The Weekly Tendown: December 20-26 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009


This is Issue 7 of the Tendown, my weekly look at the very best things that happened in the past week; Last Week, we discussed Bill Moyers, Howard Zinn, gooey butter bars and Snooki getting punched dead in the face on Jersey Shore.  What...what...what do you suppose we'll talk about this week?

First - Putting the Holla! Back in Happy Holidays

I got no gods and ain't no gods coming.  Not yours, not your neighbor's; I am thoroughly disinterested in magic however it's packaged.  O'Reilly would call me a secular progressive; a term which I'm willing to wholly embrace but which he uses to describe all that is wrong with western civilization.

He particularly likes to go on this tear around Christmas, upon which, perhaps you haven't heard, people like me have been fighting a war. 

It's a poorly coordinated war, as the first time I ever heard about it was when Bill O'Reilly told me I was fighting.  One would think I'd start a little lower on the holiday scale; pick on, say Arbor Day, get a couple of wins under my belt, before challenging the big dog.  I'd be a good homecoming opponent for Christmas U.- I pick up good paycheck to refurbish the weight room, Christmas rolls me up like 72-3, standing over my prone defensive backs after another big play taunting "Say my name!  Jesus is the reason for the season!"

It's just not a game I particularly want on my schedule.  Me, I like Christmas.  And had a very nice one this year, which is why it's the very best thing that happened this week.

See?  What's more Christmas than that?  A tree and presents and a dog to keep me away from all of it? 

I am not the enemy of Christmas!  I'm just a guy with a car that still isn't working. 

Look, how is this for terms of a truce - anytime we ever say Happy Holidays, we are implicitly acknowledging that Christmas is, in fact, one of those holidays that we are wishing bring people happiness.  Maybe we don't literally say the word "Christmas" - because to then rattle off a list of holidays (Chanukah, Saturnalia, Freaknik) just isn't very efficient.  But really - Happy Holidays isn't code for "Happy Holidays - unless you're talking about Christmas - then I hope you get hepatitis c" - it really just means, "Happy Holidays." 

And if you'd like to say "Merry Christmas" without it sounding like "You'd Better Bow Down Before My Savior on His Birthday, Bitch." - that'be great too. 

Really, no one's trying to take your religion away.  That's a good thing about having secular progressives as an opponent, we just don't care what you do with your own life.  No - seriously.  Marry ANYBODY YOU WANT.  Go ahead.  It's not a trick.  See?  It's good times.  Have sex with whomever you want, read whatever books you want, sing whatever songs you want - say Merry Christmas all year around.  It's cool. 

Sure, Christmas is really just an alliance of on-your-sleeve religion and conspicuous consumption; the two halves of the Republican Party.  Sometimes that's meant GOP=Abolitionists+Whigs, now that means GOP="climate change deniers" + "CEOs" or GOP="keep Obama's Nazi death panels from killing my Down's Syndrome baby" + "repeal the estate tax forever".  Either way I'm not down, but the State has to worm its way in your head somehow, comrades, and I don't have gods and don't care about our national chants, but I do believe the only way to be worthy of love is to buy presents, so I am sort of stuck with Christmas.  But if there's a war, honest, I didn't start it. 

Good talk.  After the jump - lets see the rest of the best things to happen this holiday week.

2. The Catch

The NFL Network re-aired the original broadcast of the 1981 NFC Championship game (which actually was played in January of 1982, for you non sports fans, yes, that's normal). This remains, I think, my favorite sports moment (when thinking about this week's Tendown I tried to put together my top ten sports moments, that was too tough, so then I decided to broaden it - here's a tip, sometimes, when a task is too hard, as opposed to making it smaller, make it bigger - so then I went year-by-year, picking my favorite sports moment from that year, but that also requires more thought; so while I say this is my favorite sports moment, I want to reserve the right to change my mind) in fact, as of that date, January of 1982 (I was eleven) it was the best moment of my life.

I've sort of written about this before in my review of Milk; Hurricane Katrina was over four years ago, but if the Saints make the Super Bowl, all you will hear is the connection between team and tragedy - the mayor of San Francisco George Moscone, and, to that time, the most prominent homosexual ever elected to American office, Harvey Milk, had been assassinated a little over 3 years before The Catch - but the connection between this rising football team and the fallen political figures was barely on the periphery, even at the time, and has been totally lost to history -- despite the assassin sharing the name of the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

Even today - when with Sean Penn having won Best Actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk less than a year before, at no point during the discussion of the first ever re-airing of the original broadcast of The Catch have I heard a single person so much as say "here's a macabre twist."  It has been an element of this game that has struck me curious literally since the very day it occurred. 

In fact, it wasn't until this viewing, of all the times I've seen clips of the Catch in my life (in my living room, there is a signed copy of the SI cover) that I noticed the sign. 

There is a white sign with black lettering (it may be a bedsheet) just behind the very end zone where Dwight catches the pass on 3rd and 3, leaping over Everson Walls to put us in position to win the game (not quite win, we needed a horse collar tackle, which now would be illegal, from Eric Wright on the first Cowboy play after the score - and then the fumble the play subsequent) is a sign that reads the following:


Not Danny White, which was the only way you ever heard the Cowboy QB/P (and how weird is that - can you imagine a starting quarterback today also being not the emergency punter, but the regular punter?  The rules have all been stretched to enormous lengths to keep the quarterbacks healthy - but in 1981 Danny White was punting the football) referred to, but Dan White, the name of the assassin.  There it was, in the end zone at Candlestick Park, visible just as Dwight flashes by to catch the ball.

There's a book to be written about the Catch and the city of San Francisco (this The Catch: One Play, Two Dynasties, and the Game That Changed the NFL is a good enough book, but it is not that book) one that contextualizes the rise of the 49ers and the city of San Francisco in the context of Harvey Milk and the Reagan 80s; my thoughts about which are in the previous piece.  But this week I enjoyed watching the full '81 NFC Title game - our 6 turnovers, Jim Miller - the barefoot punter, our picking on Walls all game long, Joe swearing at Too Tall Jones, Eddie smoking a cigarette on the sideline, Ronnie needing to be calmed down after Dwight's catch, the phrase "Amos Lawrence, #20 on the muff" which would be a good addition if anyone's got a "Dirty Sounding Things Vin Scully Said" blog, the old high school cheeleading uniforms, the Cowboys so close to converting on 3rd and 5 with 5 minutes to go which would have been the death blow, and Bill - Bill Walsh just outcoaching Landry at ever step in that last drive: a Lenvil Elliott draw on second and 10; after the big Freddie conversion - an Elliott sweep right for 11, then an Elliott sweep left for 7.  All setting up the reverse coming out of the two minute warning - Elliott with another sweep...but he gives to Freddie who takes it all the way to the Cowboy 35.  Joe to Dwight to the 25.  Joe to Freddie to the 13.  Another Elliott sweep to the six.  3rd and 3.  58 seconds left.  Sprint Right Option. 

Thanks, Dwight. 

3. Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It)

That's the best book I read this week (my academic term ended with Monday's grading of the online final papers, so I've had time to read and write and otherwise live my life).  Particularly good is an excerpt from a 1816 letter written by Jefferson:
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched.  They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human , and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment.  I know that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it.  It deserved well of its country. I was very much like the present but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book reading; and this they would most certainly say themselves, were they to rise from the dead.  I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting  their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
The next time the answer to a political question is "what would the founding fathers think about that" - Jefferson just gave you the answer.  No, we didn't have gay marriage in 1787.  No, we didn't have universal health care.  We also had slaves and women couldn't vote.  Times change.  Times have changed since Jefferson wrote the Declration of Independence; times have changed since it was written in Leviticus that homosexuality and shellfish were an abomination.  Words written by our "barbarous ancestors" shouldn't control policy in 2010.
4. Christian the Lion
-Of all the decade end lists that I've read (and written a few) my favorite is this countdown of internet video clips.  I'm always a little behind the curve on viral video (if I'm going to watch all that puroresu, including the October 3 3/4 star match from DDT between Ibushi and a blow up, that's not a metaphor, Kota Ibushi had a 3 3/4 star match against a blow up doll in October -- then I have to let some things slide; what else did I see this week - I saw a 4 3/4 Kotaro/Nakajima match from October - and last Sunday was Final Resolution, TNA's last PPV before the Hogan era begins, with a 4 1/4 AJ/Daniels main and a 4 star Angle/Nigel semi-main) it is usually months after your mom forwarded you that wedding where the procession dances to the Chris Brown song that it reaches my Nero Video Player.  But even for me, it's unforgiveable that it wasn't until this week that I saw the clip of Christian the Lion (ranked only number 6 of the decade here, which is just madness).  I was familiar with the story, but had not seen this until this week.
I cried like a baby.  I'm not made of rocks, people.   Sure, I know you saw this years ago, but I'm just catching up.  Now, what's this I hear about these two girls and a cup?  I'm not sure what could be happening with that cup, but I assume it will be good heartwarming holiday (er, I mean Christmas!) viewing. 
5. Dead Muslims
The most insightful piece online I read this week was this about the number of civilians we've killed this decade in our two Middle East wars (how many 9/11's do you suppose we've been responsible for?) Occasionally, someone in my government class will raise the Bush justification for our engaging in the Iraq War even after it was clear there were no weapons of mass destruction "we have to get them over there so they won't get us over here" - but that rests on the premise that those things are mutually exclusive - why do we believe the ongoing wars aren't making us less safe?  Here's Glenn Greenwald:
Americans are innundated with false claims about things that never actually happened -- pure myths and falsehoods -- while the actual consequences of our actions (the corpses of innocent Muslim men, women and children being pulled from the rubble) are widely disseminated in the Muslim world, yet are barely mentioned by our media. And then we walk around, confounded and confused, about how there could be such a grave disparity in perception among our rational, free and well-informed selves versus those irrational, mislead, paranoid, and primitive Muslims. 
I was teaching government during 9/11, and had to deal with the "why do they hate us" discussion in a way that didn't cause a riot but also didn't fall back on "they hate us for our freedoms."  I knew about our post World War II aid in the Iranian coup which installed the Shah - and our support of his brutal dictatorship (but one friendly to western corporate interests) - I knew about the hatred that caused of us in Iran, how it led to the hostages being taken after the Shah was deposed and the Ayatollah Khomeni installed in the late 70s.  I knew how we spent the 80s supporting the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq during his war against the new government in Iran, as we preferred Hussein (friendly to western corporate interests) while knowing all about the types of atrocities which we would claim gave us moral authority to attack Iraq the first time in '91.  I knew that during that first Gulf War we set up permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia, which further inflamed Muslims, and when you combine that with our support of Israel, what you got, as early as that first Gulf War, was men like Bin Laden declaring war on the United States, and over the next ten years, with such attacks as on the USS Cole, escalating and planning that war until the major strike on 9/11. 
I knew all of that.  But we had to listen to national leaders talk about our freedoms as being the cause of worldwide hatred - a discussion that penetrated deeply enough into the American psyche that, even today, when I ask "why was the United States attacked on 9/11" that is the answer I get more than any other.
So, over the past ten years, we've responded by killing Muslim civilians.  Killings that go undiscussed in the United States.  A year from now, a decade from, now, a quarter century from now there will be another 9/11 style attack - and again, we will mumble platitudes about ourselves and express true mystery as to how people could possibly hate us.  That mystery will be unwarranted. 

6. When I Cry, That's My Time to Shine.
I was alone when I watched the clip from number 4, so it's unlikely I did it to attract attention.  The most insightful thing I heard this week was from Flo of the Bad Girls Club.  Flo, the most frightening of all the Bad Girls, was admonishing Natalie (why does Natalie believe she runs LA?) for interrupting Portia who was struggling with missing her 3 year old child (Portia, whose name I may be misspelling, interrupted Natalie's somewhat unfortunate facial features at the end of the episode, "we were just sitting outside!" was the funniest thing I heard all week).  Flo was explaining, correctly so, that when someone else is being emotional, probably trying to pull the focus to yourself is error, "when I cry, that's my time to shine."  
My first thought was that revealed more about Florina than she probably would wish.  My second thought was it reveals something about the entire decade.  One of the notions floating in the culture that most struck me after 9/11 was how readily people would appropriate the event as their own pain from "well, I knew someone in tower 2" to "this will be the defining event of my generation - just as people remembered where they were when Kennedy was killed, I will remember this".  Bush used this language, recall - called himself the war president - said this event would be how his administration would be remembered - even before the smoke had cleared, we moved to claim some level of the pain for ourselves.  The pain gave us meaning, made us special.  Look at me, look at my pain; when I cry, that's my time to shine.
On Bill Simmons's ESPN podcast this week, he interviewed Chris Connelly, who suggested that 9/11 explains, well, explains this blog - that the speed with which people died, had their lives made anonymous, leads us to want to record our thoughts - to in some way say "I was here" before it's too late.  
I don't know if that's right - but whether it's reality shows or youtube or facebook or this, you being the author of your own experience, "hey world, here I am - look at me" has been the ethos of the decade (what are we calling this decade?  I'm gonna go with Uh-ohs.  From 9/11 to global economic collapse and two wars in between.  Uh-ohs) and I don't know that any single thought makes more sense to me than Flo's.  It's hard to get attention through success, because not everyone can succeed.  But everyone can cry.  Everyone can be shamed and fail and expose oneself on camera.  This has been the decade where the economic gap between wealthy and working class expanded more than any point in recorded history - a decade where people perhaps recognized that traditional means will not bring them the American Dream, that a lifestyle of the equivalent of their parents is probably out of their grasp.  That maybe it isn't that life is fragile - but our ability to reach "the good life" is beyond our grasp. 
But a bikini, a camera, and a willingness to do anything will make you famous for a minute.  One day you're no one, the next you're crying on the Bad Girls Club.  And it's your time to shine.
7. Student Loan Sinkhole
-The more traditional path to the American dream would have been college.  The best thing I saw on television was a repeated story on Now about student loan debt.  The degree to which numbers of Americans find themselves locked into a debt from which they cannot recover is enormous.  I know for me I spent the late 90s with law school debt and a teacher's income, just feeling awash in incredible shame as I was unable to keep current with payments.  Had I been able to watch stories like this and see the types of websites with the stories of others that now exist (all available through the above link) I would not have fallen into the degree of depression, that I just kept entirely hidden, that really took away the back half of my 20s.  
I paid off my student loans - and late fees and penalties.  I don't owe a penny.  But to do so, I took out a mortgage on my house.  And then came the bursting of the housing bubble.  So while I haven't had to dodge a debt collector in years, the tentacles of my own student loan issues continue to have a grasp on my life.  
8.  Enough About Me, Here's More About Me.
Off since Tuesday meant more time to write.  I had health reform thoughts; I wrote about Mike Vick; picked my Athlete of the Year and finally, after holding out every single second I could, created a facebook page - the badge for which you can find on the right.  Yes, I will be your facebook friend.  Aw. 
9. USC 24 Boston College 13
It was a down year for my Trojans; we went 8-4, but closed out in a good way Saturday night with an Emerald Bowl win (and, at least as important - an Emerald Bowl cover).  Also, a terrific week for USC hoops; we're now 8-4, we won the Hawaii tournament this week, beating UNLV in the final game - and now we look less like a bottom of the barrel team and more a team that, at least, has an NIT bid ahead of it.  Our bench is extra, extra short, which doesn't give much room for error, and I don't know where the points are going to come from against a team that can put the ball in the basket, but this was a better week than I expected. 
10.  Your New Survivor Winner - John Peter Zenger
A better than usual season of Survivor ended Sunday when Russell lost.  And that's all the season will be remembered for, this is the year Russell didn't win Survivor.  There were debates, even as quickly as the very show when the vote was revealed, about the decision; Jeff Probst clearly disapproved, and the viewer vote where they award money to who, in previous years, was called the "fan favorite" was this time awarded to the "best player."  The viewers went with Russell, and I can't imagine it was particularly close.  But the jury chose random blonde woman (or, not Russell).
This seemed a pretty good case of jury nullification; now, unlike an actual courtroom, it doesn't appear there are any codified rules, no jury instructions for Survivor voting, other than they do have to vote for someone to win - but more often than not (both in Survivor and in similar games) juries have followed the Richard Hatch precedent and picked the person who played the "better game" - which means some mixture of strategy/duplicity that enabled that person (even a person personally noxious; maybe even especially a person personally noxious) to reach the finals (think Big Brother winners Dr. Will or Evil Dick as the post-Hatch template where juries clearly chose someone they personally did not like, someone who had specifically screwed them over - instead of someone largely ineffectual).  Why would they do this?  Why, in the absence of "rules" do reality show jurors pick a person they like less to give large sums of money to?  
Russell explained this himself, through teary eyes, after the vote, he said he "takes the game seriously" in a way that his jury "clearly doesn't"  Because that's what fidelity to a reality competition with jury means, as decided by the Hatch jury - "taking the game seriously" means putting aside personal feelings and giving the cash to the jackass.  
Russell's jury didn't do that - they picked the random blonde, and not for specific strategic reasons - they picked her because she was "not-Russell" - they didn't pick her because she was particularly likeable or noteworthy or even a sympathetic hard luck story - she was clearly, specifically picked because she was not-Russell, in as close to a jury nullification as one can get in a world without jury instructions.  But the manifest weight of the role of reality juror would lead one to believe that Russell was the winner of this game - and, in spite of that spirit, in spite of his ability to "outwit, outlast, outplay" his competitors, his jury went the other way.  It was interesting, and I wonder if there will be consequences in the way future reality competition juries see their roles.  
That's all I got this week.  One more Tendown in the Books.  I'll be back next time...if there is a next time.


Travisina said...

I thought the "Happy Holidays!" saying was in reference to the Thanksgiving/Christmas/NewYears trifecta. Like an all inclusive deal.

Jim said...

See and now you know better. It really is a way to disrespect Jesus.

Blog said...

Halloween is only a couple of weeks separated from Thanksgiving, shouldn't that be included in "Happy Holidays" as well?

MLK gets his own day, and I reckon that Jesus of Nazareth had more influence on the world than he did. So "Merry Christmas" works for me.

Does the dog bite, or does he just shoot lasers from them there spooky eyes?

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