Friday, November 26, 2010

Bob Hayes and Thanksgiving Memories


I was reading the Wall Street Journal or The Sun Sentinel yesterday and there was a post of four sportswriters who opined about their favorite Thanksgiving football memories. Most were recent (last 25 years). It got me to thinking. I have vivid memories of being at my grandparents' house at Thanksgiving circa 1966/67 and watching Bob Hayes return a punt against St. Louis without ever being touched. So I did some quick internet research, and voila, my memory did not let me down. Here is the link: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/196711230dal.htm. He in fact returned a punt for 69 yards. There is no youtube tape. I remember Hayes well. The called him Bullet Bob. He was a track star before becoming a standout wide receiver for the Cowboy teams of the late 60's. He was in the twilight of his career when the Cowboys beat the Dolphins in the 71 SB. Hayes later did time for narcotics violations and then became a born again Christian and motivational speaker. In case anyone thinks football was better and cleaner without the likes of Randy Moss and others who gain notoriety for actions off the field as well as on, Hayes' fellow wide receiver, Lance Rentzel, was arrested for exposing himself to a minor. Add to this collection the Raiders' then standout wide receiver, Warren Wells, who did time for stabbing his wife, and former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodger (armed robbery), and you can see that the old adage, the more things change the more they remain the same, has not lost its luster.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Congratulations New York!



A big congratulations to the New York Giants for beating the expansion Washington Senators. I watched the series and while the Giants' move to SF predated my addiction to baseball, the Senators move to Texas was in the prime of my career when I was free basing Strat O Matic on an hourly basis. Every time I watch them play, I cannot erase the thought that they are really the expansion Washington Senators. The "real" Senators left DC in 1961 for Minnesota and four years later took Koufax and the Dodgers to game 7 before succumbing to the best pitcher God ever assembled (at least from 1963 through 1966). And speaking of images permanently embedded in one's mind, every time I hear "Dallas" I think not of JR Ewing, the Cowboys, but of JFK. Don't know why but as soon as the city is mentioned, I think Parkland Hospital, Grassy Knoll, Manlicher Carcano rifle, and Texas school book depository.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thumbing It


I was reminiscing yesterday with an old friend about how our society has become preoccupied with risk avoidance at the expense of taking a walk on the wild side. And it hit me. I am over 50 and grew up in a normal middle class household on the East Coast. As anyone of that era can attest, there was a widely accepted way of getting around: hitchhiking. That's right. Need to travel five or six miles and didn't have a car? Stand on the side of the road, put your thumb out, and hope for the best. I started doing it in 6th grade and didn't stop until I graduated high school. And the funny thing was, my parents knew about it and never thought anything of it. My friends and I "thumbed a ride" at least once a week. Things were different back then. People were more trusting. Very rarely will you see a hitchhiker these days and rarer is the person who would pick one up for fear of being robbed or raped. A reflection of our society and not a good one I guess. Here are some of my favorite hitchhiking stories, in no particular order:
1. 1974. I had to stay late at school. Don't remember why. I hitched a ride home. A couple picked me up. Told me to sit in the front with them. Girl was gorgeous. She had a very loose fitting dress and no bra. The ride was 3 miles. I spent 99% of it staring down her blouse and for the first time in my life saw a perfectly shaped breast live and in color. Got out of the car and thanked them. They probably spent the next 20 minutes laughing at how I was ogling her.
2. 1971. I was in junior high. The Red Sox were playing an afternoon game. They called it the "Businessman's Special." Sort of a day when Don Draper would sit in the stands. My two friends and I, on pure whim, decided to leave school, thumb it to Fenway, and watch the game. For me, school was a waste of time. I never learned anything worthwhile anyway. So I left. Just up and hit the road. We made it to the Wellesley train station and took the trolley to Fenway. Sox played Cleveland. Had a great time. We hitched a ride home. A businessman picked us up and for the next 30 minutes lectured us on the dangers of hitchhiking in the city. I got home around 8 at night and my parents were worried sick. My brother told them I was in school and then noboby saw me, My father wanted to kill me. I don't remember how many detentions I got but it doesn't matter. It was worth it.
3. 1972. Early evening. Got picked up in a VW van. Bunch of hippie types were smoking pot. Ride was about 5 miles. Don't know why but I was scared to death. They were not your friendly peace loving types. More like the Charles Manson cult figures. When I got out, I swore I would never hitchhike again. Ten minutes later, I thumbed it home alive.
Well, that's today's salute to yesterday and the lost art of hitchhiking. Now it's off to work where I hopefully can once again accomplish 25% of what I set out to do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can't Say No To A Soldier?

I was on my way to the office on Sunday and made my monthly stop at CD Trader in Hollywood. For music aficionados post Pearl Harbor and pre Sputnik, it is a gold mine of otherwise unavailable jazz and crooner music for less than $3.00 a cd. I always buy 4 or 5 cd's a month, download them to my Itunes and Ipod and listen to them the next week while walking my dog and wish I were somewhere else (permanently). I picked up a collection called Wartime Anthems. The song "You Can't Say No To A Soldier" was part of the set. The lyrics astounded me. I listened two more times. Here is a reconstructed audio/video of the tune:

Amazing. This is 1942. Can you imagine someone singing this today about the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan? Never. The message is clear: it is patriotic to succumb to the prurient desires of some soon to be GI who will be putting his life on the line for his country. And this was no bar room melody sang in brothel parlors in the seedier parts of town. It was mainstream stuff. It makes me laugh when I listen to this song and think back to 1974. I always thought I invented sex and then perfected the art form with my first girlfriend in the back of my father's Bonneville station wagon. What a conceit.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bleeding Dodger Blue




One of the greatest myths in sports history is that the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn in 1958 and headed out west in an act of betrayal and selfishness while leaving behind many blue collar fans who suffered for years like a jilted lover watching his sweetheart dump him for the captain of the football team. The narrative has a lot of appeal as it romanticizes the small town qualities of civic pride and neighborhood solidarity that are ingrained in the American ethos. Call it a sport version of Billy Joel's Allentown. Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin added to the lore when asked who would they kill if they were in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O'Malley and had a gun with two bullets. The answer, no doubt uttered after one too many shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey, was that they would shoot O'Malley twice to make sure he is dead. Thus was born another variation of the Cold Hearted Capitalist that would make Ebenezer Scrooge smile: This time the scoundrel is O'Malley, a slave to the bottom line, who stole the soul from hard working Brooklynites who toiled by day in the factory and longed for those long summer nights when they could listen to their beloved Dodgers on the radio or go to fabled Ebbets field and watch the game live.


It is all very heart rendering. It has everything going for it except the truth. I just finished reading Forever Blue by Michael D'Antonio. The book offers a very balanced account of the personalities and political and economic dynamics that made the Dodgers leave Brooklyn for the riches of California. In hindsight the move is a no brainer, whether motivated by sheer greed or not. But D'Antonio belies the notion that O'Malley just picked up and left town to enrich himself. That version is simply not true. The other side was never told over the years. Think of a divorce among two once respectable people. You hear one side and accept it but you know deep inside, that life is more complicated than that. The rest of the story comes out and you realize the truth lies somewhere in the middle of a complicated tale indeed. The gist of the book is that O'Malley did everything he could to keep the franchise in Brooklyn while still being able to make money. O'Malley was up against some very strong economic, demographic, and technological developments: Brooklyn's population was declining as its residents left for Nassau and Suffolk counties, Ebbets Field had little parking making a trip to the ball park for a modern suburban family difficult, and television just gave many people another reason to either stay home or watch the game at the corner bar. Contrast this with the landscape of southern California: massive population and economic growth, a culture that worshiped the automobile, and a willingness to build a stadium with 17,000 parking spaces. Despite what seemed like a very easy decision to make on economic grounds, O'Malley clug to his native Brooklyn and negotiated with Robert Moses to build a new park in Brooklyn. It was not to be. Moses, probably the most powerful man in the history of New York politics never elected to an office, put him off seemingly wanting O'Malley to leave town. D'Antonio offers some insights into the era that are humorous and contrary to popular perceptions. Here are a few gems:
1. In 1949-50, Branch Rickey was trying to sell his shares in the team. And who should pop up as a potential suitor?

That's right. None other than Joseph Kennedy, Prohibition financier and scion of the Kennedy clan. And here is an exact quote on page 123: "Kennedy had even talked about his son Jack becoming president of the team if Rickey remained as general manager." Gotta love that one.
2. Jackie Robinson watched Willie Mays play for the Birmingham Barons, a Negro league team. Robinson advised Branch Rickey to sign Mays to a contract. Rickey refused because he had been told by a scout that Mays "could not hit a curve ball."
3. 1951. This was the year of Bobby Thompson's "shot heard 'round the world." The myth is of a city enthralled by baseball. The 1950's are often referred to as "The Golden Era of Baseball." But here is a little cold water to throw in the face of that myth: the Dodgers and Giants played a best of three playoff at the end of the '51 season. The first game at Ebbets Field was not a sellout. There were 2000 empty seats. The next day was worse. 38,609 people showed up at the Polo Grounds. It had a capacity of 55,000.
4. 1952. Game six of the World Series. Dodgers and Yankees. The Dodgers could have won the series with a win. How enthusiastic were the Brooklyn faithful? Five thousand empty seats! Amazing!
5. 1954. The Dodgers won the pennant in 1953 and finished second to the Giants in '54. However, their attendance dropped by 140,000.00. They were ninth in attendance among sixteen major league clubs.
6. After the 1956 Dodger World Series victory, O'Malley who was being lobbied very hard by a consortium of Los Angeles business and civic interests, refused to meet with them, convinced he would be able to build a new stadium in Brooklyn.
7. Walter O'Malley was prescient. Even in the 1950's, he saw the potential of what was then know as "pay per view." He envisioned a system where a small electronic box would be placed atop a TV set and fans would pay a per game fee to watch the game.
8. The Giants moved to San Francisco at the same time the Dodgers went to LA. But that move was not controversial. What was it about Brooklyn that caused such a long term resentment towards O'Malley while the Manhattanites who routed for the Giants didn't really give a hoot what Horace Stoneham did with his team.
It is fascinating reading, especially in hindsight. So if you are a history buff and baseball fan and want a straight up account about an era in New York sports history, read it. Forever Blue by Michael D'Antonio (Riverhead Books, 2009)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Greatest Movie Scene Ever


I watched The Pope Of Greenwich Village last night for the umpteenth time and it never disappoints. The above scene with Geraldine Page is probably the greatest movie scene ever. In a few minutes, the essence of working class culture circa New York City in the mid 70's hits one in the face like a shot of stale whiskey. Why she never got an Oscar for this is beyond me. Watch it and watch it again.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone"


So Barack Obama cashiers his top general in Afghanistan for mouthing off to the press. That is a big yawn for me. But what really piqued my interest was the medium through which the general chose to voice his opinions: Rolling Stone Magazine. Like many old actors and singers you see pop up on Larry King, I assumed the magazine died a natural death years ago. The last time I read it was 1979 while buying some drug paraphernalia in the back room of a head shop in Philadelphia. But I remember it very well as a quintessential reflection of a slice of a part of the American landscape post Woodstock and pre Reagain. I first stumbled upon the magazine while making a pit stop in an upper end Jewish neighborhood circa 1974 to cop some quality Colombian Gold from some kid named Horowitz. Rolling Stone readers smoked good pot or hash, had liberal/left political views, owned the latest and greatest stereo equipment, watched Saturday Night Live went it was still an underground pilot, and listened to the trendy progressive rock stations that dotted the FM landscape back then. And oh yeah, they wore painter's pants (without real paint stains of course) and earth shoes. In other words, they excelled at one of the great art forms of the 1970's and 1960's: pretending to be a member of the proletariate while living the life of a bourgeoisie. Rolling Stone was a great window to watch the spectacle. While it felt good to feel ideological solidarity with some oppressed farm worker in some third world country (right wing of course), it felt even better to have the most expensive Pioneer receiver on the market sitting on your bedroom dresser or front row seats when David Bowie was in town. Because let's face it: the goal of every pseudo revolutionary was the same as every conservative firebrand: using every means at your disposal to get that damn bra off of that girl who was dumb enough to go out with you. The symbolism, though, was more a function of the readers as opposed to the editors. If you looked beyond the fancy cover page, the magazine contained some quality writing. Hunter Thompson was a great writer who cut his teeth there. Ditto William Greider. As much as I disagreed with the magazine's political perspective, the writing was top notch, especially during an era when the mainstream media did not give much credence to the music tastes of the younger generation. But then, like its readers, it moved into the mainstream and thus, complacency. I guess most of its readers when on to Vanity Fair and The New York Times as irreverent hipness lost its panache. Irony is what makes life funny and I have to laugh that Rolling Stone Magazine is the forum that a four star wartime general used to voice his opposition to his commander in chief's policies.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All That Jazz



I like jazz and blues music. The lyrics, cadence, and artists capture a certain slice of Americana much the same way that film noir did in the 40's and 50's. And what is that slice: a recognition that life ain't always easy and is just as likely to be filled with tragedy and disappointment as with happiness and success. But the human spirit trudges along against overwhelming odds. The music is a window into the soul of those people who through their own transgressions or just plain bad luck have swung and missed at life's opportunities but realize that there can be redemption at the end of the line. Listen to Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington or any of about 20 African American crooners from yesteryear. The theme is unmistakable: life is very tough at the bottom of the food chain whether it be spiritual or material. Which brings me to a wonderful website I discovered thanks to Eugene Volokh. It is called It is Ejazz News New Music Weekly Sampler. Every week the site publishes a group of songs that you can download for free. And the music is not the cheap stuff you get at Starbucks every week on some card they hand out with your coffee. It is quality stuff. So download it, put it in your Ipod, go on a bike ride or walk, and appreciate the little things in life. Happy Father's Day.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Witness Protection Program


I followed the Rothstein sentencing with a grain of salt and a heavy dollop of skepticism. What really caught my attention (and cynical nature) was not the number of years that he will eventually serve but his potential initiation into a very exclusive club: the federal Witness Protection Program. This program was initiated in the early 80's. Its purpose was laudable: to get Mafia members and their hangers on to cooperate and provide them and their families with a new identity after their sentence was finished so that the omnipresent Mob would not be able to find out where they are and exact retribution. It all sounded nice in theory but I have to believe has been a disaster in practice. Think about it. You are asking a sociopath who has known nothing but crime and violence to renounce his nature and instead of living it up at the Copa every Friday night with some hot looking $750 a night arm piece, to work at a donut shop in Billings, Montana for $6.25 an hour and hope that that your old buddies from Brooklyn don't happen to drop by and say hello. The program assumes two facts; a moral convert and and almost maniacally unified and determined adversary. The former was dependent on the latter and the latter, if it ever did exist, does not now. Two famous enrollees, if that is the proper term, were Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame and Sammy Gravano of John Gotti fame. Hill is walking the streets and Gravano was until he was indicted for dealing dope after he dropped out of the club. Let's face it. The traditional Italian mafia ain't what it used to be. Most organized crime figures have game plans that are very short. Which brings me to Rothstein. His participation, if it ever comes to that, is comical. He rolls over on some heretofore unknown pretenders from South Beach and gets them indicted. I am sure they would love to feed him to the alligators. But 30 years from now? If they do, say, ten years, will they spend the next twenty plotting revenge on Rothstein? Highly unlikely. They will get on with their lives. If I were them, and assuming they are part of a well organized criminal enterprise, I would be more afraid of getting whacked for screwing up and/or for possibly buying their own way out of trouble by cooperating against their supposed lieutenants. So what is Rothstein afraid of? That when he is 82, and in a homeless shelter in Phoenix, someone will slip a knife through his stomach a la Robert Deniro as a young Vito Corleone? I don't think so.

In 30 years, most of Rothstein's enemies, imagined and real, will be dead or not even remember who he is. The whole witness protection story is a bluff, leaked by the government to build up Rothstein's bonafides as a witness to make potential defendants believe he knows more than he actually does. And how is the government going to help Rothstein in 30, 40, or 50 years from now? Get him a new identity so the other 90 somethings who are pissing and shitting in diapers every day in the convalescent home don't recognize him? I can see it now.
"Hey! Isn't that guy Hymie Schwartz really Scott Rothstein?
"Yeah. Oh my God. It's him!!!!!!"
"Hey Mr. Rothstein, Mr. Rothstein. Tell us. How did you do it? How did you fix the 1919 World Series? Tell us!"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden, RIP


John Wooden was the most successful college basketball coach ever. No one else came close. I remember him well. His era, the 1960's, was a turbulent one in America, especially the cultural circles where he made his mark: college, black athletes, youth, and all that it implied. Wooden seemed like an island of tranquility in a turbulent sea. I do not know what Wooden's political views were and it really does not matter. He was a symbol of wisdom, stability, and patience. In all the years I watched him coach, from Walt Hazzard to Lew Alcindor to Sydney Wicks to Bill Walton, I cannot remember ever seeing him raise his voice to a player or referee. His expression was the same in 1968 when Elvin Hayes slayed his Goliath like team in the Astrodome as when, a few months later, Alcindor proved that it was all a fluke. I guess you could call him the anti Bobby Knight. I cannot imagine Wooden signing a deal with Nike or Men's Wearhouse. Perhaps his UCLA teams complemented the dynastic nature of the era when it was common for one team to dominate a sport, be it the Canadiens, Celtics, Yankees, or, to a lesser extent, Green Bay. And perhaps his old school approach to basketball would never make in today's hyped up sports world. But here is the real mark of the man: the 1960's and early 70's were characterized as one of rebellion. Young people, at least the affluent and well educated ones, had contempt for people like Wooden and the values they reflected. But Wooden never changed his style to fit the perceived fashion of the times. His black players may have sported wild Afros and changed their names while others advocated a back to nature enviro/chic radicalism, but it never affected Wooden. More important, as different as he was from the players he coached, you never heard them utter a negative word about him. John Wooden was a class act. RIP.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Those Horrible Young People



When I was young, my parents always compared me to everyone else's children. It was not a pretty picture. It seemed that every time there was a social event, family get together, school function, etc., I acted like a jerk and the other duplicitous two faced punks put their best foot forward. So on the way home, all I heard was "Why can't you be like the ___________family's kids. They are so respectful and well behaved." I heard this a thousand times to the point that I really thought when it came to being a renegade, I was the floor from which every kid in the neighborhood's behavior was measured. Of course, the truth was that my parents were wrong on two fronts: the nieghbors' kids were horrible and I did stuff that was ten times worse than what I often was punished for. But that is all history. And so is this. I was reading one of my favorite blogs this morning, The Volokh Conspiracy (www.volokh.com) and came upon this a post comment by someone named Joe:
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” (Hesiod, 8th century BC).
Very interesting. For all of you graying hipsters from the 60's who thought you were re-inventing the wheel every time you lit up a joint or had sex with your high school sweetheart or ridiculed your father for (gasp!) working for a living, take a look at this quote from a 1585 case, Stanhope v. Blith, 76 Eng. Rep. 891. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Again, thank you Eugene Volokh.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Part II






It is interesting how the image of the military has changed in American popular culture and the entertainment media. Serving in the military was a common rite of passage for American youths starting in WWII and ending in 1972. It was probably the most egalitarian institution this country ever had and a positive influence on many an American kid whose life would otherwise have gone downhill fast. Universal service had another effect on our society: the average American recognized the absurdity of the military while at the same time respecting its role in our society. And how did America express its view of the military: humor. Here is a short list of TV sitcoms about the military that aired from 1955 to about 1968:
1. Sergeant Bilko
2. Hogan's Heroes
3. McHale's Navy
4. Gomer Pyle
There are probably more but the morning coffee has yet to erase the effects of last night's scotch. I guess you can give Get Smart an honorable mention in the above list and include MASH and Catch 22. The theme of each show was basically the same: a stuffed shirt and conformist bureaucracy unable to stifle the humor and spirit of the average American man. The shows were hilarious and in retrospect, irreverent in a way that is unimaginable today. Let's start with McHale's Navy. Ernest Borgnine as McHale had a rag tag group of enlisted men under the watchful eye of Captain Binghampton. McHale even secreted a Japanese stowaway as a cook. They spent their time breaking the rules and making a fool of Binghampton. Now fast forward to 2010. Can you imagine a sitcom now portraying a group of lackadaisical goofballs stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan thumbing their noses at the brass while hiding an Al Qaeda member to cook their dinner? Their would be howls of protest from every sector of polite society. Today, the military is not a subject for humor and ridicule but is looked upon as professional group of elite warriors for whom humor is not on the menu, especially if the laughs come from entertainment industry. But the humor of yesterday was never meant to denigrate the military or the men who fought. I am sure the above shows were quite popular in VFW and American Legion halls across the country. There was a recognition that the military was serious business but was, by necessity, bound by a set of rules that, to the enlisted man, was so absurd as to be comical. And what better way to expose it than by making people laugh. This was all made possible because military service effected every strata of our society. The 18 year old auto mechanic from Canarsie all of a sudden found himself sitting in boot camp with kids from Texas and Ohio whom he would otherwise never have met. And vice versa. And you can bet there were many mornings at 5 am when some idiot drill sergeant made them run laps through the mud for no other reason than that the Army manual said it was necessary. These were experiences shared by an entire generation of Americans. So when the absurdity made it to the TV screen, it struck a chord in a big way. This shared national experience has vanished. The military is a profession, which is a good thing. The American military has done a phenomenal job of reducing battlefield casualties through technology and better training. But the effect of this policy is that the military is now a cloistered society separate from the country it defends. The average person has no clue what military service is like or what the average soldier experiences. The opposite is also true. The average soldier is cut off from regular life. The GI of today probably has more in common with the Spartans of ancient times than he does with average kid who spends his spare time listening to an ipod while skateboarding down Ocean Drive. Which is why you will never see Hollywood make another sitcom about the military.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day



Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background, the countless minor scenes and interiors of the secession war; and it is best they should not. The real war will never get in the books. -Walt Whitman

As I approach the gates of heaven;

St. Peter I will tell;

One more soldier reporting sir;

I've served my time in hell.
-Mark Anthony Gresswell

Memorial Day is when the living pay homage to the dead, at least those died in war while in uniform. But what is true of funerals is equally apt for this holiday: it is all window dressing for the living and does nothing for the dead. The act of paying respects to those men and women who died while in battle is by necessity an emotion laden ritual that ignores a lot of reality that is as unpleasant as it is real. As with any notable holiday, there must be a compelling narrative. And from what I can gather, the narrative is as much fiction, historical amnesia, and selective memory as an accurate account of the heroics of the deceased soldiers who took the fall for their country. The American narrative can be summed up thusly: We are a freedom loving people and the cost of preserving freedom can be high. Many men have given up their lives so we can enjoy the liberties we have. It is to these gallant warriors that we pay tribute without whose ultimate sacrifice we would not be living the life we enjoy today. Thus, we see a causal connection between combat and liberty: the latter would not exist without the former. In other words, we can freely move about and criticize our government today because an 18 year old kid was murdered in 1942 when a Japanese madman sliced his head off during the Bataan Death March. As narrative goes, it can be very powerful. We ascribe the highest motives to our own soldiers and assign the worst motives to our enemies. To question the premise is to impugn the moral fabric of America and call into question one’s own patriotism in the eyes of one’s fellow citizens. This state of affairs is truly unfortunate for it blinds us to the reality of war and cloaks an historical inevitability, war, around a noble purpose and simplistic patriotic symbolism that serves no function other than creating a false sense of moral superiority where it does not belong. I do not mean to impugn the suffering or sacrifice of any soldier but what I believe is a grotesque farce is the attempted link between the death of any soldier and the morality of the government that sent him to do battle. More often than not, battlefield deaths are due more to the stupidity and incompetence of the government than they are to the actions of one’s enemy who is supposedly fighting to destroy American liberty. I spent last night skimming through three books by Paul Fussell, the noted English professor and WWII infantryman: The Great War and Modern Memory, The Boys’ Crusade, and Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. I had read all three two times over during the past ten years but always read over selected passages at least twice a year. Fussell highlights the tragic absurdity of war and every government’s attempt to assure that the rhetoric at home does not interfere with the reality of the battlefield as the two are almost always diametrically opposed. In fact, governments are as much complicit in the deaths of their own soldiers as are the enemies they are fighting. Fussell has no ideological ax to grind. His books do not fit into any ideological spectrum. One story stands out: an American general is killed during WWII along with hundred of his soldiers. It is reported that he died under enemy fire in a gallant effort to fight the mighty German army. The truth? He was killed by his own troops who mistakenly dropped bombs on him and his men when they failed to take into account the heavy winds they were dropping bombs into. During the first year of the Pacific war, American casualties were as likely to come from friendly fire as Japanese soldiers. I was dumbfounded at the criminal negligence of the American government as they sent countless young men to die senseless deaths in campaigns that they had to have known would fail. War brings home the old adage that history can be defined as one damn lie after another. Three thousand Americans died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Did they sacrifice their lives for democracy or did they die because the their government was too stupid to not take action to fortify the base against a foreseeable attack? And what about the GI’s sent to fight the Kaiser in WWI. How was American democracy affected there? It may have been very charming to send our young doughboys to Europe under the banner of making the world safe for democracy while singing this George M. Cohan melody:



I am sure this song provided warm comfort as many a twenty year old infantrymen sat freezing to death in a foxhole in France while watching his fellow men bleed to death in an orgy of blood and flesh. But no worry. You may be dying a horrible death for reasons that you now realize are a pack of lies but at least the folks back home will feel good remembering you as one who died so they could live the good life. And if you are not going to die, fear not. Your children will be back in twenty years when the French government for whom you are fighting screws everything up (again).
So this Memorial Day, folks, do the right thing: say a prayer for the all of our soldiers who died in battle. Theirs was a death that was most likely unnecessary. They are honorable men and women for having given service to their country. But whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of confusing the heroism of the individual soldier with the pretension that there was a noble purpose for which he was fighting. One has nothing to do with the other.



Sunday, May 16, 2010

Are Three Years of Law School Necessary?


I was reading the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog yesterday. There was a piece on US News & World Report's ranking of law schools. I look upon these rankings the way I look upon Page Six of the New York Post: very titillating but it does not affect me one iota. But what really got me thinking was the outrageous cost of a legal education nowadays. Regardless of what school you attend, tuition is between 30 and 40 thousand a year. Add room and board and you end up shelling out almost 60k a year. I know what I make a year and what most every day lawyers you see in the courthouse make and when you factor in the number of hours you spend pulling your hair out and paying bills, it just is not worth it. And then I started recalling my last two years in law school. Other than the naive undergrads I was able to date and the excessive drinking I did while dating them, the time spent there was by and large wasted. I learned everything I needed to know in the first year. Let's face it. Legal education is a racket that benefits one group of pompous frauds: professors. I despised all of them. In the late 70's and early 80's, you could spot them a mile away. Longish hair that was starting to gray or recede, earth shoes, and a sort of walk and attitude that was meant to advertise their pedigree: Ivy League or some equivalent degree combined with a position on law review and post graduate work with a federal or state supreme court judge and/or one year at a top notch law firm. They were all radical chic type leftists who I suspected adopted the mantra more to get laid than anything else. I also suspected that that one or two year stint in private practice was not a stepping stone to a teaching career but a disastrous attempt to cash in on their newly minted status only to be shown the exit for thinking their shit did not stink. In any event, it is these supercilious popinjays who suck on the tit of legal education. But it need not be that way. The entire law school curriculum should consist of the following courses:
1. Contracts/UCC
2. Criminal law/procedure
3. Torts
4. Civil Procedure/federal jurisdiction
5. Legal writing
6. Appellate advocacy
7. Real estate transactions
8. Corporations/Business entities.
This program could be completed in one calendar year. Once you graduate, you would have to take a state bar exam that would require a detailed knowledge of state law and procedure. Thus in Florida, you would have to know how to do a real estate closing, file a lawsuit, draft a contract, and write a brief. These courses could be taken on line so long as you demonstrated a proficiency through a written examination afterwards. Once you pass the bar, you are on your own. You can set up your own shop, work for whoever wants to hire you, or do nothing. Law schools would be one year and out institutions that trained lawyers to be, well, lawyers. The losers? The legal education establishment. There would be no such thing as Law Review. But so what and who cares? Law review articles are unreadable compilations of legal mumbo jumbo that are written to perpetuate the careers of intellectual dullards who could not tell the difference between a courtroom and the men's room. The beneficiaries would be the lawyers who could get licensed at a fraction of the cost and the public for whom prices would decline substantially. I doubt very much that the quality of lawyering would decline at all. I doubt there is one lawyer in the country who can credit his success to the fact that he learned anything worthwhile in years 2 and 3. People would be free, as they are now, to select their own lawyer. I just think we need to recognize that three years of law school is a needless expense. The cost and requirements have no relation to being a good lawyer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Health Care And The Lost Horizon



I did a post a few months ago on the constitutionality of the new health care law. The gist of the argument was that if the government can force you to buy insurance, it can force you to buy just about anything. If you expand the meaning of the commerce clause from allowing government to regulate economic activity that people choose to engage in to forcing people to participate in commercial activity that the government chooses to regulate, we are on a very slippery slope to totalitarianism or at least to emulating some 15th century religious fiefdom. Once the government assumes an obligation to pay for everyone's health care costs, it assumes a responsibility to make sure that everyone stays healthy so it can afford what it undertakes. This fact is no different from someone buying a house or car and making sure the carpet is clean or the tires are safe. So what is the most effective way for the government to control health spending? Despite having spent hundreds of millions of dollars searching for some social science style answer to this question, the solution is remarkably simple: pass a law that mandates that every American from 3 to 75 exercise every morning and evening, eat three balanced meals a day, outlaw processed sugar, alcohol, and cigarettes, and if you refuse to buckle under to this ascetic lifestyle, you go to a re-education camp and live like a Gregorian monk until you get the message. Sound far fetched? Of course. But the point is that if you accept the notion that there is no restriction on the government's power to force you to purchase a product you don't want, it can force you to do anything, including controlling your budget. In addition to laying out $500 a month to Aetna or Humana, you will make a weekly trek to some government sponsored health food vomitorium and buy your weekly allotment of bran, fruit, nuts, fresh vegetables, and tree bark. You will also purchase a government mandated membership in a neighborhood exercise cooperative where a government worker will knock on your door every morning at 7 and lead the neighborhood in an exercise routine reminiscent of your freshman gym class in high school. To those of you like me who spend a disproportionate share of your money on alcohol, tobacco, and other fleshly pleasures, your life will be forever changed. But fret not, you will be in the hands of a wise and all knowing government that knows far better than you what your best interests are. So put down that scotch and cigar, pick up a glass of skim milk and water chestnuts, and start doing those jumping jacks!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mad Magazine


Mad Magazine was my favorite periodical growing up in the 1960's. it was better than reading The Sporting News and Sport Illustrated. It represented a philosophy of humor and skepticism that was iconoclastic and politically neutral. It was the proverbial kid shooting spitballs at the pompous teacher. The magazine started in the 1950's as a cynical retort to the plethora of TV advertising/consumerism that defined the era. It then expanded into a satirical look into every form of authority of the times. The beauty of the magazine was that it was apolitical. I suspect the editors were liberal but the writing bespoke an insight into the foibles of the period that was as poignant as it was funny. The magazine never received the credit that it deserved in shaping the views and attitudes of a generation of suburban youth who would eventually develop a very healthy contempt for the larger institutions of our society that seemed to live on a diet of lies and hypocrisy, whether right or left. Last week, I purchased an anthology of offerings from the 50's through the 90's. Looking back, I was fascinated at the sophistication of the humor. Whether it was the countercultural lifestyle, military, government, business, or religion, the message was clear: the emperor has no clothes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The 1954 American League Season




I love baseball. The sport captures the spirit of America better than any other social phenomena out there. It is not political. But beyond its unifying effect on the national pscyhe, the game is a treasure trove of historical statistical oddities that keep people like me up all night. I spend about two hours a week on www.retrosheet.org. The site is to baseball addicts what a corner bar is to the neighborhood drunk: a convenient excuse to ignore your responsibilities to your family and job and indulge in what you deep down inside feel you cannot live without. I like to drink as much as the next guy, but crunching meaningless baseball numbers is nirvana. This morning, and for no apparent reason, I started to search for teams that finished in second place and yet won over one hundred games and then separate out those teams that did not even come close to winning the pennant. As I was perusing different seaons, I came across the 1954 American League final standings. The Cleveland Indians finished in first place with 111 wins, a record for wins in one season. But just as interesting were the second place Yankees. They won 103 games and finished 8 games out of first. There have been other similar second place finishes. The 1961 Detroit Tigers finished in second place with 101 wins; the 1962 Dodgers did the same with 102 wins. For football's version of this oddity, check out the 1967 Baltimore Colts who finished 12-1-1 and never made the playoffs. I remember baseball quite well in the mid to late 60's but had no reference of comparison due to my youth. Looking back, I am amazed that baseball maintained its hold on the nation despite such lopsided races. In 1954, only there American League teams had a winning record, Even if there were pennant races, for most teams, the season was over by the All Star break, And here is an interesting number. The Boston Red Sox, who have sold out every game for about ten years, were not always the hot ticket in town. In 1966, the Sox opened the season at home against Baltimore. Only 12,386 people showed up. The next day, 1,955 came to the game. And this is opening day, when hope springs eternal, or so the myth goes. Imagine that happening today!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dressing Up And Doing The Town


I spent part of last night watching old baseball footage from the 1950's, the supposed Golden Era of baseball. That is was a "golden era" is a myth but then again history has been aptly defined as nothing more than one damn lie after another. I noted with amusement the fan attire of the time. But it is more than amusement. I think the way people dress says something about the way we perceive ourselves in other people's eyes and the kind of respect we demand from others. I remember watching the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960's. It seemed that every fan at the Forum was The Man in The Grey Flannel Suit. Men wore suits to sporting events. It was almost like going to church. This social stricture started to change sometime around 1969. Maybe it was the Vietnam War and the social upheaval it wrought at home. I am not smart enough to figure that out but I am not dumb enough not to realize that there was almost a revolution in the way people related to one another and the language they chose to express it through was clothing. The way we dress conveys a very important message: act the way I dress. If someone sees you dressed in a suit, they will instinctively treat you differently than if you were wearing flip flops and shorts. And the reverse is true. People will expect you to treat them differently if you are dressed well. Dress is a very accurate barometer of the type of civil discourse we expect of ourselves and others. I am no prude but I think the old way had something to say for itself. When I was a kid in the 60's it was almost unheard of to hear people cursing in public. Now coarse language is so commonplace that it is accepted. Check out this song by Marty Robbins and I think you will get the idea.

I think it all started in 1942. The army issued standard white sleeved t shirts to all recruits. They were used to wearing the sleeveless "wifebeaters" that their fathers wore under their shirts. Wearing such a shirt in public back then was quite declasse. Remember Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. The name wifebeater did not come about by accident. After the war, these shirts became popular as a stand alone accessory thanks to James Dean, who did for the industry what Lauren Bacall did for women lighting up. And then it was all downhill from there. Call it what you will. Democracy. Egalitarianism. The end result has been a coarsening of our civil discourse. I know a strong case can be made that there have certainly been some notable and quite impressive exceptions to this trend:

But nevertheless, I say there is something to be said for getting "all dressed up and doing the town" the old fashioned way. So put on your best suit, shine your shoes, and go out and show your friends the respect they deserve and hopefully they will show you the same!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Here's To Yesterday

">
I remember 1972 well. Nixon crushed McGovern and then bombed North Vietnam. Watergate started. The A's won their first of three straight pennants. The decade ushered in bad music, worse fashion and the death of the American automobile industry. The cars that Detroit produced from 1950 up to today reflect American self confidence and power and our willingness to project it around the world. Face it. If you were stuck in a foxhole under enemy fire, who would you want to have engineered the equipment that will rescue your ass: the New Age conformist who invented the Chevy Vega or the wild eyed eccentric who put fins on the 1957 Cadillac El Dorado? You get the picture. When it comes down to what really mattered in my life in 1972, booze and broads, not even Viagra can light up a man's libido today like the old fashioned in your face V8 engine with all the trimmings did then. Which brings me to my own attempt to go back in time. A good client of mine was in town this week and while here bought a 1972 Cadillac.

He is shipping it out later in the week so let me use it for the weekend. And use it I will. I called a sometime girlfriend who is (barely) old enough to keep me out of the hoosegow but young enough to still believe my bullshit that her youth has nothing to do with my wanting to date her. It's off for a steak dinner, a bottle of wine, and a nice drive down I95 with the windows down and the AM radio blasting away (assuming there still is AM radio). After examining the interior of the car, I am thankful that I grew up in the 60's/70's before the worst standard feature in a car ever: the console that separates the driver from his passenger. This contraption did more to reduce teenage shenanigans than any lecture by some overly protective father or pleasure hating minister. But not tonight. My girlfriend will slide over and put her head on my shoulder and her body next to mine and I will party like it's 1972!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Can The Federal Government Force You To Buy A Gun?



I am not a constitutional scholar. And that is probably a good thing for it allows me to analyze the constitutionality of the current health care legislation with a degree of clarity that is wholly lacking in the opinions of so called experts in this field. The question is simple: under the Commerce Clause, can the federal government mandate that individuals purchase a product or service from a private party. The law has developed to the point where Congress can regulate almost any activity that affects commerce. If you engage in an activity such as buying a pizza, the government can regulate the contents of the cheese and tomato sauce that goes into it. I believe the clause has been expanded beyond its original meaning but it is what it is. But it is a real stretch to expand the regulation of economic activity voluntarily entered to coercing someone to buy a service he does not want to purchase. Most of the so called experts never address this question. They dismiss the argument by citing examples that are inapposite and add in in the caveat that health care is a major problem in our society, etc. So I ask this question: if the rate of violent crime increases dramatically to the point that the government's ability to handle it is overwhelmed, can Congress pass a law that mandates that every individual purchase a handgun? I do not believe there is any difference between this example and what is happening with health insurance. If you can force people to buy health insurance against their will, the government has achieved every dictator's dream: complete control over people's lives. I have written about this before but it needs repeating. Want to know where we are headed. Here is a law of politics that is as foolproof as the law of gravity:
These eight steps were written in 1787 by Professor Alexander Tyler. The United States was in the planning process of a young and fragile Democracy. So, this Professor took a look at the past and tried to map out the evolution of a Democracy. He determined a time line for these eight steps and an estimate of how long the process would take, 200 years.

The Eight Steps

From Bondage to Spiritual Faith

Do we forget how young of a nation we are? Europe had shaped and reshaped itself so many times before we were even put on a map.

England ruled the young America, not with whips and chains, but with taxes. The people weren’t allowed to build a strong nation because all the money they made was sent back to England. In the beginning, they were cool with that.

They were running from Europe so they would have the right to serve the God of their choosing and the manner in which they would serve that God. To them, at least in the beginning, the sacrifice was worth it. But that didn’t last long because Spiritual Faith is life altering.

From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage

Now, you have spiritual people who fully believe God has their best interest at heart and that translates into the building of courage.

Not in just this case, but in every case. Once you let God into your life, you begin to feel like you can move mountains. When you trust and have faith, fear seems to melt away.

From Courage to Liberty

This may seem funny but the courage you get from God makes you want to fight. O.K. maybe I didn’t say that right. The courage you get from God makes it impossible for you to allow someone to block your blessings. There, that’s better.

Our founding fathers knew we could not prosper with England at the head of our lives. We had to be a nation that put God first, then country, then family.

So NO! We will not bow to your Queen, we will not allow you to rob our country of it’s chance to be great, and no we will not allow you to dictate the lives of our children and grandchildren. We have God on our side and will fight for what we feel is right.

And that’s what we did. We fought and won our independence, our freedom, and our Liberty.

From Liberty to Abundance

And once you put your faith in God and walk through the fire without fear, you receive your blessing. And can’t we all agree, America has been blessed. We sprouted from a young nation into a world leader in record time.

Industry flourished, businesses developed, and the Economy became the envy and standard of the world. We fought amongst ourselves, defended our friends and allies, and built the strongest military force on the planet. We adjust and change our laws, while still adhering to the basic principles of our Constitution.

But all this comes with a price.

From Abundance to Complacency

Complacency- self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers and deficiencies

I think this came around the time of the Great Depression. The New Deal. The belief started to creep in that we had the money to do anything. People were hurting and wanted immediate help, so they turned to the government and the government answered.

We’re temporarily going to give out Social Security benefits, just to get people by until things get better. We’re going to set up Medicaid and Medicare to help the underprivileged and elderly, who just can’t afford healthcare. These are just temporary steps to get us through these hard times.

When did they end Social Security? They didn’t. No politician is going to advocate taking services from the poor and the old. Plus, now government has a huge money supply from all the taxes they collect for Social Security. Great way to get money from you to borrow against for other Government projects.

As the government continued to grow, so did it’s hold on the mind of the American people.

From Complacency to Apathy

Apathy- lack of interest or concern; indifference

Now, we believe we can not fail. We pushed the Nazi’s back and crushed Russia, what could go wrong? The age of drugs spread through America and people stopped caring. It was better to protest than to put yourself into a position to run for office. It was better to make love than resist the up and coming war in our own backyard, the ever growing size of government.

Then, one morning we awoke and realized Government played a role in every aspect of our life. We pay taxes from the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. They can tell your teenage daughter it’s O.K. to get an abortion without telling a parent. They can even take away your land and cite “eminent domain”.

And we threw our hands up and said “F it”. It’s nothing we can do, the government runs everything. And we stopped listening, we stopped paying attention, and we stopped holding politicians accountable for their actions. We allowed ourselves to be scared of the Government instead of making the Government scared of us.

This is were it gets really scary.

From Apathy to Dependence

This is were we are right now. We were so indifferent and complacent, the first person to come along and promise us the pot at the end of the rainbow, we jumped. This once God loving nation is starting to worship the Government instead.

The same God that gave our forefather’s the strength and courage to fight is being contested at every turn. God teaches us to rely on him and then on ourselves and the Government doesn’t like that. The now enormous Government, needs to keep feeding itself and it needs your complacency to do it.

They need you to not care they are taking over private industry. They need you to look away while the let the printing press run. They need you to worry about Nancy Pelosi, while the Federal Reserve consolidates power. And there’s only one way that could happen, if you are dependent upon them.

If you can’t keep your house without the Government, then you don’t care how they do it. If you can’t eat without the Government, you don’t care where your food comes from. If you can’t see a doctor without the Government, you don’t care how much it will cost future generations.

We have become the nation of ME, Myself, and I and then anyone else that’s poor. They got us right were they want us, completely dependent on the Government to make the economy work, to solve our individual financial woes, and to just give us that tingly feeling.

Guess what the last step is?

From Dependence to back into Bondage

This is what I don’t understand about America today. There was a time in our history where people were given jobs, houses, food, and healthcare. It was called SLAVERY!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Art Of Shaving



I finally figured it out. How to get a good shave without paying some buxom blonde $150.00 to rub her boobs in your nose while she ran a razor across your throat. Here is the recipe. The tools: Shave Gel For Men ($1.00 at The Dollar Tree). Barbasol Shave Cream ($1.25 at Walmart). Gillette Fusion razor (the ones without the battery. Why any man would spend ten minutes a day holding something in his hand that reminded him of his wife/girlfriend's love toy and thus his own inadequacy is beyond me). First, rub the shave gel on your face. Then the shaving cream. It will stick on your face like glue. Next, shave. The gel with the cream will give you an incredibly close shave that is actually pleasant. Your face will feel like a new baby's ass. As an added accoutrement, play old Sinatra songs on your ipod. Enjoy the weekend.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

LA LOGGIA


I have eaten at La Loggia once (on a client's dime). The food was excellent. But I try to avoid the place at all costs. To me, it is nothing more than a place to be seen by the courthouse power elite, to rub elbows with judges and kiss their asses. In other words, a paean to fakery and insincerity, a public display of sycophancy and phoniness that proves the point that the spirit of Eddie Haskell is alive and well in the Miami legal community. I witness the glad-handing on an almost daily basis because I do my filings with the clerk at 12 30 so I do not have to wait in line in the morning. Walking down the courthouse steps on Flagler, there is a daily fixture across the street: Judge Jose Rodriguez, cigar in hand, holding court a la Swifty Lazar at Spago's in Hollywood a generation earlier. Rodriguez has a permanent table where he eats daily. His presence is very public. You cannot walk by the restaurant or go inside without seeing him and, if you are a lawyer, saying hello to him. Now I like Judge Rodriguez. He is a no BS kind of guy. Probably one of the better judges in the building. But there is something odd about a judge placing himself at the center of the lunchtime legal crowd every day. Now one might say that all of this glad-handing is harmless and probably contributes to a certain collegiality among lawyers and judges, no different from the countless bar association functions that one sees in the DBR every week where judges and lawyers are photographed together. Perhaps. But what really struck a chord in my mind was a piece in the DBR this week about Lewis Freeman. I received a call from a good friend who was shocked about Freeman's conduct. Her reaction was along the lines of "another crooked lawyer." And she was right. Freeman, by his own admission, stole $2.6 million. According to his lawyer, the reason for the conduct centered around "lifestyle" issues. That is a polite way of saying that he pilfered money for no reason other than avarice. But what I found fascinating about the article was a quote from Freeman's lawyer. Here is the exact quote from the DBR:
'Josephs said he is particularly sad that Freeman will be remembered for his crime and not the many good things he did for the community. Josephs said he went to La Loggia with Freeman after it became public that he was being investigated. “I gained a lot of respect for this town that I thought I had lost when judges, lawyers and everybody else who had the opportunity to turn their back on him came up and hugged him,” Josephs said. “Everybody else falls every once in awhile.”
Now I am as sympathetic towards people who go astray as anyone and am willing to cut someone a break, but this quote and the scenes it invokes are a little bit troubling. Think about it. You are a judge who appointed Freeman to oversee the misappropriation of very large sums of money. You trusted him to be honest. He violated that trust and did it over and over. About that there is no dispute. So you happen to run into him at La Loggia. What do you do? Tell him he is a disgrace? No. Walk away to avoid a nasty confrontation that he took you for a fool? No. You embrace him and wish him well. Am I missing something here? If I miss a discovery deadline or mis calendar a hearing, I get sanctioned and humiliated in front of my colleagues in open court. But if you are part of the "club" and steal $2.6 million, you are treated no different than if you had a moment of weakness and paid that 23 year old hottie $200 to polish your apple at 2 am in the back seat of your car after you had one too many bourbons. I just don't get it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Alexander Haig, RIP


Alexander Haig, the former Nixon chief of staff, Reagan secretary of state, 1988 presidential candidate, and dapper dresser, died yesterday. He was a four star general who never won a battle outside the corridors of Washington politics. He was to the English language what Phyllis Diller was to women's hairstyles. I remember him well. Right now, assuming his scorecard has more pluses than minuses, God is re-arranging the furniture in heaven to make room for Haig's oversized ego. Haig always fascinated me as an example that someone with average intelligence and judgment could claw his to the highest levels of power for such a long period of time. For conspiracy buffs, Haig offers a gold mine of possibilities. About 20 years ago, Len Colodny authored a book about Watergate, The Silent Coup: The Removal of Richard Nixon, that was bizarre: that Haig, acting on behalf of the Washington/New York political establishment, orchestrated a coup against Nixon so that Nixon could not usher in a new era of Southern and Western dominance of American politics that might last for a generation. In other words, the powers that be wanted to prevent in 1972 what Reagan accomplished in 1980. It is as nutty as it is interesting. The best part of the book was the claim that John Dean organized the break in of the Democratic headquarters not to spy on political opponents but to retrieve incriminating evidence there that his wife, Maureen, was high a priced call girl servicing the Capitol's power brokers. Dean sued Colodny over this claim and the matter was settled out of court. I could not bring myself to believe the main thesis of the book but I could not put it down. Sort of like reading books about the Kennedy assassination: I don't believe there was a conspiracy but it sure is fun reading about the zany characters that littered the political landscape. Haig's second re-incarnation was as Reagan's secretary of state. Here, unfortunately for him and unlike his stint with Nixon, he was always in the public eye. I never understood why Reagan, a modest man who surrounded himself with competent people, would hire an egomaniac like Haig. My first impression of him was that he had a speech problem. He was incapable of uttering a declarative sentence. I thought that his inability to speak coherently disguised an astute mind that comprehended the complexities of international politics and diplomacy. Otherwise, how could he have been Nixon's chief of staff and Reagan's head honcho at State? But I was completely wrong. His speech was a perfect reflection of his mind: cluttered, confused, and banal. He got by the way all underlings in Washington get by: kissing the right asses. Starting with Kissinger on up, he perfected the art. For some strange reason, Nixon was fascinated with Haig. Thought he was tough and Haig did exude the persona of the take no prisoners military personality that played well with a public that was growing sick and tired of watching the US get its ass kicked around the world. Nixon was always impressed with men who appeared strong willed and flamboyant on the surface. Witness his admiration of John Connally and plan to run him for president in 1976 had Watergate not intervened. Rumor has it that it was Nixon's strong recommendation to the Reagan team that got Haig the state job ("the toughest son of a bitch I ever met" was the quote from Nixon which I now take to mean that Nixon only met one son of a bitch in his life). Haig was a disaster at state. The only good thing that can be said of him there is that he dressed well. He took Reagan for a laid back fool who would allow him to single handedly run US foreign policy. That was a huge mistake. His biggest gaffe came the day Reagan was shot and he appeared in public to assure the world: "I am in control here." Caspar Weinberger, the then defense secretary wanted to strangle Haig. Haig was soon fired and replaced by George Schultz who was everything Haig was not. Haig ended his public career by running for president in 1988 or 1996. I cannot remember and it really doesn't matter. All that he did in that campaign is remind the ten people in the country who paid attention to him that Haig had a lot in common with many of the foreign types with whom he interacted: he could never learn to speak proper English.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ethel Waters: Black History Month, Part II


I was wandering around Barnes & Noble this afternoon and on my way home listened to the collection of Ethel Waters songs on my IPod. I had not listened to her music for two years. She recorded most of her music in the 1920's. But what really hit me as I was driving were the lyrics of "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?." Here are they are:

Out in the street, shufflin' feet
Couples passin' two by two
While here am I, left high and dry
Black, and 'cause I'm black I'm blue

Browns and yellers, all have fellers
Gentlemen prefer them light
Wish I could fade, can't make the grade
Nothing but dark days in sight

Cold, empty bed, springs hard as lead
Pains in my head, feel like old Ned
What did I do to be so black and blue?

No joys for me, no company
Even the mouse ran from my house
All my life through I've been so black and blue

I'm white inside, it don't help my case
'Cause I can't hide, what is on my face, oh!

I'm so forlorn, life's just a thorn
My heart is torn, why was I born?
What did I do to be so black and blue?

'Cause you're black, folks think you lack
They laugh at you, and scorn you too
What did I do to be so black and blue?

When you are near, they laugh and sneer
Set you aside and you're denied
What did I do to be so black and blue?

How sad I am, each day I feel worse
My mark of Ham seems to be a curse, oh

How will it end? ain't got a friend
My only sin is my skin
What did I do to be so black and blue?

You can click on the video link above to get the full flavor of the song. The song is a tale of self loathing, sort of the reverse of black pride. But I think it is a perfect reflection of the pre WWII era. African Americans were expected to act like second class citizens in public and private. And I am sure her white audiences loved it as much has she probably hated herself for singing it because she needed the money. I Googled her name and came up with this brief description of her childhood: "Ethel Waters was born to a 12 year old mother, Louise Anderson, who had been raped by a white man, John Waters. Although she was raised by her maternal grandmother, she took her father's surname. Reared in poverty, she left school at the age of 13 in order to support herself through domestic housework." Not exactly a pretty picture. But she persevered as did many black entertainers of the time. And there were many: Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey, and Julie Christy. These were people who came up from the streets. At least one, Billie Holiday, was a former prostitute. And the lives of the others were probably just as difficult and tragic. But the drudgery, poverty, and overt discrimination made them what they are and caused them to produce the music they did. And great music it is. It is really too bad that the great black musicians pre-1960 do not get the recognition they deserve.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Weekend Sports Edition: Black History Month, Part 1


February is Black History Month. It is time for some revisionist history in the sporting arena. More specifically, baseball. Jackie Robinson is held out by the mainstream media as the driving force to integrate baseball in the late 40’s. The hagiography is almost universal and unchallenged. However, the image is distorted and simplistic. If you scratch beneath the surface, what you find is a lot more interesting than what passes for conventional wisdom. Robinson was the first African American to play in major league baseball. Every major league club retired his number 42. I always felt he received a disproportionate amount of credit for bringing integration to baseball. It is probably unavoidable that he did so given the publicity his signing entailed and the laziness of the media in not looking for the deeper story. It is as if Robinson singlehandedly opened the door through which hordes of black baseball players walked and then treated as equals. Such was not the case. Not by a long shot. Jackie Robinson was but the tip of the iceberg. There were thousands of black minor league baseball players who suffered worse indignities than Robinson did while struggling to make it in the big time. Names like Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bill White, Frank Robinson, and Vada Pinson are some of the better known players who cut their teeth in the lower echelons of baseball before making it in the majors. And equally as important were the unknown and not so talented ones who laid the foundation and never made it to the big time. The late David Halberstam, one of the most underrated American authors of all time, lays out the struggle of the black baseball player post Robinson in two books: "The Summer of 1949" and "October, 1964." The former is advertised as a history of the Red Sox/Yankee pennant race of 1949 and the latter a rendition of the 1964 World Series. But anyone familiar with Halberstam's work knows it is always much more than what the title infers. Bill White, the former Yankee first basemen, talks of going to spring training and having to stay in separate hotels in the early 60's. We hear stories about the dangers of playing minor league baseball in small Southern towns in the 1950's. As bad as getting cursed in Philadelphia in 1948, imagine playing in some crackerjack town in Georgia in 1955 and having to walk to the parking lot alone after the game. Not a pretty sight. The upshot is that Robinson may have been the first but he was not the only one who deserves credit for pushing the ball forward. Halberstam brings up another interesting point that shows the free market at work. The Yankees had the best farm system in baseball from the 1930's through the 1950's. Starting in the late 40's, they refused to recruit black players. This decision cost them dearly. Halberstam argues it was the main cause of their decline from 1965 through 1975. Ditto the Red Sox but on a smaller scale as they were never that good to begin with but they had some horrible teams from 1950 up to 1967 and not many black faces in their lineup. Not so the St. Louis Cardinals. They went after Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and Bill White. In 1964, they added Lou Brock. Gibson, a proud man, suffered in silence. He was an angry man and bitter over the way black players were treated. This anger manifested itself in his pitching style. I remember watching him pitch in the mid-60's. He always had a look in his eye that elevated the pitcher/hitter duel to a life and death struggle. Hank Aaron once advised a young hitter on how to handle Gibson: don't crowd the plate because he will knock you down. But don't stand too far either because he will hit the outside corner. If you hit a home run off of him, don't run too fast around the bases because he will give you some chin music next time up. And don't run too slow either. He will hammer you next time because of that too. So here is a salute to the thousands of black players who played professional baseball on all levels in the 1950's and early 60's. They should not be forgotten.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. President(s)


Monday is President's Day. What used to be two paid holidays for government employees is now one. Lincoln and Washington's birthday have been replaced by a generic President's Day. What it means I don't know and really don't care except that I do not have to go to court and there will be less traffic to curse at. Now might be the occasion to examine the most famous presidential birthday party of all time. I always admired JFK. And to a lesser extent Bill Clinton. Anyone who aspires to the most powerful office on earth not to do great things but to use the office as a resume enhancer to corral women into the bedroom gets a big plus in my book. JFK presents an interesting phenomenon in American politics and culture. Some presidents can pull off stunts that would destroy the careers of others. Ronald Reagan was accused of taking long naps every afternoon. He never denied it. In fact, in one of his farewell addresses, he basically admitted it and laughed it off. And the country laughed with him. Clinton was a philanderer and got away with it because everyone with half a brain knew it and factored that into their support of him. Bush I and II could give speeches as if they were talking backwards. Such verbal syntax would make Clinton a laughingstock. And so it goes. But JFK was different. Granted, the press was a little more circumspect back then and much more centralized. The news was filtered through a few large newspapers and three TV networks. And the doyens of journalism loved JFK. But still. Take a look at the above video. Kennedy's brother in law(and pimp to Hollywood whoredom), Peter Lawford, introduces an obviously drugged and drunk Marilyn to sing birthday kudos to the prince of Camelot. Imagine a wasted Madonna or Haile Berry seductively crooning birthday wishes to Obama in a public forum. Ain't gonna happen. But Kennedy pulled it off. And he did it with class and a sense of style that leaves me green with envy. I was not mature enough in 1962 to remember the relationship between the public perception of political leaders and the reality of many of their lives. The TV presidency still had lots of baby fat so the dark side of almost universal exposure had not caught up with the hagiography that it initially spawned with JFK. The great majority of Americans did not believe their political leaders engaged in such shenanigans. JFK led a duplicitous life in an era of noblesse oblige and got away with it. Call it hypocrisy or whatever but the sharp demarcation between the public and private was not a bad thing. Would our country have been better off if Ike had spent the Fall of 1952 deflecting rumors of himself and Kaye Summersby? Or if FDR with Lucy Mercer? I don't think so. Well, the myth of JFK lives on. Wherever you are Jack, you might want to tap God on the shoulder and thank him for the fact that you were born in 1917 and not 1950. Running for president in these times with your baggage would have been one hell of a "profile in courage."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Virtues of Vice





Ever since somewhere around 1975, when the first horde of the counterculture generation began meandering its way into positions of power and influence in American society, diversity (and I mean real diversity)has been on the decline. The result is not healthy. A free society does not prosper and continue to be free by forcing its citizens to adopt a lifestyle that is free from alcohol, tobacco, and great tasting food that happens to have negative side effects. The United States has experienced atavistic bouts of Purtianism and survived to renew its love affair with booze, broads, and well, a good cigar. But the most recent push into dull conformity will not be so benign and comical. What is it about some people that compels them to spend the better part of their adult lives trying to control the animal appetites of their fellow citizens? The paternalistic gene is not restricted to any one political ideology buts spans the spectrum of thought from the right with gays and religion, to the left with its obsessive desire to ban guns, cigarettes, and soon that 16 ounce New York strip steak that I throw on the grill every Saturday night, to the apolitical do gooders who want to turn everyone into an ascetic monk whose diet consists of skim milk, tree bark, and vegetables boiled in distilled water. Well, this way of thinking and philosophy is a crock of manure. I drink. I smoke cigars (at least two a day). I chase women. I eat steak, eggs, baked potatoes, and whatever unhealthy food I can get my hands on. I love all of it. My philosophy is simple: if it was good enough for Winston Churchill, it is good enough for me. End of discussion. A real man is not a real man unless he has at least two vices of which he can be proud. Ditto for a real woman. Life is not fun unless it is dangerous and having fun means knowing when to indulge in those little vices of life and sucking the excitement and pleasure out of them without fatally succumbing to their almost irresistible temptations.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Weekend Sports Edition: When The All Star Game Mattered

Miami has the good fortune of hosting, in the span of eight days, the NFL's most meaningful and meaningless games. The latter of course is the Pro Bowl, an event that is now on par with professional wrestling in the sincerity department. I would not be surprised to see an open bar on the sidelines hosted by Hooters. Perhaps for good measure, we could throw in mulligans for plays that need to be done over for dramatic effect. That the Pro Bowl is a joke is almost universally accepted, or at least should be. All sports all star games are now rigged gimmicks used to promote the product the way commercials are used as props for whatever merchandise is being hawked. In fact, we have reached a point where the tail is now wagging the dog: all star games are no longer competitive events but commercials for the league that is sponsoring them. But, alas, it was not always so. I remember all too well the 1970 baseball all star game. Pete Rose came barreling into home plate where Ray Fosse, the Indian catcher, was waiting for him, ball in glove. Rose ran over him as if he were an 18 wheeler crushing a VW bug at 80 mph. It was not a pretty scene. Rose made no apologies nor should he have. The thinking was if you are not going to play the game to win, why bother showing up. Say what you want about Rose. I would be the first to say that he was one of the biggest jerks ever to play professional sports and that covers a lot of territory. But he had a drive that is all too rare in today's athletes. In fact, the so called all star game is symbolic of what ails all professional sports: the pampered athlete who no longer has to worry about danger. In 1967, I believe Red Auerbach was ejected from the all star game for arguing with the refs. Imagine that happening today!