Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Goliath is Dead, But Saul Is Still King of Israel

Just to complete the metaphor . . . after defeating Goliath, David-son won the hearts of the people, which made King Saul (a/k/a "Basketball U") suspicious. Although David-son was beloved of Saul's son, Jonathan (a/k/a ???), Jonathan failed to warn David-son of Saul's plan to defeat him by two points in the regional final.

That's not how the story is supposed to end!!!

Btw, I hate to say this, but it turns out that Davidson is not the George Mason of this year. George Mason actually went to the Final Four. Davidson is more like the Kent State of this year (Kent State went to the Elite Eight in . . . 2002(?)). But Kent State and George Mason are both enormous state universities yadda yadda.

Seriously, it was a historic run by a bunch of scrappy guys . . . who seemed on the receiving end of a lot of non-calls in that regional final game. I mean, that one 'cat almost blinded one of the Jayhawks with a finger poke to the eye--and no call!.

But you can't beat the Evil Empire. Except in fairy tales. It was fun while it lasted.

Virtual Roger Clemens Is a Headhunter

At Nationals Park last night, we spent a fair amount of time walking around the stadium, checking it out. One advantage of building a state-of-the-art baseball stadium on the Anacostia riverfront in DC was that there was a lot of land available. So the stadium is actually huge. There's an enormous section behind the centerfield scoreboard for families, including a playground and virtual reality pitching and hitting cages.

I'm not sure "virtual reality" is the right term here, because the balls are real. The batting cages allow you to face a big-league pitcher, who appears on the screen (my guess is that it's less than sixty feet six inches away). The pitcher winds up and throws--and the ball looks like it comes out of the screen, off the pitcher's hand. It's an amazing optical effect. The ball actually comes through a hole in the screen, but the hole is pretty well camouflaged. So it gives the effect of facing a big-league pitcher (without the 90-plus MPH fastball). We had to watch for awhile just because it was so cool.

But don't go up against virtual Roger Clemens. He was throwing at one kid last night and plunked him once. Apparently, the balls aren't real baseballs, because the kid didn't writhe around in pain afterwards. Or, maybe they should adjust the pitching machine.

The pitching simulation is similar--you throw the baseball at a screen, and the hitter (of your choice) swings at strikes. The screen clocks your pitches, too. I really wanted to face David Justice circa 1995, but they didn't have that program for some reason.

Also, the new ballpark has good food selections (including Ben's Chili Bowl), many kinds of beer (including good draft beer), and liquor. In the upper deck, no less.

One of the features I really liked was "the Red Porch" in the center field bleachers area (or, where the bleachers would normally be). This is kind of like low-rent club seating. There's a restaurant for the section, and the seats are padded. They also afford an excellent view of the field (think bleachers at the Jake, but padded! padded seat backs!). I know because we snuck down there after the seventh inning and watched the end of the game. I don't know how much these cost, but they would be pretty attractive for a night game (I would be reluctant to sit there for a day game--the sun would burn you up alive).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Must Be My Birthday?

No, it's not. But what a great day it was. Woke up early, drove to the mountains for a hike on the AT. On the way, called and asked if I wanted tix for the Nationals exhibition game at the new stadium. Said yes, of course. And still got in a three hour hike, north of Snickers Gap. (Snicker snicker.)

Here are some pix from Nationals Park. I wonder how long before we get a corporate naming rights sale? It's a nice park--a lot like Jacobs Field.

Even NPR Is in the Sack for Davidson

Glad that TMcD is having a nice tournament. But I'm sick and tired, I tell ya, of hearing that "tiny" Davidson is "the smallest school in Div. I."

Shit, people, this ain't Hoosiers. It's not like Davidson recruits its b-ball team from the student body or something. They recruit the same way other Div. I basketball programs do--with scholarships, facilities, etc. This is a university that had the cash to send students to the game last night on its dime.

To be clear, I'm sure that the academic standards are more rigorous than at some Div. I schools, and here I'm looking at Kentucky. (Oh, I said it.) Oh, and Davidson might not provide prospective high school recruits with "willing" co-ed action on their visits to campus. (Or it might--college basketball is almost a completely amoral enterprise. That's what I learned from He Got Game. But I doubt Davidson is Miami or anything.) But this is a Div. I program, regardless of the size of the student body.

I mean, this is a team that includes the son of a NBA player. And, guess what? He's the star of the team. It's not like these are five scrappy kids who started out playing in an intramural team, thought it might be fun to buy uniforms, then they enter this "tournament" thing, and beat Goliath. Oh, hell, it might be and I'm just still angry they beat the Hoyas.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Dance Goes Davids-On

I thought I'd try to beat #3 to the punch this time in getting my Davidson post out. Man, Davidson just DESTROYED Wisconsin tonight 73-56. Total humiliation. Another big night for Stephen Curry too, with 33 points against the famed Badger defense. In the second half, he outscored their entire team, 22-20. I had a good feeling early on when it became clear that the Cats were trying to win with defense, fouling hard to prevent Wisconsin from getting easy baskets that might give them a sense of momentum.

I'm celebrating now. Sunday's game against Kansas will be a little tougher. Maybe Villanova can help us out tonight?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Been Running with My Head Down

Under sniper fire lately. There's a lot of that here in D.C. (even with the gun ban!). Remember that thing a couple years ago?

Oh, there's not a lot of sniper fire here? And everyone sees me just strolling down the street, with my head up? Well, I misspoke, I guess. I'm sleep deprived.

Could this thing get worse? I fear so.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cinderella Sunday!

Goliath falls to David-son. After this Easter resurrection, I guess now we know that God really does prefer Presbyterians to Jesuits. With both my alma maters in the hunt this year, I had good hopes of getting a Sweet 16. But when overrated 4-seed Vandy choked hard in the opening round against the Siena (where is that?) Saints, and Davidson went down early by 17 today, all looked dark.

We were on the road back from Chattanooga when the miracle happened, so I managed to miss something that will probably never happen again for the smallest school (1600 students) in Division I sports. Davidson made the soccer final four a couple of years after I graduated, but this is a little bigger. True, the Cats had a 22 game win streak and were ranked #23 in the AP going into post-season. Bizarrely, they were ranked at the start of the year too but slipped after close early losses to UNC, Duke, and UCLA. Still, the Sweet 16 looked like a long shot after a #10 seed and early games against Gonzaga and G'town. Stephen Curry is a remarkable player, with 70 points in the first two rounds. I watched his dad play for the Hornets for years, and he had one of the prettiest shots I've ever seen. Sounds like Stephen does too--be nice if they actually put the Davidson-Wisconsin game on TV here so I could see for myself.

Not Yet?

No Davidson defeats Georgetown to break into the Sweet Sixteen post up here yet? I guess the McD family had Easter plans.

Having half-watched the game, mostly with the volume off (busy busy), something happened in the second half. Huh? That's my expert analysis.

Discouraged; Books

I know that I haven't been posting much, if at all, lately, but I am very discouraged with the Obama-Clinton contest, and have nothing new to say about the Iraq clusterfuck. I have been trying to take a "time out" from politics, which is very hard for a political junkie like me. We've even entered this "nothing will change for another month" stretch of doldrums. There's little reason to even pay attention to the news.

I think I'm beyond anger here. Resignation, perhaps?

I have been reading. I recently finished The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Have any of you read it? It's a very interesting book about food, so not the usual fare for me. Pollan wants to trace four meals from nature to the table, to say something about the way "we" eat today. The sections on industrial agriculture (a meal at McDonald's), industrial organic (Whole Foods), local organic (farmers markets) are all good. The last section of the book on hunter-gatherer foraging is less good, because it's so incredibly narcissistic and self-indulgent. But I learned a lot about food, and recommend the book.

Then I got sidetracked and ended up rereading, in a few hours, total, The Hobbit. What a wonderful book! It's a shame that there aren't more books like that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy 5th Anniversary

In commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, I can think of no better commentary than Auden's The Shield of Achilles:

She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

She looked over his shoulder
For ritual pieties,
White flower-garlanded heifers,
Libation and sacrifice,
But there on the shining metal
Where the altar should have been,
She saw by his flickering forge-light
Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

She looked over his shoulder
For athletes at their games,
Men and women in a dance
Moving their sweet limbs
Quick, quick, to music,
But there on the shining shield
His hands had set no dancing-floor
But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

The thin-lipped armorer,
Hephaestos, hobbled away,
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son, the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.

For background on the poem, see Homer's Iliad, Book XVIII.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Won't Disown You

A truly remarkable speech from Obama today on race. I read it before I saw the commentary or the video clips, and I was emotionally moved by it. Partly because of its unadorned honesty on a topic that no one treats honestly, but also because of its intellectual seriousness.

Obama is trying to be the candidate who will not pander, a rather dramatic contrast to Team Clinton, just as his cool demeanor was a natural contrast to the fiery preacher from whom he sought distance but not escape. Some commentators (Roger Simon, Joe Scar, etc.) criticized Big O for not disowning Wright altogether. But really now, how credible would that have been? It would have seemed opportunistic, and no one would have bought it. The theme today was much more deft. Pastor Wright is America, not just black America but white America. We've all got demons on the race issue. In defending Wright as "family," just like his white grandmother, Obama told Americans that he would not disown them either, no matter how much they might disagree, and no matter how much it might cost him in the short term. I don't know that everyone who watches the speech or hears clips of it on the news will take that away. There are many who cannot help but see race as black and white. For one graceful moment, however, Barack Obama appealed to our grayer angels, and we are a better nation for it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recent Readings

I know I've been "inconsistent" with the posts lately, but I have been reading! So here's a rundown of recent book read:

*Norwood by Charles Portis. This is a genuinely funny novel, especially if you have an interest in rural America, its folkways and dialects. Norwood Pratt, a former Marine, sets out from home in Ralph, TX, to NYC to collect a debt from an Marine buddy, and then returns home. That's the plot. Along the way, Norwood meets a number of colorful characters, including a fat midget. (Seriously.) It's also a very short book, mostly dialogue. So a quick, fun read.

*And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. This is a first novel, too--although one published in 2007 instead of 1966 (Norwood). It received a lot of attention last year, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It tells the collective story of a Chicago advertising firm after the popping of the tech bubble, layoffs, gossip, and the nutty things people (especially "creatives") do at work. If you've read it, or about it, you know that the first half or so of the book is written in first-person plural ("We . . . ."), which I (surprise) didn't like. For one thing, it makes narrative almost impossible, since individual characters can only act through speeches, if the p-o-v is everyone. So lots of talking, witty banter even, but not much action or plot. The comparison often made is to Catch-22, and I think that that novel served as a source for Ferris. But Catch-22 followed a few characters, especially Yossarian, and told their stories (and many more characters in smaller vignettes). Here, we get endless stories in the breakroom. I guess it works, OK.

But unlike Norwood, it's much too long. The first half of the novel would have been a good comic novel; then Ferris decides that he wants to tackle some serious themes, which means he needs individualized characters--since "we" can't have breat cancer or relationship problems, right? So the second half doesn't really follow the first-person plural p-o-v, at least not consistently. And then, not to spoil anything, there's a novel-within-the-novel gimmick. I guess my takeaway is that it's a good novel, a solid first novel, but a little more ambitious than it manages to pull off. Also, the 9-11 tie-ins seemed kind of forced to me, and having one of the characters get killed in Afghanistan--too topical. If you want to write a humorous novel about work, that's OK. Don't also try to write The Corrections.

*Gone by Jonathan Kellerman, an L.A. detective novel. Didn't really care for this one, which turned out to be like Psycho, but with more bodies. Seriously, there's a psycho killer who stuffs (some of) his victims. It takes several hundred pages to get there, but not very original, or interesting. I much prefer my crime novels to be about greed/money than about psycho killers.

*Indigo Slam by Robert Crais. Speaking of money, this one is a crime novel about counterfeiters. Better than Gone, but I don't really care for Crais's too-cute writing style (surprise again), and detective Elvis Cole is just plain annoying, if you ask me. Sidekick Joe Pike is unrealistic in the extreme--like Spenser's Hawk, but more indestructible. At least it was short.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Magnolia Mugging

The results are in, mostly, and Obama won a pretty decisive victory in Mississippi yesterday. Even though I know that this one doesn't count, because it's a small state etc., it should be noted that both Hillary and Bill Clinton were in Mississippi in the last week, and the Clinton campaign was on the air in the state, at least on radio. Having spent four days last week in the greater Hattiesburg area, I was surprised at the amount of campaign activity that was apparent--and down there, it was largely the Clintons. Note that Hillay carried a number of the counties around Hattiesburg, although she lost "urban" Forrest County proper.

My guess at the time was that the Clinton campaign was simply trying to keep Mississippi close, to avoid getting blown out. Especially since there isn't anything (can that be true?) between Mississippi and Pennsylvania. But it doesn't look like that worked.

Btw, if you were watching MSNBC last night, you would have seen Chuck Todd (I think, it could have been David Gregory) draw a telestrator line across the state map at Jackson and describe the southern half of Mississippi as the more densely populated part. Now, I don't claim to be a Mississippi expert, but I know the highway between Jackson and Hattiesburg, and I've driven from Hattiesburg to Gulfport/Biloxi several times. If that's the "urban" part of the state . . . well, let me just say, northern Mississippi must be almost completely depopulated.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Should we invade Mexico? To stop illegal immigration? My students say "Si!"

OK, this isn't exactly a scientific sample. As one option for my short paper topic in Modern Theory, I asked this question: George W. Bush speculates that he might improve his legacy were he to invade Mexico. What advice would two of the thinkers we have read (Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke) give to Bush on such an invasion? Yada yada, whose advice is better?

The vast majority claim this scheme would be a good idea, regardless of which advisers they pick. Some use Locke as a "moral" foil, but then say that the pro-war advice would be better because Bush would like it better. I've seen this before. Students invariably believe that the point of being an adviser is to feed the leader's most extreme desires. Instinctive yes men, they never catch Machiavelli's harsh criticism of "flatterers." I had more than twenty students pick this option and use Machiavelli as one of their advisers. Every single one said Machiavelli would enthusiastically approve of invading Mexico. Part of this, of course, is the reflexive tendency to fall back on what I call "cartoon Machiavelli": kill em' all, kick ass, take names, power, power, POWER, beeyatch. I preach against that reading, but skulls are thick. No one picks up on Machiavelli's "realism" regarding interests or his tragic sense of how Fortuna threatens to bring down the most virtuoso prince. Even Cesare Borgia failed. No hint in these papers.

More than just simplification reflex, I think the explanation here must be their assumption that American power is essentially unlimited. America, fuck yeah!, sayeth Parker and Stone. If we imagine it, we can do it. There will be no consequences. This maintains even after Iraq. Why would no one pick up on this? Mexico has four times the population of Iraq, a border war would aggravate refugee flows to the U.S. not stop them, and our military is already bogged down in two foreign wars that have only diminished Bush's (and America's) power and reputation, and yet the only lesson my students can take from Machiavelli is that we need better PR. Meanwhile, my guess is that if Machiavelli did advise Bush on this question, he'd say something like, "What are you insane! Getting your ass kicked in Iraq is not enough for you? Do you know a threat when you frickin' see one? You're lucky no one has revolted yet. Dude, cut yer' losses!" And, of course, not even George W. Bush is actually dim enough to entertain this scenario. But my students are. Methinks this is good news for McCain and the Iran hawks.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Road Trip

To the in-laws' in Mississippi. Something about their fiftieth wedding anniversary or something like that. More when we return!

Not like there's been anything happening in the world of politics, right?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Best Show on Teevee

Maybe that's going too far, but I do love "The McLaughlin Group."

House Hunting

Well, the search for a new house in D.C. has begun. So far, everything we've looked at has fallen into one or more of the following categories: (1) too big; (2) too small; (3) too weird; and/or (4) too shitty. If you've ever shopped for a house, you know what I'm talking about.

But here in D.C., there's the added dimension that you can look at a house that really needs a lot of work--like, a new kitchen, new bathrooms, a new roof, and more--with a $750,000 asking price. Ouch.

The good news, for us, is that it is a buyer's market. We looked at a couple places today that had been on the market for months--a far cry from the market a few years ago, when the time nice places would stay on the market was reckoned in hours, not days. The bad news is that, even in a buyer's market, the housing in D.C. still seems overpriced to me.