenting in recent times, there is no “safe zone.”

A reader of National Review Online sent me an e-mail whose Subject line read “Safe-Zone Violation!” (I get many such e-mails.) This reader had been enjoying a sports column in the New York Post about a local PGA tournament. The columnist was complaining that Tiger Woods was not sufficiently open to the media. He wrote, “It’s not like we’re trying to pull President Obama aside for a couple of questions while he’s trying to save our country from itself.”

Was that really necessary? Psychologically, for the columnist, it may have been.

I did a little note about this on NRO, and it struck a nerve — struck it hard. Readers responded with an avalanche of mail, much of it anguished. A typical letter went (something like), “I always loved reading So-and-so” — Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, for example. “But finally I had to stop because he was constantly insulting my political views with little asides. Why do they have to do that? Why do they have to alienate half their audience, or at least some part of it?”

I could give you a thousand examples of “safe-zone violations” in sportswriting. Why don’t I give you a more modest, less choking number?

A columnist for the Boston Globe was writing about hockey, and he said, “Bigger nets will likely bring, at most, a teeny-weeny uptick in scoring. Focusing on bigger nets, in many ways, is hockey’s version of cutting taxes — eye-catching, but ineffective.” You see, he knows about economics. And has college football’s Bowl Championship Series ever reminded you of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? No? You’re weird.

In 2007, the Washington Post’s John Feinstein wrote, “The BCS Presidents are a lot like the current President of the United States. They think that if they keep repeating their lies and half-truths and remind people who they are enough times, people will buy into what they’re selling. According to one poll, only 21 percent of the American people are buying what President Bush is selling, but it sure took a long time and lot of deaths to get there.” The next year, Mike Celizic of NBCSports.com wrote, “Is Dick Cheney a member of the BCS? That’s got to be the explanation for the latest load of nonsense to come out of the outfit that runs the system by which college football does not choose a legitimate champion.”

Celizic likes Cheney, in a way. Here he is in a different column, same topic: “. . . the stewards of the BCS, who match Dick Cheney in arrogance and outrank him in gall, have confirmed their intention of depriving college football fans of a playoff and a legitimate champion.” Celiciz writes about other topics, but Cheney seems ever with him: “The Jaguars’ front seven surrendered rushing yards as willingly as Dick Cheney admits to strategic errors in Iraq.” And so on.

Sarah Palin comes in for a lot of abuse from sportswriters, as you might expect. Here is an item from Sports Illustrated’s website —the subject is baseball (really): “Imagine for a minute that you had free reign [sic] to add any three players to your team for the second half, while punishing a heated [hated?] rival by tagging them with three more of your choice. That’s basically the essence of this week’s revised format: three players who will heat up post-All-Star break and three who will break down faster than you can say Sarah Palin.”

If he says so.

Another Sports Illustrated writer was sizing up Heisman prospects, ranking them, 1 to 10. He said he “had more trouble picking the No. 10 candidate than Sarah Palin had choosing a Supreme Court ruling she opposed.” A writer for a college-football site had occasion to write, “Sarah Palin could be thrown out there against John Kenneth Galbraith in an open forum debate on economic reform, and if it’s in that time slot on CBS, it would go down to the wire.” (Actually, to borrow an old line, Galbraith knew more than Palin about economics — and also more that simply isn’t true.) An SI writer, soliciting reader mail, asked specifically for “Sarah Palin jokes.” Why not?

But Palin is nothing like the target Dick Cheney is. Perusing SI’s website, you might suspect that anti-Cheney remarks are required from all SI writers. These remarks amount to a big, collective tic. Have a passage on a San Antonio Spur: “[He] remains as unpopular among non-Spurs as Dick Cheney is among Democrats, Independents, Americans with no political affiliation, a growing number of Republicans, the great majority of the world population as well as that poor guy he filled with buckshot.”

A column about David Beckham, the soccer star, came with a warning: “If you care about [Beckham] about as much as Dick Cheney cares about Global Warming, feel free to click through somewhere else.” A column about basketball confessed error: “What could I possibly have been thinking when I picked the Knicks to finish sixth in the East? . . . Dick Cheney was more accurate in his prediction that we would be greeted as liberators.” Here is one about football: “His comments to reporters after practice were, for the most part, as bland as a Dick Cheney address.” Here is another about football: “As it is, the dour Belichick, who is only slightly less warm and fuzzy than Steely Dick Cheney, is easy to root against.”

And have a handful about baseball: “The Red Sox even hired James, which is like Dick Cheney hiring a French chef.” “After . . . conducting himself with the sunniness of Dick Cheney throughout the ’05 season . . .” “For those superstars dropping out of the WBC like so many lawyers around Dick Cheney . . .” “Watching Bonds talk to reporters is like watching Dick Cheney when he’s asked to discuss his daughter’s sexual preference.”

Etc., etc., etc. There are many more where those came from, from innocuous to rotten. These anti-Cheney jabs seem to be an open codeword, or an unsecret handshake. They say, “I’m cool, I’m with-it, I’m in the club.” Sportswriting is as susceptible to groupthink as other fields. People in general, when they run, like to run with the herd, no matter what their protestations of independence.

As I said at the outset, this is not a new story: politics-in-sportswriting. Christopher Caldwell, who has just written a book about the Islamicization of Europe, once wrote a piece about the politicization of Sports Illustrated: “Sports Eliminated” (!). That was for the inaugural issue of The Weekly Standard, in September 1995. James Taranto, of OpinionJournal.com, has a series called “Wannabe Pundits,” which includes political forays by sportswriters — I have quoted an example or two of his above. And I myself have banged this drum for a while.

The problem is worse than ever, I believe, and I also believe that we have a broader national problem: with political talk leaking over into almost everything. The “cable culture” is all around us, and safe zones — i.e., spheres free of partisan politics — are diminishing.

Why do sportswriters do it? Why do they bust out political? I have a theory, and it’s an easy theory — maybe a too-easy one: Sports guys, some of them, may be a bit embarrassed to be sportswriters. So they have to prove they’re just as serious — just as liberal, virtuous, and “engaged” with the world — as their colleagues on the news and editorial desks. “I may cover the NFL, but hey! I hate Bush as much as you do, I swear.”

Or it may just be that they have a platform, and they’re going to exploit it. “While I have your attention on Roger Federer, let me tell you what I think of Bush.”

And as long as I’m playing shrink, I will hazard something else: You can glimpse the insecurity of sportswriters in the overwriting they do. Many sportswriters are notorious overwriters, larding their prose with similes, metaphors, and other imagined, writerly cleverness. The message? “I may not be writing about the weightiest or most consequential affairs, but you see how smart and lit’rary I am?!”

An NRO reader had a nice insight and comparison, I believe. He e-mailed, “My brother says there is no liberal more liberal than a southern liberal.” (So, so true — see the former chief of the New York Times, Howell Raines, for instance.) “Similarly, there may be no writer more liberal than a sportswriter.”

Of course, contemporary sportswriting is part of the “New Journalism,” which includes a lot of ego, a lot of politics, and a lot of sociology. (I have written a few of these pieces myself! May be embarked on one now . . .) In 2002, I wrote for National Review an essay called “Hunting Tiger: Everyone wants a piece of him.” It began, “The pressure on Tiger Woods is mounting, and it has nothing to do with golf: It’s the pressure to blacken up — to be a social activist, a racial spokesman.” Much of that pressure has come from sportswriters, acting on their “social conscience,” and demanding that the famous, talented people they write about come into line. So far, Tiger has proven his own man, much to the consternation of many.

Incidentally, on no subject are sportswriters more sanctimonious or insufferable than on the subject of race. Of course, this is true of writers in general.

I can further testify to the need that many people felt, over the last eight or so years, to confirm their hatred of George W. Bush. Let me take you to Salzburg, in about 2003. I’m covering concerts and operas at the festival. I meet a fellow critic — also an American — at an intermission. He wants to express displeasure with an opera production that is “transgressive,” “subversive,” and whatever other trendy word you can think of. He began, “I hate George Bush, but . . .” — then he criticized the production. He had to assure me, you see, that he was not a Neanderthal or prude. He needed to assure me that he did not have horns and a tail. So he said, “I hate George Bush” — out of nowhere, to a complete stranger.

One funny thing was that he was talking to an admirer of President Bush, and not only that, to someone who had taken a leave of absence from his regular job to work on Bush’s speechwriting team. Apparently, my fellow critic had not seen my horns and tail. To him, “I hate George Bush” was a laissez-passer — his permission to go ahead and criticize a radical opera production.

Should sportswriters blurt out “I hate George Bush,” in whatever form? Is that some kind of laissez-passer of theirs? I quote Austin Murphy, of, of all places, SI.com:

    Those of us who toil in journalism’s toy department do so under orders never to breach The Firewall. As a sportswriter, we are told, you must never allow your politics to seep into your prose. Readers come to us seeking respite and escape; surcease from the cares of the world. So it simply won’t do to cause them discomfort by bringing up the policies and peccadilloes, the wide stances and extramarital romances of our elected officials. Passages on politics, favoring either red or blue, will be deleted by pencils red and blue. Lions and Bears, yes. Donkeys and elephants, no.

That is a lovely passage. But the writer must be speaking of some far-distant age, or of a principle to be ignored — for the sports columns are chockfull of politics (coming, almost always, from the left). This “Firewall” must have been razed long ago, by the evidence of our eyes.

Some sports guys are so political, they have simply crossed over. I mean, they have made honest men of themselves by being forthrightly political guys. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC is the most prominent such example. Other sports guys are just a blur: half sportswriter, half political pundit. The other week, Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer devoted his column to making sport (so to speak) of protests over health care. The sports fig leaf, I suppose, was that health-care policy was the latest “blood sport,” reminiscent of “an Eagles-Jets game.”

It is not only the sports sections of newspapers that are infected by politics — other, ostensibly non-political sections may be unsafe zones. An NRO reader told me, “I stopped reading the New York Times in the ’80s, when the cooking columns started saying things like, ‘Just as Reagan should have known it was time to [do X], you must carefully monitor the exact time to [do Y].” I even received complaints about chess columns.

And a woman from Nashville registered the following: “Conservative women also have to put up with this when reading one of the expensive, glossy women’s mags such as Cosmo or Glamour. You’re reading a lovely little article on vintage purses, the best under-eye creams, boyfriend woes, etc., and — there it is. A Palin slam. A reference to Dick Cheney shooting someone. A joke about a Republican getting caught in a scandal. A glowing reference to Michelle Obama.”

And would you like to hear about another unsafe zone? Let’s go on a city tour. Recently, a newlywed couple I know traveled to New York to spend a few special days. They took an open-air bus tour, and the guide peppered his commentary with anti-Republican jibes. For example, as the bus cruised up Sixth Avenue, he pointed out Fox News, calling it “the voice of evil.” That certainly says to conservative-leaning couples, “Happy honeymoon!”

Of course, everyone has a right to an opinion, but people often confuse what you have a right to do with what’s right to do. (I heard Bill Bennett say that, long ago.) I love opinions, heaven knows, including political opinions: but they have their place.

Last winter, wearing a music critic’s hat, I covered a chamber concert in New York’s Weill Recital Hall. A composer mounted the stage to give a talk about a piece of his, about to be played. Any talking at a concert is bad enough: but our guy duly inveighed against Bush and hailed the new president, Obama. I mentioned this, not in a concert review — which would have been perfectly within bounds, as the composer had injected politics into the evening — but on a political blog.

Our guy wrote me a profane e-mail saying (in essence), “Hey, no fair! You’re supposed to be a music critic. Why don’t you do your job?” I replied that the same question could be asked of him. To his credit, he took the point, and most graciously.

There are people who like walls of separation and those who don’t. I like my sports, music, food, etc., politics-free. Others think that this is some sort of moral or civic negligence, or simply naivety. Laura Ingraham wrote a book about entertainers and politics called Shut Up & Sing. When I look at such publications as Sports Illustrated, I think of a variation: “Shut up and write about sports!”

Care for a final nugget? A football columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “The [Eagles’] offensive numbers are poor, but if you really want a scary, my-daughter-married-a-Republican moment, take out the Detroit game and look at them again.” I’m sure that Republican readers in Philly enjoyed that fleck of mud in their morning cereal.

Look, I could provide examples of these violations and intrusions till the cows come home. When I revived this issue on NRO, I received an e-mail from a sportswriter at a major daily. He said, “Dear Sir: What the [rhymes with “duck”] are you talking about? Love, The sportswriting community.” Take an honest look at sportswriting in America today and you’ll see. Love, Me.

Victor probably doesn't know about any of this because he's so disdainful of American professional sports across the board. For the same reason, he probably doesn't know about BigHollywood.com, where writers and actors and reviewers of conservative bent daily expose the pop culture propaganda offensive underway in the movies and television shows; Safe Zone violations are routine and even epidemic here, too, even if Victor is too remotely superior to notice them.

Which also means that he's stuck his head in a place where it's unlikely he'll be able to perceive or draw hope from the building Resistance that's a sign of hope among conservatives of all ages, but most notably among youngsters.

Ya think he's a fan of Fox News's surprise 3:00 am hit Redeye? And Redeye's relentlessly self-deprecatory and deadly satirist Greg Gutfeld? No. I don't think so either.

Ya think he's aware of the kids who are doing battle on behalf of conservatism in the up-to-the-minute realms of indie films and YouYube? (Although, to be fair, even some old conservatives who haven't taken their ball and bat and gone home are also active in this sphere...)

Let's face it. If you're clinging to Eric Severaid and High Noon (sheesh), there's every chance you'd completely miss the new Toxic Twins (So you even remember the old Toxic Twins?) of conservatism, Zo and Stephen Crowder. These guys are absolutely kicking ass in the new media. Via YouTube. Heard of that, Victor, have you? Or what Joe Perry has to say? Or this? (Which is part of this, including this, you stick-in-the-mud.) Or is it more comforting to loll in the memory of David Brinkley? uh, yeah, thought so.

There are also filmmakers. Seeking distribution in a hostile environment. Which you wouldn't know about if you're not paying attention to the, uh, sewer of pop culture:


What's really important about all this for all the old head-in-the-sanders is that this kind of counterculture resistance did NOT exist in the supposedly "good old days" the fiftyish set are now consoling themselves with. If they think it did, they're delusional.

Yes, we're living in the worst of times. The entire nation is under attack. But we're also living in the best of times. Pop culture is now high-tech and people, particularly young people, are fighting back. Insist on being an old, aggrieved asshole at your own risk (JS..." And, yup the Yankees still suck.) Or jerk your hermit mentality back into the here and now and join the Resistance. Your choice.

We've never faced greater challenges. But we've never had more potent tools to fight back.

Listening to Chopin nocturnes and dreaming about Grace Kelly hardly seems the right response.

Scrivers, everyone. Those of you who don't understand the reference are free to go back to your TCM marathon of the day.

HEY. I think I just got's me a Peace Prize...




Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I don't know, Victor...

He don't know 'bout Jessica's big booty... uh, his loss.

PUNCTURED OMNISCIENCE. Victor Davis Hanson is at pains today to tell us that he's lost track of popular culture. He pretends that he's not proud of the fact, but every paragraph bristles with both pride and disdain. Behold:

Confessions of a Cultural Drop-out

I have some confessions to make, not because any of you readers are particularly interested in my views; but rather because I think some of you are in the same boat: Have you stopped reading, listening, watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for establishment public or popular culture? I am not particularly proud of this quietism (many Athenians did it in the early 4th century BC and Romans by the late 3rd AD), but not really ashamed of it either.

Shut up and see a movie?

Take Hollywood protocol—make a big movie, hype it, show it at the mall multiplex. But I went to one movie the last year. Maybe three in the last four years. There is not much choice here—car crashes, evil white men killing the innocent, some gay or feminist heroes fending off club-bearing white homophobic Mississippians in pick-ups. Or you can endure the American war-machine kidnapping, torturing, or murdering even more of the helpless abroad—with Robert Redford, glassed down, tweed in display, or snarly George Clooney sermonizing, like the choruses of Euripides’ tragedies.

The usual themes—some evil corporation is destroying something (fill in the blanks: the environment, the neighborhood, the small town, etc.), some CIA conspiracy is out to ruin a crusading heroic journalist, or some brave professor or writer is exposing a massive cover-up—are, well, boring, even with the sex, the blow-em-up explosions, and some nice scenery. (And all this from a corporate Hollywood—reliant on the security of the American military, crass in its high tastes and destructive in its behavior, and all the while profit and status obsessed! [The world of Halliburton makes the world safe for Botox?])

If it is not all that, we get instead some neurotic suburban psychodrama about a senseless midlife crisis of some aging yuppies, wondering whether their empty lives really have meaning. Then there are always the “action” movies about tomb-robbing, treasure-hunting, or Zombie killing, but even they try to mask emptiness with a politically-correct throw-away line now and then. Can’t they make one movie of the Lewis and Clark expedition or Lepanto, and one less with Tom Hanks as the anguished and caring postmodern man?

Why not DVDs?

If I watch DVDs, they surely are not of recent vintage. I couldn’t tell you a single release in the current most rented 100. I rewatch instead Westerns—Peckinpaugh, [sic] John Ford, the classics like Shane and High Noon, the greats like Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Lee Marvin, George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, John Wayne, etc., and, as I wrote a few months ago, almost anything with a brilliant, but now forgotten character actor such as a Jack Palance, Richard Boone (cf. Cicero Grimes in Hombre), Ben Johnson, or Warren Oates—if only for their accents, ad-libbed lines, and carriage. Only the greats like DeNiro or Pacino, or a Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and a few others (a Hackman, Eastwood, or Hopkins) approximate the old breed. (A Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, or John Malkovich are at least originals and, like real people, look the worse for it). So I find myself replaying something like a Das Boot or Breaker Morant, or supposedly corny 1930s and 1940s classics like How Green Was My Valley or The Best Years of Our Lives.  If I want to watch a film that failed at the box-office, I’ll take One-Eyed Jacks or Major Dundee or Pat Garret and Billy the Kid; their failures are better than today’s “successes”.

Today’s under thirty American male actors sound like they either have sinus congestion, or are trying to convince someone they are not as effeminate as their contrived appearance otherwise suggests. If my life depended on it, I could not identify any of the current leading actresses. The country needs a screen presence of a Burt Lancaster or Frederic March and it gets instead a Ben Affleck or Leo DiCaprio.

Musical Time Warp

Ditto music. I don’t know the name of a single rapper. Don’t follow rock anymore. Don’t want to. I like a Mark Knopfler or Coldplay, but mostly missed music’s 21st century. I’m so lost that I think a Bob Seeger and Bruce Hornsby are contemporary mega-stars, though I couldn’t identify a recent hit of either. I haven’t seen any of the kids write as well as Springsteen or Van Morrison. One Otis Redding had more talent than the entire hip-hop industry.

Who is Katie Couric?

Add in television. I haven’t watched a network newscast in 10 years. If I want to see a 60-Minutes hit piece, I’ll watch a You Tube video where the amateurs are far more interesting and honest about their ambush journalism. Do the CBS hit-men still try to jump in and cross-up some poor official, as he stammers while they hammer on? Is Andy Rooney still around?

I don’t know which anchor is where. I bump into them in their re-aired interviews like the Couric/Palin disaster or Gibson with his eyeglasses on his nose as if were a professor of Romance Languages grilling Sarah the Idaho co-ed, but other than that could care less.

I’d take an old paleo-liberal like Eric Sevareid, John Chancellor, or David Brinkley any day over the most conservative on NBC or CNN. The old guys had style, even class; today’s crowd spends more on teeth-whiteners than on books.

Obama is perfect for the age. Like Bush, he had the Ivy-League degrees; unlike Bush he had the pretension that they meant something, even though in his mind the Berlin Airlift, the German language, Auschwitz, World War II, Cordoba, the geography of the U.S., almost anything dealing with history, geography, literature, or well, knowledge in general—well all that is stuff that others less relevant than he learned in college.

Commercial-free TV?

I like C-Span and have always admired Brian Lamb. I used to be a big fan of PBS and PR, but no more. The laudable shows are far outweighed by the race/class/gender agendas, usually someone in a soft drone, talking scarcely above a whisper, about some new heretofore unnoticed pathology of the US military, corporation, or government (pre-Obama) that a particularly angry but heroic professor or investigative reporter is going to enlighten us about.

Well, There’s Always Sports

Next confession: I have not watched a single NFL game -- including the Super bowl -- for more than 10 minutes during the last decade. In the 1980 [sic] I was a big fan. I could not be pried loose from the 49ers and Bill Walsh or Jim Plunkett’s numerous Raider come-backs. Out here Deacon Jones, Dick Bass, and John Brodie [sic] were sorta football greats. Not now such heroes. Somewhere around 1990-5 everything went wrong with the big money, big hype, and big egos.

Maybe it is the airs of the sportscasters, and the pseudo-intellectual exegesis of the “analysts.” (I’ll take a Russ Hodges or Dizzy Dean any day, or, god help me, a young Howard Cosell before his decline in the Clay/Ali days). The constant criminality of the players and the egocentric outbursts didn’t help. Then there’s the pretensions [sic] of the buccaneer owners, and the extravaganza of the spectacle of the Roman arena, all that turned me off it—despite the courage and drama involved in football, and the science and tension of baseball. But one can find that watching high school or college sports.

Ditto the NBA. I have not watched a complete game in 15 years. Here too I could not name 5 current NBA players. I quit with the old Lakers/Celtics rivalries of the late 1970s and 1980s. (But then I have never played a video game either, and the two now seem to the distant ignorant bystander as about the same thing).

I watched 2 baseball games on television the last 3 years. Again, the melodrama of the sportscasters and writers (a slick Bob Costas as would-be Aristotle in his analyses and Sophocles in the supposed serious tragedy of his modulating voice) assumes the players are Olympians when of course they more or less resemble ego-centric multimillionaires.

Just a dozen selfless players, who keep quiet when they score, give credit to others when they pitch a shut-out, or pass rather than shoot could help things. I don’t mind the constant therapy of the coverage—the personal interest story of the athlete who lost his mother during training, who conquered polio as a child, or who saved a little boy from a surging stream—but it does not make up for the absence of manners and sportsmanship.

Print

Like most of America I do not read the New York Times -- maybe once at an airport this year, but not more. (The only Times headlines I see are in history books, and pre-1970 they were quite good). It’s not that just I [sic] get most of my news on the Internet, but rather there is no there at the Times. A void. The front-page stories are thinly disguised op-eds and poorly written and sourced, and the op-eds are not disguised first-person rants by Dowd, Krugman, Herbert, Rich, etc. largely embarrassing confessions from a group of well-off, well-connected, status-obsessed elites lecturing the nation outside New York and Los Angeles on its various sorts of illiberality. Life is too short for ground-hog day reads, the same angst over and over.

International Awards

Nobel Prizes I stopped noticing a while back. Literature and Peace Prizes are awarded mostly on either race/class/gender considerations or utopian pacifism; that a Toni Morison won and a John Updike or Philip Roth (neither of whom I was all that fond of) never did, says all you need to know.

Petraeus is a true peace-maker and saved thousands of lives; Carter was not, and his timidity gave the green light to the Soviets who killed over a million in Afghanistan. If Al Gore had found a way to allow the world’s poor to survive malaria epidemics through DDT spraying, or invented a miracle strain of rice, or a new long-life battery, then one could justify the peace prize for world ecological achievement, but not for screaming about global warming climate change while making $100 million in medieval offset penances as the climate cools down the last decade.

So what’s left of the life of American culture? I try to read novels, the older the better—Knut Hamsun, Conrad, James Jones. Historians like a Gibbon, Prescott, or Churchill, they could write. I read everything John Keegan writes. Martin Gilbert is excellent. Andrew Roberts is as well. I’ve reread Weinberg’s A World at Arms twice this year. The memoirists like E.B. Sledge are riveting. I review a lot of books on classics—the best are not written by academic classists.  One does what one can.

The Thin Veneer

A final, odd observation. As I have dropped out of contemporary American culture and retreated inside some sort of 1950s time-warp, in a strange fashion of compensation for non-participation , I have tried to remain more engaged than ever in the country’s political and military crises, which are acute and growing. One’s distancing from the popular culture of movies, TV, newspapers, and establishment culture makes one perhaps wish to overcompensate in other directions, from the trivial to the important.

Lately more than ever I try to obey the speed limit, overpay my taxes, pay more estimates and withholding than I need, pay all the property taxes at once, pick up trash I see on the sidewalk, try to be overly polite to strangers in line, always stop on the freeway when I see an elderly person or single woman with a flat, leave 20% tips, let cars cut me off in the parking lot (not in my youth, not for a second), and patronize as many of Selma’s small businesses as I can (from the hardware store to insurance to cars). I don’t necessarily do that out of any sense of personal ethics, but rather because in these increasingly crass and lawless times, we all have to try something, even symbolically, to restore some common thread to the frayed veneer of American civilization, to balance the rips from a Letterman attack on Palin’s 14-year-old daughter or a Serena Williams’s threat to a line judge, or the President’s communication director’s praise of Mao, civilization’s most lethal mass murderer, or all of what I described above.

I don’t fathom the attraction of a Kanye West (I know that name after his outburst), a David Letterman, Van Jones, Michael Moore (all parasitic on the very culture they mock), or the New York Review of Books or People Magazine (they seem about the same in their world view). So goodbye to all that.

Horace called this reactionary nostalgia the delusion of a laudator temporis acti, the grouchy praiser of times past for the sake of being past. Perhaps. But I see the trend of many ignoring the old touchstones of popular entertainment and life as a rejection of establishment culture—a disbelief in, or utter unconcern with, what  elites now offer as valuable on criteria that have nothing to do with merit or value. I was supposed to listen to Dan Rather because Murrow once worked for CBS? I am to go to the Cinema 16 because Hollywood once made Gone With the Wind or On the Waterfront?

I don’t particularly like the idea that I want little to do with contemporary culture. But I feel it nonetheless—and sense many of you do as well. [boldface added]

I have great respect for Victor Davis Hanson. But I have some problems with this essay. Big problems. I have no objection to the hermit reaction, that desire to pull away from the tawdry everyday world and go fishing in the hinterland. I fight against that impulse on a daily basis myself. But why do I do that? Why do I even get into fights about it with borderline hermits younger than myself?

Because if you're of a certain age and education, it's so e-e-e-easy to withdraw into superior isolation. Today's technology makes it a cinch. You can fall back to the favorite books of your youth or philosophical preference. You can rent old movies, old radio programs, use YouTube for the access it provides to classical concerts and whatever outdated pop music you can tolerate, and all the while you feel as if you're up to date but making a reasoned choice to disdain what's worst in popular culture. So you're not a stick in the mud; you're just tasteful and above it all.

Which is a lie. It's also running away, a cowardly evasion of responsibility. There's no point in being educated and having knowledge of the supposedly finer things in life unless you're prepared to use that knowledge in conversations with those who don't have it. Wisdom is not defined as sitting in an empty room admiring yourself for what you know that no one else does. Wisdom is rather the act of daring that makes an old man stand up and call youngsters to account in his terms and theirs.

Hanson's confession strikes home with me for three reasons. First, because I recognize all the "comfort culture" he's retreating to. Which would bore me stiff if it were my only input in this exciting day and age. As an educated person, I'm delighted with the technological now; as most of you know, I'm struggling to find ways of sharing my old-time learning and experience in the new multimedia environment. When I fail, as I often do, I take it as a sign that I need to do more, learn more, manipulate available technology better, not turn my back on it.

Second, because if he's really happy with amputating himself from day-to-day life in the United States the way it's actually being lived, he's no longer trustworthy when he talks politics -- that is, the way big government decisions are going to be perceived and responded to by "the people." Up front with this essay, he's ceded any authority he might otherwise have had in predicting how people might react to this or that. If he ventures an opinion on it, he's merely engaging in fantasy. When he speaks of public opinion or traditional preferences, he's engaged in an act of nostalgic fiction. He may be quaint, and even right on some level about the issues themselves, but he's neither accurate nor relevant about what's going to happen in the political realm.

Third, he's dying. The determination to turn a blind eye to the present and occupy some  supposedly superior realm in the past is also a decision to stop living altogether. Imagine the high-toned parlor of the past. You can furnish it however you like, but no matter how beautifully you do it, you inevitably become Miss Havisham, a mummifying crone in a yellowed wedding dress.
 
Hanson's essay is a careless piece, carelessly done. He knows he's confessing things he shouldn't, disqualifying things.The movies and books he regards as classic wouldn't be classic at all without a contrast between them and their present-day would-be substitutes. That's why -- in this ode to the past -- Hanson keeps trying to reference current things -- Wink, Wink, I'm not quite as archaic as I'm making out -- except that he really is as archaic as he fears he is.

It's not true that everything new is inferior to everything old. He's asking us, begging us in fact, to reassure him that this fallacy is an assumption to be trusted. It can't be. And neither can he.

Victor Davis Hanson may be smart, well informed, educated, and wise. But he can't be trusted. He's chosen to be an old man instead, boasting of his ignorance about the lives of the very same people he wants to follow his lead. Ain't gonna happen.

Good movies have been made since the 'High Noon' whose history he appears not to know. Good books have been written. Good, even great, feats are being enacted in American sports, even among the professional crybabies he sweeps away in a sentence or two.  Good music has been produced, and it's being played in humvees in foreign theaters by "kids" who are products of the pop culture Hanson derides so pridefully and completely. How did that happen? He doesn't know. Deliberately.

The only thing that's sure about all this is that Hanson is telling us not to look to him for explanations. I'm okay with that. Is he?

P.S. Reality Check. Who's too much of a professor not to know about Jessica Simpson and the grief she's received for being, uh, "fat"? Haven't heard about this, Victor? Proof that you're living in a cave. Not Plato's. Just a cave. Disconnecting from pop culture also deprives you of the opportunity to use your authority to do something decent and practically good -- like reaffirming the value of plump women as desirable wives and mothers. Especially wives and mothers who actually agree with your politics. Because there are some.

But you're too much of a snob to weigh in on such a low topic, right? All entranced with Grace Kelly in High Noon, are we?

F A N T A S Y.

Bottom line. I'm older than you are, Victor. I know who Kanye West is. I also know who Sophocles and Euripides are. And I know that the size of Jessica Simpson's ass is as much a matter of national debate as Obama's healthcare plan. And why.

You can't say that. Which is why your Ph.D. just went south in terms of relevance. And why your whole essay reveals you to be pretty much of an ignorant, condescending ass.

Sorry. Honestly.




Monday, October 19, 2009


Let's see. There's New York...
and Los Angeles... and nothing.


Remember him? Of course you don't.

CROSSED FINGERS. I admit it. Nerves are getting a little raw around here. I'll explain that later, but let me begin with this slice of sports wisdom from the New York Times, courtesy of William C. Rhoden.

The Yankees-Angels series gives baseball an East Coast-West Coast matchup. It's an intriguing showdown, as would be a World Series between the Phillies and the Yankees (they last met in 1950) or an Angels-Dodgers freeway series.

Still, what Major League Baseball needs is a great World Series, a Series for the ages. And with all due respect to those two other potential matchups, it's a Yankees-Dodgers World Series that could take the game back to its roots at a time when baseball desperately needs to recover a portion of the trust, if not the innocence, that it has lost in the steroid era.

There would be a number of interesting story lines in a Yankees-Dodger World Series, not the least of which would be the return of Dodgers Manager Joe Torre to New York to face the team that he unhappily parted with after the 2007 season. But the greatest attraction has to do with the history and traditions that the Yankees and the Dodgers represent.

Two venerable franchises competing in a World Series would recall an era in baseball when things seemed simpler and the game was more pure.

The teams would also bring a fitting final symmetry to the 2009 season....

In February, SI.com reported that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was among the players who failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

In May, Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games after it was reported that he had tested positive for a banned substance....

If the Yankees were to face the Dodgers in the World Series, the season would end with two great players who had admitted culpability and moved on. It would represent a line of demarcation, that the game was ready to get past one of the most painful episodes in its history. [boldface added]

Aww. Let me restate that. AWWWW.

What a crock. How typical of a New York sportswriter to think that the most American baseball story consists of two New York teams (one of them transplanted from Brooklyn to New York's equally arrogant separated Siamese twin) rejoined in a ratings rig that ESPN and the other networks who deal in sports have been shamelessly promoting throughout the post-season, consistent with their habitual bias in season after season, with the equally gross exception of their obsession with the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, which is eternal and eternally obnoxious and tiresome.

I can't speak for the Angels and won't try, though I note that the playoff build-up had them penciled in as central casting fall guys for the Red Sox, who had beaten them a bunch of times in the regular season. I congratulate them for sweeping the snob-slobs when it counted. Also, as far as I know, the Angels haven't had a steroids scandal. Too bad for them, I guess, if that's the new currency of "healing" baseball.

I can, however, speak for Philadelphia baseball fans, who are mightily fed up with a bunch of sleights, big and small, long term and short. If there's a true American story in baseball, Philadelphia has as big a claim to it as any city in the nation. Beginning with the fact that New York's endless trumpeting -- through its mighty national megaphone -- of the 1927 and 1961 Yankees as the greatest teams ever fielded conveniently overlooks the fact that the 1929 Philadelphia A's were better than either of them.

But that's only the beginning. Particularly now, Americans should be sympathetic to the fact that the awesome A's got dismantled because of economic downturns -- uh, like the Great Depression -- that left the city with one underdog team, the long hapless Phillies, who, just a couple years ago, became the first professional American team in all sports to have lost 10,000 games. Well, that's history for real, ain't it? And perseverance in spades. Because in 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies became World Champions of Baseball for the second time ever.

All the other breastbeating victims of various curses and bad luck streaks had it easier. Both the Cubs and the Red Sox have had some prior triumphs to fall back on while they wailed about their fate. Not the uncomplaining Phillies. Until the 1980 Phils, led by the greatest left-handed pitcher and the greatest third-baseman in modern baseball history, as well as the most tragic superstar since the Black Sox scandal, won the World Series 29 years ago, Philadelphia's National League entry endured a curse of its own, one against which Hall of Fame players like Robin Roberts (286 wins) and Richie Ashburn (lifetime .308 hitter, two batting titles) were finally powerless. The 1950 Phillies were as great a 1-0 shutdown pitching team as any L.A. Dodger team, but they got swept in four by the Yankees (who scored a total of 11 runs). The 1980 Phillies staged as great a late-season comeback as the New York Giants Gashouse Gang -- or the 2008 Phillies -- to put to rest all the heavyweight  demons of the past the media never bothered to exploit because unless it happens in the Big Apple or Beantown, it don't matter in baseball.

Now, of course, the L.A. Dodgers are New York by extension, not really the left coast because they're still part of the only neighborhood that counts, the one surrounding the House that Ruth built (lately torn down and rebuilt with much cushier lockerrooms and more prohibitively expensive box suites for umpty billion dollars.) Oh, and, yeah, we'll take credit for Jackie Robinson while we're at it. 'Cause we're for civil rights and Jackie'd probably be doing steroids, too, in the stall next to A-Rod's if he were alive today.

Tired of this. To death. Let me give you a glimpse of two American baseball stories that don't have to do with New York (Bronx) or New York (NY) or New York (Brooklyn) or Los Angeles. Or steroids.

Story One.

It may come as a surprise to William C. Rhoden, but there was a time when baseball scandals -- of which there have always been a bunch -- concerned the things players did that made them less rather than more fit to play. Babe Ruth was criticized for his drinking and gluttony. Former Philadelphia Phillie Hack Wilson, who played in the 1920s and 1930s, was denied entry to the Hall of Fame for 50 years after setting the record for most RBIs, 191, in a single season. Why? Because he drank himself to death and died, literally, in the gutter. He had to defend himself against the charge that his drinking hurt his performance, saying: "I never played drunk. Hung over, yes, but never drunk."

He wasn't the only Phillie whose personal problems long predated the current New York predilection for closing the book on personal foibles. Of the top ten winningest pitchers in major league baseball history, two are Phillies -- as long as one is willing to put an asterisk alongside the only Yankee on the list, laughable steroid denier Roger Clemens. Excluding him, as most non-Yankee fans would do at this point, puts Steve Carlton in tenth place at 329 wins and leaves another Phillie, Grover Cleveland Alexander, untouched in a tie (with Christy Matthewson) for third at 373 wins. [For those with a bias toward modern baseball, that puts Philadelphia's Carlton third all-time behind Warren Spahn (363) and Greg Maddux (355). with no Yankee, Dodger, or even American Leaguer anywhere but the rearview mirror. Not Whitey Ford (236), Catfish Hunter (224), Randy Johnson (303), Andy Pettitite (229), Don Sutton (324), Tommy Johns (288), Don Drysdale (209), Sandy Koufax (165), etc, etc, etc.]

Grover Cleveland Alexander. Unlikely that you know him from the photo up top. More likely that you know him from late-night showings of "The Winning Team" starring Doris Day and, yup, Ronald Reagan. A movie made in the early fifties that nevertheless shows the great Hall of Famer's drinking problem -- a thoroughly legal and perfomance-REDUCING thirst that probably prevented him from being the all-time winningest pitcher in baseball history. The movie is about, as the NYT reporter would like the next World Series to be, redemption.

THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES (UH FACTS):

Alexander's 90 shutouts are a National League record and his 373 wins are tied with Christy Mathewson for first in the National League record book. He is also third all time in wins, tenth in innings pitched (5190), second in shutouts, and eighth in hits allowed (4868).

In 1915, he won his first World Series game, for the Philadelphia Phillies. It would be 62 years before the Phillies won another postseason game, a major league record.

In 1999, he ranked number 12 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

I know. We're in a new century now. It gives us all kinds of excuses to scrape off any inconvenient history. Now, the only politically correct unhappy history is about steroids. But here's the hypocrisy. William C. Rhoden wants to appeal to the entire illustrious history of the Yankees to diminish the scandal of athletes who used chemicals to make them better rather than worse on the field of play.

We're supposed to agree because New York and L.A. are somehow more symbolic of baseball and who we are as people than real history and real people.

Not buying. For multiple reasons. There's no right order to do this in. I've made the argument for why Philadelphia belongs in the baseball discussion as much as New York (and, uh, L.A.) I've hinted at the fact that Philadelphians as a group are mightily pissed at the powers that be, including ESPN and TBS. Now some specification.

Story Two.

The Phillies are the currently reigning World Champions of Baseball. Why is it, then, that their fans were mostly unable to see the first playoff series (scheduled in the afternoon or late at night), and why did the first two games of TBS NLCS coverage bristle with graphical highlights of the Dodgers' season and hardly any of the defending World Champions' season?

Why? Because the Phillies are supposed to lose. TBS agrees with the New York Times. The best series, the highest rated series, would be the Yankees against the Dodgers. It wasn't until late in yesterday's 11-0 hammering of the Dodgers that the TBS crew finally decided to acknowledge that the Phillies are a character story. Last year, the Phils had a miraculous bullpen that seemed to make all the difference. This year they had the worst bullpen among all playoff contenders. Their eleven blown saves actually led all of major league baseball. But they're still here in the playoffs. To its credit, TBS finally conceded this last night (at about 8-0) with a long lingering shot of the Phillies dugout, noting that 'character' was not a question mark about the World Champion Phillies. Their story was their own, a rock-solid record of overcoming obstacles and winning for the folks. Not a Red Sox story of superstitious counter-measures. Or a Yankees story of enough new talent purchased to overcome mid-season weakness. Or a Dodgers story of a movie plot publicized by the caption "27 outs" ("which the TBS crew has been selling, selling, selling since the series began...) Just a Phillies story of hard work and never-say-die persistence. A kind of private story. As private as the old Yankees stories are promiscuously public and legendary.

A few nights ago, the Phillies were behind in Colorado. As the innings ticked down to the last, their quiet leviathan, Ryan Howard, told his teammates, "Guys, just get me up to bat." They did. He won the game and the series.

That's the Phillie-Yankee divide in a nutshell. Babe Ruth pointed to the outfield in front of God and the press and and promised to deliver a homerun. Ryan Howard made a terse pact with his teammates and is now on the verge of overtaking Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive post-season games with an RBI.

I'm pretty sure that's the more American story. The Ryan Howard story. The quiet man who carries his team on his back the way his predecessor Mike Schmidt did, both of them convinced (I'm certain) the other is the greater athlete, hero and leader.

It's really not about celebrity. Not about sportswriters. Ryan Howard is a throwback to a very old-fashioned essence of baseball. He's Babe Ruth all the way back in Boston, before the New York Times effort to lionize him, a force of nature who does what he does for the team, not the publicity.

And, uh, THAT'S what Major League Baseball owes America. Baseball as it was and might still have been if we'd lived before the age of media whoredom. A Yankee-Phillies series. In which the historical underdog finally triumphs because it works harder, cares more, and plays better than the richest players money can buy. And, by the way, have any of the "more American" teams sunk a harpoon deeper into the heart of their following than Philadelphia did upon the death of Harry Kalas, the voice and soul of the Philadelphia Phillies? In New York his death would have been a photo opportunity. In Philadelphia it was a mass wake -- and a hole that can never be quite filled in. Yeah, we're fatter and dumber than you New Yorkers. You're slicker and you're also people we'd never introduce to our mother. Yankees are blue, Mets are blue... Phillies are RED. And they don't even know why that's significant... '

I do.

Any way I can get more sick of the New York Times, in big things and small?  No.

P.S. Maybe you saw Koufax had only 165 wins? Well, this is the nonpartisan section of the post. Koufax:



Somebody put Koufax on his list of "most overrated" Hall of Famers because his best years were few. Would you rather have the lifetime record of Steve Carlton? Or this five years?



Casey Stengel said this about it.

To the skeptics I say, "Go to Hell." I'd even endure the lifelong rheumatism pain to have been Koufax for one -- just one -- game.

And, uh, Go Phils!

UPDATE. Another unfair blow to the Brooklyn Los Angeles Dodgers:



Still trying to locate a playable audio file of the local Phillies announcer Scott Franzke's call of the game-winning hit. (It was great. Worthy of HK.) If you find a playable link to it, let us know. Here's all we could find. Also, Vin Scully did 30 seconds of silence to mark the occasion (also great.). Can't find that audio file either. Please help us out.




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