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Archives for January 2015

The big game

Unless you have been living on Venus or under a rock, you know that today (Feb. 1) is Super Bowl Sunday, and the Seahawks of Seattle face the New England Patriots in Glendale, that gleaming sports Mecca west of Phoenix.

If you are going and have one of the cheap seats, you paid $6,500 for the ticket.

The winners of today’s game will be paid $97k, the losers get $49k. Both teams earned $68k for winning two playoff games on the way to the big time. Bloomberg magazine points out that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is taking a pay cut for the superbowl. During the regular season, Brady is paid $925k per game, which over three games — today’s game plus two playoff contests — would amount to a bit less than $2.8 million. As it is, if the Pats win, Brady will pocket only a bit more than $1.6 million.

Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seahawks, earned a paltry $51k per game this season. So his superbowl payoff will be comparatively fat.

Still, you have to wonder if the risk is truly commensurate with the pay, or whether any amount of money is worth it. The game, particularly the professional game, is at a crossroads. In the early 20the century, the high school and colleges came under fire because players were dying — 18 in 1904. President Roosevelt told those in charge to reform it or he would shut it down. They got rid of the flying wedge among other things. Today football, including the high school and collegiate levels, faces perhaps a greater challenge because the solution is not quite as apparent. This video, pieced together from the web photos and therefore heavily pixelated, illustrates the problem better than words (music by Joshua Bell, theme from the movie Ladies in Lavender):






‘The most trusted name in lying’

We are impressed with the WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN.

While not exactly made in heaven, it seems a good match — Waste Management, Phoenix and golf. For the record, it should be noted that we have eschewed references to garbage players, crappy players, and quotes such as this from TS Eliot’s Wasteland:

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

What’s more we also reject the view of some that Phoenix is the epicenter of waste. I, for one, would never support such a notion because Phoenicians are frightening: Of the 30 legislative districts in Arizona, 17 lie mostly within the over-heated confines of Maricopa County; Maricopa voters elect the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and the superintendent of public instruction and just about any right-wing dicey ducey that comes along. It is therefore unwise to talk trash about the capital city or to even hint that it is a city of garbage. If you dare to step out of line, the Legislature and/or the executive will kick you in the Rio Nuevo and beat hell out of your Hispanic studies course. And they will be nasty sonsabitches going about it.

Jim Cook used to think the rivalry was funny, and he did what he could to keep it frothy like “Half a Sack of Cats,” which is the title of his memoir. Cook was known far and wide in this state as “The Official State Liar of Arizona.

He was a terrific reporter and spent his career with The Arizona Republic before he retired.

Jim was the official state liar. He created the “Journal of Prevarication,” the official publication of the Wickenburg Institute for Factual Diversity. The Journal, of course, was “the most trusted name in lying.”

Cook’s wit and talent was pretty much beyond any Arizona journalists before or since his time.

If you have not read Cook, you’re in for a treat. Read his journal here. His memoir — the full title is “Half a Sack of Cats: Jim Cook’s Version of His Raffish Youth — is available from Amazon here. He died three years ago.

American irony

June Martin asked me to write about the Clint Eastwood movie, “American Sniper.” As she constitutes about 20 percent of my readership, I’m happy to do so.

I have not seen the movie. Some contend a sniper is a coward, killing people far away. Others contend the sniper is a hero. Some, like this Dallas Morning News editorial, which appeared in the Star, strike a wholly irrelevant note, to wit:

We can go and see the story of Chris Kyle on film. We can read his book. We can watch interviews of him on the Internet. We can study facts about his claims. We can try to piece together what’s real and what isn’t.

We can never know Chris Kyle.

All those who want to know the real Chris Kyle (the American sniper) raise your hands.

I am struck by ironies. First, is the man with no name. This is early Eastwood, smoking a cheroot, serape-poncho draped over his shoulders,Unknown-1 a week’s stubble on his face, facing a very bad man, mano a mano. Bang, he’s dead, the spaghetti Western. The duel is done. Juxtapose this with the well-hidden hero who shoots from long distance, mano a telescopic sight.

Second, there is the war hero fighting a war started by men who chose not to fight for their country. Bush and Cheney found ways to avoid Southeast Asia. Cheney said he was too busy.

There’s also the sniper who fought to protect us from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and to export democracy to a country that had no stomach for it or inclination to embrace it. Indeed, we did not export anything but sowed plenty of hate.

Fourth is the irony of a purposeless war fought to avenge an act of war perpetrated by mostly Saudis but directed at Iraq.

Fifth is the war that sought to protect our democracy succeeded in robbing Americans of what once were cherished rights and freedoms and employing torture techniques worthy only of totalitarian regimes.

The greatest irony is that the legacy of the Iraq war is coated so thickly in layers of patriotism that it obscures what the Bush-Cheney years did to this nation. The controversy over “American Sniper” shows that even today, more than 11 years after George W. Bush proclaimed “mission accomplished,” the Iraq war haunts the soldiers that fought as well as their families. And if you question the Iraq war, and you still risk being labeled a traitor; part of that irony is that Kyle did only what his country asked of him, but it was the asking that created the wrong.





Black Orpheus, 56 years later

Last year about this time, I was reading the liner notes to Luiz Bonfá’s “Alone in Rio” album. It is a Smithsonian recording and well-worth a listen particularly for “Manhã de Carnival.” I had forgotten that the song was introduced to the world in the movie “Black Orpheus,” and was amazed the French director Marcel Camus wanted to cut it. Bonfá pleaded to keep it and won the argument.

I remembered seeing the movie a year or two after it was made in 1959. It had won the best foreign film Oscar and was the best at Cannes. Netflix has it in its DVD catalog, and I watched it. It’s astonishing how good it is. The direction is superb and the acting just right. There were three shots in which the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, the great icon of Rio, can be seen in the far background. Most of the favela scenes show everything in focus, which is also how “Citizen Kane” was filmed.

Orpheus was played by a handsome Brazilian soccer star Breno Mello.Breno_Mello_(screenshot_from_Black_Orpheus)[1]

A lovely dancer from Pittsburgh, Marpessa Dawn, played Eurydice.main_936full-black-orpheus-screenshot

It is a sad story, but romantic and the incredible color and energy of the movie is outstanding.

I watched it again just last week. Edie hadn’t seen it. It holds up wonderfully more than a half century after it was made.

I wondered after seeing the movie last year what Pauline Kael thought about it. Turns out, she did not review it — before her time, I expect. But it was reviewed in the The New Yorker. It was by John McCarten. Here in its entirety is that idiot review as it appeared in the magazine’s January 2, 1960 edition:

“Black Orpheus,” a French film made in Brazil under the direction of Marcel Camus, swirls colorfully, if erratically, through the ancient tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. As you remember, Orpheus went down to Hades to rescue his beloved; in this version, with a dancer named Marpessa Dawn playing a Negro Eurydice, and a Brazilian football star named Breno Mello playing a Negro Orpheus, we have endless shots of a Rio de Janeiro Mardi Gras while the legend is enacted, and a plethora of racketing from the assembled merrymakers. But the acting is overblown, and the whole business is too disheveled to make much sense. Let’s put this down as an experiment noble in motive.         


Good to go? I think not

I am very tired. I am particularly tired of “good to go.” The phrase, not the alleged condition. It is among the words and phrases I seriously unlike. The list waxes and wanes. Certain phrases have been supplanted by others.  “Poster boy” seems to have faded into obscurity joining “shit happens” “23 skiddoo” and “Duesy (doozy)” laying fallow among many others.

“Good to go” should go in the bin. If anything, I’d prefer “hot to trot.” It, at least, has a rhyme although some might argue (persuasively) that it contains a risqué element that seems to have been spawned in the frat houses of the ’60s and ’70s. If “good to go” were gone, I would be a “happy camper,” which is another Econo-Lodge phrase that happily has worked its way into the bin.

I am, as a rule, against capital punishment. But in the case of “Your call is important to us,” I believe execution is appropriate. I would give it the needle in a New York minute, which is ’70s-speak for “quick like a fox.” In any event, I say, Death to the Lie! ¡No pasarán! I say let it die and let us relegate this soulless lie to the flames of hell and eternal damnation.

I am also tired of “pre-owned”? It used to be that the perfectly respectable word “used” was applied articles offered second-hand, particularly in reference to automobiles. Car dealers, I would guess, worked diligently to remove the phrase “used cars” from popular use because of the low status of used car salesmen, who are today, presumably, salesmen (and women) of “pre-owned vehicles” and therefore command more respect from consumers.

Even the word “sale” is no longer used in the auto industry’s erstwhile effort to sell vehicles, aka cars and trucks. Auto makers no longer hold Labor Day sales of cars. They are “events.” The Labor Day event is actually a Labor Day sale in disguise, and one is well-advised to hurry to one’s nearest dealer to take full advantage of the EVENT. I do not think anyone has mistaken the “event” for anything like the 100-yard dash, which has sadly morphed into the 100-meter dash, a depressing sign that Europe and the Euro seek world domination.

It seems that on the positive side of the ledger, “enhance” and “robust” also are fading from the American lexicon. I hope this is so. I have been so vigorously enhanced and robusted that my narrative ear cries repent at the very mention of these two sinfully shabby words.

Conversely, I advocate the return of the ’60s expression “far out.” One may add, “man” to the phrase or, if one is old enough, the word, “daddy-o to inject a ‘’50s flavor.

Which brings me to the “60 Minutes” interview of House Speaker John Boehner (of our political existence) and Senate Majority Menace Mitch McConnell. This was broadcast last Sunday, January 25.

Both these grand hacks of the Grand Old Party acknowledged that the congressional approval amongst Americans is 15 percent. That is, 85 percent of Americans think Congress is substantially less than adequate in the performance. Thus, being a member of Congress is a few stitches below being a salesman of pre-owned vehicles. The 113th Congress (2013-2015) earned a reputation as the most unproductive in history. And while they mumbled suitable sound bites to the contrary, the two leaders are ill-disposed toward change or anything that smacks of President Obama.

The sitting 114th Congress is composed of 301 Republican members, 247 in the House and 54 in the Senate. As a group, it’s paid more than $52.4 million to attend to the nation’s legislative needs, of which there appears to be little. Seems like a lotta dough. In fact, one could say (apologies to Winston Churchill), that never in the history of the republic have so many paid so much to so few to do so little.

Far out, man.

Shit happens.



King’s letter

As the Star’s editorial page today made no mention of Martin Luther King, we thought it might be nice to show that this wasn’t always the case. This editorial, which carried the headline above, appeared January 15, 2001.

In the spring of 1963 Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement were at a low ebb. King had attracted much opposition from mainstream America. Most of the nation’s newspapers, civil authorities and even clergy urged the determined civil rights leader not to violate a court-ordered injunction against a march in Birmingham, Ala. King’s critics called for calm and restraint. King’s decision to defy the injunction demonstrated his great courage and resulted in the classic defense of civil disobedience: Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

King faced opposition to the court order not only from the world at large, but also from his closest allies and his father. On the eve of the march, he asked the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy to join in the protest, which assuredly would result in their arrest and yet more scorn from the world at large. Abernathy asked King to obey the injunction, according to the account in Taylor Branch’s seminal work, “Parting the Waters.” Branch’s book also relates the conversation between father and son:

“King replied firmly that he had to march. ‘If we obey this injunction, we are out of business,’ he said.

“Daddy King sagged visibly and shifted in his seat, as though pawing the floor. ‘Well, you didn’t get this nonviolence from me,’ he said. ‘You must have got it from your mama.’

” ‘I have to go,’ King repeated softly. ‘I am going to march if I have to march by myself.’ ”

Abernathy finally consented, saying he had to find a replacement minister for his congregation’s Easter services. As expected, the marchers were arrested.

Once in jail, King was struck by a newspaper story that reported local clergymen were critical of the civil rights leader’s defiance of the law. King began to scribble a reply, first starting in the margins of the story, then jumping to other spots in the paper where there was room to write.

King’s letter explained that he could only obey just laws, and he explained that unjust laws must be disobeyed. He also argued forcefully that the civil rights movement was troubled less by the Ku Klux Klan than from white moderates, who urged patience and caution.

King explained that he hadn’t the patience and could not wait. “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, ‘Wait,’ ” he wrote. Then follows a 310-word sentence that stands as a monument to the need for social justice and equality, eloquently describing why King was moved to action:

“But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘colored’; when your first name becomes ‘nigger,’ your middle name becomes ‘boy’ (however old you are) and your last name becomes ‘John,’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’ then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

The nation has made great progress since this letter was written. But the hearings in Florida on the rejection of African-Americans at the polls are a stark reminder – on this day that we honor Martin Luther King – that his struggle is far from finished, that a thinly veiled residue of racism still clings to the nation’s social fabric, and the struggle for equality and social justice continues.