Friday, October 15, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself. The other half is his expression."

The Poet
Happy World Poetry Day!

Election 2010: Financing Lies

The news Thursday was the statistical extent to which those shadow organizations are dumping money into GOPer coffers--according to this study, they are outspending such groups for Dems by 9-1.

Some Dems sense this phantom money is itself a political issue that is resonating. But it's more than accountability for where the money is coming--it's about what the money is being spent on. And that is--surprise, surprise--lies. Blatant, systematic, repeated lies. High imagery simplistic and blatantly racist lies as well.

Apart from the sheer volume of these TV ads, and their free media support from Fox and friends, their potential effectiveness is possibly enhanced by the giddy attention that the media--including progressive media--is paying one person: Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. Her antics in that tiny state, in an election she is very likely to lose, is taking attention away from other more important races, with equally unqualified Tea Party candidates.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so. I heard a GOPer operative on TV(on CNN I believe) as I clicked through, brag that precisely this was happening--that all the attention on O'Donnell meant less attention on Rand Paul, Sharon Angle, Carly Fiorina, etc. So without attention and scrutiny, voters had only those TV campaign ads to go on. Not good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Best Game Ever

Today is the 50th anniversary of what some experts call the best baseball game ever (and not all of them are from Pittsburgh)--the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, won by the Pittsburgh Pirates over the New York Yankees with what is still the only home run in the bottom of the ninth to decide a Series in the 7th game, hit by the Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski. That's the sequence in the above pictures--the middle photo of Maz floating from second to third is the basis of the statue of him that will be unveiled outside the new Pirates ballpark.

It was a vastly different baseball world. It was the last year there were just eight teams in each of the National and American leagues, as there had been for most of the previous history of major league baseball. Though baseball was the biggest sport in America, most Major League players didn't even earn a living from baseball--many if not most had other jobs in the offseason, and went back to work full time when they retired. Though there were fewer games in a season (154 instead of 162), they were worked harder. The Pirates two top starting pitchers each had 16 complete games in 1960. Today a complete game is a rarity.

The game was played at Forbes Field, in the neighborhood of Oakland. It was a storied ball park even before this Series. Babe Ruth hit his last two home runs there. The old baseball movie, Angels in the Outfield, was shot there. It was torn down as the University of Pittsburgh expanded, and the Pirates went to play at the larger Three Rivers Stadium on the North Side, where the Steelers and other local teams played. Now Three Rivers is gone, and the new Pirates park goes a long way to recreating the experience of seeing a game at Forbes Field--where I saw my first games, including this 1960 team--but it doesn't quite get it all.

I was very fortunate to be a boy so into baseball when the Pirates were putting together this team, from 1958 to 1960. I met some of them then, including Roberto Clemente and Bill Virdon, and others later. Oddly, even though Bill Mazeroski became a member of my childhood church and to this day lives in my hometown of Greensburg, I never met him. (He was also the Pirate whose name was closest to mine, so that was what my next-door neighbor called me--hey! it's Billy Mazeroski!--even though Maz was a right-handed second baseman and I was a lefthanded pitcher, and my model was Harvey Haddix.)

That 7th game was full of odd events and improbable heroes, none more than Mazeroski and his home run. Maz is considered among the best fielding second basemen ever--if not the best-- but he wasn't among the Pirates best hitters or power hitters. No one expected him to hit a home run, especially since he'd already hit one in the Series (in the first game.) Fans just wanted him to get on base, and that's what he was trying to do. He took the first pitch for a ball, so maybe he could work a walk. Instead he hit the next pitch into deep left field and over or near the highest place, the scoreboard clock.

Pittsburgh hadn't had a sports champion since 1925, the last time the Pirates won the Series. But in that one moment, the already magical 1960 season became one that people will be talking about today, and Pittsburgh will celebrate again.

Photos above: from high atop the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning, two classic photos that capture the moment of Maz's homer--and the beginning of the most pervasive and joyful celebrations in western Pennsylvania history.

It's been called the greatest baseball game ever played, and it was one of the few games the Pirates played in 1960 that I didn't see or hear. All summer I went to games at Forbes Field, watched the away games broadcast on TV and especially listened to them on radio, with play-by-play and commentary by Bob Prince and Jim Woods, providing a wealth of memories so specific to that time and place. A bloop and a blast, Arriba Arriba!, Benny Benack & the Iron City Six, beat 'em Bucs, alabaster blast, you can kiss it goodbye, how sweet it is! We had 'em all the way! The words may mean nothing unless you were there. And they were widely shared--most weekend afternoons you could follow the game just walking around, from the radios playing on back porches and through open garage doors, or in the corner store or the department stores on Main Street.

But now it was October, the World Series was played in the daytime then, and I was a freshman at Greensburg Central Catholic High School. Apart from the two games over the weekend (the Yankees walloped the Bucs again on Saturday, but the Pirates tied the series on Sunday), I did see the 6th game. In person, at Forbes Field. It was the luck of the draw. So many people wanted tickets that the Pirates set up a lottery: you sent in your money and if your request was picked, you got two tickets, and if not, you got your money back. My request was picked--good luck.

But the Pirates picked the game you got tickets to, which looked like great luck at first, because the Pirates were ahead 3 games to 2 and they could have won the series by winning that game. But they sure didn't. The Yankees won 12-0, and it was slow torture--they scored in 5 separate innings without a single home run. Every Yankee got a hit, including the pitcher--17 hits in all. It got so bad that out in the left field bleachers where I sat with my father feeling like I was in a dark tunnel, the Pirates left fielder that day, Gino Cimoli, was chatting with fans. In later years I comforted myself with the thought that I had seen my favorite non-Pirates pitcher, Whitey Ford (a lefthander like me), as well as the fabled Yankees Mickey Mantle, Rodger Maris, Yogi Berra... But it was nothing but pain that day.

So I was back in school for the seventh game. The prevailing ethic apparently was that you could play hooky if you had tickets to the game--one of our companions on the special bus that took us directly to Forbes Field was a priest who taught at my school. But you couldn't stay home just to watch it on TV. In school that afternoon, some teachers allowed their class to listen to the game on radio, but others didn't. They were nuns mostly, and apart from their usual motivations, I suppose some of them were from elsewhere, and didn't quite get what all the fuss was about.

But I was never far from the game--the score, which went back and forth radically--was passed along in the halls between classes. The entire school was a radio. Especially in the crucial eighth inning, as our school day was winding down, virtual play-by-play was passed across the aisles of desks, starting from the kids nearest the open windows, straining to hear the radio broadcast drifting down from the classroom on the floor above. I remember getting the word on Roberto Clemente's crucial infield single as we stood for final prayers.

By the time we were dismissed, the game was tied. My classmates streamed to their buses, but I was one of the few students to walk my short distance home. But as I was leaving someone told me that there was a television set up in one of the large classrooms on the third floor, where the football team was watching before practice. I had just found a seat near the back when It Happened--I saw the Mazeroski homer on TV, pretty much the only part of the game I saw.

The room erupted, western Pennsylvania erupted. People driving home from work in Pittsburgh had pulled over on the side of the Parkway before going into the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, where they would lose radio reception. When they pulled back into traffic after the homer, it was to join the blaring horns echoing through the tunnel. I've imagined that scene many times. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has posted stories from the next day's paper about what happened in the city, and it was something that playwright August Wilson and I talked about--he recalled the people running into the streets, all up and down Forbes Avenue and Fifth Avenue. And of course, I heard later about the pandemonium among my classmates on the school buses.

Since then I've seen the highlights of the game many times, and I have a video narrated by Bob Prince that has a lot of footage from the Series. Since you had to use your imagination even to see the games you heard on radio, the fact that I hadn't ever actually seen that game didn't occur to me--until several weeks ago, when I read this story.

The story said something I didn't know--that for 49 years and change, no complete copy of the TV broadcast of that 7th game of the 1960 World Series was known to exist. The Best Game Ever! And then it said something that nobody knew--there was such a recording, a pristine kinescope (the pre-video tape form) that hadn't been watched in nearly a half century. It was found in a wine cellar. Belonging to...Bing Crosby.

Singer Bing Crosby was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he was in Paris when that game was played. The story said that he went to Paris intentionally so he couldn't watch it, he was so nervous. But he hired a company to record the game--something not everyone could afford to do--so he could watch it at home...if the Pirates won. He kept it with mounds of other film and tape reels. A researcher pawing through it all to prepare a DVD on Crosby's career found it late last year.

So it's only a matter of time before that game is on DVD or online, and more than 50 years later I may actually see it. Even if it is Mel Allen doing the play by play in the late innings. But I can hear Bob Prince saying it anyway---How sweet it is! We had 'em all the way!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Election 2010: Oligarchy in America

Another story in the New York Times focuses on another front group for GOPer corporate attempts to buy the upcoming election, this time with the typically ironic name of American Future Fund.

But perhaps even more striking is the extremely blunt column by E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post which begins: "The 2010 election is turning into a class war. The wealthy and the powerful started it.

This is a strange development. President Obama, after all, has been working overtime to save capitalism. Wall Street is doing just fine, and the rich are getting richer again. The financial reform bill passed by Congress was moderate, not radical.

Nonetheless, corporations and affluent individuals are pouring tens of millions of dollars into attack ads aimed almost exclusively at Democrats. One of the biggest political players, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, accepts money from foreign sources

He concludes: "The country doesn't need this class war, and it is irrational in any case. Practically no one, least of all Obama, is questioning the basics of the market system or proposing anything more than somewhat tighter economic regulations -- after the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression -- and rather modest tax increases on the wealthy. But even these steps are apparently too much for those financing all the television ads, which should lead voters to ask themselves: Who is paying for this? What do they really want? And who gave them the right to buy an election?"

Well, the who is generally clear: the oligarchy is seizing its opportunity to tighten its grip on power. The only question I have is: are they just recently taking advantage of certain opportunities--like the Supreme Court decision Dionne explains as a result of naivete or arrogance, and the successes of the Tea Party movement? Or has this been designed since November 2008?

I wouldn't be surprised if it's some combination. Somebody saw the opportunity that the Citizens United gave the Bushwhacked Court--kind of like Bush v. Gore II, only this time the intent is to steal all elections, not just one.

And Fox came all the way out of the closet, no longer trying to pass as an objective news channel, especially once it created Glenn Beck. But the Tea Party freak shows were probably just political theatre until they helped take Ted Kennedy's Senate seat and won some primaries. Then once Karl Rove got involved, the oligarchy was deep into regime change. After all, the oligarchy and the poor saps who worship Fox and wave their guns and Tea Party banners have at least one thing in common: they're old white racists.

Still, could it really have been an accident that two extremely wealthy ex-corporate execs decided at the same time to try to buy California--and that both are women in this huge and economically crucial state that has a lot of women voters and two women Senators? The oligarchy's ambition might have been to simply get a foothold here. And then suddenly the rest of the country opened up.

Whatever level of conspiracy existed, it's clearly big now. But sorry, Tea Party chumps: you're just plantation labor for the rich. The endgame is the oligarchy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Season of Choices

After speeches in Pennsylvania, including this one before 18,000 or so in Philly, back at the White House Monday morning President Obama renewed his call for a $50 billion infrastructure investment to stimulate employment now and the economy of the future. The 'roads, railroads and runways' proposal is more than fixing badly neglected infrastructure, but investing in "a smart system of infrastructure equal to the needs of the 21st century," the President said.

After outlining its benefits and how it will be paid for, President Obama concluded: "So there is no reason why we can’t do this. There is no reason why the world’s best infrastructure should lie beyond our borders. This is America. We’ve always had the best infrastructure. This is work that needs to be done. There are workers who are ready to do it. All we need is the political will. This is a season for choices, and this is the choice: between decline and prosperity, and between the past and the future."

Nightwatch: Sun to Mon

I've seen some reports on the 10-10 Global Work Party in daily newspapers (like the San Jose Mercury News that counted 24 events in its Santa Clara County, 400 in California and 7,000 globally) and local TV news sites. But as of the end of Sunday, the progressive blogs like Kos and the larger and/or fashionable climate crisis/ enviro blogs like Climate Progress have been totally silent. (One exception is the Natural Resources Defense Council blog.)

Maybe they believe this project was ill-advised or otherwise not worth their attention. Instead, Climate Progress focuses as usual on how crazy Republicans are, and the latest dire climate information. Or maybe it was Sunday and they'll get to it as Monday goes on. But I have yet to see the progressive and enviro blogosphere all come together on this issue, especially when one big voice might be heard, especially about thousands of grassroots projects. And until that voice grows big enough, the disunited States will continue to allow national governments to squabble on the issue (as they did in China this weekend), and GOPers to stick with denial as an effective party strategy.

Apropos progressives, Paul Krugman's latest column goes after the Obama administration for not spending enough to increase employment, particularly in the Recovery Act. It's not a new position for Krugman, but he states his case strongly and well, in ways that progressives online should note: he gives the Administration credit for what they did and its consequences in keeping the economy from totally tanking, and he doesn't conclude that the administration is therefore traitorous to the cause, or engaged in trying to fool people, or so disgusting that people ought to punish them by letting GOPer fanatics destroy the country and teach them a lesson.

Meanwhile, Frank Rich deflates the notion that the revolution will be social media-ized. But by far the most depressing piece I read was the Times report on bullying. In kindergarten. By girls.

My own Sunday not taken up by my jobs-related stuff was mostly baseball-related, as reflected in my only post of the day, on the SF Giants series with Atlanta, over at what's now my sports network at American Dash.

Update Mon to Tues: The silence of the blogs continued on Monday concerning the Climate Crisis Global Work Party activities Sunday, and it was noticed by at least one participant who expressed his astonishment at Climate Progress, which is too busy getting into obscure scientific association controversies and misinterpreting Paul Krugman. Climate Progress continues to go after President Obama for apparently not recognizing the Climate Crisis as a more important problem than health care or economic recovery, yet blows off meaningful support for action that would prove its own commitment.