Archive for February, 2007

Didn’t We Used to have a Sports-Anthem Columnist?: A Post About Less than Nothing

February 26, 2007

During my first year of college, some poor administrator found it a good idea to give me and a friend complete control over the music played during the timeouts of our school’s basketball games.* We were good. We hit the unsuspecting masses with a steady dose of Nine Inch Nails’s “Head Like a Hole” (I had something like 9 remixes of this song), stuff from U2’s Pop album (my favorite being the last song on that album which is this really depressing song sung by Johnny Cash to a really cool, almost techno beat), and then some real-deal rave music from Europe that was laced with random lines from Monty Python.

Our efforts were never fully appreciated. We were ironic and cool and toyed with our crowd’s emotions in ways they weren’t comfortable with. We transgressed the sacred bounds of the “jock rock” genre usually played during sporting events – Van Halen’s “Jump”, anything by AC/DC (especially “Thunderstruck”) or Ozzy Osbourne (“Crazy Train” and then some other song that is used all the time which really does have a cool guitar intro), that techno-y song used during wrestling (the one that comes after: “Let’s Get Ready to Rumbuuuuuuuuuuuuul), or something by The Village People. But the crowds didn’t want ironic. They didn’t want to hear about Johnny Cash leaving his house as a young man with a Bible and a Gun. They wanted to simply get pumped up by loud music, not contemplate “god-money” to whom they were bowing down in servitude and from whom they would get what they deserved.

I think we lasted two games.

It still amazes me that the music played at sporting events has remained relatively untouched since, say, 1985. These are sacred hymns with which you do not mess. Sure, there are occasional additions to this musical canon, but there is some rigorous, tacitly agreed upon standard the songs must meet in order to not confuse fans.**

So I’ve been very happy that Pepperdine has added a new song to its arsenal of time-out music. As fans here, we are still subjected to Van Halen and Ozzy and YMCA (WHY does everyone still think it’s cool to spell out, bodily, YMCA?). And we still get ready to rumble. We even go down to Cotton-Eyed Joe’s more often than I’d like. But, now, we also: Take On Me, Take Me On. Who knew Aha was so inspirational? But it’s such a nice change of pace. It’s nice to hear a gym or stadium full of people talking and pretending not to listen to the synthesized music until the end of the chorus. When everyone stops mid-sentence, mid-conversation, to shamelessly sing that one high note. You know how it goes: “Take on me, take me on, I’ll be [something], [sooooomething something something], TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE.”

It’s the final “Take” sung by 2500 people in unison that brings on the goose bumps. The guy in charge of the music at our games – and I have some serious issues with his selections most of the time, as he’s not willing to take chances – turns off the music and lets the crowd’s TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE lead us back into the action on the court or the field.

Maybe this is a nation-wide thing. Maybe it’s been around for a while and I’ve simply not been paying attention. But until otherwise informed, I’m giving lots of credit to the guy at Pepperdine who plays Aha proudly. Who has done what my friend and I couldn’t do with Nine Inch Nails and some really cool, if underappreciated, techno music. He’s made them relevant, even essential, to the sporting experience at Pepperdine. It’s good times.

And, yes, I hope this song is stuck in your head now.

* I think my friend and I owed — and subsequently abused — this privilege because Terry Austin, who frequents this site, was the guy who introduced the players who subbed in and out of the games, and he put in a good word for us. I also think he helped pick some of the music, although he kept his name out of the scandal somehow.

** For some reason, rap songs aren’t put through the same rigorous scrutiny. They can be played almost as soon as they are released without the usual 10 to 15 year waiting-to-see-if-this-song-will-truly-pump-us-up tests.

What’s Going On?

February 23, 2007

Warning: this post isn’t about anything in particular, and it’s definitely not (directly) about politics.

It’s just my guilt post for not having been around much lately. Oh, I have been around, in the sense that I check the blog almost every day. And in the sense that each morning I check my usual suspects for topics that might make good posts.

Every time I come up empty.

On the one hand, I am really happy with my life. (This despite the fact that my beloved cat Simon passed away suddenly last week, which was devastating). But I also feel very walled off from the world, by choice, but this leaves me nothing to contribute here.

I do feel like a bad person about this, and maybe I have a biological excuse or maybe I don’t, but I just don’t give a damn what’s going on in Iraq, in the Scooter Libby trial, in the 2008 presidential race, or in Congress. I could really not care less. Those things have nothing to do with me or my life. In the same way, I am utterly disinterested in work except for the righteous indignation that my employers keep us feeling, well, pretty much every day. The whole thought of caring about anything outside my own home, family, and close friends is exhausting. I just don’t have anything to give to that right now. I don’t know if I ever will again.

I do still read the New York Times (well, I scan the headlines anyway) and of course watch the Daily Show, so I have a basic understanding of what’s going on and if something major happens I’ll be apprised of it. But I feel like the stage of my life where I was passionate and fired up about things is over. Now, my baby’s kicks are just a million times more interesting than what Hillary said about Obama this week. In a way, it’s sad, because my youthful idealism is gone (didn’t take long, did it?). I no longer have faith that there’s much if anything that I can do to change the world other than doing my own small part by raising my children to be good people and setting a good example for others around me in my own life.

This goes hand in hand with my complete loss of interest in having a “career,” whatever that even means. I feel like I was sold a bill of goods that work is supposed to be a great source of personal fulfillment. It took me almost six years of working to realize that this is, for the vast majority of people, a big lie. Work is a means to an end, not an end in itself. People who want careers seem to, almost without exception, want them for self-aggrandizement even if their articulated reasons are altruistic. This goes for all politicians and high-profile activists even in causes I believe in. Especially living in D.C., I feel aberrant for just wanting to be an average person with an average life.

One small anecdote from my office: our office manager said to one of the associates, who is a real clotheshorse and dresses very nicely all the time, that she was the only one of us who came to work “looking like a lawyer every day” and that she (the office manager) was going to suggest to the partners that all the attorneys be required to wear suits every day. I found that so offensive that I now find it difficult to be polite to this woman. (For the record, I wear jeans every day that I don’t have a deposition, meeting with opposing counsel, or court hearing). I hate suits and have never felt comfortable in them — I feel like a little girl playing dress-up. I realized the other day that the reason I hate suits so much is that for me, wearing one is making a statement that I think I’m someone important. Because I don’t think I am someone important and find all of that kind of posturing and formality to be tiresome and pointless, I prefer to dress like who I am.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense or not, but I thought I’d at least try to give an explanation for my long absence. I’m still here, I just don’t know if I have anything meaningful to contribute.

All-Time Gold Glove Team

February 22, 2007

Rawlings is hosting an on-line vote for the All-Time Gold Glove Team. (Cast your ballot HERE. )

Since all baseball fans are eagerly anticipating a good argument, let’s let one loose here.:
* Who do you think deserves recognition as the best of the best at each position?
* Who do you think is the best of the best across all positions?

PITCHER:
Bob Gibson
Jim Kaat
Greg Maddux

CATCHER:
Johnny Bench
Bob Boone
Bill Freehan
Ivan Rodriguez
Jim Sundberg

FIRST BASE:
Keith Hernandez
Don Mattingly
Wes Parker
Vic Power
J.T. Snow
Bill White

SECOND BASE:
Roberto Alomar
Bill Mazeroski
Joe Morgan
Bobby Richardson
Ryne Sandberg
Frank White

THIRD BASE:
Buddy Bell
Ken Boyer
Eric Chavez
Brooks Robinson
Scott Rolen
Mike Schmidt

SHORTSTOP:
Luis Aparicio
Mark Belanger
Dave Concepion
Derek Jeter
Ozzie Smith
Omar Vizquel

OUTFIELD:
Paul Blair
Roberto Clemente
Andre Dawson
Jim Edmonds
Dwight Evans
Curt Flood
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Torii Hunter
Andruw Jones
Al Kaline
Garry Maddox
Willie Mays
Kirby Puckett
Ichiro Suzuki
Larry Walker
Devon White
Dave Winfield
Carl Yastrzemski

Who is Tariq Ramadan?

February 21, 2007

“The Muslim Martin Luther King” seems likely to be an overstatement, but this guy does sound like a genuine grown-up, and grown-ups are sadly lacking on all sides of the debates within and about Islam.

Update on War & Peace

February 20, 2007

I’m now 625 pages through this monstrosity (1455 pages total), and I am definitely in for the duration. I don’t know how to describe the book exactly, but it sort of seems like it’s the book for the person who can’t decide whether to watch The Young and the Restless or a John Wayne flick. I’m not a fan of either, but for whatever reason Tolstoy has me.

The book I bought has a cheat sheet prior to the story’s beginning that outlines the major characters by family. This will be my format in my attempt at an update.

THE BEZUKHOVS: This should actually be singular. The Bezukhov story is all about Pierre so far. The Count’s death opened the story, and after buying his cousins out (the Mamontov sisters), Pierre (the Count’s illegitimate son yet total heir) has been one of the novel’s major characters ever since. Pierre is an odd guy from day one, but I can’t help but like him. He is unconventional to say the least: definitely not the typical high society type. His marriage is weird, and his sudden conversion to the world of the Masons even more strange, but I find his thoughtful demeanor compelling. But he’s slipping into depression, and I’m worried for him.

THE KURAGINS: What a bunch of jerks! Prince Vasily is a spoiled old man with kids who followed in his footsteps. Anatol can’t seem to keep his pants on, and his brother, Ippolit, is an Idiot. Ellen seemed to have the best shot at being likable, but she has failed miserably. Her marriage to Pierre has been a disaster as to the marriage, though she has risen to the apex of Petersburg society what with her beauty & money & connections. But I can’t stand her.

THE BOLKONSKYS: Now here is my hands-down favorite family, though the patriarch is a flat-out jerk. I want to like him sort of as a mad genius type, but the mental abuse of his daughter is a bit too much to stomach. Prince Andrei (his son) remains my favorite character, though I’m not sure why. He seems arrogant in that aloof sort of way, but something about him I like. He is definitely his own man, so maybe that’s it. After the death in childbirth of his pretty little wife, Lisa, and his war injury, he went AWOL from life for quite some time, but little Natasha has brought him back. I’ll admit I never saw that coming. As for Marya (Andrei’s sister), she’s a tragic sort of girl: very religious, but in a naively sincere way. She’s kind of too pure and too ugly for Russian society, and I’m wondering if she really will pursue her secret plan to hit the road with the homeless religious nuts that she knows. If so, I wonder what will happen to Andrei & Lisa’a son whom Marya is raising.

THE ROSTOVS: I think this is the family the readers are supposed to like, but I just can’t fall in love with them. The Count seems a nice guy, but sort of stupid – the kind of guy that comes across as wasting what could have been a productive life. His wife isn’t much different. Much of the novel revolves around their children, Nikolai and Natasha (their other son, Petya, is a young teen boy, and as with most teen boys, isn’t very noteworthy yet; their oldest daughter, Vera, is now married thank goodness, and we’re all glad her snitty self isn’t much of a character either). One can’t really hate Nikolai, but I just don’t care much for him either. I can’t explain why. Natasha, on the other hand, is so easy to fall in love with, and I have. She and Prince Andrei were independently my favorite characters, and when they fell in love with each other it caught me completely offguard. I never saw that coming. There are reasons I probably shouldn’t like Natasha – so bubbly and full of herself – but I adore her, as does anyone who comes into contact with her. Their cousin, Sonya, is a tragic figure, too. She is a minor character so far, quite humble and perfect and deeply in love with Nikolai. I can’t help but like her, but I know so little.

THE DRUBETSKOYS: This family is simply a mother and son, a poor family to the high society crowd who find ways to milk their relationships into getting ahead one way or another. I can’t stand them. Anna is openly conniving, and Boris has found out how to network his way to the top. I’m glad his relationship with Natasha was a childhood romance that got nipped in the bud when he began to fall for her again, and I’m afraid his friendship with Ellen might be trouble down the road. The Drubetskoys are simply a couple of suck-ups.

That’s the story so far. In a hundred pages, I’ll officially be halfway through. I’ll keep you updated along the way – since I doubt anyone else will actually read it!

A Litmus Test

February 17, 2007

I have something political to blog about, after all: my proposed litmus test for 2008 presidential contenders. Here it is. Every candidate for the presidency (and the vice-presidency, once we get to that point) should be forced to state for the record their view of the constitutional power of the executive branch.

Is there such a thing as a “unitary executive” power? Can the president simply sign legislation and ignore the parts he doesn’t like? If so, how is that different from a line-item veto, the unconstitutionality of which has been established? What are the limits on the president’s commander-in-chief authority? Are they different in wartime? What is the proper role of the vice-presidency, and what limits on its authority exist? To what extent is either office constitutionally empowered to act in absolute secrecy?

Since journalists are timid about putting any pointed questions to politicians these days, much less a string of them, a briefer way of asking these questions would be: Do you share the views of the Bush administration?

Anyone who answers in anything but a decided, unqualified, emphatic negative is unfit to hold any office in the executive branch.

It’ll be interesting to see if anyone asks any of the candidates about this. Maybe some of them will volunteer their positions without being asked. Maybe even make a campaign issue of it. I doubt it, though. Politicians don’t like to limit the powers of the office they’re seeking — GOP candidates for Congress during a Republican administration being the only exception. (The modern Republican congressman is something the founding fathers never imagined possible.)

Didn’t We Used to Have a Sports-Columnist?

February 15, 2007

There’s cheating in NASCAR! The purest form of sport.

And advertisments at Wrigley! The purist of sports venues.

Just saying.

A Giant Sucking Sound

February 15, 2007

It’s been a big ol’ political vacuum hereabouts, lately. I guess that’s my fault. I could say something about still not having matched Mikey’s non-posting record, but I’ve guffed him enough.

Truth is, I just don’t know what to say about politics these days. The ’08 presidential race, well, I just don’t give a darn at this stage. And I can’t make heads ner tails of the rest. Here are the highlights.

Iraq

On the ground, it’s hurry up and wait. The surge has begun. Sweeps through Baghdad have begun. Results thus far are mixed, but positive. I don’t think that surprises anyone. The question remains what it always has been: will the Iraqis be able to make it last?

Back home, the Senate, supposedly the leading house when it comes to foreign policy, developed a sudden case of double trenchfoot and had to sit down and watch the House dash out in front. The Senate snafu reminds me of last fall’s Foley scandal in the House, about which I believe I said the leadership hadn’t exactly clothed itself in glory, however things turned out. Same thing, different house. Mitch McConnell was the only winner in the Senate, and even that was a Pyrrhic victory.

I guess the other Iraq news is the whole “Douglas Feith Is a Doody-Head” report that the DoD’s inspector general released. It’s good that that fact is being officially acknowledged, I suppose, but, really, is there anyone who didn’t already know Feith was a doody-head? Gen. Tommy Franks — a fellow member of Team Rumsfeld — was known for referring to him as “the dumbest f-er on the planet.” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief assistant at State, seconded the opinion. All in all, I think the IG’s report is a bust. It amounts to praising with faint damn.

Iran

I alternate about 60 times a second between thinking we are and are not headed for military action there. I don’t know what the Bush administration is trying to do. I don’t know if they know. But if they’re trying to keep everybody confused and off-balance (which is certainly possible), my personal testimony is that they’re doing a boffo job so far, but that that kind of diplomacy takes a level of panache and judgment they just haven’t demonstrated heretofore. More likely, their reeling gait reflects the White House’s internal struggle between the ideologically-driven hardliners and the pragmatists. Upshot: I need a Dramamine.

North Korea

Score one for the pragmatists. John Bolton’s head exploded, impaling dozens of trees and standers-by with mustache hairs. Yay, team.

Separation of Powers

It’s entirely possible “Dick Cheney” will be the “Jim Crow” of the 21st century — the name associated with the most poisonous influence on the nation’s politics. The man really knows no bounds when it comes to making claims for uncheckable power. John Yoo, the most prominent scholarly advocate for the “unitary executive” theory, looks like an anarchist compared to Cheney. And Cheney doesn’t limit his power grabs to the presidency. Even the vice-presidency — an all but symbolic office in everyone else’s eyes — has enormous power that cannot be checked or even overseen. (Cheney’s theory is that, constitutionally, the vice-presidency is not part of the executive branch. It’s sort of a free-floating fourth branch, partly executive in nature, partly legislative. Somehow this all adds up to his not having to tell anybody anything about anything he does.)

Democratic Congress

Too soon to tell. Harry Reid still seems to be thinking like a minority leader. Nancy Pelosi is taking a stronger lead in the House. Committees in both houses are doing some very odd things — like calling witnesses and asking them pointed questions. Even some Republicans are getting the hang of it. When Gen. Casey came up for hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain and Lindsey Graham declared the entire fiasco in Iraq to be his fault. IOW, not President Bush’s fault. It’s hard to feel sorry for Casey, since he evidently was one of Rumsfeld’s yes men, but McCain and Graham almost made it possible.

On the House Armed Services Appropriations subcommittee, there’s the Jack ‘n’ Jerry Show, in which Jerry Lewis needles Jack Murtha, Murtha goes off like Vesuvius, and Jerry nudges the guy in the next chair over and grins like the Cheshire cat. Pretty funny stuff for a couple of guys who’d be well advised to keep a low profile. But, hey, at least they never shot anybody in the face, right?

The Libby Trial

Man. Everybody — and I mean everybody — who’s had anything to do with this deal has come off looking like a blue-ribbon jackass on the original pattern. Journalists. Functionaries. Bureaucrats. Everybody.

Other

What am I overlooking?

Rulekeeping vs. Character Development

February 8, 2007

I’m almost finished reading The Divine Conspiracy, and I’ll have to say that it has grown on me along the way. Lots of very good stuff interspersed with the rest, and though I’m not buying the whole farm, there has been much I’ve needed to hear.

I’ll post a few longer excerpts and ask for your thoughts in the next few weeks, but one specific sentence is enough for me to chew on today. Dallas Willard writes, “The Pharisee takes as his aim keeping the law rather than becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law.”

I think that is worth donning a bucket alongside Gomer Pyle and “taking a think.”

I was raised with heavy emphasis on religious “rules to keep” and little talk of “becoming a kind of person.” Though it makes perfect sense, it is a revolutionary thought to my religious system that Jesus was most interested in one becoming the type of person whose actions “naturally conform to the law” as opposed to getting people to do the right things.

Is it too bold to attribute the thought to Jesus, “If you do the right things, but without the right heart, than what’s the point?” I don’t think so. Even Paul’s soliloquy on love argues that religious heroism such as martyrdom and vows of poverty are useless without being “the kind of person” that would do these naturally.

I was raised to “hope” people become that kind of person, but it wasn’t the most important thing. “Being saved” WAS most important. From hell, that is. And for many that remains most important.

I don’t believe “being saved from hell” is the most important thing. Not anymore. Not even close.

We have so much else to “be saved” from before even worrying about what might happen when this life is over, and chief among these is being saved from ourselves.

Which would mean that “becoming” something trumps following a set of rules hands down.

A Modified Update on "War and Peace" & a Top 10 List For Other Light Reading

February 1, 2007

In response to Juvenal’s question of how War and Peace is treating me, I have modified a general update I had posted elsewhere and will share it below. Let me preface the update by saying that I am not setting a land speed record here. I am only on page 274 out of 1455 in the tiny-print paperback version. But I’m in for the duration. So here goes…

* I’m a bit concerned for Nikolai Rostov after his war injury at such a young age. He is having to grow up quickly, and so far he hasn’t handled it all too well. In my humble opinion.

* I’m impressed with Andrei Bolkonsky. He was heroic in battle, but I wonder about his future on the homefront with his pregnant wife, Lisa. He seems a bit hard to live with, and I don’t think she’s too happy about his dropping her off pregnant with the in-laws on the way to war. She hates his dad, and Andrei is an awful lot like him. I’m not sure how Andrei will be changed by his dangerous encounters with the army of his enemy (and hero), Bonaparte.

* Pierre is fun to watch, sort of like a NASCAR pile-up is fun to watch. To become so wealthy at such a young age is dangerous for anyone, especially for someone as clueless and impetuous as he. And now, out of nowhere, he finds himself married to the most beautiful woman in the story (Ellen). Sounds like a dream come true, but I have this feeling that he might end up on the Maury Povich show somewhere along the way.

* And now there’s the whole mess with Prince Vasily’s son, Anatol. Now that Vasily’s succeeded in getting his daughter in on the Bezukhov fortune by marrying Pierre, he’s trying to pawn off his spoiled son on Prince Andrei’s naive sister. She is Ms. Religion and Ms. Low Self-Esteem (read: thinks she’s ugly, and to Tolstoy, she’s fairly observant) all rolled into one, and Anatol hasn’t even seen her yet. He’s pretty sure she’s ugly, though, so I’m kind of afraid to see what happens there. But Marya’s dad’s wacky-ness just might come in handy here. I don’t think he’ll put up with any crap from Anatol nor any socialite pretense from Vasily.

* At least things seem to be settled with Pierre’s cousins (but not Anna Mikhailovna) after Vasily figured out a way to sort of buy them out.

* Waiting in the wings are all the budding romances from young Boris & Natasha to the little Sonya/Julie competition over Nikolai (and snitty Vera with her vicious comments).

So far, it’s an interesting story. A little war here, then a little peace. War, peace, war, peace. I think I’m catching on to the title. I’ll update you as things develop.

As on my personal journal-type blog, I noted that in January Time Magazine published an article ranking the Top 10 books of all-time. War and Peace came in third, with Tolstoy garnering the honor of holding both 1st and 3rd place on the list. If you are interested in some light reading, here’s the list:

#1: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
#2: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#3: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
#4: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#5: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#6: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
#7: The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
#8: In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
#9: The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
#10: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Mikey claims #8 makes #3 look like Cliff’s Notes. I think Juvenal just finished #10, and both he and Mikey are working on #1.

Anyone else doing any light reading? Or care to comment on the rankings?