Welcome to this, the 12th Issue of the Weekly Tendown, my look back at the very best cultural happenings of the past 7 days; Last Week, in BizarroDown, we discussed Citizens United, Velveeta Fudge, "Pants on the Ground", and the thrilling conclusion to my days as a member of the ownership society. But this week we return to our flurry of unfettered optimism as we smackdown some Tendown!
First: One vs. 140
There's no way anyone on the Left can honestly support Obama with anything more than wishful ambivalence; today, Greenwald writes about how Obama's civil liberties record is to the right of Reagan's; in fact, the country whose policies toward "non military combatants" most resembles ours is Libya. Further, Howard Zinn died this week; I wrote about it here; if there's one theme throughout Zinn's scholarship its that top-down leadership is the most overblown of all historical perspectives; if you want to look at the history of progressive movement in the United States - you don't look at Lincoln or FDR or LBJ - who you look at are popular movements agitating for change. Power is not predisposed to relinquish itself; you don't get worker's rights legislation without radical unions; you don't get civil rights legislation without a civil rights movement; when people say "Why hasn't Obama done anything" - be it get troops out of Afghanistan or fight against the drug companies, or close Guantanamo - the response should be - who is making him? The popular movement of 2009 which had social impact was the Teabag movement; and saying that it was backed by corporate money doesn't defeat the impact - the impact was it provided the narrative that still holds with huge numbers of the American people - that health care reform is somehow a scam, or unneeded, or too complicated, or unfair to those who already have insurance. Had proponents of health care reform stormed town halls with equal numbers and force and volume as opponents - with stories of tragedy that result from our commodification of health care, that's what would have forced the issue into a different frame and given the Democrats predisposed to moving with the current a reason to push the legislation through. An unfortunate element of American political debate is we take as a strength our departure from the policies of the rest of the advanced world. When Europe tries terrorist defendants in civilian criminal courts (the way we always have) it's viewed as demonstrating systemic strength; when Europe (and everyone else) treats health care as a public good, its viewed as analogous to police or fire protection or education - and instead of recognizing that the citizens in those nations aren't rallying en masse to make their countries' policies more like ours - we view our being out of step with the rest of the advanced world as a sign of their not measuring up to American standards. We don't look at the vast disparity in scientific understanding, in understanding about our own history, in refusal to accept basic truths like evolution - between us and the rest of the advanced world as red flags signifying American decline - instead we look at even asking those questions, even suggesting that there might be ways that the United States can learn from the rest of the world as unpatriotic.
So, I'm pessimistic is the point.
But on Friday, something pretty wonderful happened. Obama met with the Republican caucus and stood (without a teleprompter, incidentally) and took live bullets from 140 Republicans ripping off the full run of right wing talking points; and he whipped their ass. How do you know? Because with 20 minutes left, Fox News cut away from the broadcast.
140 Republicans firing live bullets at Obama - and with 20 minutes left Fox News cuts the feed.
How do you think it was going?
On the record, Republican Congressman Tom Cole said "he (Obama) did really well," off the record, a source told Luke Russert, "it was a mistake that we allowed the cameras to roll like that." Here's the reaction from The Atlantic:
He displayed a familiarity with Republican proposals that seemed to astonish those who asked questions of him. And at the end, Republicans rushed up to him, pens and photo cameras in hands, wanting autographs and pictures.
And from The Nation:
The President put on a clinic in public discourse, political argument, intellectual dexterity and moral courage. It was a reminder of what democracy could be if we engaged our opponents with substance, patience and civility rather than invectives, gamesmanship and boorishness.
For me, it was the most I've liked Obama - found myself "rooting" for him, ever. It is his best possible light, and the Democrats should look to put him in that position more often. Words are just words, particularly when they come from those in power, but Friday was a ray of light in a dark, frustrating stretch to be on the left. Here's the Salon take.
That's the best thing that happened this week - after the jump - the rest of the Tendown!
1. He May Be the Fifth or Sixth Best Quarterback Here.
-That's Todd McShay on Friday's Mike&Mike talking about Gino Torr...I mean, Tim Tebow's week of practice at the Senior Bowl.
And then it got worse during the game, 50 yards passing and two fumbles. Here's McShay's wrapup of the full week (it's behind the firewall, but below are the salient excerpts. You're welcome, internet. Feel free to find the tip jar.):
Tebow came to Mobile, Ala., with a chance to prove he can be an effective NFL quarterback, but if he could go back in time, he likely would choose not to come to the Senior Bowl. Tebow did show good arm strength, handled the media frenzy well and even played through a case of strep throat, but he also put all his weaknesses on display in a setting that did nothing but magnify them. In a group of merely adequate quarterback prospects, Tebow ranked near the bottom, and we walk away from Mobile believing he might never be an NFL quarterback. He will have to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up to have a chance, and we cannot remember one NFL quarterback who had to retool his entire game before finding success in the NFL. Teams that might have been considering Tebow in the late first or somewhere in the second round now have to re-evaluate.
We have not spoken to a single talent evaluator who believes Tebow can develop into the kind of quarterback Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco is right now. The learning curve is just too steep in almost every area. We cannot find a way to give him any higher than a third-round grade, and even then we envision him as nothing more than a Wildcat or short-yardage quarterback who could move to H-back. Overall, Senior Bowl week could not have gone worse from an on-the-field standpoint.
Tim Tebow sucks. That's the bottom line.
And I like that. I like that because, as I've written about before, Tebow has been spoken about as (1) the greatest college football player ever and (2) a person of unassailable character and (3) possessing magical leadership qualities that transcend his physical weaknesses.
Which is just increased levels of crazy. All leadership - from that of a US President to a future "short yardage quarterback who could move to H-Back" is overrated and overstated. It's part of the great man theory of the world that is destructive to all of us - a "please, father, help me" disempowering orientation that marginalizes the lives of most of us, making us cower in the face of authority, causing us to live our lives - the only lives we will ever have - in fear of retribution. We wait to be led - citizens and offensive linemen - and take whatever small piece of chicken is doled out to us by those leaders.
And Tebow's got a commercial airing a week from now. I've written about that before, but the movement on that story this week is that CBS (which has previously rejected progressive Super Bowl ads as too controversial - only to say they've modified their posture now with the Tebow anti-abortion ad ) rejected this ad by a gay dating service.
Let's review. If you're moveon.org or PETA or a church promoting inclusiveness to gays - your Super Bowl ads have been rejected in the past. If you're a gay dating site, your Super Bowl ad got rejected this week.
But if you're Focus on the Family and a quarterback whose "learning curve is too steep in every area" - you get an anti-abortion ad next Sunday.
I'm for athletes speaking out. If Tebow wants to wear biblical verse eyeblack (as he has) and pepper his every prouncement with exhortations of his faith (as he has) and do an anti-abortion commercial (coming Sunday) that's completely fine with me.
But when sports analysts (as they have) accept these thoughts not only with a total absence of the same sort of criticism that any progressive sentiment from athletes has ever faced (how is Mahmoud Abdul Rauf's NBA career going?) but by viewing Tebow as the personification of all that is right about America - it is as blatant an example of the privileging of conservative Christian viewpoints in sports circles as one could find this side of Tony Dungy (my three word reply to Howard Bryant's piece on Dungy this week about the universal and unquestionable admiration with which he's held was "unless you're gay.")
So my dislike for Tebow isn't really about him - it's about the monumentally outsized praise of him - and that praise got sliced into pieces this week, which puts it on this list.
2. While I'm at It....
Tebow hate is pretty fresh, but it's modeled after my dislike of Brett Favre. Maybe you heard, his season came to a weirdly predictable end last Sunday. Here's Viking HOF'er Fran Tarkenton:
If (Favre) didn't make that stupid play at the end of the game they would have won the game. I have never seen any quarterback much less, well he is going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback, make plays like that at a critical time.
It's been 2 years since I wrote this piece, which remains my most read post for this blog - hating Brett Favre has approached diminishing returns now that even Tarkenton has jumped on board - but from a "Kirk Hiner Hates Madonna" perspective, it made a lot of sense back in 2008.
(note, for those of you unaware, back in 1996 I developed a theory about our dislike for celebrities being based less on their merits and more on the distance we perceive the acclaim those celebrities receive from the acclaim they deserve. Here's a quote (yes, this is me in 2010 quoting me from 14 years ago. 14 years ago my lady type friend, who will be spending the week in New York - take care of my lady type friend, New York - was 17 years old.):
See, I'm agnostic on Madonna, which gives me leave to make the point that, while sometimes provocative, Madonna isn't exactly brimming with a whole lot of readily discernable talent. More accurately, her level of success has outstripped her level of ability to such an extent that it causes even those who are emotionally stable to view her with a certain degree of distaste - and fills Kirk Hiner with an uncontrollable rage. It's not so much that Kirk Hiner is jealous of Madonna. After all, John Glenn has achieved a similar amount of success and Kirk Hiner has never uttered an opinion one way or the other about him. Nor is it abject self interest. Kirk Hiner doesn't believe that there is a finite amount of success, maybe stored in a secret vat in Dayton, Ohio, such that for every drop of Madonna success an identical amount is rendered unavailable to someone whom Kirk Hiner might deem more worthy, say Alyssa Milano. I mean, that, in fact, is the case, but Kirk Hiner doesn't believe it.
To my way of thinking, a person's value as a human being can readily be tabulated using a series of mathematical calculations which are then placed on a nexus of interlocking grids (I've got the charts laid out back at the house, please call before you stop by). I conceptualize this as if on an X,Y axis. A person's aggregate worth being placed on the horizontal plane, and level of success existing on the vertical. Kirk Hiner would probably plot Madonna as something approximating (-6,92). That's a -6 for worth and a 92 for success. Subtract 92 from -6 and you get a final product of -98 which, as I don't have to tell you, is pretty darn low.
I hated Brett Favre (I used past tense there, truthfully, the country has caught up to me to the point that I think the last drop of joy I'll ever have at Favre's failing was spilled last Sunday - I'm out of the game now) for the same reason I hate Tim Tebow and Kirk Hiner hates (hated, now, I think) Madonna. The degree of public glory in which they are covered (not just attention - but glory, Snooki gets lots of attention, but there's no reason to hate her - if she wins an Emmy Award for "Best Reality Show Actress Who Kept Getting Punched in the Face" then we have a different discussion) outstrips the level of quality of their output to such a degree that hatred of them and a desire to see them fail is the most rational response.
Brett Favre wasn't a much better guy than Terrell Owens. They were full on sports divas. But TO was a pariah and Favre was a golden god. Tim Tebow is Josh Heupel. Who is Josh Heupel? Exactly.
3. One More Slice of Schadenfreude
Right wing punk gets busted. "James O'Keefe is just a harmless prankster" is the current right wing spin - I assume before it's over his arrest will be an example of the socialist/fascist Obama Administration trying to suppress dissent (not for nothing, people have actually been beaten up by the police in this country - they're called progressives - demonstrators for civil rights, against globalization, against multiple wars - Howard Zinn was beaten up by police after giving an anti-war speech; who doesn't get beaten up by the government are conservatives; Focus on the Family and other similar evangelical Christian groups never find themselves on the wrong end of a billy club - the entitlement of the right wing movement is what makes you want to scream - when you hear those Teabaggers crying, literally crying about how powerless they are against a government out to suppress them - you know they couldn't possibly have less understanding of the world around them) but right now, he's a kid who got propped up by Fox News who then decided to break into a Senators office and tamper with her phones. And that's a good story this week.
4. My Super Bowl Pick
While I'm talking about football - I'll make this a separate post at the end of the week - but I am locked in on my Super Bowl pick.
Last Week, I gave you both conference championship winners - both straight up and against the number, and that required a little needle threading, as I had to pick the Saints outright - but the Vikes plus the 3 1/2. And as you can read, I did.
So, while I was dead at .500 for the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, I was a little better than that this week.
Which is why it's here as one of the best elements of the week. Because I like to be right (I also picked Colts/Saints at the top of the playoffs to make the SB) more than I like to be anything (I'd trade right for wealthy; you can pick any belief I've ever offered, if you want to trade it for real money, I'm open to discussion. Yup, that's where we are in 2010).
And I have a Super Bowl pick.
And here it is.
Colts to win. Saints to cover. I'm threading the needle again.
Colts are the better team, but just by a little bit, one point, two points - after the conference title games I thought 4 would be the number, that anything under 4 and I take the Colts, anything over four and I take the Saints.
Right now, Sunday afternoon, one week before kick, the number is 5 1/2.
Take it. (I mean, if you have to play; if you don't, don't play, it's just one game. Play season long win totals instead; if you pay attention when I do my preseason picks - in baseball, NBA, NFL, you'll see that I give suggestions about which win totals I most like - go back if you're inclined to those picks, from MLB in 2009 to NFL and NBA right now - and NCAAF too, you'll see real success, real demonstrable success, in the totals where I say I have the most confidence - really, this past year I have had a nearly perfect, in fact, maybe a completely perfect, mark. So, don't play the SB.)
But if you have to play, play the dog. Let the public bet Manning. Play the dog. And if it climbs to 7, then, even if you don't play, that becomes a really attractive number.
5. While I'm Plugging Myself
The Royal Rumble is today; I wrote a preview this week. I picked Hunter to win, but I'm largely just making that up.
On the matter of wrestling, I don't have any 4 1/2 star 2010 matches yet, so no new Match of the Year post. I watched the latest Dragon Gate-USA show (taped in November, I think, but with a 2010 airdate so I'd consider those matches as taking place in 2010) and went 4 1/4 for both Davey v. Yamato and Yoshino/Doi v. Dragon Kid/Shingo. TNA had a four star PPV match this month, Angle v. AJ. From November this week I saw a 4 1/2 star Davey v. Aries from ROH, which I put on the 2009 list, as well as a 4 star Omega v. Nakajima from the same show. Additionally, 2 matches from December, which, had they been 4 1/2 stars I would put on the 2010 list, as I'll consider December as actually belonging to the next year - Miyamoto (the most underrated wrestler in the world) v. T Sasaki from Big Japan was 4 1/4 stars and Nakamura v. Yuji from New Japan was 4 stars. Next week I will post my Top 100 Wrestlers in the World.
6. Also Behind the Four Letter Firewall
The smartest baseball analyst is Keith Law; occasionally a more mainstream baseball fan will read a criticism I've offered, say of Tim McCarver, and say something like "which baseball analyst can I trust - who isn't just some Lupica-loving idiot sportswriter" and you can't do better than Keith Law.
His Top 100 Prospect list was posted this week. It's also behind the firewall, or maybe just 26-100 is behind the firewall. Jason Heyward of the Braves was number one. The Giants listed were Buster Posey (4), Madison Bumgarner (28), and Zack Wheeler (84). The Giants are a bit of a catastrophe, Baseball Prospectus wrote this week (also, I think, behind a firewall) about the Giants in the context of a "who might sign Johnny Damon" piece:
Brian Sabean continues to pound screws into bricks with a garden rake. Given an offense that finished last in the majors with a .244 EqA, Sabean has thrown about $35 million in 2010-2011 commitments at DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Bengie Molina, and Juan Uribe, none of whom are strong steps in the direction of boosting that. Huff and Molina were below .260 last year, Uribe's at .242 for his career, and both DeRosa and Sanchez are coming off injuries that led to unproductive post-trade stints; the latter isn't even likely to be available for opening day, given his recent shoulder surgery. Projected for a .267/.346/.428/.269 EqA performance, DeRosa's production appears to be light for a corner outfielder. He'd make far more sense at second or third base, with a concomitant shift of Pablo Sandoval to first base to do away with Huff's similarly sub-par production (.274/.340/.436/.268 EqA) and dodgy defense. Sabean ruled out Damon last month, and while it happened at the same media session in which he dismissed a return engagement from Molina, it's clear that Damon is just too fancy for the GM's taste.
Brian Sabean's a bad general manager and the Giants are a bad organization. We have consistently made a loser's choice - paying for overpriced middle tiered free agents as opposed to paying heavy for the one or two players we need. Those 35 million dollars committed to DeRosa, Huff, Sanchez, Molina, and Uribe could have gone to get us Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Instead, we fill out our roster with guys Brian Sabean's heard of who may not get on base but are good in the clubhouse and we'll be spending another October at home.
Simmons wrote this week about the most tortured sports franchises in the wake of the Favrekings missing the SB; I'm not willing to stand in that line behind anyone. My Giants moved west in '58 and have never won. Almost half of our history we were graced with the two greatest players in National League history, the second and third greatest players who ever lived - and we have never won a title. It is my firm belief that, in my lifetime, I will not see the San Francisco Giants win a World Series.
7. The Power of the People on Top Depends on the Obedience of the People Below
-That's Howard Zinn from the Democracy Now retrospective on his life which you can download here. It is excellent. Amy Goodman also talked to Michael Moore this week, and that was also good and is here.
8. Thanks, Wichita
A Wichita jury this week took 37 minutes to find Scott Roeder guilty of murdering abortion provider George Tiller (you know, who Bill O'Reilly enjoyed using his massive broadcast pulpit to repeatedly and angrily brand "Tiller the Baby Killer" and then professed outrage that anyone would connect that language with the end that Tiller met). Fox News - Fair and Balanced and Willing to Take You Out.
Why this is good - besides the obvious, guy killed a guy, guy confessed to the killing, guy was found guilty - is the defense Roeder offered was essentially this: abortion is wrong, therefore, it was justifiable to kill a doctor who provides abortions.
Last week I talked about Citizens United as a decision perhaps not tenable for the future of the Republic - this would literally be the case had Roeder been acquitted.
The key issue on which the defense lost was if an involuntary manslaughter charge would be offered to the jury - one of the ways to get to involuntary manslaughter is imperfect defense of others, meaning that if you kill someone in the defense of someone else - that's a justifiable homicide and gets you acquitted (Roder's preferred outcome) but if you kill someone when you have a good faith belief that you are defending someone else but actually it turns out that you weren't defending someone else - that mitigates your offense from murder to involuntary manslaughter. So - you come home from work and hear screams coming your bedroom, you enter and it appears your wife is being raped - you kill the assailant, only to find it wasn't rape, but rough consensual sex. That's imperfect defense of others, if the evidence indicates to the jury that you honestly believed, given the circumstances, that your wife was under sexual assault - then your killing of the victim is involuntary manslaughter - and under those circumstances, your sentence could be very, very light.
That's what Roeder was arguing, "hey, I'm saving babies - and if the law says I'm not saving babies, I honestly believe I'm saving babies, so it's involuntary manslaughter."
Which he probably does. I'm not mad at the defense, it's a good card to play.
If it's successful, it opens the door to all manner of crazy. And I want that guy locked up and all his friends pursued as domestic terrorists.
But he wasn't - the judge wouldn't let the jury consider involuntary manslaughter, and the jury didn't consider a not guilty.
9. Can We Save the Country?
The person with any sort of stroke who I most trust on the economy right now is Elizabeth Warren, and you can read here her interview this week about our collective economic future.
10. Deal With It
I think Better off Ted is gone now; you never watched it - but when the DVD set comes out, that is a must Netflix situation. If the episode from this week was its last - it was its best. Just 22 minutes of funny.
22 minutes of funny! That's what we give you here at the Tendown. And that's all for this week - I'll see you next time...if there is a next time...