Commentary Magazine


Topic: NFL

Don’t Blame the Networks

Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

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Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

Back then, they were deliberative political bodies where real issues were debated and voted upon while other, often even more important decisions, were decided in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms off the convention floor. The broadcasts of the conventions weren’t a civics lesson so much as they were a highly dramatic and colorful display of the political system at work. Though some parts could be excruciating, they were often dramatic. And like the NFL contest that many Americans will sensibly prefer to Bill Clinton next month, the outcome won’t have already been decided before the game begins.

The last national convention whose outcome was in doubt prior to its opening was in 1976 when incumbent President Gerald Ford narrowly fended off a challenge from Ronald Reagan and his resurgent conservative movement. Through some speculated about the possibility of a brokered Republican convention this year, that mouth-watering possibility for political junkies was no more likely to happen this year than it has any other presidential year for the last generation. The parties have created a nomination process that makes such an outcome unlikely if not impossible. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will ever have any interest in producing a good spectacle that will mean their side will be unable to prepare for the general election until September. Nor do they relish the political bloodletting and internecine warfare that a deliberative convention would bring.

So they give us what makes sense for them: a highly scripted television show in which the candidate picks all the speakers and dictates the contents of their speeches. Each convention is no more than a lengthy infomercial. Their only resemblance to the past when the nation would sit by their radios or televisions listening with bated breath as the roll call of states voting is the setting in an arena.

Under these circumstances, the parties are lucky that the broadcast networks still give them three free hours of coverage for each convention. Those addicted to politics can watch the cable news networks or C-Span.

It’s true that there was something to be said for the past when anyone with a television set was forced to watch gavel-to-gavel convention coverage. But most Americans now have hundreds of channels to choose from and are no longer dependent on three middle-aged liberal white guys to tell them what the news was at 6:30 each evening.

If the parties want more coverage of their conventions, they should give us something more interesting to watch. Since that is antithetical to their political fortunes, they should pipe down and get the staged charades over with as we head to the fall campaign. And anyone who wants to watch an interesting political convention can rent “The Best Man.”

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About the Manliest Sport

Last night’s Super Bowl, in which the the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots by 21 to 17, was one of the most exciting of the XLVI games so far. From the improbable first score — a two-point safety ruled against the Patriots’ Tom Brady on a technical violation — to Ahmad Bradshaw’s turn-around-and-sit-down touchdown with 57 seconds remaining, the Giants’ four-point win was almost enough to blot out the image of 53-year-old Madonna strutting and fretting upon a stage that looked as if it had been left over from an Obama rally.

Three years ago, after the heart-pounding finish to an earlier Super Bowl, I wondered why there are not more American football novels. Not much is new or changed since then. Eli Manning, last night’s winning quarterback, collaborated with his brother Peyton Manning and their father Archie Manning — all three of them signal callers in the NFL — to produce a children’s book called Family Huddle (“Archie was in the front yard in New Orleans, playing with his three sons, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli. It was Peyton’s turn at their favorite game: Amazing catches.”) Ex-players like Tiki and Ronde Barber and Jason Elam also turned out disposable popular titles.

But novels that take the American game seriously are few and far between. Joiner (1971) is the most promising, and not because James Whitehead played football at Vanderbilt before an injury reduced him to literature. Eugene (Sonny) Joiner, narrator and protagonist, is an offensive lineman rather than a glamor player; he squints up at the game from an unusual position. Ultimately, though, the novel falls victim to post-1968 nonsense. Styling himself a “radical historian,” Joiner teaches calculus and spelling to underprivileged children at a progressive school after he quits pro football, and becomes the disciple of a fifteenth-century Hussite.

The late Peter Gent ran routes and caught passes for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons in the sixties, then wrote North Dallas Forty (1973), a novel that was more distinguished for its rage at the professional sport than for its scenes of action on the field. Dan Jenkins’s Semi-Tough (1972) displayed a raw satiric talent, but was nearly as angry in tone as Gent’s novel, filled with gall. His 1984 novel Life Its Ownself, with the twin linebackers Orangejello and Limejello, is a great favorite of COMMENTARY editor John Podhoretz, who describes it as a work of comic genius. (I think it’s funnier if you don’t already know that Mark Lemongello was a righthanded pitcher for the Houston Astros in the late Seventies.) Don DeLillo’s End Zone (1972) has great fun with the language of the game (“Monsoon sweep, string-in-left, ready right, cradle out, drill-9 shiver, ends chuff”), but it is not about football as the game was played last night at Lucas Oil Stadium, but a wild, wacky football that is more metaphor than reality.

Much the same is true of Howard Nemerov’s far less ambitious novel The Homecoming Game (1957), which does not even try to describe what occurs on the field. Here a professor’s F, leaving the star ineligible for the big game, serves merely as a pretext for an exploration of moral ambiguity. Ivan Doig’s The Eleventh Man (2008), which follows the members of a state championship team after they enlist for the Second World War, is more attentive to life after football. John R. Tunis, perhaps the greatest sports novelist of all time, wrote only one book about football. All-American (1942) is the best of a bad harvest — understanding that it is a boys’ book and that, like all of Tunis’s books, it has more to do with a boy’s fumbling for values than handling a ball. No one is better at describing the action on the field, but many readers will find Tunis dated, and his moral concerns inartistic and unliterary. So too for the other boys’ novelist who wrote about football: the former basketball coach Clair Bee, whose series of “Chip Hilton” books were my passionate favorites as a kid.

Perhaps the problem is that football is understood (wrongly) as the least individual of sports, where ignorant coaching systems clash by night; or perhaps the problem is that The Great Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan cast the mold for football players in American literature, condemning them for all time to being represented as careless brutes. The truth is that it is the most masculine of sports, more so even than boxing, not merely because it requires manliness, which Harvey Mansfield defines as confidence in a situation of risk (boxing takes that too), but because it demands the masculine virtues— patience, patrimony, moral courage, physical strength, loyalty to friends, submission to legitimate authority, service to others.

Especially with the hyperventilating anxiety about concussions in football, the game is rich in moral complexity. You’d think it would attract America’s best literary talents. Not so, apparently. James Wright’s little poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” may be the best thing ever written about football. The best book-length stuff is history and reportage: John J. Miller’s The Big Scrum, Michael Lewis’s The Blind Slide, Lars Anderson’s Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle, H. G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, David Fleming’s Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship. The definitive American football novel is yet to be written.

Last night’s Super Bowl, in which the the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots by 21 to 17, was one of the most exciting of the XLVI games so far. From the improbable first score — a two-point safety ruled against the Patriots’ Tom Brady on a technical violation — to Ahmad Bradshaw’s turn-around-and-sit-down touchdown with 57 seconds remaining, the Giants’ four-point win was almost enough to blot out the image of 53-year-old Madonna strutting and fretting upon a stage that looked as if it had been left over from an Obama rally.

Three years ago, after the heart-pounding finish to an earlier Super Bowl, I wondered why there are not more American football novels. Not much is new or changed since then. Eli Manning, last night’s winning quarterback, collaborated with his brother Peyton Manning and their father Archie Manning — all three of them signal callers in the NFL — to produce a children’s book called Family Huddle (“Archie was in the front yard in New Orleans, playing with his three sons, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli. It was Peyton’s turn at their favorite game: Amazing catches.”) Ex-players like Tiki and Ronde Barber and Jason Elam also turned out disposable popular titles.

But novels that take the American game seriously are few and far between. Joiner (1971) is the most promising, and not because James Whitehead played football at Vanderbilt before an injury reduced him to literature. Eugene (Sonny) Joiner, narrator and protagonist, is an offensive lineman rather than a glamor player; he squints up at the game from an unusual position. Ultimately, though, the novel falls victim to post-1968 nonsense. Styling himself a “radical historian,” Joiner teaches calculus and spelling to underprivileged children at a progressive school after he quits pro football, and becomes the disciple of a fifteenth-century Hussite.

The late Peter Gent ran routes and caught passes for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons in the sixties, then wrote North Dallas Forty (1973), a novel that was more distinguished for its rage at the professional sport than for its scenes of action on the field. Dan Jenkins’s Semi-Tough (1972) displayed a raw satiric talent, but was nearly as angry in tone as Gent’s novel, filled with gall. His 1984 novel Life Its Ownself, with the twin linebackers Orangejello and Limejello, is a great favorite of COMMENTARY editor John Podhoretz, who describes it as a work of comic genius. (I think it’s funnier if you don’t already know that Mark Lemongello was a righthanded pitcher for the Houston Astros in the late Seventies.) Don DeLillo’s End Zone (1972) has great fun with the language of the game (“Monsoon sweep, string-in-left, ready right, cradle out, drill-9 shiver, ends chuff”), but it is not about football as the game was played last night at Lucas Oil Stadium, but a wild, wacky football that is more metaphor than reality.

Much the same is true of Howard Nemerov’s far less ambitious novel The Homecoming Game (1957), which does not even try to describe what occurs on the field. Here a professor’s F, leaving the star ineligible for the big game, serves merely as a pretext for an exploration of moral ambiguity. Ivan Doig’s The Eleventh Man (2008), which follows the members of a state championship team after they enlist for the Second World War, is more attentive to life after football. John R. Tunis, perhaps the greatest sports novelist of all time, wrote only one book about football. All-American (1942) is the best of a bad harvest — understanding that it is a boys’ book and that, like all of Tunis’s books, it has more to do with a boy’s fumbling for values than handling a ball. No one is better at describing the action on the field, but many readers will find Tunis dated, and his moral concerns inartistic and unliterary. So too for the other boys’ novelist who wrote about football: the former basketball coach Clair Bee, whose series of “Chip Hilton” books were my passionate favorites as a kid.

Perhaps the problem is that football is understood (wrongly) as the least individual of sports, where ignorant coaching systems clash by night; or perhaps the problem is that The Great Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan cast the mold for football players in American literature, condemning them for all time to being represented as careless brutes. The truth is that it is the most masculine of sports, more so even than boxing, not merely because it requires manliness, which Harvey Mansfield defines as confidence in a situation of risk (boxing takes that too), but because it demands the masculine virtues— patience, patrimony, moral courage, physical strength, loyalty to friends, submission to legitimate authority, service to others.

Especially with the hyperventilating anxiety about concussions in football, the game is rich in moral complexity. You’d think it would attract America’s best literary talents. Not so, apparently. James Wright’s little poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” may be the best thing ever written about football. The best book-length stuff is history and reportage: John J. Miller’s The Big Scrum, Michael Lewis’s The Blind Slide, Lars Anderson’s Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle, H. G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, David Fleming’s Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship. The definitive American football novel is yet to be written.

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Peter Gent, 1942–2011

Peter Gent, a backup wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys who went on to write novels about professional football, has died in Bangor, Michigan, of pulmonary disease. He was 69.

After a five-year career in Dallas, during which he caught 68 passes for 989 yards and four touchdowns, Gent retired to write North Dallas Forty, a 1973 exposé in fiction. Life in the NFL had left Gent deeply divided. “In one sense, you’re a folk hero,” he said. “But you’re really someone else’s property: your life subject to change by a single phone call.”

North Dallas Forty was about eight days in the declining football career of Phil Elliott, a receiver for the North Dallas Bulls. Before he is suspended by the NFL commissioner for drug use, Elliott is benched in favor of a young hotshot, although he knows he is the better pass-catcher. From that vantage point, Elliott serves up reflections about his teammates and their fans:

Looking up into the stands at the mass of gray dots that were faces, perched atop flashes of colors that expressed their egos, I suddenly realized how peculiar we [players] must look. I thought of Al Capp paying six dollars a head to watch and scream while trained mice scurried around in panic.

The novel was widely read as a roman à clef rather than an exposé — the fast-living quarterback was obviously modeled on the Cowboys’ Don Meredith, the robotic coach on Tom Landry — and though it was later filmed with Nick Nolte playing Gent’s role, North Dallas Forty was a victim of its own timeliness. It ceased being a scandal when Meredith and Landry ceased being gossiped about. Its social commentary wasn’t original or particularly sharp even when its football was still news.

In 1984, in one of my first published reviews, I briefly summarized Gent’s third novel The Franchise in the New York Times Book Review:

Peter Gent, who used to catch passes for the Dallas Cowboys, now writes novels full of rage and bitterness at pro football. “I don’t want revenge, I want the truth known,” one of his characters says. That could serve as Mr. Gent’s motto. The Franchise, his third novel, is a long and thickly woven work — his most ambitious to date. Its title refers to both an expansion football team named the Texas Pistols and to Taylor Rusk, the quarterback who within three seasons turns his team into a Super Bowl contender. The story is focused primarily on the behind-the-scenes struggle to control the new Texas franchise and the league. Characters barter and cheat and sell each other out, engage in “creative financing” and obtain stolen game plans, but there is remarkably little depiction of action on the field. In fact, the central puzzle about The Franchise is the question, for whom is it intended? Football fans will be disappointed by the lack of football and dismayed by Mr. Gent’s relentlessness in tracing the corruption of a sport that finances itself upon “the working stiffs,” that is, the players and fans. Those who love literature will wince as the book alternately reads like a screed, then like an attempt to resurrect the proletarian novel. But the authority and command with which Mr. Gent writes are nonetheless impressive. Unfortunately, in The Franchise he has not submitted that talent to the strictures of plot and selectivity that might have made this a more satisfying novel.

Gent’s best book is probably his touching memoir The Last Magic Summer: A Season with My Son (1996). Although he was in position to do so, he never wrote the definitive football novel, which, indeed, remains to be written. Rest in peace.

Peter Gent, a backup wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys who went on to write novels about professional football, has died in Bangor, Michigan, of pulmonary disease. He was 69.

After a five-year career in Dallas, during which he caught 68 passes for 989 yards and four touchdowns, Gent retired to write North Dallas Forty, a 1973 exposé in fiction. Life in the NFL had left Gent deeply divided. “In one sense, you’re a folk hero,” he said. “But you’re really someone else’s property: your life subject to change by a single phone call.”

North Dallas Forty was about eight days in the declining football career of Phil Elliott, a receiver for the North Dallas Bulls. Before he is suspended by the NFL commissioner for drug use, Elliott is benched in favor of a young hotshot, although he knows he is the better pass-catcher. From that vantage point, Elliott serves up reflections about his teammates and their fans:

Looking up into the stands at the mass of gray dots that were faces, perched atop flashes of colors that expressed their egos, I suddenly realized how peculiar we [players] must look. I thought of Al Capp paying six dollars a head to watch and scream while trained mice scurried around in panic.

The novel was widely read as a roman à clef rather than an exposé — the fast-living quarterback was obviously modeled on the Cowboys’ Don Meredith, the robotic coach on Tom Landry — and though it was later filmed with Nick Nolte playing Gent’s role, North Dallas Forty was a victim of its own timeliness. It ceased being a scandal when Meredith and Landry ceased being gossiped about. Its social commentary wasn’t original or particularly sharp even when its football was still news.

In 1984, in one of my first published reviews, I briefly summarized Gent’s third novel The Franchise in the New York Times Book Review:

Peter Gent, who used to catch passes for the Dallas Cowboys, now writes novels full of rage and bitterness at pro football. “I don’t want revenge, I want the truth known,” one of his characters says. That could serve as Mr. Gent’s motto. The Franchise, his third novel, is a long and thickly woven work — his most ambitious to date. Its title refers to both an expansion football team named the Texas Pistols and to Taylor Rusk, the quarterback who within three seasons turns his team into a Super Bowl contender. The story is focused primarily on the behind-the-scenes struggle to control the new Texas franchise and the league. Characters barter and cheat and sell each other out, engage in “creative financing” and obtain stolen game plans, but there is remarkably little depiction of action on the field. In fact, the central puzzle about The Franchise is the question, for whom is it intended? Football fans will be disappointed by the lack of football and dismayed by Mr. Gent’s relentlessness in tracing the corruption of a sport that finances itself upon “the working stiffs,” that is, the players and fans. Those who love literature will wince as the book alternately reads like a screed, then like an attempt to resurrect the proletarian novel. But the authority and command with which Mr. Gent writes are nonetheless impressive. Unfortunately, in The Franchise he has not submitted that talent to the strictures of plot and selectivity that might have made this a more satisfying novel.

Gent’s best book is probably his touching memoir The Last Magic Summer: A Season with My Son (1996). Although he was in position to do so, he never wrote the definitive football novel, which, indeed, remains to be written. Rest in peace.

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Friendly Fire

A Special Forces friend of mine once vowed that, if he were killed by “friendly fire,” he would come back from the grave and haunt any family members who dared to complain about the manner of his death. His point was that battle involves the risk of getting killed, and it doesn’t much matter whether the bullet was fired by your side or by the enemy. He didn’t want the kind of spectacle made of his death that has occurred over Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who, while serving as a Ranger in Afghanistan, was accidentally killed by fellow Rangers.

I thought of his comments as I read about the growing brouhaha over the tragic death of British aid worker Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan. There are now rumors circulating that she may have been killed by a grenade tossed by a member of the American hostage-rescue force — presumably a Navy SEAL — and not by her captors. The British prime minister says that he finds this development to be “deeply distressing.” I can understand him being distressed by the fact that this selfless aid worker was kidnapped by brutal fanatics and that she died as a result. But does it make her death any worse if it was caused inadvertently by a rescuer than deliberately by a kidnapper? As far as I am concerned, whatever the case, moral culpability rests with the heartless fanatics who grabbed her. Period. End of story.

A Special Forces friend of mine once vowed that, if he were killed by “friendly fire,” he would come back from the grave and haunt any family members who dared to complain about the manner of his death. His point was that battle involves the risk of getting killed, and it doesn’t much matter whether the bullet was fired by your side or by the enemy. He didn’t want the kind of spectacle made of his death that has occurred over Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who, while serving as a Ranger in Afghanistan, was accidentally killed by fellow Rangers.

I thought of his comments as I read about the growing brouhaha over the tragic death of British aid worker Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan. There are now rumors circulating that she may have been killed by a grenade tossed by a member of the American hostage-rescue force — presumably a Navy SEAL — and not by her captors. The British prime minister says that he finds this development to be “deeply distressing.” I can understand him being distressed by the fact that this selfless aid worker was kidnapped by brutal fanatics and that she died as a result. But does it make her death any worse if it was caused inadvertently by a rescuer than deliberately by a kidnapper? As far as I am concerned, whatever the case, moral culpability rests with the heartless fanatics who grabbed her. Period. End of story.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.’”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.’”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

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NFL Action: Goodell on Roethlisberger

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

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Re: Big Bang Machine Felled by Frenchman from the Future

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

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Shuler Misses

Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a former NFL quarterback, has just backed Hillary Clinton.  This means that Shuler is about as good at picking his endorsements as he was at finding his receivers.

Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a former NFL quarterback, has just backed Hillary Clinton.  This means that Shuler is about as good at picking his endorsements as he was at finding his receivers.

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Je Ne Regrette Rien

The New York Times has a bittersweet piece today about a smoking ban in France which has been expanded to include cafés: “Even France, Haven of Smokers, Is Clearing the Air.” The ban, “following the spread of Starbucks and the election of pro-American, fitness-friendly President Nicolas Sarkozy,” has occasioned a small identity-crisis for café-wallflowers and everyday French (there are 12 million French smokers). To many, the coffee-and-cigarette combo is an important communal ritual, the way NFL Sunday and religion are for Americans. The Times piece is accompanied by a terrific, five-minute video showing café-owners and patrons decrying the nanny-state—“we want to live, we want to have fun . . . they’re taking that pleasure away from us,”—while engaging in another French pastime: nostalgic self-regard. Like I said, it’s bittersweet.

The New York Times has a bittersweet piece today about a smoking ban in France which has been expanded to include cafés: “Even France, Haven of Smokers, Is Clearing the Air.” The ban, “following the spread of Starbucks and the election of pro-American, fitness-friendly President Nicolas Sarkozy,” has occasioned a small identity-crisis for café-wallflowers and everyday French (there are 12 million French smokers). To many, the coffee-and-cigarette combo is an important communal ritual, the way NFL Sunday and religion are for Americans. The Times piece is accompanied by a terrific, five-minute video showing café-owners and patrons decrying the nanny-state—“we want to live, we want to have fun . . . they’re taking that pleasure away from us,”—while engaging in another French pastime: nostalgic self-regard. Like I said, it’s bittersweet.

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Frank Rich’s Minstrels

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

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