Thursday, June 28, 2007

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

It occurred to me today that two weeks have passed since I took The Sole Heir to see the US Open. It was part of a long Fathers Day weekend: the Open on Thursday, nine holes of golf on Friday, with my dad riding in the cart over the course he taught me to play on, watching his granddaughter play golf for the first time. Thirty-six holes of miniature golf on Saturday, then home to watch the final round of the Open.

I wish I was as smart every day as I was the day I thought up that weekend. It was four days of multi-level bonding, including my mother teaching the Crazy Like Correspondent the secrets of homemade Syrian Bread. They may not sound like much, but by Sunday evening they had acquired an almost surreal glow, events far enough removed from normal activities to seem like they’d happened to someone else.

The cool part is that they didn’t. We spent eleven-and-a-half hours walking the Oakmont Country Club, watching the world’s finest golfers, talking about golf, and whatever else came to mind. Not a harsh word, none of the strained good humor that comes from a sixteen-year-old feeling dragged around by her old man, or the old man resenting the kid for hurrying him. When we left the course for the gift shop at 7:45, we both agreed we’d have stayed if there was any more golf to be seen.

It was the best vacation I’ve had since out last car trip to Colorado in 2005. In some ways it was even better. Opportunities like this don’t come up every day; yours probably won’t include a golf tournament. Stay alert for them. They won’t hit you over the head, and they aren’t the kinds of things you’ll miss if you don’t do them. Only after they’re done will you appreciate what was gained by making the effort.

One last thing: Don’t wait until the kids are sixteen before thinking of cool stuff. Kids know when you’re doing something because you think you should, maybe when you finally realize time is running out on how long they’ll remain kids. Don’t kid yourself; no matter how old they are, the time is running out now. Start today. Expose your kids to things that give you satisfaction. They won’t grab onto all of them. They might not get any of them. But they’ll understand and appreciate the effort if they know it’s sincere, and that’s all that really matters. Parents who doesn’t get as much from their children as the kids get from the parent shouldn’t be parents.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Inside Football (Inside a Cell, that Is)

Norman Chad is best known for providing the “expert” commentary on ESPN’s poker broadcasts. He also writes a weekly sports column that never fails to amuse. The end of each column are Chad’s (aka Couch Slouch) replies to readers’ emails. Particularly worthy emails win a prize of $1.25, paid by The Slouch’s secretary, Shirley.

The following is yesterday’s email exchange. It doesn’t get any better than this

Ask The Slouch (Special Bengals edition)

Q. If Bengals owner Mike Brown spotted one of his players on "America's Most Wanted" and subsequently gave information as to his whereabouts, would his reward money be subject to the NFL's revenue-sharing agreement?

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. When is the Bengals organization going to get with the times and change the stripes on their Bengal Tiger logo to white and black?

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Will the Bengals have to go to no-huddle next season so their players can avoid associating with known felons?

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Would it kill Pacman Jones to make it a Blockbuster night every once in a while?

A. Pay the man, Shirley. (I consider Pacman Jones an "honorary Bengal.")

Slouch Rules!

Inside Baseball

Craze likes it when I teach her little things about sports that deepen her appreciation of the game we’re watching. This conversation took place Sunday night, when ESPN gave us a shot of Gary Sheffield in the on-deck circle.

Me: There’s just one thing that keeps Sheffield from being the biggest asshole in baseball.

Craze (perking up): What’s that?

Me: Barry Bonds

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Door Closes, a Door Opens

North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong was suspended by a judge today, after indicating he planned to continue in office until July 13, even after being disbarred for his leading role in the Duke lacrosse team rape that wasn’t. Mr. Nifong needn’t worry about paying the bills. The Justice Department has lots of openings for which he is uniquely qualified, as prosecuting nonexistent cases is not only not considered unethical at DoJ, it’s encouraged.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Last Word on The Sopranos

Still think the last episode had a downer of an ending? See what Emmy Award-winning writer Ken Levine has to say here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dramatis Interruptus

Possibly the greatest accomplishment of The Sopranos was David Chase’s willingness not to explain. Tony, Carmela, et al, did what they did without apology or justification from the writer. Loose ends were sometimes left to dangle, or had less than satisfactory explanations. Surprises were deftly balanced with anticlimax. (Remember the feds taking several episodes to wire a lamp in Tony’s basement for eavesdropping purposes, only to have Meadow immediately and unsuspectingly take said lamp for her dorm room?)

Life is like that, and The Sopranos, more than any other entertaining show, reflected life, through the admittedly warped prism of Tony Soprano. Anyone who watched all eighty-six episodes learned to take the characters as the sum of their parts, as though they were real people. Chase rarely took us where we expected to go; when he did, it was via the road less traveled. Not always wholly satisfying, but, as Brian Williams noted in Slate, “the journey is the reward.”

The ending of the last episode was a disappointment because there’s a difference between feeling let down and feeling cheated. An audience has the right to expect that tension, once raised, will be resolved in some manner. Chase spent the last several minutes of Sunday’s finale building tension as well as anyone ever has; the Crazy Like Me Correspondent said her stomach hurt, watching the comings and goings in the diner, Meadow parking the car, Tony’s innocent banter with AJ.

I’ve read over a dozen articles deconstructing the ending, and I’m willing to admit Tony has probably gone to that great pork store in the sky. Flashing to him with Bobby on the boat, “maybe you never hear it,” seems more satisfying a set-up than expecting the entire audience to analyze rock lyrics they may be unfamiliar with to figure the ending. Still, in real time, it was a let down, like hearing the doorbell ring when on the verge of an orgasm.

A more satisfying ending might have been to end the show a week earlier, with Tony sitting in Uncle Junior’s bed holding his AR-10, looking at the door, awaiting his destiny. That was the nadir of the season, and of the series; nothing in the final episode is as bleak.

The pundits are talking me into it, though. As Craze said a few minutes ago, if Tony had to go, better like this than to see him a bloody mess. He went out happy: Phil defeated, Carmela happy, Meadow’s prospects bright, and AJ a whiny douche bag, which is about as much as anyone can hope for from AJ. The end came as fast for us as for him; maybe that’s Chase’s last life lesson. Malicious prick (his words) that he was, no one really wanted to see Tony die.

Maybe it was brilliant after all; it sure was a disappointment when it happened.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

You CAN Keep a Good Man Down

The public is, by nature, lazy. Humans (as a species; there are exceptions) don’t want to think any more than they have to, and only about things they want to think about. The topic’s importance is irrelevant; we want a hook to make it easy to remember which is which.

Entertainment provides a trivial example. A fellow writer, whose opinion I respect greatly, has asked me more than once what my fictional detective’s gimmick is. That’s what marketing people are looking for. The public doesn’t have time to distinguish whether the book’s good. What makes the protagonist memorable? Is he an alcoholic? A cripple? Blind? Deaf? Gay? Maybe some mental disorder that makes things difficult, but not impossible. Bipolar disorder, perhaps. PTSD is timely. Think of the heartwarming reviews that could be written if our intrepid detective overcomes his agoraphobia to find the killer on the National Mall during the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

The mainstream media love this. The public’s inability to focus on anything too complex that doesn’t involve slot receivers, blitzes, or Cover Two feeds into a growing media trend: laziness. Reporters used to investigate cases like Watergate and Love Canal; now they’ll take pretty much what’s given to them.

The current Presidential campaign is a good example. Debates are televised more often than Law and Order (if you leave out cable reruns of Criminal Intent). A perfect chance to offer fair and balanced (oops) reporting on all the candidates, possibly allowing one of the so-called second-tier hopefuls a chance to break out of the pack.

No, that would require actually keeping track of them. Better to ride two or three obvious choices and say the rest have no real chance. The best part for the media is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t mention Chris Dodd in the same breath as Hillary, Barack, and Edwards, and people will think he’s not as important. That will keep his poll number low, which will justify calling him a second-tier (read: second-rate) candidate.

There can be no other reason for Joe Biden’s inability to get traction. Sure, he tends to talk too much. He’s also the only candidate who is willing to not only tell you what he wants to do, but how he’s going to do it. Everyone else just says Iraq isn’t their fault. Their plans for getting the troops home have no more substance than Dubya’s. Biden has a plan; has for some time. No one pays it, or him, much mind, because he’s a second-tier candidate.

Why is he second-tier? All he does is good work. He’s been a distinguished senator for going on thirty years. He’s often mentioned as a potential Secretary of State. But he has no hook. He’s not an alcoholic/cripple/gay/bipolar/amputee veteran. He just blends into the background.

Look at the front-runners. Obama’s black. (Sort of.) Hillary’s a woman. (Sort of.) Edwards’s wife has cancer, for Christ’s sake. Can’t get much more distinguishing than that, unless he gets cancer himself, which would disqualify him for health reasons. (Edwards also has nicer hair than anyone has a right to. You get what you pay for.)

The same thing happened in Tuesday’s Republic party debate. Wednesday’s Washington Post coverage spent about six paragraphs on the actual debate, then digressed into an analysis of Fred Thompson’s concurrent web event, and Thompson’s not even a candidate! (Yet.) But he’s easy to get reader traction on, because he’s the lovable, gruff District Attorney on the aforementioned Law and Order. It doesn’t matter who he is or what he says; he has a distinguishing characteristic.

So Joe Biden toils in the fields of the second tier of candidates. He’ll probably be out of the race after the New Hampshire primary. So it goes. Until then, he’s my guy, the best-qualified man for the job, in both expertise and personal conduct. Chris Dodd is also probably a better choice than any of the Big Three. If only anyone took the time to find out.

The Coolest Thing in Sports

Hockey’s Stanley Cup playoffs ended last night with the Anaheim Ducks’ 6-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The event was largely ignored by most of this country. Even many sports fans will read this, scratch their heads, and say, “They’re still playing hockey in June?”

Yes, they are, and yes, that’s way too late in the year to be playing hockey. The NHL’s weaknesses as a sports league have been discussed here before, and will be again. Today we’re to bring attention to what the demographic mentioned above missed.

Hockey is, by far, the roughest major sport. (Football isn’t rough; it’s violent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Players crash each other into the boards and glass and hit each other with sticks barely a generation removed from their roots as weapons. Anaheim’s Chris Pronger was suspended twice during this year’s playoffs for exceeding even hockey’s loose definition of “unnecessary roughness.” Still, after last night’s game ended the series, both teams lined up and shook hands with everyone on the other team. This required the defeated Senators to wait patiently on the ice while Anaheim rejoiced in their victory, the celebration of which was cut short so the Ottawa players didn’t have to wait an unseemly amount of time.

Then they brought out the Cup. Unlike other major sports, hockey’s ultimate reward isn’t presented to some jock-sniffing owner in the locker room so disinterested observers three thousand miles away can watch while those who laid out big dough to actually be there get locked out of the moment. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (a weasel-faced ferret if there ever was one) hands the cup to the captain of the winning team, who hoists it over his head for the crowd to admire as he skates around the ice. Then he hands it off to another player, then another and another, until everyone with a hand in the victory has had their hands on the Cup.

The expressions on their faces are indescribable. Certain Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne was so overcome he couldn’t speak to NBC’s Pierre Maguire. Maguire, a hockey man all his life, did one of the classiest things I’ve ever seen on television. He threw it back to the booth until Selanne collected himself enough to speak. (Granted, the class bar for television is set pretty low. Still, imagine a local news reporter granting that reprieve to someone watching his house burn down with his family trapped inside.)

One last endearing idiosyncrasy remains. Each player and coach on the winning team gets to own the Cup. It goes wherever he wants it. Scott Neidermayer, after winning the Cup as a New Jersey Devil, chartered a plane to fly him to a mountain in British Columbia for a photograph of him holding the Cup aloft, backlit by the rising sun. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur gathered his childhood friends and played street hockey for the privilege of the winning team hoisting the Cup, Walter Mitty come to life.

The Cup’s visits aren’t always so glorious. It’s been at the bottom of Mario Lemieux’s swimming pool. Mark Messier forgot it in a strip joint. (Permanent attendants have since been hired to accompany the Cup. That doesn’t mean it will never see another strip joint; it just won’t have to spend the night.)

Hockey’s hard to watch on television, although large screen HDTVs help immensely. (That’s why I bought mine in time for the playoffs, and it was worth every cent.) It’s still worth watching, for the intensity of the competition and the sportsmanship and tradition each player carries with him. Are there cheap shots and fights? Sure. In the end, it’s rarely taken personally. That’s why Scott Niedermayer and Daniel Alfredsson embraced last night after an ugly incident on Monday. Niedermayer knows that whatever else happens in his hockey career and after, his name will always be on the Stanley Cup. And there’s nothing cooler than that.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


George W. Bush says he doesn’t read newspapers. (“Doesn’t?” Or “can’t?”) Maybe someone should read this editorial from today’s Washington Post, although I doubt he’d see the relevance to his current situation. Maybe his father could explain it to him.

A Note on D-Day
Washington Post 6 June 2007

WE DON'T always take notice of this day on the editorial pages, and every time we fail to do so we hear about it from people who have the date -- June 6, 1944 -- burned into their memories and who believe that what Americans and their allies did on D-Day must never be forgotten. They're right, of course, and in these times it seems particularly appropriate to recall one act that would serve today's leaders in every branch of government as lesson and example.

On the day before the invasion of France, the supreme allied commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, wrote a note to be read in the event of the mission's failure and put it in his wallet. It said simply, "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

That note is, of course, familiar to those of the generation that best remembers D-Day and World War II. But it is about more than warfare; it speaks to the responsibility of all who would order the affairs of others, then and now.
Eisenhower wasn't the ultimate source of authority on D-Day; he served two presidents during the war, the latter of whom, Harry S. Truman, had that sign on his desk that read, "The Buck Stops Here." But Eisenhower knew what a burden the five stars on his shoulders were -- that it was he who was in charge of planning the operation, he who was entrusted with it and he who was sending thousands of men to fight and die. He knew that it was to them that he was ultimately accountable and to them and their families that his loyalty -- today a word casually and often carelessly used -- was owed.

We were pleased to see, from the Internet, that Eisenhower's brief note of June 1944 is now part of lesson plans offered for many students. It would be a good lesson for their elders as well, some of whom might even want to put it in their wallets.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Appreciating Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan resigned from her position as America’s Conscience this week, moving back to California to try to rebuild the rest of her life. While her resignation posting to DailyKos was somewhat melodramatic, let’s not underestimate Ms. Sheehan’s contribution to the Iraq war debate, as well as to political discourse in this country generally.

Cindy Sheehan will always be linked to another larger than life female – Hurricane Katrina – for exposing George W. Bush’s hollow and morally corrupt infrastructure. Flying over, rather than into, New Orleans after Katrina was callous enough. Dubya’s dismissal of Ms. Sheehan’s protest put a human face on it.

Imagine a single president in our lifetime who would refuse to at least console a Gold Star Mother in that situation. Even if nothing changed, basic human sympathy would have gotten some face time and a kind word to a mother willing to go to the lengths Ms. Sheehan went to. Picture Eisenhower, a military man himself. Kennedy. Even Johnson, ruthless prick that he was, would have had coffee with her and been moved by her suffering.

Does anyone think Bush Forty-One would spurn such an opportunity to show his understanding for the human side of the equation? Remember, right or wrong, he was the man who stopped the massacre on Highway 1 in the first Iraq war, saying it was no longer war, but murder. (Colin Powell might have actually uttered the words; considering Bush’s immediate action, it’s safe to say he concurred.)

Hardliners will dismiss all of the above examples. Here’s one they can’t get past: Ronald Reagan. Does anyone think for a nanosecond that the Great Communicator and National Empathizer wouldn’t have had the Secret Service bring Ms. Sheehan in for a meeting? Any chance a hug wouldn’t have taken place? I never thought much of Reagan as president, but I will stipulate to his humanity in one-on-one situations. There’s too much evidence of it. The overrated luster of Reagan’s presidency continues to be burnished by the disaster that is Bush’s.

As I noted in this blog in the aftermath of Katrina, George W. Bush isn’t just a bad president; he’s a bad person. His entire presidency has been built upon a base of pandering to the lowest qualities in all of us: fear, uncertainty, and playing one group off against the other to achieve short-term goals, damn the long-term consequences.

Cindy Sheehan has sacrificed more than anyone should have to for such an ill-conceived and mismanaged debacle. She could have cut her losses when Bush snuck her son back through Dover Air Force Base. She felt a duty to call attention to the bigger picture, sacrificing her marriage and personal well-being to draw attention to the thousands of individual sacrifices that are too easily lumped into the monolithic number that is the cumulative death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan. (3,475 as of this writing.) One may disagree with her methods, but her willingness to show the courage of her convictions cannot be denied. For that, and for her role in exposing George W. Bush as the duplicitous, rights-usurping megalomaniac he is, she is once again owed the thanks of a grateful nation.