Saturday, May 31, 2014

Well, I had to ask

The Catholic blogger Fr. Z often comments, in an attempt to keep concerned traditional Catholics calm after another of the pope's kerfuffles, that "he has to learn how to be pope."

I thought of that when I came across this book last weekend, which of course I had to buy.

How to Be Pope, by Piers Marchant

So did anyone actually think to buy a copy and send it to him?  Might have prevented a lot of grief later on, no?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Not setting a Sterling example

There's talk that our long national nightmare*, e.g. the Donald Sterling saga, may be near an end, with the team being sold.  Please God that it's true.  (Although if I'm a lawyer, I'm betting there are still plenty of bucks in it for me.)

*Also known as our long national obsession with race, political correctness, sensationalism, sex, and sports.

Before we let go of this, though, I wanted to spotlight a pretty good column I read earlier this week which asks some more pointed questions about this whole affair, and what it says about the national mindset.  It comes from Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bill Dwyre, who suggests there are different ways we react to, as he puts, it, "the exploits of all the idiots."  Case in point: while we've all been getting so worked up about Sterling, we've been suspiciously quiet about Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice, who was caught on video socking his then-fiancee in a hotel a few months ago.
On Feb. 15, at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, Rice and the woman who was then his girlfriend, Janay Palmer, apparently became involved in an altercation that resulted in Palmer getting knocked unconscious. TMZ later acquired a tape of Rice dragging her out of an elevator. It was then alleged that Rice hit Palmer, and the initial charge against Rice of simple assault was upped to aggravated assault.

The day after Rice was charged with aggravated assault, he and Janay got married. Love conquers all. Wouldn't Freud love this?
While you could make a pretty good case that Sterling had done some pretty bad things in the past, things that did indeed break the law, the specific things he's been pillared for are thoughts, not actions.  Rice, on the other hand, undeniably broke the law, and could easily have broken his now-wife's face.

And yet, we haven't seen the lines forming to take shots at Ray Rice as there have been for Donald Sterling.  I've not read of any advertisers threatening to withdraw sponsorships, I've not seen any of the NFL's stars talking about boycotting future games against the Ravens, I've not heard any talk about handing Rice a suspension of any significant length.  Strange, don't you think?  Says Dwyre,
Sterling committed no crime and has the right of free speech in a country that takes great pride in that. Some observers wondered whether mental illness is involved after seeing him on CNN — it somehow managed to cut away for a few minutes from its Malaysian Airlines coverage — and stepped on his racially misguided tongue even worse. Yet he is an American pariah and a huge daily headline that may never stop.

Rice is accused of a serious crime, punishable by the laws of our land. He allegedly assaulted a woman, and the charge he faces was changed to third-degree aggravated assault because, according prosecutors, it involved "significant bodily injury." Yet his biggest fear may be whether he misses one game or two.

By November, Sterling will be no less despised. By November, with a couple of long touchdown runs and an improved yards-per-carry rating, Rice will be coveted on fantasy football teams.

Is this a great country or what?
He's right.*  And what does it say about this country?  What about our priorities, our ways of thinking, our methods of assessing right and wrong?  It's no secret that in today's America, words speak louder than actions, thoughts speak louder than words.  What a person actually does is almost an afterthought.  As Rod Dreher notes, you can get in trouble even if you're part of "the right way of thinking," if by chance you've written one or two words that could be used in defense of the "wrong way of thinking."

*And I loved that line about CNN.  

Where does all this end?  It seems so childish that it's hard to call it "madness"; stupidity is more like it.  But the world has been made very dangerous in the past by stupid people - you don't have to be smart to cock things up.  And, as Eliot promised us, the world will end "not with a bang but a whimper."

In the meantime, we might as well all just sit back and enjoy the view while we can.  Most of us have lives that these fiends can't touch, not directly at least, and the less dependent we are on them, the better.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Camille Paglia on opera

Camille Paglia is one of the most provocative, incisive (and engaging) commentators on the cultural scene today. I don't always agree with her - frequently, in fact, I don't - but she's one of the few writers who defies expectations by telling it like it is, without regard to what others might think. Whether she's discussing sex, politics, or art, you can always count on something stimulating.  Her own wonderful self-description is that of "dissident feminist."

In this month's issue of Opera News, Paglia turns her eyes toward the world of opera (duh), and lets fly.  The question to her is whether or not she'd agree with interpretations of Lucia di Lammermoor that read Lucia's ultimate desent into madness as a sort of sexual liberation.  I'm not sure what the interviewer, Brian Kellow hoped to get for an answer, whether he thought Paglia would agree with this interpretation, but he couldn't have been surprised that Paglia gave him an earful, touching on an incredible array of subjects all at once.

Interpretations like this, she says, drive her crazy:
I oppose the export of feminist or any other ideology into pre-modern works.  But it's epidemic. It's the heritage of identity politics, which began in acedeme in the 1970s.  It skews interpretation of all kinds of historical works.  When you focus on the woman's angle or the black angle or the gay angle, you're distorting the text. It's an extrapolation of contemporary assumptions backward so that one never escapes the present.  Do you realize that the word "Renaissance" is slowly being dropped in English departments?  There's been a steady process in high-level British and American adademe to substitute "Early Modern" instead.  But when the glorious Renaissance is seen as only the beginning of us, it's a dead end of solipsism.
And with that, Paglia has identified so much of what's wrong not only with opera, but with academe, with politics, with the passing down of culture and the evolution (or devolution) of Western civilization.  It's this kind of provocative discussion that we need now, more than ever - and with the thought police on one hand and political correctness on the other, we're even less likely to get it.

Originally published October 24, 2012

Monday, May 26, 2014

Steve Jobs' legacy
Bruce Frohnen has some thoughts on Steve Jobs, and they're not pretty.*  Example:
To put it bluntly (as is my wont) what I have read about him leads me to see him as a mean-spirited narcissist who translated a certain aesthetic sensitivity and capacity for bullying and hucksterism into a colossal waste of money and collective time, further separating Americans from one another in pursuit of a false control over their environment. As bad, his personality and corporate ethos furthered highly damaging political and economic structures of a kind best described as libertarian socialism, in which corporations and rich individuals behave without conscience, expecting the social programs they vote for but seek to escape funding to pick up the pieces from their own “creative” destruction. I also see him as in many ways a sad character, emotionally and spiritually stunted in part because of the failings of the infantilizing environment in which he grew up. 
*(H/T - I wish I could remember.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste.)

Frohnen looks at Jobs through the lens of what it means to grow up as a spoiled child in the culture of the '60s and '70s, with virtually no restrictions on his behavior.  "Jobs was, frankly, coddled. His father sacrificed his career, moved, rearranged his workspace, and berated Jobs’ teachers, all to see to it that his precious genius would be given the best experiences and life chances possible."  The parents allowed him to quit going to church (not surprising, since "too many parents were mostly going through the motions" themselves), indulged him, sacrificed to give him whatever he wanted.  It was, in other words, all-too typical of the lifestyle one finds in California, "a place people moved to get more money and better weather, and where being the first one on the block to recycle, or get a fancy car, was more important than staying married and taking care of your kids, let alone showing common decency."  More:
Eventually, Jobs moved out of his hovel with the drug den in the attic, travelling to the commune (probably still there—did I mention Reed is in Portland?), to his parents’ house, and to India. He got a girl pregnant along the way, denied paternity, encouraged her to get an abortion (she didn’t), then walked away, still denying paternity for some years after. In other words, he engaged in all the usual “hi-jinks” and “mind expanding experiences” one associates with the adolescent mindset of the counterculture.
I've never been a Steve Jobs fan; visionary though he may have been in certain areas, I always thought it came at too high a price, and was of dubious merit.  I admit, I've got an iPhone and an iPod, and my next laptop is probably a Mac.  Nevertheless, as I've said before, the ends seldom ever justify the means.  So it's no surprise that I'd read Frohnen's words with relish.  But to simply revel in insulting Jobs because I didn't like him is pretty hollow unless it can be put in context - I prefer, whenever possible, to have a good reason for not liking someone - and this Frohnen does.

Because in the end, miserable person though Jobs may have been, one can't help but feel a certain sympathy for him, because he was so obviously a product of his time: let down by his parents, indulged by society, free to come up with brilliant ideas (many of which have had devastating consequences), but free also to live a lifestyle that demeans his humanity.  Whether looking at free sex, drugs run rampant, the fruits of Vatican II, or so many of the things that have come out of the era, it's clear that what we are left with is the wages of sin.  And, as Frohnen concludes, "Thanks in no small part to Steve Jobs, his fan clubs, and his like-minded competitors this is, potentially, our future. And we should be very, very afraid."

Friday, May 23, 2014

50 years ago: Death at the Brickyard

Somewhere in the recesses of time there’s a memory of a newspaper picture of a spinning race car. Possibly it was this picture or one like it, which I would have seen in the Sports Peach* of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune.

*So called because, in order to make it stand out from the rest of the Sunday paper, it was printed on peach-colored paper.  Distinctive, though it didn't do much to enhance the clarity of photographs.

For whatever reason - perhaps the obvious, that the car was clearly going in the wrong direction when contrasted with the other cars in the photo - the memory of that picture (as opposed to the picture itself) has stayed with me, frozen in its own moment, from that day on.  My four-year-old self didn't know quite what it meant, but I knew for sure that it wasn't good.

There would have been another picture from that Sunday’s paper, something like this one, it's meaning much easier to understand:

The photos, and many like them, were taken on May 30, 1964, at the conclusion of the second lap of the Indianapolis 500, and the worst part of that picture above is that it doesn't even show the worst part of that crash.  What you see there is the moment of impact when Dave MacDonald’s car struck the inside wall and exploded; the car then skidded across the track, where it was in turn struck by Eddie Sachs’ car, causing an even greater fireball, its smoke completely enveloping the corner of the track, making it impossible to continue.  The race was halted for nearly two hours, the first time anything other than rain had stopped it. Sachs was killed instantly*, and MacDonald died a couple of hours later from the burns he’d suffered.

*Hard as it may be to believe, it’s likely that Sachs was not burned to death, as initial reports stated, but instead was killed as the result of “blunt force injuries” from the impact of the crash.   

I could have found better pictures of the crash, ones that present the horror of the day with more clarity, but I chose those because they were how the event entered into my consciousness.  These were the days when the Indianapolis 500 was still a major, almost mythic, event in American sports.  The race was not yet carried on live television (though 1964 did mark the first of seven years in which it was broadcast via live closed circuit to theaters across America), and save for the few minutes of highlights that might appear on the following Saturday's Wide World of Sports*, the sole contact to the race was the live radio broadcast, hosted by the great Sid Collins.  For those who couldn't afford to go to the theater and didn't have the patience to listen to the radio for hours, the only entrance to this mysterious world set in far-off Middle America was the next day's newspaper.

*ABC's live TV broadcast has only been around since 1986.  No doubt it gives one a more detailed view of the 500; at the same time, it greatly diminishes the race's mystique. 

And so these pictures, or ones like them, were how I first learned about Eddie Sachs, one of the greatest drivers never to win the 500, and Dave MacDonald, a rookie at Indy but a great sports car driver in his own right; men of accomplishment who deserve better from me than to be immortalized in my memory as joint headliners in one of the darkest days in the history of the Indianapolis 500.  Jim Taylor, a columnist for the Toledo Blade, from which these photos came, described how "The fiery crash chilled a monstrous crowd estimated at 325,000 people who were suddenly quiet and solemn in the face of one of the worst tragedies in the history of this old, old track."  Some, witnessing that crash, never attended the race again.  

The pictures fascinated, but did not traumatize, me.


I may have mentioned this before, but auto racing was among the first sports that I came to love, my aunt buying an inaugural subscription to Stock Car Racing magazine for my birthday in May 1966, less than two years after the Sachs-MacDonald crash.

In May 1967 Lorenzo Bandini was killed during the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco when his car crashed and exploded.  He did not die immediately, but three days later succumbed to the injuries caused by the burns.  Aside from that, the crash resembled, at least superficially, the one that had happened at Indy less than three years before.  This time I saw the crash a week or two later on Wide World.  Other than possibly giving me a slight fear of fire, of history repeating itself, it did not dissuade me from watching future races. A month later, again on Wide World, I would see A.J. Foyt, one of the racing heroes of my youth, win his third Indianapolis 500.  His second victory had come in 1964, the race in which Sachs and MacDonald were killed.

It bears repeating: auto racing was and is a dangerous sport.  But as technological and psychological changes have evolved, the sport has become that much safer.  Dale Earnhardt, Ayrton Senna, and Dan Wheldon, great drivers who were the most recent to be killed in their respective racing disciplines, remind us that death is always a present companion, one that maintains the ability to shock.

In 1964 auto racing was dangerous enough that the aforementioned Toledo Blade presented a kind of macabre box score detailing the types and severity of injuries that had occurred during the race.  I don't know whether or not this was a regular feature every year, but its appearance reinforces the impression that such risks were an understood, if not welcome, aspect of the sport.

Phil Hill, one of the greatest of racing drivers and the first American to win the Formula One World Championship, once said that drivers of his era (late '50s, early '60s) expected to die in a racing accident.  He was matter-of-fact when he said it.  It was the thrill, the adrenaline rush that came from the combination of speed and competition, that made them who and what they were, and made acceptable the risk that accompanied racing.  Sachs himself once said that "in the long run, death is the odds-on favorite."  Bobby Unser called survival a 50/50 proposition.

Today we look at things differently: we shield our heads in helmets when riding a bicycle, we use antibacterial soap to wash our hands, we beg the government to save us from the dangers of food and drink.  Yet, as the newsman Harry Reasoner once said, for all the efforts man makes to avoid risk, "he may get one day extra or none; he never gets eternity."  It echoes the words Sid Collins spoke after the announcement of Sachs' death had been made on the radio broadcast. "We're all speeding towards death at the rate of sixty minutes every hour," he said.  "The only difference is that we don't know how to speed faster, and Eddie Sachs did."  Sachs died driving his racing car and, concluded Collins, who knew the man and the racer, "I assume that's the way he would have wanted it."

The relative safety of auto racing today has induced, if not overconfidence, a kind of complacency about the sport's ever-present danger, in fans if not in drivers.  People who are not racing fans think that many of those who are come to see the crashes, in the same way that hockey fans come for the fights, though I have never been that kind of fan.  Some think the emphasis on safety has been to the overall detriment of the sport and its competitive nature, that back in the day drivers enforced a kind of self-discipline knowing a small mistake could have catastrophic results. About one thing there is agreement: there are drivers living today who would not be, had their accidents occurred in another era.  The important thing, racing people will tell you, is that spectators should not be put at risk.  They remember the 83 spectators killed in the 1955 accident at LeMans, and while the driver knowingly assumes the chances of death, the fan should not.


This weekend marks the greatest single day of auto racing on the calendar, beginning in the morning with the Grand Prix of Monaco, continuing through the 500, and ending with NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, NC.

It's also the 50th anniversary of the crash that killed Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald*, commemorated in a great new book by Art Garner, Black Noon.  There is something about that 1964 race that stays in the mind; many will say that racing was never quite the same after it.  Sachs and MacDonald were not the first drivers to die at Indianapolis, of course, nor are they the last.  The race had claimed 16 lives prior to 1964, and Swede Savage was killed in a particularly ugly accident in 1973; other deaths have occurred at the Speedway as recently as 2010.  Speed has always been prized at Indianapolis and 1964's pole-winning qualification average was over 157 miles per hour, a speed that seems primitive compared to this year's winning average of over 231 mph (which isn't even a record).

*And of Fireball Roberts, the great NASCAR star, who died as a result of a fiery crash at the Charlotte race the week before.

So why do we remember 1964?  Perhaps because two drivers were killed in the accident, the only time it's ever happened at the 500.*  Maybe it's due to the fame of Eddie Sachs and the promise of Dave MacDonald, combining with cars designed to go as fast as possible while carrying as much flammable gasoline as possible to create a Greek tragedy.

*On three occasions accidents caused multiple deaths, but each time those killed were the driver and his riding mechanic

Or maybe it's the memory of those pictures, first seen 50 years ago in the pages of a peach-colored sports section, the flames and smoke blotting out the sun and causing the blue noontime sky to turn black - more awful in some ways than even the actual film footage.  Tragedy often comes to us in the midst of triumph, death shattering the tranquility of life.  Amid the flags and balloons and fireworks, the cheering of hundreds of thousands of fans, death came to the old Brickyard in 1964, and the memories remain; the pictures never change.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwing Christians to the lions

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “pride” is defined as “a company of lions.” The mascot for the minor league hockey team in Florence that played in the East Coast league from 1997-2005, the Pee Dee Pride (“Pee Dee” is the name of the region in South Carolina that encompasses Florence), was a mountain lion.

Sexual deviancy groups and festivals will often use the word “pride” in their names. This is no accident; these organisations' activism targets Christians. They are the lions who devour Christians. They want to ban Christians from running foster care or adoption ministries at their churches because of their worldview (as we've seen in many states), they want to put Christians at the back of the foster care or adoption line while advancing sexual deviants to the front, and they have passed laws similar to those in other countries where ministers can be prosecuted for speech that violates the “civil rights” of sexual deviants. They want to drop Christians to a caste system where they and their followers are the emboldened class, while Christians are treated as the untouchables.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Commissioner Chai Feldblum has made it clear “sexual freedom” triumphs over religious freedom. In the new Utopia of this Administration, the three fundamental freedoms of Speech, Press, and Religion are wiped out by new government controls, and the only freedom that the nation will offer is Sexual Freedom.

At Eastman Kodak (a company that later was driven to bankruptcy, no less by the sexual deviancy movement), Rolf Szabo was fired for sticking up for Biblical Christianity at his office in Rochester, New York. Allstate fired Matt Barber for writing a column based on Biblical truth that the lions declared was offensive, and he is now the director of a major pro-family organisation. Other companies have fired employees for posting Bible verses. Now, with many countries have laws similar to the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Act, ministers have been prosecuted for preaching the Bible, especially since activists have declared it hate speech, specifically targeting Leviticus Eighteen and Romans One.

With the arrogance of judges trying to impose same-sex “marriage,” implementation from humanist judges with an assist from the Autogol Strategy, or urban metropolis-run state legislatures (something the Founding Fathers warned would be a hazard and led to the Great Compromise, overturned at the state level in Reynolds v. Sims 50 years ago, thus leading to state legislatures being controlled by urban metropolises where one area may have ten seats in the upper chamber while some rural counties have no representation, something the Founding Fathers knew would be hazardous – can you imagine California having 12 Senators while South Carolina would be represented by one North Carolina Senator representing Buncombe County (a notorious liberal hotbed where they bought the NASCAR race track that is the site of the only win by a woman on a NASCAR Touring Series race -- 1988 by Shawna Robinson in the 4-cylinder Dash, or Baby Grand National, formula that was sanctioned from 1975-2003, who is battling breast cancer as of this writing -- and turned it into what Hall of Fame member Jack Ingram calls a drug park), and one Georgia Senator representing DeKalb or Fulton County), with the majority now from judicial activists who have taken their feelings to be priority over facts, they have made it clear they want Christians to be thrown to the lions.

It is no coincidence that sexual deviancy activists are called “pride” for a reason. They are the lions and they will throw Christians into their den to become their food. The persecution is the goal to wipe out Christianity and impose by courts, schools, and popular culture a new state religion of humanism. Look at the prosecution of Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and now the Benham Brothers for their support of the Bible. While the First Amendment only bans Congress from imposing a state religion, it doesn't ban state legislatures, Hollywood, popular culture, or the courts from doing so. The pride is intending to use courts to overturn everything and impose a new belief system they dictate.

The judges running amok continue this danger. At this rate, are we becoming the New Humanist Nation with Christians being thrown to the lions, swallowed by the lions, as the activist groups want us to be consumed by them, henceforth their name?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

And now a "word" from the editor...

If you’re one of the half-dozen or so who actually still read this blog, you’ve probably noticed a few changes over the past week or two.  Although many of them are cosmetic, I think they better express the place this blog has in the grand scheme of things.

First of all, the title.  It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since we came up with “Our Word and Welcome to It.”  As many have surmised, it’s a pun on James Thurber’s “My World and Welcome to it.”  It was originally going to be called “My Word and Welcome to It,” before I found out more than one person was going to write for it.  We’ve had writers come and go, and some who you might not have seen lately but are still here - and through it all, you’ve always been welcome to it.

About four years ago, I started a companion blog to Our Word – I called it It’s About TV!, because, well, that’s what it’s about.*  I found myself writing more and more about television and it’s relationship to American culture, but it was increasingly difficult to work these long-form pieces into the established format of Our Word.  Thus, the new blog.

*Clever, huh?

Over the years, that blog has become the dominant form of written expression for me, and it’s built up a loyal and intelligent readership.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that It’s About TV! is now the top blog in the Hadleyblog universe.  So a couple of weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that it was time to redefine where Our Word stands in that universe.  

The simplest way to look at it is like this: if you want to read what I have to say, you’re probably reading it at It’s About TV!  But what about those times when I’ve got something to say about a non-television related topic?  It does happen, though not as often as it used to.  And then there are my co-writers to consider, most of whom now write at this blog more than I do, or at least on a more consistent basis.    And so the changes began.

The blog’s name has changed to In Other Words because, literally, that’s what it represents.  They’re the words that aren’t about television, not primarily.  And they’re the words that aren’t necessarily written by me.  There will be more short posts, and links to and commentary on other pieces on the web.  Consequently, In Other Words has become a part of It’s About TV!, rather than the other way around.  I could have folded the blog completely into It's About TV!, but then it wouldn't be all about TV, would it?  If you prefer, think of TV! as the main channel, with In Other Words as a subchannel.*

*You didn’t think I’d let slide a chance to use a little TV lingo, did you?

You’ll notice this in several ways.  The layout more closely approximates that of TV!, for one thing.  I didn’t want to clone the look of the site, but I think anyone visiting both blogs will see a uniformity – a synergy, to lapse into business-speak – that shows the relationship between the two.  In the next week or two you’ll see a weekly digest appear on this site, giving you a rundown on what appeared over at TV! in the last seven days.  Hopefully, it will make you want to include that site in your regular reading as well.  Finally, In Other Words will assume a sidebar presence at It’s About TV!, so that if you only want to have one of them as a favorite, you’ll still be able to tell when a new entry appears over here.  And since the most recent posts will be listed by topic, you’ll also be able to discern whether or not they’re of any interest to you.

Someone once said it was impossible for any writer to successfully have multiple blogs.  By definition, one of them would have to suffer as the other monopolized more of the writer’s time and talent.  By keeping a good stable of writers here at In Other Words, I’m hoping to avoid that.  But it’s also important to let you know that there will be weeks when this channel will be quiet for days at a time – when there aren’t any other words besides what you see on the TV side.  When that happens, I’ll probably resort to that favorite tool of television programmers – the rerun.  Conversely, if there’s a subject of particular interest to either me or my colleagues, you may see more activity here than there.  A miniseries of posts, as it were.

Although most of these changes have been implemented, it’s not done yet by any means.  The weekly digest and the sidebar presence at It’s About TV! will happen in the next couple of weeks.  I’ll also be updating the links on this page, removing old sites, adding new ones, and expanding the list of blogs to cover additional topics.  If you’re a fellow blogger who’s listed Our Word as a link on your sidebar, a name update to In Other Words would be appreciated.

In any event, ten years is a long run for a blog.  I’ve been most fortunate to come into contact with some great people, many of whom have taken the time to write or comment.  I hope you’ll continue to make In Other Words one of the blogs you read from time to time.  And I hope you’ll invest time in It’s About TV! – in my humble opinion, it has much of the best writing I’ve done, and it’s a lot of fun to boot.  But don’t worry about this site – regardless of the name, regardless of the frequency of posting, it’s not going away any time soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Some more thoughts on the "Sterling Scandal"

So let's see with the Donald Sterling scandal.  The mistress and Mr. Sterling had their little tête–à–tête, and Mr. Sterling did not want to use the name of his cross-town rival, similar to what we see in life when people refuse to mention their rival by name directly.  I've seen that in mentions everywhere, regardless of it being sport or business, where you never reference your rival directly.  That leads to the NBA's harsh punishment of Mr. Sterling and the forced sale that is upcoming.

Now let's see the other side of potential suitors for the Clippers.  Ah it reminds me of the damage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – and Seattle, of all cities, now the powerhouse capital of commerce in the country (see their ownership of The Washington BLEEP), being damaged most by Katrina, though it was thousands of kilometres away on the other side of the nation.  Seattle still pays for the damage from Katrina in New Orleans because the Pelicans played parts of two seasons in Oklahoma City and Baton Rouge while the Smoothie King Center was being rebuilt.  The popularity of the Pelicans led to the city being attractive to an NBA team for a full-time franchise, which happened a year after the two-year contract for New Orleans / Oklahoma City expired.

The push for returning an NBA team to the Emerald City was attempted when suitors attempted to take Sacramento's team away, and that was rebuffed.  But with the pickings ripe because of the NBA-forced seizure, could Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer use the Clippers franchise to be handed to them and moved to Seattle?

And would that put Atlanta Spirit LLC, which has openly wanted to divest itself of its teams (a project that began in 2010), sell the Hawks to Canadian interests for an NBA return to Vancouver, where the Grizzlies expansion team flopped during its seven seasons before a sale-and-move to Memphis, where it took a few more years to gain success?  There is more NBA interest now in the Olympic city than there was in the past, and especially if Seattle receives an NBA team again, basketball would return to the level as football's Cascadia Cup, which uses all three Cascadia area teams (Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps)?  This organisation has a reputation in selling their Atlanta teams to out of country interests (see the Thrashers sale and move to Winnipeg, especially since it has drastically affected Atlanta's minor-league hockey team in suburban Duluth (ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators), since it was used by both Turner Sports and later Atlanta Spirit to be jointly affiliated, a business model that the Braves later adopted.  (The Braves moved their AAA affiliate from Richmond, VA to Lawrenceville, GA in Gwinnett County in 2009, following the Thrashers model where their AA affiliate was in Duluth;  it is about 40 minutes from Gwinnett County to downtown Atlanta.  After the relocation, the Gladiators became affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes as part of the five-team ECHL South with teams in Charleston, Greenville, Orlando, and Fort Myers.)

So the question is now is this the move that interests in the Cascadia region have wanted to return the NBA not just to two, but three, NBA teams in the area?  There seems to be that aura of destiny coming.  But is the Sterling case now a potential for Cascadia to return to the NBA?

NOTE:  In order to prevent confusion of nicknames of the Charlotte and New Orleans NBA franchises as a result of name changes in 2013 by the New Orleans franchise under owner Tom Benson, and the subsequent name change in 2014 of the Charlotte franchise by owner Michael Jordan, the New Orleans franchise is referred consistently as the Pelicans in this article, though the nickname that will be used by Mr. Jordan's franchise as of July 1, 2014 was used by the franchise that shared New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Oklahoma City during the Hurricane Katrina-affected years.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sir Jack Brabbham, R.I.P.

Received word that the oldest living Formula One champion, Sir Jack Brabham, died Sunday, age 88.  The 1959, 1960, and 1966 World Champion (with the 1966 title in his own car), his name was associated with many Formula One cars with a team known as Brabham for many years.

His three sons were all sportscar aces -- Geoff and Gary actually won the 12 Hours of Sebring together in an NPTI Nissan, while David continues in P2-spec equipment.  Grandsons Sam (son of David) two weeks ago won his first British Formula Ford race (winning both ends of Thurxton's meet) and Matthew (son of Geoff) has dominated the first two tiers of INDYCAR and won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It's the NPTI success that has quietly led to the #83 association with the Brabhams.

Further details forthcoming.

Why I never saw "Field of Dreams," and more follies

Joe Posnanski has an interesting piece out about the baseball movie Field of Dreams. (H/T Right Field.) I didn’t know that a lot of people absolutely loathe Field of Dreams, although I'm not surprised to find it out.

My own relationship to the movie is more amorphous; when it first came out, it was a movie that I very much wanted to see – the mysticism and existentialism appealed to me.  Then Dances With Wolves came out.  It was a movie I was predisposed to hate, and hate it I did.*  There were, I thought, only two good things about Dances With Wolves – the performance by Graham Greene, which was Oscar-worthy, and the score by John Barry.  (But then, c’mon - it’s John Barry!  You were expecting someone playing a xylophone maybe?)

*I didn’t want to see it; I was more or less forced to go to it because my wife and I were invited by one of her best friends and her husband.  Of such sacrifices are successful 20+ year marriages made.  It's also how I talked my wife into going with me to see the re-release of Apocalypse Now.

What I disliked the most, perhaps, was Kevin Costner.  It wasn’t just Costner’s acting, which was wooden at best, but the fact that he’d produced and directed the movie, which I thought an overstuffed, elongated piece of propaganda.  At that moment, I decided that I didn’t want anything to do with Costner or any movie he was in.* And since that included Field of Dreams, there went that.

*Excepting JFK, which we, once again, were forced to see along with my wife’s friend and her husband.  I suppose that says something about their tastes in movies.  I actually thought JFK was pretty good, providing you understood you were watching a fantasy movie.  Much like Field of Dreams, I suppose.

I realize that so far this piece, which started out to be about Field of Dreams, has in fact been about anything but.  So to bring it back to topic: Posnanski talks about how he understands all of the negatives that the film’s haters bring up: the sentimentality (which crosses over the fatal border from nostalgia), the hokie, saccharine dialogue, the Capra-esque themes (Capra being another director I don’t much care for), even the part about making Shoeless Joe Jackson right-handed instead of left-handed.  But, for all that, it was his father’s favorite movie, and it’s about one of Posnanski’s favorite things – baseball.

Poslnanski describes Field of Dreams as “not only the strangest baseball movie ever made, it’s one of the strangest movies ever made.”  And as you read his description (if you haven’t seen the movie), you’d have to agree with him.
A man in a cornfield hears a voice. The voice tells him to build a baseball diamond so that the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson can come back and play baseball again. The voice tells him to go find a famous and reclusive writer (in the book, it is J.D. Salinger; in the movie it is someone named Terence Mann) and take him to a baseball game. The voice tells him to go find a dead ballplayer who only got to play one inning of one game.
There’s more, but I think that gives you the flavor.  All of this sounds like something I’d have been inclined to like, or at least be intrigued by.  The thing about it, he says, you have to open yourself up to a movie like this, to run the risk of being burned or confused by a movie that’s “so unapologetically hopeful.  It is so unapologetically optimistic.”

And maybe that’s where the idea would lose it for me.  Perhaps had the movie been written by someone like Rod Serling, it would have been a bit different.   Serling was no stranger to sentiment, as anyone who’s seen the Twilight Zone episodes “Of Late I Think of Willoughby” or “Walking Distance” would attest.  Serling’s magic, when he wasn’t busy being didactic, was that he could give a scenario like this an edge, some kind of twist that convinced the protagonist it was time to stop looking backward and start looking forward.  That didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the past, or learn from it, or even keep it close to him – just that you can’t live in the past for more than the length of time you spend in it, the truth being that the present becomes the past almost instantly, and we have enough trouble keeping up with the present.  Vintage Serling could have taken this fantasy concept and honed it with the edge that would keep people from gagging on the dialogue or the music; he would, in fact, have shown that the only place a field of dreams can exist is in the Twilight Zone.

In the end, though, I’m left critiquing a movie I haven’t seen, and probably won’t.  And the whole point of this piece, my piece, isn’t Field of Dreams, or JFK, or Kevin Costner, or even Rod Serling.

It’s Posnanski.  It’s how good a writer he is, that he can compel you to spend some time thinking about, and writing about, a movie you haven’t seen, and probably won’t.  The fact that a writer – strike that, a good writer – can do that is one of the things that made me want to be a writer in the first place.  And so if I ever do see Field of Dreams, I’ll probably have him to thank for it.  (Or curse him for it, depending on what I thought of it.)  But it’s a reminder that every writer needs every once in a while, the reminder about the power of the written word, the reminder to keep writing.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Church ain't no Party

Yes, I think this is a pretty good summary of things right now.  Rod Dreher quotes Michael Brendan Doughterty, who says that "Catholics must learn to resist their popes — even Pope Francis." Dougherty, writes Dreher, is "a conservative Catholic who says that the habit orthodox Catholics have gotten into of hero-worshiping the Pope is ahistorical and, well, un-Catholic."  It is as if the Pontiff were the head, not of the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Party.

Let's carry the political analogy just a moment further.  What is it that so many political activists rebel against? That's right: The Establishment.  Conservatives and Tea Partiers, for example, are perpetually at war with what they see as the autocratic condensation from the party establishment.*  Even if the activists are wrong, even if there are very good reasons for the party organization to put the breaks on them, the manner in which they engage the activists is often so off-putting that the words go in one ear, out the other.

*And lest you think I'm ignoring liberals in this analogy, I have two words for you: Chicago 1968.

Now, for the party hierarchy, let's substitute, say, Ultramontainists.  There are many of them in the Catholic blogosphere - I don't think I'll single them out by name right now, but you might know who they are* - but their repeated use of phrases like "those of us who get Francis" (emphasis mine) and "I love this guy" can't help but be seen as a deliberate provocation by those who harbor concerns about the future of the Church.  (And if they're not deliberate, then they might want to consider some kind of remedial course in communications.)  Let's just pour some more fuel on the fire, shall we?  I've made this point before, but I cannot imaging a language and tenor that would be more inflammatory.  It makes one wonder if their purpose really is to educate and enlighten, or merely to antagonize.

*If you're still not sure, send me an email and I'll tell you more.

Anyway, I think there's something to this that bears further consideration from parties on both sides.  If you want to be an apologist for the pope (sarcasm noted), then consider who you're talking to and tailor your message accordingly.  Act as if you're trying to convert them, not preach down to them.  And if you think the pope should be put on trial for heresy (sarcasm once again noted), don't be so inflammatory in your rhetoric that people tune you out before you've even gotten to your points. In any event, stop acting like politicians on Crossfire.  The Church is political enough without having to resort to that.

Of course, it might help if the pope went on a silent retreat for awhile...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Murder in the Cathedral

Becket (Ruggero Raimondi) faces the four Tempters
It's been said that art which disturbs forces the partaker into a realm of solitude that is not entirely welcome, for it forces one to confront his innermost thoughts, to enter "a world of aloneness, ineluctably insisting on one’s attuning oneself to one’s self.”

And it's in that sense that I use the word "disturbing" to describe Assassinio nella Cattedrale, Ildebrando Pizzetti's 1958 operatic version of T.S. Eliot's (equally disturbing) verse play Murder in the Cathedral, the story of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket in 1170.  I first mentioned this piece a couple of weeks ago, and I finally have the chance to come back to it today.


The performance, from December 22, 2006, was staged at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy, with Piergiorgio Morandi conducting the Orchestra Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari.  The grandeur and solemnity of the Basilica provides a unique but stunning location for the opera (with the orchestra situated between the audience in the nave and the singers at the altar), compelling us to consider the story in an atmosphere that for once justifies the correct use of the word "awesome." 

Most of us know, or should know, the basic story of Thomas Becket: his early life as friend and close associate of King Henry II, becoming Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury - and how a fatal rift developed between them over the authority of the State over the Church.  Eventually, Henry is (supposedly) heard to utter the famous words "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?", whereupon four of his knights travel to Canterbury and there murder the Archbishop in his cathedral.

The question of man's relationship to authority, and the legitimacy of said authority, is timeless. Eliot's play, which premiered in 1935, was taken by many as a commentary on Nazi Germany and its growing oppression of religious freedom.  However, it was difficult in watching Assassinio not to think of today; of the growing religious oppression in America, of the recent abdication of Benedict XVI, of our own futures.

As the opera opens, it is December 2, 1170.  Becket has returned from exile in France.  There is a truce between Becket and King Henry, but nobody expects it to last.  Becket's congregation fears that the Archbishop's return can end only in tragedy, for themselves as well as him.  Becket is unfazed by the prospect of martyrdom, but is it a measure of the man's spirituality - or ego?  The answer is soon to come.

In a stunning first act confrontation, Becket meets four Tempters - manifestations of Becket's own intellect, they converse with him in a reflection of the inner dialogue tearing through the Archbishop.  The first three offer the usual - safety (by running away), power (by compromising with the king), and rebellion (joining the barons against the king).  Thomas is able to deal with these temptations easily; it is the fourth that gives him pause, for the fourth temptation is martyrdom itself, the chance for eternal fame and influence through giving up his life.

This one proves the most dangerous, for it is easy to convince yourself that you're dying to draw attention to a cause, when in reality it is you to which you draw attention.  Is this why Becket returned to England?  Does he look for the ultimate "I told you so" moment?  As the tempter says, it would put everyone under Becket's heel: king, emperor, bishop, baron.

It is here that Becket must provide the ultimate measure of who he is and what he believes - and he does, defiantly casting aside the temper, saying "The last temptation is the greatest treason/To do the right thing for the wrong reason."With this act, Becket finds a kind of peace; he comes to the knowledge that he is not looking for martyrdom, but is prepared to accept it as part of sharing Christ's Cross.

In his Christmas Day sermon, Becket gives us a profound meditation on the meaning of Christmas.  Yes, it is a day to rejoice in the birth of the Savior, but also to realize the price that salvation will ultimately exact from Him*.  It is in this spirit of unity - and love - that one embraces martyrdom, Thomas says, warning the congregation that "It is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr."

*I've always thought that the ideal Nativity set should somehow cast a shadow of a Cross over the crib where Christ lays.  The Creed celebrates both His birth and death, and at no time is this more clear than at Christmas.

The denouement of Act Two is, at once, tragic, inevitable, and joyous.  Four of Henry's knights, played by the same four singers of Act One's tempters, confront Becket, accusing him of disloyalty, and calling on him to surrender or face death at their hands.  Becket refuses all attempts by his priests to protect him, either by locking the doors of the Cathedral or by fleeing, but Becket refuses, in a sense recalling Pilate's words that what has been written is written.  He accepts the savage act of martyrdom with peace, and meets his death on December 29, 1170, vested for the liturgy, sprawled on the steps of the altar. 

Bass Ruggero Raimondi delivers a dignified, powerfully moving performance as Becket, a man walking at the same time with both truth and death.  The New York Times once described Eliot's play as "an opera libretto waiting to be set to music," and Pizzetti, working from an Italian translation of Eliot's play, is faithful to both the story and the underlying meaning.  Events are condensed, as they often must be in opera, but at all times Eliot's message comes through without distortion.  The music is clearly modern but never lacking in melody, and it creates an atmosphere that will stay with the viewer long after the opera ends.


So what does it all mean to us, and why should we care about Assassinio nella Cattedrale as anything other than a work of art?  There are a couple of reasons why, I think.

I mentioned earlier that it was impossible to watch this without thinking of Benedict XVI.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote of Benedict's renunciation as an act of martyrdom, and I think anyone who sees this opera will understand what I mean.  In the act of renunciation, Benedict lays down his office and prostrates himself before the coming persecution, offering his (figurative) death in order that one coming after him, the next pope, might lead the Church Militant in the coming battle.  This is truly disturbing, according to every definition of the word.  It is awful and awesome at the same time, and it indicts all of us, the unruly faithful who have given the shepherd so much trouble. 

The Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket,
by Michael D. O’Brien

And then there is the question which it forces us to ask ourselves: what kind of stuff are we made of?  It's something that all of us will confront, eventually.  We may hope that it does not occur in as public a venue as it did for Becket and Benedict, but in truth we don't know.  As Joyce Carol Oates once wrote, "You won't know until it beckons. To you. So long as it temps others you can judge - can sneer - can express shock, disgust, outrage, and prim distain - the usual emotions of punitive people. But you won't know."

It may be pessimistic to see in these days the twilight of America, if not the world, but then there are reasons to be pessimistic.  For we may be far closer to the times of Becket than we think.  Benedict perhaps saw this, and we must consider it as well.  Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, said a few years ago that "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."

The time is coming, I think, when we will find out what we're made of.  It will beckon, as Oates says, and then we will find out. The battle is not merely fought among the high-ranking, the statesmen and prelates; its battlefields not confined to the ancient histories of centuries past.  No, history is here and now, and each of us will be called upon to take up our own roles in this drama.  And then we will find out, we will know.

Originally published March 13, 2013

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"St. Jude, don't leave me"

The words of Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score 57 years ago today, as he lay prone on the mound after being hit in the face by a line drive from the New York Yankees' Gil McDougald. The rest of this remarkable story here.

I remember reading about Herb Score when I was a kid, I think in a book called Winners Never Quit.  (I also have the SI magazine pictured at left, in which Score's the cover story.)  Score overcame many things in life, and though his on-field career was cut short (not, incidentally, from being struck by the line drive, but from a later injury), he went on to a long and successful run as a beloved announcer for the Indians.  He may not have been a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he was a winner nonetheless.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is Pope Francis the Church's rock, or her millstone?

We were at Mass on Sunday, watching the Communion line come to its end, as mothers brought their small babies with them to the altar.  As is often the case, my wife turned to me and whispered about one particularly small one, "Look at that clueless face."

"Well," I replied, "I can't think of a better place for someone without a clue to be than in a Catholic Church."

That might sound like a harsh assessment, I know.  I'm tempted to think that it's OK for me to say it since I'm a practicing Catholic, but I'm not even sure I'd object if a non-Catholic mentioned it.

The Church is, to put it mildly, in a mess.  And a good deal of it has to do with the man in the white suit in the Vatican, or at least the guest house.

The Bishop of Rome, as he prefers to style himself, has been at it again, with more of his confusing statements that can leave the faithful every bit as clueless as that two-week old baby.  It's getting to the point where, even after reciting the Creed, I'm not quite sure what I believe in.  Or, rather, I'm uncertain as to what the Church believes in.

Sure, this is partially frustration talking*.  I don't think I've made it a secret that I'm not what you'd consider a fan of the current pope.  (Although if you're not sure, you can check here, here, and here for starters - oh, and let's throw this in as well.)  And if you've checked those links out (and if you haven't, go ahead - I'll wait), you'll be thinking, with some reason, that I'm not really saying anything new here.

*Though I'd like to at least be given credit for expressing said frustration with a humor and eloquence that's rare in the blogosphere.

The state of the Catholic Church today can be profoundly depressing, if you allow it to become so.  There are a lot of Catholics who are angry at a lot of people, especially including other Catholics.  It's true that Christ Himself said that He came to sow division, but even so it's hard to imagine a figure who's been more divisive than the current pope.  He's won worldwide acclaim, true, especially from non-Catholics, while at the same time turning many Catholics who once were friends into, if not bitter enemies, at least adversaries each questioning the other's good faith.  Every day he seems to say or do something that threatens to turn traditional Catholic thinking on its ear, and nobody can be quite sure whether he meant to do it, or that his words are being manipulated by the media.  In one of those articles I linked to above, I described the current pope as either "Machiavellian in his cleverness, Christ-like in his gentleness, or Ted Baxter-ish in his cluelessness."  I'm still not sure which it is, if in fact it's not all three.

There is, however, this growing feeling that you can't rely on the Church - at least the part of it here on earth, headed up by men - to instruct you in what it is you should know.  A case in point was that Mass I alluded to at the start of this article.  It was a perfectly orthodox Mass, done by the rubrics, but then there was this homily by the deacon.  To the extent that it was full of factual error, it can only be said that the man had to have been the product of a Catholic school education.  The topic was that day's twin canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II.  The deacon started off by talking of how he had always liked John because John had been the pope to abolish Latin in the Mass, and that meant that the deacon, then a young altar boy, wouldn't have to deal with it.  John didn't do any such thing, of course - in point of fact, John composed a little piece called Veterum Sapientia, which among other things "stressed the importance of Latin" in the Church, including the Mass.  Latin never has been "abolished" in the Mass; the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium, which permitted use of the vernacular even while encouraging the importance of Latin in the Mass, wasn't even adopted until after John's death.

From there, the deacon went on to discuss John Paul II, for whom he also had a good deal of affection, although he mentioned that JPII had often been coupled with John XXIII; John had promulgated Vatican II, while John Paul had sought to end it.  Aside from the amusement this must have generated among traditionalist Catholics who accuse John Paul of everything from kissing the Koran to going soft on dissident Catholics, it's a disservice to a man who saw himself as being perhaps the first pope to truly implement Vatican II in the manner in which it had been intended.  Again, this is not to come down harshly on the deacon, for the perception he gave of John Paul was that which is found in the popular lexicon.  He didn't intend to maliciously slander the truth; I genuinely believe he didn't know better, because he'd never been taught otherwise.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the last few generations of Catholics have been among the most ignorant when it comes to what the Church actually teaches.  In that sense we're our own worst enemies, for often those who oppose us do so because they understand our teachings better than we do; they fear them, or disagree with them, but at least they know what they are.  If only they were aware that the Church today is nothing but a giant pussycat, a soft touch for those seeking to "modernize" her teachings.

What does the Church teach?  It's not as if there aren't resources out there that lay things out in a pretty clear manner.  But to so many, including - increasingly - the current pope, they don't seem to matter so much.  As someone said, "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," and that's what we face today.

I said in one of those earlier pieces that I wasn't sure I'd convert to the Church today, not because I disbelieved what it taught but because it didn't teach anything to which the wise might repair.  Rather than having Peter the Rock as the foundation of the Church, we now have something (or someone) more akin to quicksand.  And yes, it can be discouraging.  But rather than despair or hopelessness, the prevalent emotion I have is anger - outrage and indignation that, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, such a precious gift - in this case the Deposit of Faith - can be treated with such disdain and carelessness.  Even if the pope plans no dogmatic changes, the confusion he creates in his wake serves more to undermine the Church's authority from within than most anything that could be done by one of her true enemies from without.

It's an effort for me to write about this pope without delving into acts of uncharity, which is why I don't do it very often (although perhaps more often than I should), and why I try to stay logical in my reasoning.  I have said before that I do not hate this pope, which is true, but I don't like him either.  I pray for him, but freely admit that I don't pray hard enough or often enough, so perhaps I should take my share of blame when he makes another of his forehead-slapping comments.

The Bishop of Rome has done many things in the year-plus since his election, but he's not shaken my faith in my faith, in the Church, in the papacy.  Just in the pope.  But there are many people out there who are as concerned as I am, and many who are worried and scared.  There are many uncertain in their faith, and many others who have no faith, and perhaps will not be introduced to it because of the lack of definition present in Rome's teachings.  Ross Douthat, the New York Times house Catholic, remains confident that the pope will not introduce any radical change, but understands the fear that many have, and acknowledges that if such a change is made, the result is likely a schism within the Church.  It will be then, if that time comes, that everyone will have to choose sides.  My intention is to remain with the Church - whichever side that happens to be.
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