Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The hapless lot of a fan

I'm not entirely sure how one conveys the experience of being an Arsenal fan if you’re not a follower of the English Premier League, or soccer in general. To compare the experience to that of being a Chicago Cubs fan is too extreme; Arsenal’s had nothing like 110 years of futility. There’s a similarity to it, though, the sense that no matter how well things might be going at a given time, the Gunners are going to find a way to screw things up. For the last decade or so, Arsenal has been the dictionary definition of “good enough,” a team which has gone a dozen seasons without winning the championship* but always manages to finish in the league’s top four, which qualifies them for the lucrative Champions League.

*Virtually no one expects them to prevent this from becoming season number 13.

It’s not that Arsenal lacks good players, or the money to buy more. It’s that their players often fail to rise to the level required for a championship side, and the team’s management seems intent on bargain shopping, passing up the chance to acquire top talent not because they can’t afford it – like every other team in the Premier League, they have plenty of money thanks to the League’s new television contract – but because they can’t justify to themselves that the cost is worth it. They’re like the old lady who’s lived in squalor for as long as anyone can remember, only when she dies it’s discovered she had two million dollars stuffed in her mattress, and another million or so in bonds hidden in a cookie jar. They may be quite right in judging that Paul Pogba, for example, isn’t worth anything like $116 million, but as long as their competitors are willing to pay that amount, then Pogba’s objective value is meaningless; it’s his subjective worth, that of being a player who can bring the title to Manchester United, that is the only thing that matters.

Last year was perhaps a defining stage in Arsenal fandom, at least from this fan’s point of view. For the first time in years Arsenal was actually favored to finish in first, and even the team’s followers seemed ready to put all doubts aside, particularly since the League’s traditional powerhouses – Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea – were all struggling. If ever there was an opportunity, this was it.

And yet, we all know how that turned out – 5,000:1 shot Leicester City pulled off the upset of all time and won the title; Arsenal finished second, its highest finish in years. But even when Arsenal threatened, shortly after the first of the year, it was difficult to cheer them on; Leicester had already captured the hearts of soccer fans worldwide with their Cinderella run, and it seemed somehow more compelling, more important, to root for the Foxes than to waste the energy on an Arsenal title bid that would likely end in failure anyway. The fact that Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Leicester on February 14* was actually somewhat disappointing seemed to confirm the Arsenal fan experience – or lack thereof.

*Leicester’s third and final loss of the season, which explains why they won the title; Arsenal, by contrast, lost seven. At three points per victory, the four extra defeats amounts to 12 lost points. For a team that finished 10 points behind in the final standings, that makes all the difference.

Arsenal’s majority owner is the American Stan Kroenke, who also owns the Los Angeles Rams. This article, although it pertains to the Rams and doesn’t once mention Arsenal, goes a long way toward explaining how a once-powerful side could wind up mired in mediocrity for so long, and how hard it is to root for a side owned by, to be blunt about it, a creep. These two articles, on how long-time manager Arsene Wegner has failed to adapt to the times (so much so that his name has become a noun in the Urban Dictionary for being unwilling to spend money), shows how why he’s become the perfect Kroenke manager, just as Arsenal has become the perfect Kroenke team. When “good enough” means making the Champions League every season and turning a profit, rather than spending the additional money required to win the League Championship, when a soccer team evolves from a fan’s passion to a sober businessman’s profit-and-loss statement, then it becomes time to assess what it means to be an Arsenal fan.

It doesn’t mean selling the jersey or burning the scarf, it doesn’t mean casting aside years of support, even though that support has been destined from the outset to end in disappointment. It does, however, call for a break, a hiatus – a sabbatical, if you will – in that fandom. If that means rooting for Leicester City to make lightning strike twice or seeking out another Cinderella team’s bandwagon to jump on, if it means finding another team with an attractive style and dynamic manager (Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp),  even if it means identifying the most hated team – Manchester United, in other words – and pulling for whoever can stop them from the title (Manchester City, in all likelihood), so be it.

Eventually, Arsenal supporters, who already pay the highest ticket prices in Europe, will find that the only effective weapon they have is their wallet, and they will make their displeasure known. Eventually, Stan Kroenke will find Arsenal’s resale value to have peaked, and will unload his shares before their value can sink, probably to some Asian or Middle East potentate willing to spend whatever’s needed to regain past glories. Eventually (likely after this season), Arsene Wenger will step down, leaving an illustrious legacy nonetheless tarnished by the last decade-plus, and a new manager looking to create his own legacy.

When that happens, the Arsenal fan will find that the red-and-white colors on the jersey and scarf have not faded for having been in the closet for a few seasons. And then it will be time to break them out and let them show once again; after all, the colors we currently see on the pitch week after week have faded enough as it is. By then, it will be nice to have something fresh to look forward to.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Flashback Friday: Staying connected

At dinner [Wolfe] started on automation. He has always been anti-machine, and on automation his position was that it would soon make life an absurdity. It was already bad enough; on a cold and windy March day he was eating his evening meal in comfortable warmth, and he had no personal connection whatever with the production of the warmth. The check that paid the oil bill was connected, but he wasn't. Soon, with automation, no one would have any connection with the processes and phenomena that make it possible to stay alive. We would all be parasites, living not on some other living organisms but on machines, arrived at the ultimate ignominy."

- Rex Stout, writing about Nero Wolfe in A Right to Die

Originally published April 18, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Classic Sports Thursday: The Greatest and a Scottish Clambake

A full length of a FINA regulation long-course swimming pool is 50 meters, or just over 164 feet.  The length of a short-course (indoor) FINA pool is 25 meters, or just over 82 feet, about 10 feet shorter than a FIBA basketball court (just two inches short of 92 feet).

Michael Phelps is now regarded as the greatest Olympian of all time, both Ancient and Modern, with more victories in individual competition than anyone else.  But this incident at the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the European equivalent of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for celebrities, put the greatest Olympian ever's accomplishments to full fruition.

At Kingsbarns Golf Links in Scotland, which next year will host the Women's Open Championship, Mr. Phelps, playing as an amateur with Paul Casey, made his second shot on the sixth, a driveable Par 4, 53 yards away with a putter.  This shot ended up as one of golf's most memorable shots of the year.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Big Entertainment, and Ted Cruz Was Right

Ted Cruz Was Right.  A 1992 Dan Quayle reference to the glorification of single mothers led to rampant criticism of his "family values" comment, and a few months after he left office, a few magazines called "Dan Quayle Was Right."  Of course, he son later ran as a Tea Party conservative and served a term in the US House.

Taking that same thought, we heard Ted Cruz's "New York (City) Values" when referencing Andrew Cuomo and the values of New York City, citing the "heartland versus urban enclave" difference in values that we have seen in election results and the warning that Everett Dirksen gave following the Supreme Court striking down the Great Compromise at the state level in the Reynolds case.  He specifically called out certain cities that would become "city-states" where the rest of the state lost its entire voice to that one city, which over 50 years later, has come true.  California (San Francisco and Los Angeles), New York (NYC), Illinois (Chicago), Minnesota (MSP), are among states that are controlled by these few cities where abolition of the Great Compromise means those cities overrule the rest of states.

The absurd legislation we see coming from California on "sexual freedom," the attacks on Christianity, and the entire push of erotic liberty is coming from just those few cities.  Whereas in the era before Reynolds, the smaller counties, equally represented in the upper chamber, could stop the dangerous bills, now with representing only from that large urban enclave, the other communities are no longer allowed to be represented.  Think about it when you consider how striking down the Great Compromise at the state level has allowed Los Angeles County and Marin County to force down their views on sexual freedom when the entire state has opposed it, thanks to decisions that prevent states from being run the same way as the US Senate.

Ask the 30 states whose marriage laws were overturned by New York City judges.  We were not given a fair voice.  The voice of just the few cities has absolute control.  What might our Founding Fathers that developed the Great Compromise have said?

Big Entertainment.  A recent scan of videos from both political conventions had me wondering aplenty.  The page for the Public Television News Hour (which is not even the same as the old McNeil-Lehrer days) posted more DNC entertainment than RNC entertainment.  The RNC's house band at the Quicken Loans Arena was not publicised, but on the News Hour's video pages, they showed notable DNC performances by superstars.    Meanwhile, Big Entertainment, and with apologies to Mr. Cruz, "Hollywood Values," was rampantly siding with the Left.  At least eleven mega-star hits were performed by original artists, showing effectively Big Entertainment's siding with the Left with every huge hit and star on their side.

It's not even close, sadly, and this showed the bias of the media by showing every major DNC hit performance.  For someone who has sung in front of Gov. Sanford at his final official lighting of the state Christmas Tree, I can say that the Big Entertainment of the DNC may have its target audience (all femme pop hits), maybe it's age, demographic, or just the appreciation of classical masterpieces that have dulled away my senses to the modern pop music that I may hear working out, but never anywhere else!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Here come da judge

I realize we're constantly being admonished nowadays to be non-judgmental; "who am I to judge?" should strike a familiar tone. But what exactly does that mean, and how does it fit in to our modern culture and lifestyles

You could write a book on that question alone, and probably more than one person has by now, but I'll simply remark that I've always understood the Biblical injunction against judging to be aimed more at one's soul than at their actions. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." (Matthew 7:1-2)

In other parts of the Bible, we're told not to worry about what others think of us as long as we act in righteousness for the Kingdom of God.* The suggestion behind it all is that the only opinion that really counts is God's, and He will judge each and every one of us based on what is inside us and how that has manifested itself in our thoughts, words and actions. As humans lack the ability of divination when it comes to reading a man's soul (with the exception of some extraordinary saints), I read this as telling us we should not judge one's character, one's soul, one's state of sin.

*Though we're also reminded not to engage in scandalous behavior which can cast aspersions upon our sincerity, or that of Christians in general. We may see this come into play in the next few paragraphs.

At the same time, however, we're also told to admonish our brothers and sisters who have fallen into sin (first making sure, of course, that we are not guilty of the same thing). For that to happen, it follows that we have some authority to draw conclusions about what a person does, based on that person's external behavior. We don't know for sure whether or not a person is in a state of grace, for example, or if they're possessed by truly evil thoughts and desires, but if they go around acting like a jerk, being impolite, doing nasty things to people, I think we could quite rightly infer from that behavior that this person, regardless of the condition of their soul, has some problems. And if we're that jerk, behaving that way with other people, we should expect that those kinds of conclusions are drawn. If we're a professing Christian, then this becomes cause for scandal, because by our own faults we encourage people to draw such conclusions. Again, being a jerk doesn't mean you're going straight to Hell (do not pass Purgatory, do not collect 500 indulgences). We don't know that.

But when we say someone is loathsome, when we deplore their actions and call into question the sincerity of their expressed values, what we're most often speaking of is this process of making a conclusion based on observed behavior. I think most of us are aware of that, and we aren't literally pronouncing judgment on someone's soul by saying something like that. "I find him grotesque, repulsive, etc." may be an inelegant use of language, it may be intemperate, but most reasonable people know what they mean when they say it, and most reasonable people know (or used to, anyway) what it means when they hear it. It means, "I find this person's actions to be [insert adjective of your choice]."

What I'm getting at with all this is that there's a lot of nasty behavior going on in social media, and in the circles which I frequent much of it is coming from the internecine conflict which our beloved Holy Father seems to have instigated, or at least brought to a head. Austin Ruse wrote about this very well in a recent article with reference to several Catholic bloggers who like to make grand pronouncements about people with whom they disagree. The question arises: how should one behave when finding themselves faced with such a person? Well, perhaps the best thing is not to find yourself in that position in the first place, which is why long ago I deserted the Catholic blogosphere in favor of the much more civilized world of classic television. I still run across these people, though; one can hardly keep up-to-date with current Church events without doing so. The political blogosphere is even worse. And as far as Catholics talking about politics - don't get me started.

It is not an exaggeration for me to say that I do, indeed, find the behavior of such people to be loathsome. In doing so, they transform themselves into loathsome individuals, and to draw such a conclusion based on what they've said is, in many cases, fairly temperate when compared to what these people themselves say and do. But am I judging them? Am I consigning them to the nether regions, where it's very hot even in wintertime? Of course not, and when they use the typical rhetorical tactic of attempting to turn the tables on anyone who disagrees with them by saying, in effect, "So's your old man!" they should be resisted.

What do I mean by that? Well, in fact, there often is no moral equivalence involved; calling someone loathsome is not the same as saying they're going to Hell. These people often are passing judgment on others, accusing them outright of sin, of not being true Catholics or even Christians. If they want to call someone names, then that's their right, and I'm not going to stress over it - except, as I suggested earlier, to advise them to by a thesaurus or something else that can help them expand their vocabulary. Their behavior certainly can be described as scandalous, and to the extent that they provoke intemperate responses in others, they deserve the lion's share of the blame. If one voices a negative opinion of this person's behavior - well, what other conclusion can you draw?

In the end, I don't know if I've accomplished anything with this. I vowed to write a certain number of words at this site this month, and this is part of it. I haven't engaged in any of these verbal fisticuffs, nor do I intend to, but I get highly put out when I read it, and I do think the people who do this are - here's that word again - loathsome. Am I judging them? No, and I'd thank you not to accuse me of that if you're tempted to. Am I drawing conclusions based on what I've seen, heard or read? You bet I have - and as long as such people continue to act that way, I'm going to continue to draw those kinds of conclusions.

For those of you out there who are like these people - don't you have anything better to do? For all that we moan about social justice warriors and how everyone's too sensitive and the world is filled with rage, it really is difficult to drive most people to anger. Mainly, they want to be happy and to be left alone. If these people worked half as hard at doing something good (or at least something benign), they might find their own world to be a much nicer place.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sad news - Indy 500 driver killed in Kansas

For the second consecutive Indianapolis 500, tragedy has struck the Field of 33.  An accomplished driver who made multiple Indianapolis 500 starts has been killed in a racing crash.

Three-time “500” starter Bryan Clauson (#88 Dale Coyne Racing Jonathan Byrd's Catering Honda) died Sunday night from head injuries from contact after a violent flip at the Belleville (KS) Midget Nationals A-Main at the North Central Kansas fairgrounds in the said city.  On Lap 14 of the 35-lap A Main, during a battle for the lead the half-mile high-banked dirt track, Clauson, a three-time winner of the event battled Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy, for the lead when, in a classic dirt track “jumping the cushion,” his midget climbed he armco guardrail, flipping violenly and hit by Ryan Greth.  Clauson was transported to a Nebraska hospital where he died the next evening.  Clauson is the fifth Indianapolis 500 starter since 2000 to be killed in a crash from a motor racing incident.

The Midget Nationals, since 1978, has been won by six Indianapolis 500 starters and five current NASCAR national series drivers, including three current Sprint Cup drivers (#5, #42, #88).

Thoughts and prayers go to the Clauson family.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Talk about an Olympian task...

It's come to my attention that the Summer Olympics apparently start tonight; Note that I say "apparently," because, well, you know - Rio. If you're not sure why that matters, let Charles Pierce remind you with this fine article from a couple of days ago. Now, when it comes to politics, I don't agree with Pierce at all, but he's still a helluva writer, and when he's right it's that much more entertaining. Anyway, read it all, but here are some highlights:

The Games should have been pulled from Rio a year ago. The Games should have been pulled from Rio on the entirely practical grounds that the government of Brazil, and almost all of its institutional public infrastructure, is a pile of splinters on the ground. The Games should have been pulled from Rio on the grounds of human decency because the optic of staging a plutocratic athletics hootenanny in the middle of some of the worst grinding poverty in any hemisphere is enough, in the words of the late Molly Ivins, to gag a maggot.

The list - I'd call it a laundry list, but I doubt any laundry could clean this mess up - of Olympic shortcomings reads like a who's who of calamity. Just a short list would include the following:

As I said, this is just a partial list; your results may vary. But at least there won't be a condom shortage.

I was in Chicago on the day that the Games were given to Rio; the country was still in the first flush of Obamamania, and everywhere you could see signs promoting Chicago as the obvious choice. We'd flown into town just a couple of hours before the voting was scheduled to be held, and the cost of watching on local TV as the city was eliminated on the first ballot was, as they say, priceless. As was the sight of all the discarded Olympics signs from the rally in Daley Plaza laying in the gutter later that day. But just because Chicago failed didn't mean the International Olympic Committee had to give the Games to Rio. What kind of an organization would do something that stupid?

Speaking of human sewage, let’s talk for a moment about the IOC. In addition to trying to sell the world on a Roger Corman movie masquerading as a sporting and cultural extravaganza, this pack of buffet grazers so completely bungled its handling of the Russian doping scandal that it managed to make Vladimir Putin seem like the wronged victim of capricious authoritarian regimes. That’s quite a feat.

Now, I know there are a lot of you out there who are probably looking forward to the Olympics. You don't care about all the politics behind the scenes; you're interested in the grace of the athletes, the drama of competition, the stirring human interest stories. And for your sake, I hope this things aren't so bad that the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat can still show through. However:

These are Games that never should have happened. No matter what glories we may see over the next 18 days, the Olympic Games of Rio remain a reckless operation run by people who never get near the social problems into which they have dropped their party. Almost as revolting as the Games themselves is the inevitable whitewash of all the problems that will occur if, somehow, the entire city of Rio doesn’t vanish under the waves over the next couple of weeks. We will hear nothing but amazing stories about “overcoming adversity,” and how the plucky Brazilians managed to pull off a logistical miracle after an (admittedly) rocky start. Then the world will leave. The favelas will fill again. The government will continue to be a phantom. The fishermen will keep getting killed and the flesh-eating bacteria will once again, well, eat flesh.

It almost makes American politics seem palatable, doesn't it?

Note that I say "almost."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The return of Bonds?

Bonds Wins Tour de France, Considering Run for the Roses

(July 26, 2019 – Paris, France) Astonishing sports history was made today when Barry Bonds, major league baseball’s controversial all-time home run king, broke through at the finish to win the 106th running of the Tour de France. Bonds, who celebrated his 56th birthday last week, was a last-minute and unexpected entry in the world’s most famous bicycle race, but easily outdistanced the competition to come away with the prized yellow jersey.

“I always liked bike riding,” said bonds after the 2,200 mile (3,540 km) race, while sipping on champagne at the Arc de Triomphe. “I’d been riding with my grandkids in the park recently, and I felt good, felt strong. Then I got a chance to meet some of the guys who ride in this race every year, and right away I knew they were my kind of people. So I gave it a shot.”

Bonds, who faced a deluge of questions – and a federal grand jury – about possible steroid use during his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record in 2007, once again refused to address rumors of steroid use in this year’s Tour.

“You guys are stuck on the same old [stuff],” he said, his voice rising. “You’re like a broken record. Get off it, you’re old news, find a new story, man.”

Bonds, who finished his major league career in 2008 with a total of 775 home runs, had been living in seclusion at his Maui home until recently, but hinted that sports fans may not have heard the last of him. “There may be more to come, depending on how my knees are feeling after this. In fact, I’m giving serious consideration to running in the Kentucky Derby next spring.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Opera Wednesday

I've mentioned in this space before that Verdi, unlike Mozart (for example) really knows how to end an opera, and one of the most exciting climactic scenes comes from Rigoletto, in which the bitter court jester Rigoletto finds out that his plans for revenge have gone awry - the contract he put out on his boss the Duke has backfired, resulting in the death of his daughter, whom he was trying to save from that very Duke.

Here's that final scene, with two of the very best: Diana Damrau and Zeljko Lucic, with the Dresden State Opera, conducted by Fabio Luici.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What is wrong with the pope, indeed.

From Rod Dreher last week. Read the whole thing, but the money quote asks the essential question:

What is Francis doing? Is this just the usual progressive Catholic see-no-evil dingbattery, or is there something else happening here? Again, how very odd for a world religious leader to deny the power of religion to mold the minds of men and to motivate their behavior. You would expect a vulgar Marxist to say all things are motivated by class and economic struggle and nothing but, but you wouldn’t expect a Roman pontiff to take that ridiculous and easily disproven line.

At a time when the world needs strong, realistic religious leadership to deal with the realities of Islamic terrorism (realities, I should say, that include the fact that most Muslims are not terrorists), Francis is offering jelly-brained liberal nonsense.

The picture above features a statue not only executing a facepalm, but beating the breast at the same time. I find this quite appropriate; as I've written before, I can't help but think of this pope as the pope of our chastisement - our "reward" for our lack of faith in action. Therefore, while we hide our eyes in horror at the latest pronouncement from the Vatican, we remember also to ask for forgiveness - because surely we must atone for our own role in the present state of the Church.

Speaking of all this, I suppose I shouldn't complain; if this post has gotten your attention, then it's a good time to remind you that my novel, The Collaborator, deals with many of the causes and effects of such a situation in the Catholic Church. To get your copy from Amazon, click here.
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