Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pitchers and catchers

If you think Roger Clemens's career is over just because he is widely considered to be a liar and a cheat, you don't know how desperate baseball gets for arms around the first of every June. If he can still get through five innings, he will look awfully attractive to any team yearning to climb out of the cellar -- Baltimore, let's say -- more attractive than some young hot-shot from the Kanagawa Grasshoppers, because he knows the league and the hitters and can talk to the writers without an interpreter. Besides, it's well established that the fans will show up by the busload to jeer at players perceived to be juicers. Barry Bonds has sold several million dollars' worth of tickets in the past three seasons, and an undetermined number of bedsheets for the creation of anti-Bonds messages. Human growth hormone is more offensive to the fans than alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, and every other substance related to past scandals, because it impinges upon the sacred records of baseball by improving performance rather than undermining it. I'm still not sure why this should be so, but I'm also not going to be shocked when Clemens shows up on a major league roster. Or Bonds, for that matter. It's a business.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Is that all there is?

Six weeks, and it's over?

After that endless campaigning, a few caucuses and primaries and we have our semi-finalists? All that money and time, for this? There has to be an easier way.

The great winnowing-away has been more brutal for the Republicans. Where are the snowy white men of yesteryear? as political pundit F. Villon might ask. Well, when David Letterman described the contenders as resembling a bunch of guys waiting to tee off at a country club, he was probably thinking of Tommy Thompson, who bubbled up from the hidden spring of Robert Taft and was the first to run dry. He was replaced by the other white meat, Fred Thompson, who evidently thought all he had to do was show up, repeat a few musty platitudes about tax cuts, and be nominated by acclamation. When that didn't happen, he lost interest and wandered off. Fred's manly funk of Aramis and Cohibas had Chris Matthews all breathless, but apparently the voters and caucus-oids couldn't smell him.

Nor were they as overwhelmed by America's Mayor as Time magazine thought they would be. Rudolph Giuliani should have halved the 9/11 references when it became a punchline and dropped the funny fone calls altogether. He might better have appealed to the Republican base -- and base is definitely the word -- by pointing out that his administration was practicing torture before the Cheney-Bush regime was installed. (It appears that Officer Justin Volpe's real crime was bad timing. Had he waited until after 9/11 he could have claimed to be torturing Abner Louima for information about a bomb or something. He'd still be in uniform, brutalizing the people of New York, instead of having to look both ways before entering the prison shower.) Ciao, Rudy.

Mitt Romney probably wishes he had ordered one of his musclebound sons to join the military, if only the Coast Guard. The mannequin's apologia for his Mormon faith came off as more creepy than Kennedyesque, but what really sank him was the cute story about strapping the dog to the luggage rack, which blended him in the public imagination with Michael Vick. Americans do not like dog abusers in the White House. Lyndon Johnson caused more outrage when he lifted his beagles by their ears than when he escalated the Vietnam War; Bush's approval rating might have topped thirty percent by now if he didn't dress up his dogs and force them to appear in his idiotic Christmas videos. Even Republicans look at Bush and wonder if it might not be time for some form of reality-based government. Which is bad news for...

The Rev. Huckabee, still fighting the good fight against nineteenth-century scientific developments. I see a future for Huck as a Jennie Craig spokesman, especially if he held onto his old trousers. But outside of Kansas, he embarrasses even Republicans. I have a fondness I'm not proud of for Tom Tancredo, the anti-immigrant candidate. He reminds me of my grandfather, who used to bitch about the country being overrun by people with names like Tancredo, who were all lazy, diseased, had too many children and just wanted something for nothing. Historical pig-ignorance -- it's as American as pizza pie.

And then there's Ron Paul, the official candidate of the hollow earth/lizard men/Princess Di conspiracy fringe. Defenders of Paul, who post long, rambling responses at the political blogs, never fail to mention that he was right to oppose the Iraq war. Well, I think Hitler was right to oppose the Treaty of Versailles. It's the rest of his program that gave the world nightmares, and continues to do so when bits and pieces of it crop up among Paul supporters. Someone needs to write a book called Libertarian Fascism.

Republicans picked over this rancid cornucopia and finally settled on an Arizona grapefruit called John McCain. With the active assistance of the "liberal media," McCain will continue to sell himself as a straight-talking maverick even though he is corrupt to the eyebrows, has never deviated from the Bush White House line for more than four consecutive minutes, and never met a special interest he didn't like, particularly if it had a corporate jet he could use. He won't be the first Republican to campaign in Depends -- that would be St. Ronald -- but he's much more easily goaded into crazy outbursts, which should be fun. We'll never hear the end of his war record, even though the last four elections have demonstrated that voters don't give a damn about a candidate's military service or lack of it (especially when the economy seems to be on course for a North Atlantic iceberg). Just ask Bob Dole. Or Poppy Doc Bush, who has already shoved to the head of the queue to give McCain his blessing.

Curiously, nobody seems to want Baby Doc's endorsement. It's rumored that he and Darth Cheney won't even be invited to the convention. This is unprecedented. Tom Dewey and Adlai Stevenson weren't treated so shabbily by their respective parties after losing two elections. And as the delegates arriving at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport walk past the Larry Craig Honeymoon Suite to claim their baggage, they may be asking themselves if it's all worth it.
Has God abandoned God's Own Party?

Does Barack Obama sit at His right hand? The man who seems to have nothing to offer but Change itself? Opponents say he lacks experience. Proponents will point to another lanky Illinois word-wizard, Abraham Lincoln, who couldn't even get elected to the Senate, who served just one term in the House before becoming president. Some who would like to be supporters are dismayed by his tepid response to the latest campus massacre, in his own state, and the presence of professional bigot Donnie McClurkin in his campaign. (I have to guess that a President Obama would dump Rev. Donnie like Henry V banishing Falstaff, but it's disturbing that he hasn't done so yet.) But we've definitely turned a corner when a woman and a Kenyan-American can compete for a major-party nomination, and more interestingly, Ted Kennedy can perform a song in Spanish. If that's what I actually saw, and I'm not suffering from a brain tumor or something. Didn't young Ted get thrown out of Harvard for a while after paying someone to take a Spanish exam for him?

We're through the looking-glass here, people.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


I always wanted to do a live extravaganza, and there may not be any Oscar show this year, so -- SUPER BOWL SUNDAY N.F.L. CHAMPIONSHIP GAME it is. Like most people, to judge by the ratings, I don't care about football but I love the Superbowl. I love the hyperbole. I love the Roman numerals. I love the lame entertainment, and the inevitable letdown because no mere football game could bring all this hyperventilating to a climax. I missed the first four hours because I was watching the "Corner Gas" marathon at WGN -- I'll write about that weird little show soon -- but I'm so glad I flipped over in time to hear Russell Crowe's hilarious ode to perfection, laying out the obvious connection between Eli Manning and Beethoven. It set the tone perfectly. I hope they run it again. (Russell Crowe? Who recites prose-poems to Australian football, Morgan Freeman?)

This is the closest we will ever get to ancient Athens (oh boy, here it comes), everybody filing into the Theater of Dionysus to see the latest trilogy by Aeschylus. Of course, men the size of Macys Parade balloons slamming into each other is not exactly the Oresteia, but Bush isn't exactly Pericles either. Be grateful we're not at war with the Persians as of 4:29 CST. I'm so old I can remember the very first Superbowl. There was no Vince Lombardi Trophy then, as we still had the actual Vince Lombardi, and he would have been embarrassed to accept a graven image of himself from the Commissioner of Football, who I seem to remember was Oliver Wendell Holmes. I could be wrong. Lombardi was a hard-bitten man given to gnomic utterances which dissolved on closer examination, like "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." What? For coachly wisdom, I prefer Paul Brown, who once told his players, "When you get into the end zone, act like you've been there before." Still good advice, which no one will follow today.

In the role of Chorus we have the usual gang of experts, who couldn't imagine the Giants getting past Dallas, much less Green Bay. I predict that their predictions will be of the hedging type: On the one hand, New England is undefeated, but on the other hand, you can't argue with Destiny (a Greek concept). It would be more exciting if Howie and Terry and Joe and the rest had to back up their picks with their paychecks. Every week. Same for the pundits who were salivating for Fred Thompson and Rudolph Giuliani. No, no politics today. This is Sacred Time.

We have that on the authority of former FCC chairman Michael Powell (not to be confused with the great British film director or anyone else of ability). He said so in the wake of the catastrophic half-time show which exposed America to a female nipple for about two seconds. As in ancient Athens, women have no real role in this festival, but they are invited to perform in the satyr-play which comes in the middle, and Janet Jackson got carried away. (She claimed it was a "wardrobe malfunction," but experts tell me that nobody wears tit ornaments unless they're going to be seen.) For about two weeks, she was actually more famous than her brother Michael, at least on YouTube. Nobody knew what to tell the children, and steps were taken to prevent America from being so violated on her special day.

Who is this Frank guy who impersonates people? Who told him it's funny? Have you ever laughed at an "impressionist"? I haven't. OK, maybe Jay Mohr's Walken.

See what I mean? Football meets the Declaration of Independence. You can't make this shit up.

I wonder what Michael Vick is doing today.

My set just went black, and I had to re-set the BS chip that blocks patriotic effusions. Did I miss anything? I'd hate to miss the roll-out of a new commercial for snack food or dick-stiffener. The Fox robot image is truly disturbing, isn't it? I believe the next generation of football players will be genetically engineered, like tomatoes. It's amazing that there's so much fuss about steroid use in baseball, but nobody ever asks why these guys are so huge.

So I guess the Giants' secret is teamwork. Huh. And here come those rugged individualists from Foxboro. Their secret? Jazzercize, I'm guessing.

Jordin Sparks. Never heard of her. At least she and her military escort got it over in two minutes. Time is money on Super Sunday.

The Bill Walsh Memorial Coin Toss. This is new. It's a coin, just toss it. Jeez.

The Audi commercial seems to be telling me something I don't get. Like "Hey, we've seen The Godfather, man." How's the mileage?

I kind of enjoyed the Pepsi Max Salute to Narcolepsy. It has a good beat, you can dance to it. Giants up by three after a FG.

Perhaps the speculations about Brady's ankle will be continued on "House" after the game. If it doesn't buckle under him, let's assume it's all right. All right? It's pseudo-expertise like this that's strangling televised sports.

New England goes ahead 7-3.

Once again, totally lost by the commercial, but you should call them. A friend's daughter is working on Super Sunday just to take your call. Go Rose!

Manning's casual attitude toward the clock and his receivers' slippery fingers have the Giants in a bit of a jam. Still, the Pats had to punt, so this game is far from over.

Leatherheads looks good, but I think Cinderella Man established that Renee Zellweger does not belong in sports movies.

How do they get those lizards to dance like that? Fantastic!

Offensive ineptitude or defensive glory? These questions will be debated in ages to come. Or it may be that I'm slightly exaggerating the significance of a football game. Blame it on the pomp and circumstance. And now for the youngsters, as Ed Sullivan used to say at about this hour on Sunday night, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Relive the Seventies! Sullivan also featured opera singers, a tradition which is being kept alive by several of today's sponsors. What Carmen and Nozze di Figaro have to do with consumer products is another question for the scholars. I'm tired and hungry.

Well, the Giants nearly committed the dopiest infraction of all, Twelve Men On the Field. Do I care enough to wait for the official ruling? Should I see what's in the fridge? Have I done my duty here? Thank you, Richard Simmons, for helping me decide.