Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's not what Sterling said, but what it says about us

Let's start with this, from Bernard Goldberg yesterday.

But now that [L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling's] gone, I’m wondering who else among us has said things in the privacy of our homes that would get us in trouble if somebody recorded them and made our remarks public.

Rest assured, I’ve never ever said anything that might even vaguely be construed as politically incorrect.  But I’ll bet you have.

And I’ll bet a lot of players in the NBA have.

I’ll bet a lot of politicians have, too.

I’ll bet white people have and black people have and Latino people have and straight people have and gay people have.

So what lesson should we take of the public flogging of Donald Sterling, as deserved as it was?

How about this:  If anyone – an accountant, a garbage man, an MSNBC host, a college professor, an attorney general, a president, a truck driver … anyone! … says something racist in the privacy of his or her home, and if it somehow becomes public information, that person should lose his or her job and his or her livelihood – because racist words cannot be tolerated in America, not in 2014.
Exactly.  I'm no friend of Sterling; he's been one of the worst owners in sports for a good long time, and the recent success of the Clippers seems more in spite of rather than because of him.

But just where do we draw the line?  Is everything that everyone says, public or private, now subject to review?  And by whom?  And why stop at the spoken word - after all, the First Amendment absolutists assure us that burning the flag is an act of free speech, so shouldn't other acts be liable for our distain as well? Goldberg goes on:
I am confused, however, about why there is no universal condemnation of athletes who father children in every city in the league.  Or of athletes who beat up their girlfriends.  Or of athletes who drive drunk and kill people.  I guess none of those things warrant the moral outrage that bigoted words uttered by a foolish old man in private warrant.

But let me be clear:  I’m outraged over what Donald Sterling said.  Really, really outraged.  I say this because if anyone thinks I’m less than really, really outraged because of anything I’ve written here, I might get in really, really big trouble.
Let's suppose, for example, that I'm outraged by an owner who "had discriminated against Hispanics, blacks, and families without children in housing."  He said, among other things, that "black tenants smell and attract vermin.”  Mind you, he didn't stop with saying things; he acted on them as well.  Well, that owner would be none other than Donald Sterling - back in 2009.  Why suspend him now?  As Ben Shapiro notes in that article, "words speak louder than actions."

What about an owner who was recently spotted at a game wearing a "necklace medallion for the Five Percent Nation, which sees black men as gods and white people as devils."  And who freely uses the "N-word" for fun and profit?   Try Jay-Z, sports agent and former part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

And then there was at least one owner who publicly supported the right to abortion, including the grizzly partial-birth procedure, and even voted against requiring that a woman view an ultrasound before having an abortion?  That's former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, who supported those issues while he was also owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.  I know abortion is a polarizing issue, but that stand sure as hell offended me.  It's one thing to talk down to your fellow man, to dehumanize him with insult and discrimination - but is it worse than killing him?

But why limit the discussion to sports?  If you're looking for people who know how to denigrate through their speech, we could cite virtually the entire on-air staff of MSNBC, some of whom have in fact lost their jobs over their comments, while others - cough-cough-Al Sharpton-cough - continue to thrive.  And I won't even get into that whole kerfuffle about Brendan Eich - I can only expect my blood pressure medication to do so much, after all.

The line between public and private, already blurred beyond recognition, is pretty much gone at this point.  In order to be really safe, to make sure that nothing you say can ever come back to haunt you, the best thing is probably to say nothing.  At all.  Ever.  Even in the bathroom.  Just keep your mouth shut.  As Rod Dreher points out when talking about the latest - whether or not the DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic, should be in trouble for funding ads in marriage referendum states - "Error has no rights."

I'll close this mild screed with a quote from Ben Stein, who after saying that "I hate, hate, hate racism," adds this:
But I also love individual liberty. I would much rather have a system where people are free to hate me because of my race as long as they don’t lynch me than one in which the government or the media tell me who I can and cannot hate. I loathe Donald Sterling for his comments and I do not want him near me. But I am terrified that a man can have such a level of media rage directed at him even though he violated no law. He expressed a hateful opinion and that’s a bad thing. But in a world where there are as many horrible things going on as in our world, the private conversations of one drunken old man would not seem to me to be worth this level of fury. Isn’t this “Thoughtcrime”? Does it scare you? It scares me. And I am really terrified that “anti-racism,” like “saving the earth” and “income inequality struggles,” will legitimate any level of anger. Isn’t there such thing as “the law”? Aren’t we supposed to be more worried about violence than private nutty conversations?

I can sum this up easily: Isn’t Mr. Sterling being punished for his privately expressed thoughts and not for any action? Isn’t this deeply unsettling? When did privately expressed thoughts become fair game for punishment? Where does it end? In “1984.” 

That's it.  What the Donald Sterling fiasco provides us is not a glimpse into him, but into ourselves, and an America that with every passing day seems to stand for nothing at all.  Donald Sterling has served his purpose - he's given us the opportunity for our Two Minutes Hate, and now we're ready to move on, feeling just great about ourselves.

Until we find the next person to hate, and a spare couple of minutes.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Adeus Ayrton - Twenty Years Later

NOTE: The videos shown here and in the links contain images which some readers may find disturbing.

In the annals of Italian motorsport, there have been numerous serious or fatal crashes at top-level meets in top-level international motorsport meet involving world-class stars.

The legendary Monza speedplant was sadly home to many, most notably in 1928 as over twenty (it is unknown if it was 20 or 27) spectators were killed when a car lept into the grandstands at the five-year old circuit during the traditional race meet. Three star drivers were killed in the same race meet in the south banking (runs parallel to the Parabolica) in the September 1933 race meet there. In 1961, the run from Vialone to Parabolica at Monza led to a crash between Jim Clark and Wolfgang von Trips that led to the death of the Count and 15 spectators dying (it also led to von Trips' teammate, the new F1 world champion Phil Hill, skipping his home race, F1's first run at Watkins Glen).

In 1973, officials refused to clean up the track (no kitty litter used as you'd see) following an oil spill late in the 350cc class at the Nations Grand Prix, leading to two stars of international motorcycle racing, Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini, dying when they ran past that oil slick at Curva Grande on Lap 2 of the 250cc class race (motorcycles did not use the chicanes just installed for F1; that was changed by 1976). In 1978, Ronnie Petersen was killed in a crash at the start of the Formula One meet. And in 2000, a corner worker was killed by debris during a crash at Della Roggia.

This was just Monza. The terror of motorsport and stars also struck other notable circuits.

At Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli (renamed for the Italian rider who was killed at the MotoGP 2011 Shell Advance Grand Prix in Sepang; the Ferrari F1 team lays flowers in Turn 11 at Sepang where he died), reigning MotoGP world champion Wayne Rainey was paralysed when he crashed when he crashed his motorcycle in Misano corner, then the first corner (the circuit was reversed in 2007) during the Italian MotoGP round in September 1993. The first race winner in history of the modern 600cc formula of Moto2 was killed that season when a three-bike crash occurred, and officials did not follow the proper way to treat severely injured riders, which usually is to stop the race. (NOTE: Under current FIM nomenclature, MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 refer also to the former 500cc, 250cc, and 125cc classes when they were two-stroke motorcycles; under modern 4-stroke classes they are 1,000cc, 600cc, and 250cc. There were also 80cc and 350cc classes in the past, but are no longer used.)

But of all terrifying tragedies in Italian motorsport, we come Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to the place that sadly, 20 years to the day, we mark a trio of horrific incidents in Formula One, and that is at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola.

On April 29, during the first of two 60-minute sessions, Rubens Barrichello's SASOL Jordan was launched by high kerbing in the Bassa chicane into the tyre barrier, and was concussed, done for the day.
But on Saturday, the second qualifying session, Roland Ratzenberger's MTV Simtek (a first-year team) running desperately to avoid being the only car to not make the field following Barrichello's medical disqualification, damaged a wing at Acque Minerale, the chicane that precedes the right-hander that leads to a straight cut by Variante Alta (the high chicane), into the double Rivazza corners. The front wing eventually failed at Villeneuve (a kink before Tosa) and led to a massive crash where Ratzenberger would die of a basal skull fracture (a symptom where Atlanta-based sportscar driver Jim Downing was developing what is now a mandatory piece of safety equipment in most motorsport today).

And Sunday would turn out to be troublesome. After a crash at the start, the race went under caution for a few laps before Ayrton Senna pulled ahead of Michael Schumacher on the restart. At 2:17 PM CET (8:17 AM ET), suspension failure on the Williams erupted, and the car headed straight-on into Tamburello, resulting in the crash that killed undoubtedly one of motorsport's greatest superstars.

Thursday morning at 8:17 AM EDT (2:17 AM CET), we pause to remember twenty years to the tragic death of a motorsport legend. And sometimes you wonder after further documentaries on other contemporary racers of the era why Ayrton Senna da Silva was such a superb driver, but reckless.

“He was a great racer, and it was a shame to see him go like the way he did.”

Yes, Dale, it was a shame in an era when many contemporary racing drivers of his era hung up the helmet and have been able to have successful lives outside of motorsport. Today's successful drivers can hang up the helmet and make five-figure salaries on the speaking circuit today. Contemporary racers who have hung up the helmet have become authors, and can easily make thousands per speech on the speaking circuit, in addition to successful business ventures. Drivers often reunite at old racers' reunions with vintage cars often, some even collecting their own cars.

But we imagine. What if Ayrton Senna had lived? Would he be on the speaking circuit and part of vintage F1 car reunions? Would he have been influential in more parts of industry?

We shall never know. It's been twenty years.

Adeus Ayrton. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Retro TV Monday - this week in TV Guide, April 23, 1966

A mostly interesting "compilation of opinions about Andy Williams" is Dwight Whitney's cover story, which leads off this week's clip-filled TV Guide review.

I'm usually suspicious of articles like this, which consist of no original writing whatsoever, just a collection of quotes that could have been dug up (and probably was) by a research assistant.  However, it's a refreshing change from the celebrity hit pieces we read so often in this era of TV Guide, filled with snarky quotes from anonymous sources.  This one reads more like an authorized biography, as we get quotes from friends, family, and past and present co-workers, telling the story of Andy's rise to his current celebrity.  There's the odd sour quote, but the image that comes through is of a pretty good guy, one who's certainly ambitious and wants to succeed, but doesn't seem inclined to run over people in order to get there.

The most interesting thing to come from the story is how difficult it was for TV people to figure out what to do with Williams.  Is he an urbane sophisticate, dating back to the time when he and his brothers performed with singer Kay Thompson?*  Or is he the farm boy from Iowa, the kid in a tuxedo on a tractor, as he once put it?  Is he hip, simple, down-home, what?

*Fun fact: Although she had a successful singing career and was a mentor to Andy, she's best-known today as the author of the Eloise kids' stories, supposedly based on her goddaughter, Lisa Minelli.

The producer of his first television special, Bud Yorkin, puts it best when he says that "all he has to do is be himself."  He can control the audience now, Yorkin says, because "At last he is in charge."  And you know what?  Simply being Andy Williams led to a pretty good career for Andy Williams, didn't it?

Read the rest here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide, April 12, 1969

What's with the talk about the Academy Awards in this week's issue, you're probably thinking. Wasn't that last month?  Why are you bringing it up now, in the middle of April?

Well, that's the way it used to be, back in the days when the only significant movie awards show besides the Oscars was the Golden Globes, and those were confined to an hour-long broadcast on the Andy Williams Show.  Back then, the Oscarcast was held in early April or late March, usually on a Monday night, and it was the only awards show for most people.  Now, it's just one of many.

TV Guide's take on the Oscars concerns the revamping of the show, under the direction of famed Broadway choreographer Gower Champion.  Bob Hope has been banished as host, to be replaced by ten "Friends of Oscar" who will share the emcee duties.  The venue has changed, from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.  The dress code is relaxed, with black tie replacing white tie and tales.  He even proposed getting rid of the bleachers outside the auditorium, where the fans gather to watch the stars walk down the red carpet, but that was going too far in the eyes of many, and Champion eventually relents.

Dwight Whitney, writing the article, expresses an appropriate level of skepticism regarding Champion's plans.  After all the Academy Awards are now "an electronic monster which no one seems able to control on any level."  But, in the end, the broadcast comes off pretty well.  It's one of the longer broadcasts in recent years, checking in at what now would be considered a svelte two hours and 33 minutes, but it brings in good ratings, along with some surprise winners, and Champion is accorded a standing ovation when he arrives at the after-broadcast party.  As stagnant and dull as recent broadcasts have been, it's a pity we don't have another Gower Champion waiting somewhere in the wings.

Read the rest here.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mickey Rooney, R.I.P.

I don't know why I've always had fond memories of Mickey Rooney. I don't remember having watched his Andy Hardy movies when I was a boy, but perhaps I did. Maybe there was something about his broad comedy style, or perhaps it was his diminutive size that appealed to me as a child. But whatever the reason, and despite the negative publicity that often surrounded him, I always liked him.

Yesterday Mickey Rooney died at the ripe old age of 93, and thanks to my friend Lisl Magboo, here are some clips of Mickey from an interview he did with the Archive of American Television.

End of an era.  For better or worse, they don't make larger-than-life stars like Mickey Rooney any more.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: April 9, 1966

We're a hard lot to please, aren't we? First we wonder when TV's going to give us new movies, and now we complain about the ones they won't let us see!  It sounds a lot more sinister (or provocative) than it really is.

For the most part, we're talking about movies that don't appear on TV because of rights problems of one kind or another, something we've gotten all too used to when it comes to the release of DVDs. The Cat and the Canary, a 1939 flick with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, 1947's Life With Father with William Powell, Irene Dunne and Elizabeth Taylor, and Irving Berlin's This Is the Army are among dozens of movies that have fallen victim to the inability to reach an agreement with the rights owners, usually the widows or estates of the authors.

Other movies are no-shows for various reasons: Anna and the King of Siam was kept from television so it wouldn't compete with its musical version, The King and I.  The Buccaneer, The Desert Song, and So Big are among films that the studios themselves have withheld in order to protect remakes.  And when movies are remade - Show Boat, Cimarron, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example - the originals are often shelved to avoid confusion, or have their names changed - the original State Fair, starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain, became It Happened One Summer to differentiate it from the newer version, with Pat Boone.  Blockbusters from years past - Gone with the Wind, the Disney movies like Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White - are re-released periodically, and as long as they continue to make money for their studios, they'll be MIA on TV.

Have no fear, though; there's confidence that many, if not all, of these movies will eventually make it to the small screen - one way or another.  For example, a note elsewhere in this issue tells us that ABC has just paid a reported $2 million for the rights to the Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai.  I just checked: you can get it today at Amazon for $8.48 and watch it as often as you want.

Read the rest here.  
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