Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
April 16, 2013 - April 9, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In Memory of Sandi

No, they never stop being your babies.

THANK GOD FOR LABRADORS. The loss of a dog is supposed to be one of life's manageable griefs. Nobody sends you cards or flowers. You're expected to just get over it unless there's something wrong with you. Can't talk about it for more than a day, right? It's the hole in your heart you're not allowed to show.

Except here. Sandi was a yellow lab who started out naughty. She became indispensable. We all (well, a lot of us anyway) know how that goes. They're like your children, only less rebellious and more devoted. They'd call you every single day if they didn't have their head in your lap every single day instead. She passed away yesterday and she will be missed forever. Just two lines from the poem Sandi's mom had to write. The rest of it is too personal.

How do you say goodbye to one who brought you so much joy?
How do you thank her for memories time cannot destroy?

Condolences to Janet and to Rick. I don't know what lab music might be, but here's my best guess:

I know. Not enough. Nothing ever is.


POINTLESS. No politics today. Just despair.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rational Insanity

. Been thinking about the mainstream media. They've set the latches for Obama's second term. No coverage of the disastrous economy. No outrage about a presidency so imperial it makes Nixon look like the public servant he probably wanted to be before things got away from him. No instinctive rush for the "if it bleeds it leads Gosnell trial." No real concern about a middle east dissolving into Islamic radicalism and a North Korea that is actively threatening the U.S. with nuclear attack. I'm having similar feelings about our boy Brizoni. He's madder at Christianity than the accelerating collapse of the United States of America. Put me in mind of this gem by -- yeah, I admire him -- the post-modern writer Donald Barthelme:

I worked for newspapers. I worked for newspapers at a time when I was not competent to do so. I reported inaccurately. I failed to get all the facts. I misspelled names. I garbled figures. I wasted copy paper. I pretended to know things I did not know. I pretended to understand things beyond my understanding. I oversimplified. I was superior to things I was inferior to. I misinterpreted things that took place before me. I over- and underinterpreted what took place before me. I suppressed news the management wanted suppressed. I invented news the management wanted invented. I faked stories. I failed to discover the truth. I colored the truth with fancy. I had no respect for the truth. I failed to heed the adage, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. I put lies in the paper. I put private jokes in the paper. I wrote headlines containing double entendres. I wrote stories while drunk. I abused copy boys. I curried favor with advertisers. I accepted gifts from interested parties. I was servile with superiors. I was harsh with people who called on the telephone seeking information. I gloated over police photographs of sex crimes. I touched type when the makeups weren’t looking. I took copy pencils home. I voted with management in Guild elections...
Ring a bell? No, Brizoni didn't do all those things. But he's subscribed to the idea that some of his his ilk are smarter than our ilk. And he's done a lot of the things in the first half of the paragraph, let's face it. As for the second  half of the paragraph, he claims there's no relation. The second half does not follow from the first half?  Of course it does. Why Barthelme is a good writer. We all know the New York Times caters to the intellectual elect of the nation. I was reading over the weekend a column by the current NYT house conservative, one Ross Douthat, who is nominally conservative but safely and presumably anti-Thatcherly Canadian.

He made an incredibly tactful argument against the appearance of bias and negligence by the mainstream press in regard to the Gosnell trial. A sample of his prose:

THE traditional American mass media — the crumbling, Internet-besieged edifice of newspapers and news shows, magazines and roundtables and journalism schools — evolved to believe with equal vigor in two not entirely compatible ideals.

One is an ideal of balance, nonpartisanship and near-perfect neutrality — distilled to its essence, perhaps, by the former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr.’s longstanding refusal to cast a vote, “so that I never make up my mind which party, candidate or ideology should be in power.”

The other is a much more ideological ideal, which treats journalism as a kind of vanguard profession — fighting for the powerless against the powerful and leading America toward enlightenment.

Both of these visions have inspired great journalists and impressive publications. But many of the establishment media’s worst habits arise from the doomed attempt to pursue both of them at once...

Poor, conflicted, media... by the time he gets to the Gosnell trial, he's tied up in knots over their ethical dilemmas.

You know. A circumspect and dismissible yawn. But what made me sit up and take notice (sort of) was the comment section. They were all of a piece, literate, well-spelled and sentence-diagrammed contributions by typical Times readers, so much so that I need show you only three to capture the whole range of intellectual diversity in their views.

Except that I can't do that. The Times sweeps its commenters away within 24 hours. Even they know they're embarrassing. I have to report from my memory, which still isn't that bad. The very first comment objected to Douthat's reference to the Gosnell trial as an example of media emphasis and cited the 97 percent consensus by scientists about climate change, noting that the MSM had bent over backwards to include, occasionally, spokespeople for the 3 percent who don't believe scientific fact. The second comment was a tirade about right-conservative media sources and how disgusting they are to conflate abortion clinic mishaps with murder, which we all know has to do with guns. The third began, and I think I can actually quote this one from memory, given how ridiculous it was: "Sometimes there is only one right side. Human rights, women's rights. abortion (if we recognize that women have autonomy over their own bodies)...

These weren't cherry-picked. They were three of the first six comments, and all shared the same Timesian view. What they had in common was sanctimony. You know, Douthat makes some decent points, but he doesn't ever comprehend the whole picture. Which, presumably, you can only get by being the sort of objective rationalist the Times writes for.

Why I'm so tired of the whole notion of objective morality that's been posited here. But also a reminder why it has to be fought tooth and claw.

Conservatives can't write. A day doesn't go by when I don't cringe at some usage or grammatical outrage at Breitbart. But the most educated liberals can't think. Between them, they've sunk us.

People who have some sense of right and wrong are unable to articulate it without making fools of themselves. People who have no sense of right and wrong write the way they were taught to at Harvard and Yale, except that there's never any content. At all.

Why, sometimes, I fear I've created a monster in Brizoni. I taught him how to write correctly. He's been a good student. His sentences now parse, the typos are nearly gone, and he has learned the rules of rhetorical argumentation.

Including the presumption of superiority and certainty. I heightened those at this site to emphasize the fact that I was on stage. Brizoni's now learned to moderate them in tone at least to be just flat better than his opponents.

I was a bad example.

My apologies. But now we have an in-house example of the certainty principle at work. Ignore it and it wins.

But I commend everyone to the words of Harry on certainty. If you don't know what they are, others can fill you in.

Most appearances of exalted education and reading are phony. The NYT types haven't read the gospels. Don't understand how startling they are. The voice of Christ is above the NYT, weary, hectoring, difficult, and struggling with the weakness of the current vocabulary to convey his thoughts. "Have I not told you...?" When he clearly has.

If you're a lowly writer like me, this is all the proof you need of an historical anomaly, a breakthrough in historical personality. Read his words. They sound like a man out of his time, frustrated beyond belief that he has to keep saying the same thing to get any attention.

The way Brizoni would like to be perceived. Except that you have to have something, you know, interesting to say.

If you don't, your whole spiel is in danger of sounding like, well, rational insanity.

Friday, April 12, 2013

No Evil
So Evil

I know you don't like it. But you don't get to call the
Holocaust off-limits when it doesn't serve your purposes.

SCROLL DOWN TO "VISITOR." This might be my last post about the God thing on InstaPunk. The conversation seems to be picking up steam at, and I think it'll take place there from here on out. But maybe not.

After much searching, I finally found the essay where Robert articulates the Theistic Essentialist position. Fittingly, it ended up being buried in an early InstaPunk piece on Ayn Rand.

Above, I listed her purities: "She is a pure capitalist, a pure rationalist, a pure atheist." This is the wrong order in terms of the logic of her philosophy. It should be the reverse. Everything flows from the atheist assumption. If there is no God, no kindly supernatural force to suspend the physics of cause-and-effect or intervene on behalf of moral causes, then there is no rational basis whatever to act except out of pure self interest.

Keep this in mind. ­From here, we can proceed to answer J. Random Pseudonym's comments from a few weeks ago.

You reject collectivism, but some handwaving about the "rights of the individual" isn't going to carry with it much authority when a much larger group of individuals decides to stop caring about your rights....

Everyone agree to respect everyone else's life and freedom. Why? Because that's the only way life and freedom are possible.

No. It's the only way your life and freedom are possible. People more powerful than you can have all the life and freedom they want, without having to share a damn bit of it with you. In fact, they can have more life and freedom if they don't share it with you. "Hey, let's all respect each other" is the whining cry of the powerless. In a world without God, there is absolutely no reason at all for someone not to crush you just because they think their life will be better off.

Wrong. Few men are so powerful that a lone man angry enough can't get the best of him on a lucky day. Think JFK. No man can ever be powerful enough that he can treat a people with impunity and not have to worry about an angry mob getting past security and tearing him apart in his bed. Think Stalin, and the chronic terror he lived under until the day he died. And what man has ever risen ruthlessly to power without the aid of allies who later became serious threats? Think Caesar, and Robespierre. Caesar even saw the threat coming, but only managed to eliminate some of his stepping stones before the others got wise. A tamer example: Bernie Madoff famously lived in constant fear of being discovered, to the point where he expressed relief when his scheme finally came to light. He amassed money, but you could hardly say he prospered. "Freedom" is not the word we use to describe this state of mind. The real reason-- as opposed to the God reason-- not to crush others is that payback tends to be a bitch. No matter how hot your shit is.

The notion that a man can possibly have total power over another man is a widely accepted bit of received wisdom. But it's false. A slaveholder in the antebellum south was always vulnerable to a potential Nat Turner or a potential John Brown, whether he acknowledged the vulnerability or not. Among all dictatorships, even the stupid-as-hell North Korean regime understands it must be tireless in its propaganda efforts if it wants to survive. Or, as you-know-who put it, "Ask yourself why totalitarian dictatorships find it necessary to pour money and effort into propaganda for their own helpless, chained, gagged slaves, who have no means of protest or defense. The answer is that even the humblest peasant or the lowest savage would rise in blind rebellion, were he to realize that he is being immolated, not to some incomprehensible noble purpose, but to plain, naked human evil."

Another way to look at it. What man walking down the street by himself can fend off five men who attack him at once? Bruce Lee? OK, let's make it twelve. And they're not taking turns attacking him one by one, like in the movies. You know what, let's even take preternatural marital arts prowess out of the equation. Make it two men who hate each other. One decides he wants to kill the other. Is there any way he can do so that assures him freedom from consequence? No. If he uses a gun, law enforcement or the other man's loved ones may well come after him. If he tries to murder on the sly, there's always a chance someone might catch on. So his recourse is to, what, then defend himself with a gun? Even if a man trains tirelessly, becomes the fastest draw on the planet, and makes perfect headshot instant-kills every time, can he guard 24 hours a day against the shots he doesn't see coming? Of course not. Can he hire enough people to watch his back literally all the time? Maybe, but what can ensure they'll never ever slip up? And if a sniper does manage to tag that man, is that a guarantee that that sniper now cannot be killed by all the men who tried but couldn't kill headshot instant-kill guy? No.

In the real world, no advantage is absolute. It's not quite the Cold War's perfectly elegant stalemate of Mutually Assured Destruction. More like Mutually Probable Harm. There is always some danger of retaliation and comeuppance. Self-interest as rational motivation for treating others well. No God required.

J. might think this reinforces his (her? no offense intended) point: "some handwaving about the 'rights of the individual' isn't going to carry with it much authority when a much larger group of individuals decides to stop caring about your rights...." J. is wrong. The God idea, in practice, carries even less authority. We can see why if we look at what else he/she wrote.

My "plan" isn't to lie. I think God does exist. But even if he didn't, it would be necessary to invent him.

In other words, "if I didn't think God existed, my plan would be to lie and say He does, yes."

I'm sorry. That's not good enough.

Remember, this doesn't rest on the existence of just any God. Theistic Essentialists postulate a God who acts in a certain, testable way: a "kindly supernatural force to suspend the physics of cause-and-effect [and] intervene on behalf of moral causes." This God-- the God that Theistic Essentialism requires-- demonstrably, provably, unquestionably, incontrovertibly does not exist.

As proof, I cite the 20th century.

The meta-tragedy is, I didn't have to pick the 20th.
Any century would have worked. But the 20th
century provides immediate and stark evidence.

Seriously, how much do I need to elaborate here? You've thought about the Holocaust. You know what it was like. Let yourself think of it again. Think of panicked mobs in the showers screaming and clawing at locked exits. Think of the unfortunate draftees who had to clean up after, surprised with a pile of dead bodies and ordered with a rifle jab to grab a pitchfork. Think of children getting their heads bashed in for not moving fast enough in line. Think of the ones who didn't die from the first bash, looking up at their murderers in innocent disbelief. Think of starving men and women and their sinking hope that, somehow, they would be saved. Think of all the desperate prayers unanswered.

Now remember that, as real to yourself as you can make the camps, God knows it even better. He knows every moment of suffering perfectly. That's how the God idea works, right? So ask yourself where He was during all this. No. Really. The God you believe in knew what was going on, could have stopped it, but chose to let it happen. No kindly intervention this time. No mysteriously malfunctioning gas chambers, no inexplicable transmutation of Zyklon-B at the chemical level, no children singing in the fiery furnace. The physics of cause-and-effect remained conspicuously unsuspended.

This is reason enough to withhold worship. But there's an even bigger problem.

As I said, payback tends to be a bitch. Brute consequence is reliable. But not reliably timely. Eventually, the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge and Jacobins got theirs. Stalin had 30 years to more than quadruple the Nazi body count before either Khrushchev or Tito took him out. The lesson of the 20th century is not that men need God. The real takeaway from the 100+ million death toll is that men have no God. There may exist some kind of creator God hiding somewhere in some higher bulk dimension, but there is no Sky Cop watching out for us. No God who enforces morality.

More compelling reasons to accept the fact that God isn't here (and not just from the 20th century): Holodomor , the Black Plague, the Great Leap Forward , the Dust Bowl , the Potato Famine , Cambodia , Darfur , Armenia , Circassia , Rwanda , the Kurds — at least twiceSpanish Flu , Asian Flu , the Indian drought of 1900, repeated Yangtze river floods, the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis, the Rape of Nanking , SIDS , AIDS in Africa , everything else in Africa, every child murdered by Faith Healer parents, and howzabout a little 9/11 while we're at it. Nor are these all the compelling reasons by a longshot. God does nothing to protect human life on earth.

There is no evil so evil that God will stop it.

No, we're not talking about life after earth. We're talking about God's involvement in life here, and the consequent power of the God idea to keep men straight in the here and now.

Maybe you're objecting that we can't know when God intervenes. That maybe there's some atrocities that didn't even happen because God stopped them, youuuuuuu don't know maaaaan! The problem there is the word "some." Are you really willing to hold that God allows SOME mass death and extermination, but intervenes other times?­ And intervenes in little things as well, like helping little Billy ace his chemistry exam-- but not helping little Chiam or little Anne escape the death camps-- or giving Ray Lewis's murdering ass a Super Bowl ring? If you've signed off on that concept of theodicy, then... I'm sorry, but it must be said... you've parted ways with justice. You've excused yourself from morality, on religious grounds. You've become an apologist for existential cruelty. A Goebbels for God. The Lord's house negro.

A Touré for Christ.

Maybe now you're insisting it's the idea of God that counts, even if He doesn't exist. Men need the "inspiration" of an all-powerful authority to keep them in line. Here's why that's not going to work. The thing about lying is, people catch on after a while. If we lived in a world where there was no such thing as a police force, lying and saying there were cops around might work as a social deterrent for a little while. Maybe on a few young kids who need to be set straight. But after a few consequence-free flirtations with petty theft and speeding through school zones, some outlying ne'er-do-well will get it in his head to try something really nasty. Drop-kicking a baby or somesuch. What is he to conclude when no cops ever knock on his door? What are the rest of us to conclude when only an angry mob of civilians brings him to any kind of justice?

I'm not advocating vigilante justice. I'm drawing an analogy. If Sky Cop won't show up to arrest a baby-puntist, when will He show up? Despite the desperate rationalizations of men throughout history, we all know the real answer: Never. "If God be for us, who can be against us"? Any man who understands the fact that God won't stop him. "If God be for us, who can be against us"? Reality itself. Which deals in consequence, not reward or punishment (h/t Robert Ingersoll).

Look at all that empty sky.

This is where we're at. Now that it's undeniably obvious God doesn't enforce morality, the God idea no longer works as the basis of a social contract. You want men to trust that a God who allowed the Holocaust will hold them accountable for their petty shabbiness? No fucking sale. That train has left the station, jumped a penny on the track, plummeted off the bridge, and currently lies in an wrecked heap at the bottom of the ravine. Unsalvagable. The line is closed. We need another way.

I know of one. If you're interested.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Poor Baby!

My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense.

THE CURSE OF BEING ALWAYS RIGHT. Wow. Am I moved or what? By her logic, I know what it is to be shot in the head because my intentions are so virtuous. I am Lincoln. I am JFK. Hell, I might even be McKinley and Garfield. What a martyr am I.

Now, if I could only get the bennies that go with being a self-appointed Christ figure...

Sorry. Even Ghandi needed to repair to a four star hotel in Paris to prepare him for the next stage of his passion. Oops? He didn't? Never mind.

The Obama signature: I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I. None of us could live at all if they weren't living for us. My gratitude is boundless. But not as boundless as their phony, freeloading, greedy, nakedly opportunistic con game.

You go, girl. And please keep right on going when you get anywhere near the exit...

Wilde Thing

. I have two purposes here, one high and one low.

Low first. Trying to figure out how to incorporate graphics at the new site. Raebert's figured it out. Why can't I?  But it's late, so I'll do it at the old site.

High second. A sorta kinda mea culpa. Since I'm talking about Christianity more now, it's probably time to admit that I think if Christian salvation exists, Oscar Wilde will be one of the saved.

Much of my annoyance at the militant gay community has to do with the fact that they do so much imitation of Wilde without capturing his essence. He's become a source of idolatrous imitation, almost a check-box mascot, but his so-called followers have learned almost nothing from his example.

He was a titan of English literature. Yes, there's a pecking order that begins with Shakespeare, Milton, and Dickens. The aces of the staff. After that there's a bullpen stuffed with a bunch of brilliant middle relievers. But if I can continue the baseball analogy for a moment there's only one closer. Evelyn Waugh, great as he is, is only the eighth inning setup man. The fireballer who shuts it all down in the ninth is Oscar Wilde.

The hundred-plus mile an hour wit who is, in the final analysis, unhittable.

Where I find myself straddling the worlds of religion and art. There's little evidence that Wilde spent his life flouncing around like a reality show fashionista. Rather, he discovered a new vein of playwriting. He made soufflés in a world of dense red meat. Even reading the Importance of Being Ernest is a laugh out loud experience. He invented English humor. Though Irish.

Showed an early draft of this to my Irish wife, who objected. She sees Wilde as the eighth inning setup and Waugh as the closer. Go figure.

Time for my defense. I'll revert to the notion of high and low. Waugh was like me. Low. Wilde was like no one else. The stone skipping across the lake. Except that the stone never sank in his plays.

It did in his life. He famously chose to be destroyed.

Yeah. He died soon after.

Why every gay man owes him. They should repay the debt by not not doing bad imitations of him on Reality TV. Just my opinion.

They sent him to prison at hard labor for two years. The result was this:

I've never read a more Catholic confession. Why I still think he's the closer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Great One

. This is an example, I suppose, of the kind of post you'll find later on at the new site. I'd have posted it there but I'm still learning the mechanics of links and embeds in a new system. (Sorry, JL. I'm working on it.)

Yesterday I did a grouchy post about Rutgers basketball and current events-driven political correctness.

Today I'm returning to the sports well because I've always believed it important. And I got a couple of nudges in this direction seemingly at random.

This weekend, my wife and I watched a somewhat silly but fun action movie called Abduction, with a Hitchcockian plot that climaxed at the Pittsburgh Pirates ballpark. Prominently featured was the bronze statue of Roberto Clemente outside the park. And the hero was wearing a Clemente jersey. Which brought back memories. More about those in a bit.

Then, this morning, I was listening to Philly SportsTalk on the radio, and there were two dominant subjects: 1) the must-see-ness of an ESPN documentary ("the greatest ever") about Jim Valvano and the NC State underdog basketball championship in 1983, an urgency no doubt attributable to the Rutgers mess; and 2) the ten best baseball movies of all time, as determined by critic Bill Wine. I was annoyed on both counts. The Rutgers thing has been beaten into the ground, and the baseball movie list was hopelessly prosaic. Kevin Costner did not invent baseball. Field of Dreams is the male equivalent of Terms of Endearment, a chick flick for men. And Bull Durham offends me as a writer. That ridiculous speech about the important things in life, including baseball and the smell of pussy, has always made me gag. Want a good baseball movie? Watch Pastime. What baseball still is. Put me in a rancorous mood, I can tell you.

But I was motivated to check out ESPN films on demand, thinking there might be something there I'd missed in the last month or two. You know. Anything but basketball. The first title listed was The Clemente Effect. Hmmm. About those memories. I've written before about the devastation I experienced as a young fan in 1964 when the Phillies blew up in the last two weeks of the season. I've probably also written about the friends who reawakened the romance of baseball for me.  They were Pirate fans, and their advantage over me was the spectacular, improbable victory of the underdog Pirates in the 1960 World Series, won by a seventh game, ninth inning walk-off homerun by a weak-hitting infielder.  They idolized Bill Mazeroski but their most passionately admired Pirate icon was Roberto Clemente, The Great One, who was not only better than the most famous right fielder in baseball, Henry Aaron, but the best player in all of Major League Baseball. I was reminded that baseball can reward as well as punish. [Why, years later, I was able to place my faith in Philadelphia's own great one, Mike Schmidt, and ride that belief to, well, exorcism of childhood ghosts in 1980.]

This was only a couple years before Clemente died. Why I was stricken personally by the shocking news of his death in a plane crash at sea as he was trying to bring aid to the victims of the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua.

Pardon the long intro, but there's a point to it if you'll bear with me. I watched The Clemente Effect. Ironically, it might be the greatest sports documentary ever. Not about a team coming together to win a championship but about a man who employed his athletic gifts to become the very best person he could dream of being.

The film is a production of ESPN Desportes, meaning it has an entirely Latin perspective. It begins with NBC anchor John Chancellor's unfortunate phrasing in his announcement of Clemente's death as a time of mourning in Puerto Rico. No. It was a time of mourning for a great many in the United States as well, John.

It's a three act play, moving, educational, and journalistically balanced. (I'm far from convinced ESPN U.S. could manage the same feat.) The first act deals with Clemente's youth through the age of 26. He was raised in a religious Christian family. His father was a foreman at a sugar mill. He got discovered early and was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers for $40 a week when he was still a teenager. The Dodgers sent him to a minor league team in Montreal and didn't let him play because they were stashing him, hoping to make him invisible to the draft. But the Pirates had done their homework and drafted him in 1955 for a salary of $15,000. He was 21. Which was also his number as a player.

There followed five years of personal pain, physical ills, bad publicity, and struggles on the diamond. At spring training in Fort Myers, Fla, he couldn't live or eat with his teammates because he was black, which had never mattered in Puerto Rico. In Pittsburgh, the sports journalists made fun of his broken English and in their print reportage spelled his interview responses phonetically. "I am heeting da ball gut." Sports Illustrated did a story on him as the biggest hypochondriac in baseball, publishing a photo of him tagged with all the various physical ailments he had claimed. There were few Puerto Ricans in Pittsburgh. White fans regarded him as black, but black fans didn't rally to him either because he could barely speak English. On the field he was a Pirate. Off the field he was an ethnically homeless nonentity.

Act 1 ends with the 1960 season I had heard so much about from my friends. That year, finally, he had an MVP worthy season and was the batter whose infield hit in the ninth of the seventh game kept the Pirates alive for Mazeroski's opportunity to hit that unlikely Series-winning home run.

ESPN Desportes doesn't sugarcoat Clemente's difficult personality. He was hurt and said so publicly that he scored no higher than eighth in the MVP balloting in 1960. That's where Act 2, The Legend, begins.

Where others might have become bitter troublemakers, sick of the unfairness of it all, Clemente did two things. He decided that the best response was to become the greatest baseball player he could be, and he renewed and deepened his roots in Puerto Rico, where he became a quiet philanthropist and mentor to young athletes. In the U.S., inspired in the sixties by the Rev. Martin Luther King, he also became a spokesman and advocate for Hispanic baseball players, not angrily but insistently.

Between 1960 and his death in 1972, he won four batting titles, twelve Gold Gloves, two World Series Championship rings, an MVP (the first by an Hispanic player), and a World Series MVP. In the final season before his death he reached the magic 3,000 hit mark that represents a virtual Hall of Fame guarantee. And despite his sudden death, he is still the Pittsburgh Pirate who played in the most games of anyone in franchise history. Some hypochondriac.

The circumstances of his death also struck an unexpectedly personal note I'd known nothing about. Clemente had organized relief shipments of food, clothes, and cash to Nicaragua in the immediate aftermath of the 1972 earthquake. Then he learned that the Somoza regime ruling Nicaragua had intercepted and stolen the aid into government coffers. That's why he made an emergency trip to Nicaragua himself. The one that got him killed.

The name Somoza is well known to me. I lived across the hall from the son of the Nicaraguan dictator when I was in college. He was popular, urbane, and well accepted by his rich prep school roommates. He rushed home, for a while, during the earthquake aftermath, no doubt leaving his Maserati in long term parking. I laid eyes on his father at my graduation. All smiles and courtly gestures, both of them. And, yes, even then, I had thoughts about the banality of evil and the camouflaging effects of nice wardrobes, manners, and expensively plausible educations.

Act 3 is about the legacy of Roberto Clemente. This too is not sugarcoated or transformed into an anti-U.S. diatribe. The film shows what Wiki meticulously omits, that the first major response to Clemente's death was by Richard Nixon, who had a ceremony at the White House at which Clemente's widow was awarded a special presidential medal in his honor. This is what caused the Baseball Writers Association to waive the waiting period and induct Roberto Clemente immediately into the Hall of Fame.

ESPN Desportes is also honest about the difficulties Puerto Rican ball players have had since Clemente's death. The youth sports facility he dreamed of and that was built after his death is now shut down and essentially bankrupt. Puerto Rican ballplayers have had a long drought in making the major leagues. The brighter spots the film closes with are the way his memory is treasured in Nicaragua -- and, quite compellingly, in Pittsburgh, where there is a Clemente museum and programs in the schools to keep alive the memory of Number 21.

I urge you all to watch the documentary. Don't be put off by the fact that Latino ball players we know can speak English are interviewed in Spanish with English subtitles. This is no assault on the American Dream. It's a beautiful reminder of it. And there's much to be learned from a perspective that feels it necessary to introduce the City of Pittsburgh as if the audience knows nothing of it. Their bottom line is that the steel mills are very much like the sugar mills of Puerto Rico -- full of hardworking people who are capable of learning how to appreciate the value of extraordinary people.

Oh. One more thing. In 2003, the U.S. Marine Corps
installed Roberto Clemente in its Sports Hall of Fame.

A young boy at the scene while the Coast Guard was searching fruitlessly for bodies among the debris said, "Even the ocean loved him so much it won't give him back to us."

But we have him. As long as we're prepared to remember him.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Full Circle

Everybody loved this movie. Why? The coach is abusive, is he not?
No, he didn't call anybody in the rink a faggot, but it's a movie, right?

PREAMBLE. Not done yet here. Comments DO work, with your privacy protected, and posting will proceed, as will processing of volunteers who wish to have posting rights.

WHAT GOES AROUND.... Now to the subject of the day. I was going to let it go, but the whole Rutgers basketball scandal has finally nauseated me to the point of speaking out.

I am frankly sick to death of all the hypocritical political correctness that has accompanied this media tempest. All the sports broadcasters, ex-players, radio jocks, and pundit columnists are shocked, shocked, that such an atrocity could be committed against the "children" in Rutgers's care.

Nonsense. Coaches are notorious since time immemorial for being intimidating assholes. How many hagiographies have we all had to endure about St. Vincent Lombardi, who was as obvious and open an asshole as anyone in sports ever. His choler is celebrated. There's even a Broadway play about the prick. I wouldn't want him in my house for dinner any more than I'd want Bobby Knight or Billy Martin.

This whole brouhaha isn't about a coach who throws basketballs at his players. It's about a coach who doesn't win and also uses bad language. No, I'm not talking about the F-word. (That's fine. tell me about your favorite shows on HBO.) I'm talking about the far more offensive offense of using gay slurs. Horrors! Which is, frankly, bullshit.

I'll explain why forthwith, but first I want to explain the title of this post. All the way back in 2004 I did a post called "Abuse of Power, Chickenhawks, and the Limbaugh Defense," which anticipated this situation by approximately nine years. There's reference to the double standard applied to Abu Graib and a hazing scandal in the paratroops of the Marine Corps. Also a reference to the movie "A Few Good Men." Have the patience to read it. I think you'll begin to see the nature of the problem we're still lying to ourselves about today. Bear in mind that college basketball players are of military age. Not boys but young men.

Back to the unforgivable, disgusting behavior of the Rutgers coach. I hold no brief for college basketball. I'm on record as thinking it's one of cruelest scams in our national culture. Millions of kids deluded into thinking they can remain academically illiterate as long as they can play this stupid game. They'll get a scholarship to college and then soar into the NBA. Lies.

There are about 500 jobs for players in the NBA. A pitifully tiny bottleneck that only seems attractive to kids who are as innumerate as they are illiterate. Want to get irate about something, investigate something, feel incredibly self-righteous about something regarding "the kids"? Start with that.

But getting down to the particulars of what happens in exclusively male groups, just as in "A Few Good Men," I suggest you don't want to know. There is invariably a hazing process, an ordeal or set of ordeals designed to make you earn your sense of belonging. It can be a grassroots thing among peers or it can be administered from above by authority figures. Either way, or both, it's a necessary rite of passage. Otherwise it's like joining a country club.

I went through a hazing process in boarding school as a 13 year old. It was both peer-driven AND officially sanctioned, for the purpose of keeping it from getting out of hand, which it sometimes did anyway. All new boys had to wear black neckties. Sophomores ran around with knives and scissors cutting the ties. If they really didn't like you, they cut it just below the knot so you couldn't retire it or wear it again. They were allowed to do this, and other petty nasty (sometimes much nastier) things, for six weeks, until an official event known as Field Day, when all the new boys had to crawl through a long ditch filled with ice cold water in the pre-dawn hours while being pelted with coffee grounds, eggs, orange peels and miscellaneous other garbage. When you emerged from the ditch, you removed your necktie and threw it on a bonfire. No more New Boy.

I mention this only to point out what everyone (including all of you who have been recoiling in horror from the Rutgers videotape) already know. The sainted "boys" we feel so protective of and sorry for routinely do these things to each other. All the time. I mention it also because the word "faggot" has always figured prominently in the bonding process these rituals represent.

But the word "faggot" doesn't mean exactly what today's political correctness insists it does. When I explain, some of you will say it's a distinction without a difference, but I disagree. I think it's a distinction WITH a difference, and I have evidence.

Calling a teenage boy a faggot is not a sexual usage; it's a challenge by the strong to the weak or apparently weak. The message is, man up, prove yourself, make us respect your grit and resolve. That's it. It's not homophobia.

How do I know? Two ways. Male homosexuals served up the applicable stereotype of delicacy, aversion to sports and rough-housing themselves. How long have they worshipped at the altar of Oscar Wilde? To this day, proud queens seem to pride themselves on their, well, femininity, which exceeds even that of most women. Easy target. Ever watch the Bravo Channel or "Say Yes to the Dress"? Accusing a highly competitive, athletically gifted male of being a faggot isn't the same as branding him a homosexual. It's a figure of speech.

Today, he has a couple of reality TV shows.
But he's probably not playing basketball.

Second way I know this is bullshit. It's simply not true that society as a whole was viciously homophobic before the urban gays started holding hands in public. When I was in college, uh, 40 years ago, there was an urban legend that one of our football players went to the red light district and got propositioned by a guy. He accompanied the fellow into an alley and slugged him. Whereupon, the sluggee laughed and said, "There are two things in this life I love: sucking cock and kicking ass." The football player went to the hospital. Hardcore jocks repeated this story with good humor. There's a difference between being homosexual and a faggot.

And I know for a fact that my parents' social circle included some male homosexuals. Everyone knew it. Even us kids, but not because anything negative was said about it. "Why doesn't so and so have have a wife?" Because, you know, every guy has a wife. "He's a bachelor." And why doesn't he come to parties with girlfriends? "He's a very private man. A good man. Just shy." Also exceptionally well dressed, with a lovely house and garden. We liked him too, but it was hard to get to know him.

You see, I'm not even saying the closet is a good thing. It clearly had its costs. But it was their choice then, just as it's their choice now to live in the open. The social response or lack of it was probably more a matter of tact than condemnation. Shrug. They're different. Not my cup of tea, but also not my business.

Things are different now. BUT. Not everything in life can or should be remade to suit Anthony Blanche or his most delicate sensitivities. Honestly.

Anthony should probably stay away from NCAA basketball practices. The gays on the team probably already understand that all the incendiary slang isn't impugning their sexuality but their manhood. Different thing altogether.

I didn't write this to defend the job of the Rutgers coach. If you can't coach, abusing your players won't make up the deficit. I wrote it to call you all out on your hypocrisy. Discipline, stamina, resilience, determination to win in the face of overwhelming odds really aren't achieved merely by pats on the back.

If so, it would be a kind of miracle. Wouldn't it?

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