Archive for November, 2014

Here’s to old Friends

Harry Weiner and Dinty Moore!


And of course yourself, Doc.  And to great memories, which fortunately so far seem impervious to the world’s endless daily barrage.


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Hands Off Cicero, Buster!

600px-Maccari-CiceroThis morning Ted Cruz availed himself of some of Cicero’s most famous lines:   “How long, O Catiline, will you abuse our patience? And for how long will that madness of yours mock us? To what end will your unbridled audacity hurl itself?”  Cruz, who is well-educated, meant the equally well-educated members of his audience to associate Catiline with President Obama.  By implication he, Cruz, becomes a modern Cicero.  No doubt, Cruz also expected his less well educated acolytes simply to be impressed by his erudition.

But the analogy is far from perfect.  Catiline was not a leader, like Obama;  he was a Senator, just like Cicero (and Cruz).  Furthermore, Cicero had solid evidence that Catiline conspired against the Senate, and perhaps planned to murder several prominent members of that body–including Cicero.  Cruz has no evidence of chicanery against Obama–or, if he has such evidence, he didn’t bother to cite it.  Of course Cruz didn’t go so far as to suggest that Obama was using or fomenting violence.  No, he left that to his less classically literate comrades like Tom Coburn and Louie Gohmert.

Catiline had also swelled his personal fortune by appropriating the taxes paid by the people of the provinces he governed.  He wasn’t alone in this, though.  The practice of defrauding the locals was not unknown among well-born Romans during the troubled later years of the Roman republic.  According to Cicero, Catiline refined this practice into an art form.  Which renders Catiline more like contemporary Republican pols than like Obama.

So while Cruz’ analogy may have been handy, it isn’t persuasive.  If Cruz wants to acquire a reputation as a skilled orator, he needs to learn a few things about delivery as well.  He sounds as though he’s reading off a teleprompter from a script in which he has little interest.  Cicero, on the other hand, delivered enthralling original speeches (three or four hours’ worth), replying solely upon his wits and his rhetorical training in invention.  Despite their extemporaneous nature, the speeches were so good that they are still quoted two thousand years later.

I doubt that will happen to Cruz’s speeches.  As the great Roman teacher, Quintilian, said, the able rhetor must be a “good person speaking well.”  That’s two strikes against you, Senator.

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The Huge Hand of Fate

MV5BMTc3ODU0MzYwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODIwMjg0MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_You must try to hear my title read in the sonorous tones of William Conrad, who introduced every episode of The Fugitive (1963-1967) by reminding us that Dr. Richard Kimble had been wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife but was freed “out of the darkness” when fate caused his train to crash.  I was hooked on this show when it first aired, and so it was that as I was surfing Amazon the other day, looking for cheap DVDs to replace films in my my dwindling collection of VHS tapes, my attention was caught by this photo of David Janssen as Kimble.  I bought the first part of the first season. So far I’ve watched six episodes and I’m hooked. Again. Fifty years later.

The show is artfully filmed in black and white, and the cinematography puts light and shadow to good use in the many night scenes. Apparently the crew didn’t go on location much; the scenery in exteriors often seems to be an afterthought, with papier-mache rocks and rubber plants scattered about, while hotel rooms and homes are sparely furnished with vaguely modernist chairs and tables.  From its beginning, though, the show was not stingy with its acting budget.  Vera Miles, Brian Keith, Sandy Dennis, Susan Oliver, Bruce Dern, and Robert Duvall all appear in the first few episodes as guest stars.

the fugitive david janssen   PDVD_021Janssen with Dern


On this viewing I noticed something that utterly escaped me in 1963. The writers were very interested in class differences. In these early episodes Kimble often finds himself stranded in a small town full of suspicious hicks. He is beaten up, chased out of town by an hysterical mob, and threatened with murder by an angry ex-husband. In every place Kimble stops, it seems, the locals are bigoted bumpkins who are quite willing to blame the stranger in town for anything that sets them off. Is he seen with the local school marm? Run his ass out of town. Does he stop for a drink in a tavern while waiting for a lift to somewhere else? Beat him up and call out the bloodhounds when he gets away. Is your girlfriend or ex-wife attracted to him? Rat him out to the cops.

I might have thought I was imagining this but for one thing: last night I watched an ep in which Lieutenant Gerard, who, you may recall from Tommy Lee Jones’ award-winning performance in the 1993 film of The Fugitive, is obsessed with capturing Kimble. Gerard–played in the series by Barry Morse–philosophized about Kimble’s life on the run. He pointed out that the good doctor is an educated man who speaks better and knows more than most of the people among whom he is trying to hide. Gerard reckons this will get on their nerves, and Kimble will sooner or later be in enough trouble that he, Gerard, will hear about it. Which happens every other ep or so, and which keeps the suspense moving along nicely. Other than its use as a plot point, though, I’m not sure what to make of the series’ relatively high level of class-consciousness.

gerard-kimbleMorse and Janssen

Critic Stephen Bowie makes a somewhat different but related point, attributing fans’ fascination to Morse’s portrayal of the relentless Lt. Gerard:  “I think he may deserve more credit than anybody else for the element of The Fugitive that’s truly subversive: the anti-police subtext that made it a counterculture totem.  Morse’s Gerard represented American television’s first sustained presentation of the police as essentially maleficent.  A lot has been made of how the network oafs all turned down Roy Huggins’ pitch for the show because (no matter how slowly Huggins talked as he explained that Kimble was innocent) they didn’t get how a criminal could be a hero and a cop could be the bad guy.  Fine, but that idea was coming anyhow, with the Watts riots and Kent State only a few years away from the evening news.  It was Morse who made the ugliness of the police visceral, with his clamp-jawed sneer and his thousand-yard stare.  Morse underlined the fact that it was personal for Gerard.  He wasn’t a dutiful flatfoot.  He was an authority figure whose omnipotence had been flouted, and he wanted payback.” (http://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/2008/02/06/the-day-the-running-finally-stopped-barry-morse-1918-2008)

Bowie’s analysis feels right to me now.  But I certainly had no thoughts about rebellion back in 1963.  The show’s early fans had not yet lived through the years that are now called “the ‘sixties,” which began in 1964 with the Free Speech movement at Berkeley and ended, roughly, with Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency in 1973.  What I remember from that early experience of the show was crushing bigtime on David Janssen. He doesn’t do much for me now, I find, which may have more to do with my post-hormonal state than with the sexiness of his youthful image. I was only twenty years old when The Fugitive debuted, and I suspect that my attraction to Janssen had as much to do with the anguish suffered by his character as with any sex appeal the actor himself exuded.

Like my girlfriends and roommates, I crushed on every heartthrob of the moment (does anyone here remember Troy Donahue? Tab Hunter? Thought not).  But people do remember Janssen’s and Morse’s portrayals of Kimball and Gerard, even though the actors are no longer with us.  Indeed, most Americans of a certain age remember The Fugitive, perhaps because it aired at the beginning of a huge cultural turn, or perhaps, because it actually foreshadowed that turn.

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Big Red Butt Firmly Kicked

XOSYWUAJHJTBMCH.20141115195258Wisconsin did it again.  For only the second time in my long life, I turned off the teevee during the third quarter of a Nebraska football game.  The first time occurred during the Big Ten championship game in 2012, when the Badgers hung even more points on us than they did yesterday (I can’t bear to repeat the score of either game here).

I woke up early this morning with the fragments of a dream lingering in my head–you know how that is–you may recall fleeting images, colors or shapes, or bits of conversation, but have no sense of the time or place or narrative arc.  This morning I was able to recall just enough of whatever it was to realize that, emotionally, pre-rationally, I associate a Nebraska loss with my father’s death.

Now I’m not going to go all Freudian on y’all here–not until the next paragraph.  This association has some rational merit:  my father instilled in me my enthusiasm for Nebraska football.  He took me to games when I was old enough to understand what was going on (and hence not to waste the price of a ticket, I suspect).  When I was a student at NU I contracted mononucleosis.  My father faithfully drove down to Lincoln to visit me on weekends while I was confined to student health.  Especially those weekends when there was a home game, when he could borrow my student season ticket and stroll down the sidewalk to see the game in person.  Just a year after dad died, I left Nebraska for good.

Clearly, then, I associate my memories of childhood with Nebraska’s people and places generally, and with the strong masculine presence of my dad in particular.  So, reasoning through this discovery, I realize I am furious with Nebraska’s coach for letting me down.  However childish that seems, there it is.  I felt terribly lost and alone when my Dad died, and that feeling resonates in my sub-rational mind when Bo Pelini does not do his duty by the young men who work so hard to win games for their school.

I’m not the only one who feels this way this morning–Nebraska commentators are uniformly angry with Pelini, who was plainly out-coached last night, and who responded to this awareness by yelling angrily at his players.  Again.  (You can read their responses at Husker.com or in the Nebraska newspapers.)  A coach can recruit all the Abdullahs and Gregorys in the world, but even superior athletes cannot compete when the game plan doesn’t change to fit new situations.  I blame Pelini for Abdullah’s injury–which he incurred on his fourth try (!) for a touchdown we didn’t need against hapless Purdue–and hence blowing his chance to win a Heisman.  I blame Pelini for the quarterback’s repeated fearful glances toward the sideline before he initiates a play, thus blowing any chance the team has for a hurry-up.  And I blame him for the general disintegration of line play after the half–the players behaved as though they no longer wished to participate in such a fuckup, with their coach screaming at them all the while.

And here’s where the association between dad and coach breaks down.  The only way in which my dad ever let me down was in his dying.  The adult part of my mind knows, of course, that people don’t get to choose when they die.  That doesn’t keep the inner child from ranting against the way of the world, though.


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College Football Fandom

fb-map-fullI’m sure that by now my reader(s) have seen this map from the New York Times which claims to represent the percentages of college football fans in the country (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/upshot/the-places-in-america-where-college-football-means-the-most.html?_r=0).  I don’t know how seriously to take this information, given that it is based on Facebook mentions of college football.

Intuitively, though, the results feel right:  Alabama and Nebraska have the highest levels of interest in college football, followed closely by Oklahoma (in re which:  see my last post on the “Game of the Century”).  The Times thinks that states which have winning histories in college football–as is true of all three of the mostly purple states in the map–and which, in addition, have no pro teams to capture fan allegiance, are likely to have the most serious college fans.  This makes sense to me.

“Linda,” who commented on the piece, put her finger on some reasons for the findings that might be less obvious to writers at the Times:

“As a resident of Oklahoma I feel safe saying that football is so popular in certain states because there is nothing else to do. As far as culture, a person can wait months and months for a play to be performed and then you’ll get an old chestnut guaranteed not to offend the fundamentalists. Major art shows just don’t come to these states. The scenery in these states is not awe inspiring and there is a severe lack of public lands for hiking, walking, camping, backpacking or canoeing. Art movies never come and few people would watch them if they did. Shopping is pretty much limited to big box stores and eating out limited to chain restaurants. These states, and I’ve lived in three of them, suffer from a collective lack of imagination. At least the football games keep the population from screaming that Obama is a Muslim for a few hours, so they’re good for something.”

Tell it, sister.

The Times‘ findings are borne out among my friends and me.  Desert and Trep both hail from California, where most of the conditions noted by Linda do not hold.  Neither is much interested in sports in general, let alone college football–Trep has what I’d call a “social” interest in sports, given that she is willing to watch if her friends want to do so.  Desert is a rabid fan of UConn’s women’s basketball and of the San Francisco Forty-Niners.  Both of these interests stem from her personal history.

Mr. Desert, on the other hand, is a sports superfan and has been, apparently, since he was a child growing up in New York.  He is fond of pointing out that folks in the northeast are not very much interested in college football.  Indeed, he was a bit shocked when he moved out west to discover the degree of rabid fandom harbored by former midwesterners and southerners.  He loves the Yankees and has a love-hate relationship with the Jets.  Yes, he also roots for Notre Dame and lately, ASU, but I’d guess that if he were offered free tickets to a Jets game or an Irish game, he’d take the first without even thinking about it.

I haven’t set foot in Nebraska for more than a few days’ visit since I left in 1966.  Hence I’ve spent more years elsewhere than I spent in the Cornhusker state, and no, I don’t think Obama is a Muslim (indeed, he’s a little bit too Christian for my tastes).  And yet I’m on pins and needles about tomorrow’s game between the Huskers and the Wisconsin Badgers.  Go figure.

Addendum:  Best snide remark of the day:  Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, whose team was trounced by Arizona State last week, on playing Northwestern this Saturday:  “The players are really excited about playing a team whose academic standards are as high as ours.”

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Booman looks at last week’s election:

“There’s no point in sugar-coating this. In the Deep South, the Democratic Party is now the non-white party, and minority politicians don’t have the white partners they need to exercise any but the most local political power. While the problem is less severe in the border states, it has clearly made advances there. You can look at pretty much the whole Scots-Irish migration from the Virginias to Oklahoma and see that the Democrats were trounced last Tuesday.”  (http://www.boomantribune.com)

In other words, Professor Feldman is right (see my post on Senator Landrieu’s remark, below).  The Thugs have taken over the southern states by appealing to white supremacy, religious fundamentalism, and patriarchal notions of gender relations.   They’ve built a solid coalition of whites, including those from economically fragile classes, who are ready  to vote against their own interests in order to conserve a very old set of ideological values and practices.

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