Friday, June 30, 2006
I used to dream of a life of scholarship, sipping tea and reading the classics in my mountain cabin. My senior year of college, I signed up for Beginning Greek with that in mind. When I traveled across Europe during 1987-88, I'd spend hours in and around the large, ornate libraries and museums, just soaking in the majesty of old books, art, and architecture.
THE RULE OF FOUR, written by two best friends who at the time were recent Ivy League graduates, presents another view of that life, one marked by fanaticism, frustration, social isolation, and the single-minded pursuit of the accolades of a very small group of fellow academics whose interest in your work is motivated mostly by jealousy. The protagonist also finds that he can love his work or his lady with all his heart, but not both. Maybe the contemplative life is not so attractive after all.
The authors convey their love for, and application of, scholarship, but unfortunately I was looking for a good story, not a textbook, and I never found myself caring very much about the plot. Perhaps the youth of the authors limited the richness of the story. They captured quite well, for example, the rush a young man feels when a certain girl casts a certain glance wearing a certain sweater, but not the more mature emotions that sustain an enduring love.
2 stars (of 4)
Saturday, June 24, 2006
I usually try to read a baseball book every summer, and this year's WILD AND OUTSIDE left me wanting, so I picked up 3 NIGHTS IN AUGUST at O'Hare yesterday and finished it today, thanks to lengthy delays in Chicago caused by Cheney's visit.
About 70 pages in, I was thinking this book was displaying the intricacies and skill of writing about baseball more than it was actually writing about baseball -- that is, that the author was showing off his own abilities rather than showcasing the game or the manager on the cover. But by page 105, heading into Game 2 of the 3-game Cubs-Cardinals series, I was enjoying a very good baseball book in the tradition of Daniel Okrent's terrific NINE INNINGS. Author Buzz Bissinger (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) takes the same approach and pulls off the same result, albeit with a less colorful cast of characters.
3 NIGHTS is what every good baseball book is -- part history, part play-by-play, part personalities, part psychology, part humorous anecdote, part hero against the odds, and a big part pure old-fashioned love of the game.
- Baseball is a game of such complexity, such unpredictability, such cruel surprises. The unlikeliness of a pitcher on a bad ankle, barely able to run, coming to bat three times and putting the ball in play three times with the game's outcome potentially on the line three times. The allure of the game is how, when you soak in it, you begin to appreciate how every little 3-game weekend series contains, and makes, so much history. Every game is a million storylines and every at-bat a strategic case study.
- At the time of this series, the Cards were in a virtual dead heat with the Cubs and the Astros in the NL Central. I so enjoyed the Cubs' bullpen blowing the second game of this series, the outcome of the third game hinging on a Cubs-lose collision at home plate, and knowing how the Cubs ultimately gave away the division and the wild card by tanking in late September, culminating in Sammy's infamous no-show at the season finale. Whenever I watch the Cubs, I always root for them to lose in some uniquely humiliating fashion. I don't know why. I don't root for any other team to lose like I root for the Cubs to lose. I guess I just think it's a more compelling story when a Curse remains intact. I would like it better if the Red Sox were still trying to beat the curse, year after heartbreaking year. Beating the curse is great for a day and then a great story is gone forever, and I mourn the loss.
- The depiction of Darryl Kile's death brought tears to my eyes, and the skewering of Jose Canseco as a self-serving slug made me laugh aloud. Awash in cash and far removed from the love of the game that still brings La Russa to the ballpark, Canseco wondered aloud in October 1990, "Why is it always us that has to go to the playoffs?" Managing today is not what it used to be: managers can preach there's no "I" in team, but players know there's an "m" and an "e" and that's how they get paid.
- Bissinger's scathing denunciation of MONEYBALL is worth a trip to Borders to read the Afterword.
- The book is set in the 2003 season and was published after the 2004 season, so it lacks the historical perspective that makes ballplayer portraits so engaging in other books like this.
- The 2003 Cardinals were a talented but bland team. La Russa, Pujols, Rolen and company may have a lot to say but you'll never find out.
- The author at times gets a little too impressed with himself. This is good: "Morris steps off the mound and walks a few feet as Sosa rounds the bases, not dawdling, but not setting any speed records, adding his own tenderizer to the slab of beef that Morris just served up." This is not: "In his multiple roles of Doctor Phil, Doctor Ruth, and Doctor Seuss, La Russa wondered whether what Morris felt was pretty simple." What the hell does that mean? Mark Prior's sideburns are "so long and straight you could land an airplane on them"? That's just stupid.
All in all, a good solid read. Not a must read and not a waste of time.
3 stars (of 4).
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Lots of chat yesterday on the sport talk channels about Ozzie Guillen's "homophobic" epithet directed at a sportswriter he doesn't like. I haven't heard anyone contest that the remark was made, or that the target is indeed gay, so apparently the fact pattern is clear.
What I don't get is why the comment is necessarily "homophobic"? Derogatory, yes. In poor judgment, sure. In poor taste, okay. But why has every commentator made the leap from derogatory to homophobic? Are we really to believe that Ozzie is *afraid* of the fellow's sexual orientation? I rather doubt it. It's PC gone mad when jocks can't rip homos-- I mean, those who are born that way and did not choose alternate lifestyles, not that there's anything wrong with that-- in the locker room without taking an all-day beating in the press. Not that he should have, only that it's not that big a deal.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
A winning piece by Dennis Prager.
Observers of contemporary society will surely have noted that a liberal is far more likely to fear global warming than a conservative. Why is this?
Here are six more likely explanations [than the "anti-big business, compassion for human life" reasons liberals typically give]:
-- The Left is prone to hysteria. The belief that global warming will destroy the world is but one of many hysterical notions held on the Left. As noted in a previous column devoted to the Left and hysteria, many on the Left have been hysterical about the dangers of the PATRIOT Act and the NSA surveillance of phone numbers (incipient fascism); secondhand smoke (killing vast numbers of people); drilling in the remotest area of Alaska (major environmental despoliation); and opposition to same-sex marriage (imminent Christian theocracy).
-- The Left believes that if The New York Times and other liberal news sources report something, it is true. It is noteworthy that liberals, one of whose mottos is "question authority," so rarely question the authority of the mainstream media. Now, of course, conservatives, too, often believe mainstream media. But conservatives have other sources of news that enable them to achieve the liberal ideal of questioning authority. Whereas few liberals ever read non-liberal sources of information or listen to conservative talk radio, the great majority of conservatives are regularly exposed to liberal news, liberal editorials and liberal films, and they have also received many years of liberal education.
-- The Left believes in experts. Of course, every rational person, liberal or conservative, trusts the expertise of experts -- such as when experts in biology explain the workings of mitochondria, or when experts in astronomy describe the moons of Jupiter. But for liberals, "expert" has come to mean far more than greater knowledge in a given area. It now means two additional things: One is that non-experts should defer to experts not only on matters of knowledge, but on matters of policy, as well. The second is that experts possess greater wisdom about life, not merely greater knowledge in their area of expertise.
-- People who don't confront the greatest evils will confront far lesser ones. Most humans know the world is morally disordered -- and socially conscious humans therefore try to fight what they deem to be most responsible for that disorder. The Right tends to fight human evil such as communism and Islamic totalitarianism. The Left avoids confronting such evils and concentrates its attention instead on socioeconomic inequality, environmental problems and capitalism. Global warming meets all three of these criteria of evil. By burning fossil fuels, rich countries pollute more, the environment is being despoiled and big business increases its profits.
-- The Left is far more likely to revere, even worship, nature. A threat to the environment is regarded by many on the Left as a threat to what is most sacred to them, and therefore deemed to be the greatest threat humanity faces. The cover of Vanity Fair's recent "Special Green Issue" declared: "A Graver Threat Than Terrorism: Global Warming." Conservatives, more concerned with human evil, hold the very opposite view: Islamic terror is a far graver threat than global warming.
-- Leftists tend to fear dying more. That is one reason they are more exercised about our waging war against evil than about the evils committed by those we fight. The number of Iraqis and others Saddam Hussein murdered troubles the Left considerably less than even the remote possibility than they may one day die of global warming (or secondhand smoke).
One day, our grandchildren may ask us what we did when Islamic fascism threatened the free world. Some of us will say we were preoccupied with fighting that threat wherever possible; others will be able to say they fought carbon dioxide emissions. One of us will look bad.
E.J. Dionne speculates that Chief Justice John Roberts is going to be a big disappointment to conservatives.
I am repeatedly reminded of Plato's Republic when I read political commentary. Socrates argued that the philosophers should govern because, well, they're the smartest. Most pundits, both (D) and (R) still believe this. They fear the will of the people; they just want their own ideology to prevail. The people, after all, are too stupid to know what is good for them.
President Bush said he would appoint justices who would uphold the rule of law and not try to legislate (their own social agenda) from the bench. He must have said that a hundred times. Roberts takes the bench and says he will do that. What is the big surprise? And what is the threat? The primary task of the Supreme Court is to determine Constitutionality, not to comment on, and certainly not to redirect, legislative intent. These comments by Roberts are not inflammatory or disappointing -- they are exactly what any justice should say, and they are a profoundly positive step in the right direction for the Supreme Court.
Roberts' speech [last month at Georgetown] defended the virtues of judicial humility: Justices should try to make the narrowest possible rulings and strive for unanimity, or something close to it.
"If it is not necessary to decide more to dispose of a case, in my view it is necessary not to decide more,'' Roberts said. Thus the Roberts Rule of Orderly Judging: The less the court decides the better.
And there was this corollary: "The broader the agreement among the justices, the more likely it is that the decision is on the narrowest possible ground.''
"The rule of law is strengthened,'' Roberts insisted, "when there is greater coherence and agreement about what the law is.''
Monday, June 19, 2006
I suscribe to the wonderful travel magazine, "Budget Travel". Recently a reader sent in an incredible story. The reader stated that she and her husband were visiting France recently. They were leaving a restaurant after dinner when a fire broke out at nearby apartment complex. To their horror, a woman was hanging out over her balcony screaming for help. The heat became unbearable and she jumped only to have her leg caught in between the railing on the balcony below. She was hanging upside down screaming. The American woman/reader stated that she screamed, "Somebody do something!" To her surprise, her middle-age overweight husband, leapt into action. He scaled the two stories of the building on a fire escape, pulled the woman up and put her on his back. Then proceeded to scale back down when the upstairs windows exploded showering him with glass. Cut and bleeding, he did not drop the woman but successfully brought her down to the ground when (about 20 minutes later) fire rescue finally arrived.
As he was being treated for his cuts a French woman came over, "I knew you must be American by your white socks and courage. All the French men were standing around doing nothing while you risked your life for a women you didn't even know in a country that is not yours."
This letter really made me smile. Here is an average guy showing the great American spirit that is still alive and well....even in an overweight, middle-aged dude.
Recently I got this email from a crazy Brit:
Hi, just read an Amazon review of yours in which you use the phrase 'muddled left-wing environmentalism'. What's the connection? Why is environmentalism 'left wing' ? Why is a left-wing position muddled? And what's wrong with 'left-wing' per se anyhow? You associate with a Christian position, the message of Jesus is about compassion; you popagate the Divine, but the Divine is most immediately known in the (God created) environment around us. To oppose compassion is anti-Christian;to harm our environment is blasphemy. The real muddle seems to me to claim to be a Christian while dismissing political compassion (the 'left' in politics) & environmentalism (which works toward greater respect for God's creation. Wishing you light. J
What the????? Here is my reply:
My dear June:
Oh I completely agree! It is not wrong to love and care for the environment in any way. I am very much a conservationist in the Teddy Roosevelt mold. What I do not like about the left-wing environmentalist movement in this country is that it is mostly run by a bunch of city dwellers who have no respect for individual property rights (one of the many things we fought the British for back in the day). Further, current left-wing policy would place all property not now developed (including private land) into a kind of museum free from Human influence of any kind, which is utterly ridiculous. I do believe that humans are as much a part of this world as any animal and plant. We certainly have a duty not to destroy the world or vital habitat, but not at the expense of Jobs and Freedom! Finally, I have in no way connected my Christian beliefs to these political views. That is your projection. I'm a bit more complex than that. I recommend you read http://www.heritage.org/Press/Environmental-Policy.cfm for a more informed understanding of what is going on in this area. Further, are you writing me from England? If so, we kicked King George's butt one time on these issues, I guess we're going to have to do it again.
W. Steven Saunders
Friday, June 16, 2006
How could the war not be the defining issue in the next 2 elections? And how could the party that wants to lose the war possibly gain the support of a majority of Americans? I just don't see it happening.
The costs in Iraq have been high and the losses tragic. But nothing in the past three years has convinced me otherwise than that in a post-September 11 world Saddam had to be removed on ethical and strategic grounds;
or that the insurgency, though unexpected in its intensity, could be put down by a U.S. military that would react and evolve more quickly than the terrorists to changing conditions on the ground;
or that our mistakes, though several and undeniable, are tragically the stuff of war, and so far have not proved to be irreversible or beyond what we experienced in any of our past efforts;
or that the maligned secretary of Defense was right about troop levels and the plan for Iraqization — although demonized for trying to transform the very nature of the American military in the midst of a war;
or that we are engaged in the great humanitarian effort of the age, as “one person, one vote” has brought to the perennially downtrodden Arab Shiites a real chance at equality;
or that the best method of winning this global struggle against fascistic Islamic terrorism remains fostering in the Middle East a third democratic alternative between autocracy and theocracy that alone can deal with the modern world.
Once a democratically elected Iraqi government emerged, and a national army was trained, the only way we could lose this war was to forfeit it at home, through the influence of an adroit, loud minority of critics that for either base or misguided reasons really does wish us to lose. They really do.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
An exciting race scene at the beginning and another at the end. In between, more than an hour of tedious moralizing that kept stretching on and on, like the old lady doing 45 on the interstate that you're stuck behind and can't get around. It had one kid yawning and the other begging to go home. That the Pixar bar has been set so very high does not make this film any better.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Bob Costas had a great HBO special in May about Steroid use. While his panel of Tim McCarver, Joe Margan and Bob Gibson each had varying sympathies for the players, they all admitted that steroids were bad for the game. Costas thinks that steroids are the second biggest blight on the history of the game following the pre-1947 segregation, because both factors resulted in baseball not having the equal and honest competition that it deserved.
Schmidt’s book is here to take advantage of the controversy by allowing a clean player to weigh in on the happenings. Like most jock books we get a synopsis of his career as a platform to lay his inside opinion on. I remember the 1980s Schmidt from the Pete Rose and Tug McGraw era. I knew little about his beginnings and I was glad he caught me up.
As well as giving a career capsule, Schmidt also explains early free agency starting with Curt Flood on into Catfish Hunter and Dave McNally. On the one hand, Schmidt says the players deserved their freedom of movement and the ability to earn as much as the market would bear. But he also thinks the frequent player movement has been a negative for baseball. This duality of thought is a common thread through the book. Now a lot of people have ambiguous emotions about the way baseball has changed over the years and you can’t fault Schmidt the person for not being sure which is the greater good, but the point of writing a book is to make a stand on the issues not just say that you’re torn between them. Which is better Mike, free movement or guys staying put?
He was on record as saying in the past that if steroids were available in his day he would have used them. He now says that the comment was off the cuff and he wouldn’t have. Steroids are ruinous to the game, he says. But then he explains that the increase in home run production is just as much a result of a tighter wound and fresher balls, and smaller ballparks. So the real culprit can be whatever we want it to be.
The most interesting story is Schmidt’s relationship with Pete Rose. Schmidt started intervening with Bud Selig a few years back and even brought Rose to Selig so that Rose could admit he bet on baseball. Schmidt says that Selig was happy for the admission, but less than impressed with Rose’s lack of emotion over the confession. Selig wanted Rose to feel badly, I guess. Though Rose still had a shot with Selig, his chances were ruined around the time Pete’s book was due to come out. The early leak of the book coincided with the HOF announcements where the Rose news overshadowed Selig’s buddy Paul Molitor being enshrined. DOOM!
I suppose the title is Schmidt's play on clearing the air with his thoughts, but I think Schmidt shouldn't have written the book until he could make some more definitive value judgements.
These are the kinds of books I grew up on, and the ones that taught me a love of reading, although they were mostly written by the likes of Sparky Lyle and Graig Nettles. They usually leave me less than excited these days. The only one from the last few years that stands out is the one written by Jim Kaat.
Puritanism has never been dead in America. It just takes different forms at different times. It’s an attitude more so than a belief system. It lives in people that insist the world be fashioned to their own pure standard. In Salem, women were burned as witches for not adhering. In New York City men cannot smoke a cigar in a tavern without the threat of arrest. In college campuses, students are expelled for holding affirmative action bake sales. Larger forms are the drug war and the Kyoto Treaty.
Those on the left that abhor Salem and even liken it to McCarthyism have no insight into their own Puritanism. Because what is Political Correctness other than an insistence of a pure adherence to today’s version of enlightenment? The reason you cannot smoke in a New York City bar comes from the same thinking that made the colonials dress modestly, both were designed to protect the body, although from different things. The students expelled for holding an affirmative action bake sale were performing a sacrilege against the latest tenant of secular divinity. So brings us to the slight and mostly forgotten movie, PCU.
Trish remembered this movie fondly from college and although I never had any interest in it, I was busy cooking and didn’t squawk when she put it on. I tried to simply ignore it, but I found myself laughing more than once. It was in some ways typical, but in other ways it showed a boldness.
It’s the only movie I have ever seen that treats the self-important PC groups as the intolerant and self-righteous creeps that they are. All the usual complaint groups are marching around campus as you’d expect they would be while a group of good-time Charlies led by Jeremy Piven do everything they can to disrupt these pretentious bastards. Piven and Co. are the heroes we already know from Animal House. They care little about school, but they like a good time and these PCers are ruining the fun around campus. The first act of rebelliousness is early on when the vegetarians are marching against the evils of meat and Piven’s gang lies waiting at the top of a building and then flings raw hamburger meat upon them, gross and yet not unappreciated by the audience.
Another explanation for the rebelliousness is that Piven’s one-time girlfriend is a member of the marching anti-men feminists. She’s lambasted early by another fem for having a relationship with that pig, but you can tell that she still likes him and is only going through the motions of sanctimonious. We know that Piven will win her back amidst the other chaos that is soon to follow.
Jessica Walter (Play Misty for Me) is the Dean of students that is trying to kick Piven’s crew out of school ala Animal House. And this is where the movie takes a Hollywood turn. David Spade leads the group of prep school types. He’s singled out as a “Republican” and he plans to help Walter get the Pivens kicked off campus. Not once in the film do Spade and his Republicans ever comment on the PC nature of the campus, instead they are solely designed to be the arch enemy of “libertarian” Piven and Co. I suppose this was the trade-off for getting the movie made. You can make fun of all the excessive PC groups as long as the real villain is still a Republican. That the Republicans and Piven would rather fight among themselves than find alliance against the totalitarians of correct thought is funnier than flinging the meat, because it's such a twister stretch for a writer.
Peter Biskind wrote a book about the politics of 1950s cinema that is quite fascinating. He looks at classic films, but also at popular films and cult films. He analyzes the different kinds of approaches taken by authority figures and places those attitudes into groups. If I were to write a movie about cinema in the 1990s, I would certainly include this movie because it gets to the heart of the era. Not only does it capture the shrillness of PC groups in a way that will probably never be tackled again, but it exposes the knee-jerk anti-conservative response of Hollywood on any subject.
PCU ends with the PC groups coming to their senses as Piven and Co. share in a George Clinton concert. The PC groups just needed to find their fun inner child, while the conservatives will never be fun. It’s significant because it shows that modern Hollywood values are less based on beliefs than attitudes. Anything conservative must be suspect, even their own conservative inclinations. Reaching out to the most anti-social liberals is more favorable than making common cause with those that they actually agree with.
The late Dick Schaap was on Crossfire in the early 1990s. The topic may have been what to do with Tonya Harding following the Kerrigan incident. Schaap and Buchanan agreed that Harding should be kicked off the team, but Schaap was so upset that he agreed with Pat, he kept insulting Pat by the way he kept saying he can’t believe he’s agreeing with him on anything and implying that Pat was a fool. I remember more about Schaap’s embarrassment than I do anything else. The same emotion was present here and therefore resolved in a most unrealistic way.
I recently spent an afternoon in Murtha's district with a couple we know who live there. They told us that Murtha's political success in that district, a rural, decaying area east of Pittsburgh, has been based on his ability to secure defense contracts for local companies. So Mr. Anti-War makes his living off military spending. Zell Miller was right -- our political system is totally corrupt.
I missed this in Friday's news.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rep. John Murtha, an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, unexpectedly announced on Friday he will run for the No. 2 leadership post in the U.S. House of Representatives if Democrats regain control of that chamber in elections this fall.
"If we prevail as I hope and know we will and return to the majority this next Congress, I have decided to run for the open seat of the majority leader," Murtha, a Pennsylvanian, said in a letter sent to House Democrats.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Roger Cossack provides a tidy summary of what's going on with the feds searching Jason Grimsley's house.
I am on record, though perhaps not on this blog, as saying that Bonds would pass Ruth but would be indicted on perjury or tax evasion charges, effectively ending his career long before challenging Aaron. I stand by that prediction.
Monday, June 05, 2006
It's not like it's terrorism, it's just some fake documents and a few thousand pounds of explosives. What's a little criminal activity among adherents of the religion of peace?
I don't know why it keeps surprising me how deeply you have to go into these AP stories to find out all 17 suspects are Muslims.
The suspects lived in either Toronto, Canada's financial capital and largest city, or the nearby cities of Mississauga or Kingston.
Also at the court hearing was Aly Hindy, an imam of an Islamic center that houses a school and a mosque and has been monitored by security agencies for years. He said he knows nine of the suspects and that Muslims once again were being falsely accused.
"It's not terrorism. It could be some criminal activity with a few guys, that's all," said Hindy. "We are the ones always accused. Somebody fakes a document and they are an international terrorist forging documents for al-Qaida."
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Steven Spielberg’s great downfall is that he has sold his own talents too short and has spent too much of the latter part of his career trying to make “important” message pictures. Thank God Alfred Hitchcock never fell for such trappings. Spielberg doesn’t seem to understand that yes message pictures win Oscars, but that hacks can make message pictures. What other director could have made JAWS or RAIDERS as well as Spielberg? And when he makes these pictures he never seems to want to let them stand on their own. Even his better “important” pictures are ruined by Spielberg’s comments. The schmaltz that works for ET or Close Encounters is just a part of Spielberg and it winds up in everything. For instance, the real life ending of Schindler’s was a kick in the suit pants to say look this is important just in case you didn’t figure it out already. The opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN begins in modern-day Normandy so that we can later reflect on the importance of the saving. Give us some credit. Both were needless and became a substitute for the viewer’s ability to add his/her own importance to the events. In Munich the DVD allows you to watch a special introduction by Steven Spielberg. I could not even stomach the idea. If he made the movie correctly then it wouldn’t need a special introduction.
The two main drawbacks for me going in were the slow pace I read about and the source material “Vengeance” that’s factual content is widely disputed. It didn’t help either that Spielberg gave the impression in a number of interviews that the Palestinians haven’t been heard enough, followed later contradictory comments that he himself would die for Israel. The good news is that it’s a very human story and the pace is somewhat slow but not terrible. And although the Israeli hit squad members come away shaken by the act of vengeance, I didn’t stop rooting for them. Yeah some members may question their own actions and that is supposed to make us think about “what hast vengeance wrought,” but you are still allowed to make up your own mind. The Israeli government official played by the great Geoffrey Rush is sort of a heavy in his bureaucratic way, but I didn’t hate him either. I enjoyed the planning and execution of the retribution and the way the human elements were sprinkled within. Spielberg waits the whole movie to finally show us how the Israeli Olympic Team is murdered and he does it inter cut with our hero Eric Bana is flagrante delicto. Some may see that as artsy, but I found it disturbing when you think about how the victims were real people with living relatives. There were more subtle ways I think to show Bana breaking down. Do you think the parallel action is described that way in the book?
So, in short, I liked Munich more than I thought, but Spielberg’s pretentious phase still irks me.