(Late) Morning appreciation

CusackThere is a line in the movie High Fidelity (it’s probably in the book, too) where John Cusack’s character, Rob, defends the highly refined tastes of he and his pals Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso) by declaring that they are “professional appreciators.”

Isn’t that a nice sentiment? An appreciator… that’s like a fan only better. An appreciator accepts the effort and understands nuance. They search for the sublime and revel in it whether it’s a tiny strummed chord of a guitar, an understated sense of style or an unspoken acknowledgment.

It’s kind of like that scene in Pulp Fiction where Winston Wolf turns and gives Jimmy a quick nod after the first sip of coffee that was crassly called the “gourmet [bleep]” by Jules.

I’ve always believed that the success of something like “American Idol” was because Americans, generally, are not appreciators. Instead, we enjoy watching the failure of others. We enjoy feeling like we are better than others and laugh at people when they put themselves out for public consumption and fail.

That combined with spiraling, out-of-control credit card debt, low-brow culture and all-you-can-eat buffets are what Americans do better than almost anyone else.

I’d say Americans do sports and sports fandom better than any nation in the world, too, but that would just be crass jingoism. The fact is that most of the world has caught up with us in athletics, but then again I usually just base this notion on how well the U.S. team performs in Olympic basketball. Charles Barkley said prior to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona that the U.S. can play basketball and drop bombs better than any country in the world. Sadly, I don’t Sir Chuck’s boast holds up any more.

But it appears as if Charles is singlehandedly proving the buffet theory.

Nevertheless, the rest of the world has seen our version of football and baseball and, frankly, they aren’t very impressed. American Football, as it’s called everywhere else, appears to be the one sport that captures no imagination whatsoever. They all have their own football and all the ancillary stuff that go along with it, thank you very much. In fact, a good old soccer hooligan makes the standard 700-level Eagles’ fan look like a choirgirl.

Certain soccer fans actually are detained at the border when attempting to enter most foreign countries. The fear is that if soccer fans go to, say, Belgium, an international incident could occur, leaders will stop talking to one another and the Euro will drop lower than the dollar.

All that for what? Soccer?

Meanwhile, certain Eagles fans are sometimes prevented from purchasing more than two $8 beers at a concession stand at the Linc. As a result, Joe Banner won’t be able to make the numbers work on the spreadsheet and the team won’t be able to afford that much-needed wide receiver.

So drink up, folks, but do it with a certain decorum. That means when you are sitting at the tax-payer funded football stadium, compress your opera hat and put away the monocle before attempting to dry heave on the patron in front of you.

After all, we are a society and the team needs that special receiver with the ability to dig out passes thrown to the shoe tops.

But you know what else we can do better than anyone else? We can wax on about baseball. Yes, it’s true. It’s also true that there are companies that exist solely to produce that saccharine sweet baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life bullbleep. You know, that NPR/Field of Dreams tripe about ghosts walking out of the corn or holding your dad’s hand as you walk into Fenway or something like that. Man, it just makes me want to throw up.

implosionWhy, you ask (or even if you didn’t I’m going to write it anyway)? Perhaps it’s because the reality of life has made a bigger impression than the fairy tale. For instance, my first exposure to baseball came at Veterans Stadium and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. At the Vet the design was so bad that nearly every seat in the house sucked. I can remember walking in there for the first time in 1976 and thinking that we’d be better off watching the game at home on TV – at least then I’d be able to see what the players looked like. At least then I wouldn’t have some jackass spill beer down my back as I nursed a nose bleed brought on from the altitude of the crappy seats.

Or in Baltimore, a neighborhood stadium with sardine-styled parking, National Bohemian beer ads everywhere, and drunk cab driver on the dugout leading the cheers for the weeded crowd that needed to yank out the ganja one last time so that the he would be numb for when the police billy clubs rained down on him after being tackled for running out on the field.

You’re crazy if you think going to places like that doesn’t have an affect on a kid prone to over-thinking everything.

Even now it seems as if baseball is personified by odd behavior. Like Billy Wagner exposing himself after being asked about throwing a slider or Brett Myers just being Brett Myers.

The truth is I prefer the reality to the produced fairy tales. I appreciate it. Just like the put on part – you know, the crap about how time starts on Opening Day – the truth is so different from real life. Accepted behavior and norms are pulverized with a fungo and no one goes to jail for it.

Who doesn’t appreciate that?

So let’s wax on…

A few years ago the Vet was closed and mercifully blown up. Personally, I think the park got off easy. I would have preferred torture instead of implosion, but it all worked out in the end. Nevertheless, Yankee Stadium is closing at the end of this season and already the odes are hitting the ether. Here, Tyler Kepner of The New York Times gets into the off-limits areas of The Stadium.

Ron Guidry played the drums before taking the mound? Cool.

Meanwhile, The Times has a whole page for Stadium stories.

Also in New York, former Phillie (and all-around solid dude) Nelson Figueroa’s Quixotic or Coste-ian (yes) journey across the globe to find work as a baseball could end with a gig in the Mets’ bullpen. If Figgy doesn’t start the season at Shea, it could be New Orleans, which, obviously, is better than Taiwan.

Finally, CBS college hoops announcer Billy Packer doesn’t care much for… well, anything. Especially sports.
Top 5 songs mentioned or heard in High Fidelity
Suspect Device – Stiff Little Fingers
Janie JonesThe Clash
Let’s Get It On – Barry Jive & The Uptown Five
Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam – The Vaselines
Walking on Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves

Morning clicks

John AdamsIf I was a contributor to the web site Stuff White People Like, I would add something about HBO docudramas about dead presidents/founding fathers in Colonial America that are produced by Academy Award-winning actors that appear to be defined by the subject matter of the web site, Stuff White People Like.

Or something like that.

The truth is, like most people described on that site, I like hating corporations, coffee, knowing what’s best for poor people, and Mos Def. I also have enjoyed the first three installments of HBO’s series, John Adams, which, I think, shows just how messy it was to set up a representative democracy in a time when the population was not connected by mass media or a mouse click. Actually, there wasn’t even electricity and the men wore some of the fanciest powdered wigs this side of the Christopher St. Halloween Parade.

I think it’s a cross between awesome and totally awesome.

Instead, being a citizen took effort by today’s standards, though it likely wasn’t viewed in such a manner. Based on my reading of Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin, participation elaborate civics duties wasn’t just relegated to certain cliques. No one claimed that our founders were in “show business for ugly people.” Actually, politics didn’t have an entertainment value and it seemed as if the participants were in it more for the common good than some sort of jewel at the end of a long campaign spent raising millions and millions of dollars.

For instance, Adams spent years away from his family in Europe where he campaigned to the swells in France and Holland for money to fund the revolution. While there he kind of had a knack for rubbing folks the wrong way with his uncompromising ways, belief in American independence and inability to promote and market himself the way his buddy Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson could.

In fact, Adams sacrificed much personal glory for the sake of American ideals and goals. He very well could have been the main architect of the Declaration of Independence, but instead took a role in the background as Jefferson’s editor and compass. Yes, Jefferson gets all the well-deserved credit for writing the Declaration, but the document is as much Adams’s as well.

So yeah, if I’m not already in bed resting up for an early Monday morning to prepare for Opening Day and escaping The Lanc before Barry Obama shows up in town for the big rally at Stevens Trade, I’ll tune in to the fourth installment of the Adams epic on HBO. After all, there won’t be any college hoops on the tube and it appears as if I have the bracket competition all but locked up.

Dead presidents and founding fathers… hell yeah!

In the meantime, former Phillies and all-around gentleman, Doug Glanville, wrote another Op-Ed piece for The New York Times. It seems as if ol’ Dougie is itching to get the glove and uniform back on, but, you know, a new career calls. Besides, the Phillies don’t really have a need for a reserve outfielder with a low on-base percentage and limited power. CBP was built for American League-style ball, baby. The Phillies need to bash.

Elsewhere on the baseball front, ESPN’s Jeff Pearlman focused on the death of left-handed pitcher Joe Kennedy and how his family is coping. As some may recall, Kennedy died suddenly last winter in Florida the day before he was to attend a wedding, leaving behind a 26-year-old pregnant wife.

Though just 28, Kennedy died from hypertensive heart disease.

My memory of Kennedy is from the 2001 season when he shutdown the Phillies while pitching for the Devil Rays around the time manager Larry Bowa and Scott Rolen had it out after the skipper told a writer that the middle of the order “is killing us.”

That game in St. Pete could have been Kennedy’s finest as a big leaguer.

Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post became the first mainstream writer — at least that I’ve seen — to take the IOC to task for awarding the 2008 Olympics to Beijing.

Before I write, “What were they thinking…”, and yes, I know what they were thinking. The dollar signs where their pupils used to be are easy to spot. Try this out from Jenkins:

Up to this point, the IOC has soft-pedaled these events under the rationale that “engagement” with Chinese officials is better than nothing. President Jacques Rogge defends the decision to send the Games to China, saying they are an opportunity to expose a fifth of the world’s population to the “Olympic ideal.” But it’s safe to say the Olympic ideal isn’t getting through to the Chinese people. Only the McDonald’s billboards are. On Monday, Yang Chunlin was sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting subversion.” His crime? He posted on Internet sites under the theme, “We don’t want the Olympics, we want human rights.”

Seriously… what were they thinking?

Finally, from Gina Kolata of The New York Times, running can, indeed, make one feel high.


HBO: John Adams

ESPN: Joe Kennedy is gone, but not forgotten

The New York Times: The Boys of Spring

The Washington Post: IOC Needs to Step In Or Perhaps Move On

The New York Times: Yes, Running Can Make You High

Morning newsy news

paper boyIn an effort is to make this site more blog-like (is that good or bad?), we are going to incorporate more stories from places that folks following this site and the Philadelphia sporting scene would otherwise miss.

Call it a public service.

So in this public service to you, the dear reader, I’ll assort all the things that pass my way that is noteworthy and post it here as many mornings as I am in business. Some of it will be about baseball and the Phillies and some will come from the sports world. But most of it will be about other things. That’s just the way it goes.

Plus, how much sports writing can one read, really?

Anyway, there are two magazines in which everyone should own a subscription if they want to be (relatively) switched on to the basic cultural trends.

The other magazines can just be put out in the recycling bin.

One of those magazines is Esquire, which is in its 75th year of telling grown men not to wear sports jerseys lest they want to commit a social faux pas and look like some sort of a philistine. In fact, in a recent issue of the magazine it was suggested that there was a name for grown men who wore the jersey of their favorite team while out and about in public.

They’re called professional athletes.

The other magazine that people should subscribe to is The New Yorker, which is a weekly that digs deeper into stories so that the nuance has nuance. The magazine is also the home to cartoons that are not funny and original poetry and prose. Actually, The New Yorker is doing the same things now that it did decades ago. Once I heard editor David Remnick say in an interview that he didn’t care about how long the stories in his magazine were as long as the writing was interesting. This struck me as an odd thing to say because shouldn’t that be the case in every publication?

Obviously, it isn’t the case.

Nevertheless, I remember sitting in the library at J.P. McCaskey High in Lancaster, Pa. thumbing through the latest edition of the magazine looking at the names of the writers and all of the different styles they used to tell a story. But more interesting than that was the pages of events listings that has always been a staple of The New Yorker. Right up front, before the always entertaining “Talk of the Town” column , columns and columns of agate type describing where and when all the latest bands, plays, shows and openings were going down. Sometimes I actual got dizzy thinking that out there, in one city, all this stuff was going on and quite clearly there wasn’t anything happening in Lancaster.

As a result my friends and I got together on weekend evenings and spent time tripping the alarms on the houses in our neighborhood.

What, did you think there was a Jean-Luc Goddard retrospective happening downtown?

In the March 27 issue of the magazine there’s a story by Eric Alterman chronicling the death of the American newspaper business. I’m one of those guys that believes advancements in technology should only makes things better – particularly when it comes to words, discourse and information. Yet for some reason the scions of the newspaper business just don’t understand how to make it work, which, clearly is because of a forgetfulness of the newspapers’ mission. For some reason folks believe that news, information and art is a product or a commodity like anything else.

Those are folks we like to refer as pigs.

Anyway, newspapers are dead. Stick a fork in them. If you don’t believe me read Alterman’s story.

Meanwhile, a guy who seems to get what the mission of the story is a fellow named Bob Lefsetz. An ex-publisher of a influential newsletter on the music business-turned web site, Lefsetz now turns out daily posts on, oddly enough, Lefsetz.com, because, “I’m just passionate about music and trying to speak the truth about it.”

In a story by Josh Freedom duLac of The Washington Post, Lefsetz is described as the Jim Cramer of music writing… only without the millions from hedge funds to pay the freight. Simply, Lefsetz just wants to write about what matters to him and big-wigs in the business have taken notice.

Is that so wrong?

Speaking of wrong, I caught the 1 a.m. edition of the PBS show Frontline the other night just in time to watch the latest piece called, “Bush’s War.” Complete with over 400 interviews, including extended talks with the so-called “architects” of the war in Iraq and many of the generals, the Frontline episode should be viewed as the first honest retrospective of the five-year old war.

PBS shows the series regularly, but if you miss it on the tube it’s available for online viewing.

Perhaps the most striking part about the first hour of “Bush’s War” was how readily some of those in charge of the operation were willing to admit that the plans and the policies were and are “a fiasco.”

I wish there were something I could add here.

Barry O Finally, it appears as if Barack Obama will hit Lancaster on Monday (and I thought nothing happened here) for a rally. Hillary Clinton also made the trip to Lancaster last week to film a special for MTV, hold a rally at Millersville University, and then be sucked up to by the local press. That’s probably how it will go with Barry Obama, too.

Celebrities can do no wrong here in Lancaster as far as the locals go.

Unfortunately, Monday is also the opening day of the baseball season, so I’m stuck going to the ballpark…

Could that be the first time that sentence has ever been written? Sure, hang around the press box and that sentiment is right there on the surface, but as far as typed out on a keyboard and thrown out there for consumption, yes, I believe it is the first time someone has complained about having to go to a baseball game.

The New Yorker: Out of Print – Death and Life of the American Newspaper.

The Washington Post: Rage Against the Machine – Bob Lefsetz, the Music Industry’s Go-To Gadfly

Frontline: Bush’s War