1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown, February 7-13, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dear Internet,

Hi.  I'm Jim and this is the 14th issue of the Tendown, your weekly look at the best cultural happenings of the previous seven days; Last Week, I pit the 44 Super Bowls against their corresponding 44 US Presidents.  Most shocking result - a victory for Nixon, which even I didn't see coming.  It was the longest and most productive (not like a cough, but like - look how much product there is, which I picture myself saying while wearing a paper hat and a nametag and smiling fearfully at a supervisor) Tendown thusfar.  I like Tendown, it's the opposite of proven blog technique (multiple little posts as opposed to one gelatinous one) but I prefer to write in essay form.  I keep threatening myself to move back to dialogue based pieces, which is in my wheelhouse (the most recent gimmick, used in the 2006-7 versions of my online career, was that I'd have debates with a voice in my head).  The value is that it's more entertaining than my essay writing, as if I have any real writing strength its in a 2 man rhythm (that's what she said; see, I told you I was funny!) but that requires a lack of self-censorship just not in keeping with my attempt to at least marginally be a public intellectual; I enjoy the occasional wildly off color reference, but I'm a soon to be 40 year old college instructor with a +1 corporate health insurance plan; it not only seems imprudent to make the same types of sketch comedy jokes I wrote two decades ago, its maybe a little creepy.

Funny.  But maybe a little creepy.  That's me and this is the best thing that happened over the past week: 

First: The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations.
If there was ever a proof required of the "a picture is worth a thousand words" aphorism, here you go.

For all the words that have been written (and the many, many more that will be) about The Decline and Fall of the American Empire - none is as clarifying as this demonstration that, in 2010, in the middle of two unending, unwinnable wars and the worst economy in over a half century, the presumptive leader of the Republican Party has the intellectual horsepower and academic temperament of a tenth grader who's sleeping through American history.

 David Broder wrote this week about her "pitch perfect populism."  Joe Klein wrote this week about the "mystic chords" that she strikes.  Frank Rich wrote this week about her message gaining traction.

None of these pieces really argue that she's qualified to be President or that her ideas will alter the trajectory of what appears to be an inexorable slide.  Instead, the throughline seems to be that a woman who needs to write "lift American spirit" on her hand to remember that very nuanced policy point is to whom the American electorate is gravitating.  (And here's the important point).  Not in spite of actions like this but because of them.  The argument made this week was that who we want is a woman who writes notes on her hand. 

We like her because she's dumb.  That's the argument.  We like Sarah Palin because she's dumb. 

On this week's Office, Michael Scott said "sometimes the smartest people don't think at all."  Which sounds like something that might be slipped into one of Sarah Palin's speeches.

Not that we'd know that from her upcoming Florida appearances, because the media is barred from attending.

Of all the baseless charges Rush aims at Obama, the idea that he's not bright is the one where I most wonder how even his most ardent devotees think he's not full of crap:

I think this is the first time in his life that there's not a professor around to turn his C into an A, or to write the law review article for him he can't write. He is totally exposed. There is nobody to make it better. I think he's been covered for, all his life.

Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law....writes crib notes on her hand.  Okay.

Emerson said "the mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." 

Perhaps that, and not the high fructose corn syrup, is the cause of our obesity epidemic. 

That's the best thing that happened this week.  After the jump - the rest of the Tendown!

1. The Pick Six

The Super Bowl was this week.  Worked out well for me:

-I got the side and total right.  I like being right more than I like being anything, and since I had missed the side in the previous 4 Super Bowls, I was glad to get this one. 

-Peyton Manning threw the biggest interception in the history of football.  Now, while as a sports fan I'm a hater, as a performance analyst I strive for objectivity; in my list of the 50 Greatest Regular Season Quarterbacks in NFL history I had Manning 8th going into last season, now I'd have him 7th and there's no circumstance where he doesn't finish his career at the very least in the top 3.  That said, the dominant story going into the game was Manning was poised to be the greatest quarterback of all time with a second SB win.

He didn't get that win. He didn't play badly, in fact, he played better than he did in his MVP winning (farce) SB 41.  But he did  throw a game losing 4th quarter pick six.  The Colts took over, down a touchdown, with timeouts and time on the clock - and drove down the field for the game tying touchdown with the greatest quarterback of all time leading the way, just like Joe Montana against the Bengals at SB23 - and just like Joe Montana against the Bengals at SB23, he threw a pick 6 the other way and the Colts lost to a 5 point underdog Saints team by two touchdowns.  You know, just like Montana did.  You remember that game, right?  When Joe Montana, with the title on the line, threw an interception that was returned for a score?  Must be a youtube clip of that someplace...

Peyton Manning, in two Super Bowls, has thrown a total of 2 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions; his QB rating for each game was in the 80s.  I've got his games as the 37th and 46th best SB QB games ever.

Here's Joe Montana's line for SB 24: 10.2 yards/attempt, 5 touchdowns, rating of 147.6.
Here's Joe Montana's line for SB 19: 9.5 yards/attempt, 3 touchdowns passing, 1 touchdown and 59 yards rushing, and a passer rating of 127.2.
Here's Joe Montana's line for SB 23: 9.9 yards/attempt, 2 touchdowns, rating of 115.2.
Here's Joe Montana's line for SB 16: 7.1 yards/attempt, 1 touchdown passing, 1 touchdown rushing and a passer rating of 100 even. 

I didn't include the results of those four games, because they were all wins. 

And I didn't include the interceptions in those games, because he didn't throw any.

Look, Peyton Manning's great, as great as you think he is.  Unless you think he was better than Joe Montana.  I know we like to rush to claim the current guy we are watching right now is better than anything that has ever gone before - and had that ball slipped passed Tracy Porter and into Reggie Wayne's arms - and had that led to a Colts OT win, the only thing anyone would be talking about would be Manning's ascendency to the top of the QB pile. 

But that's not what happened.  What happened is what happened.  And my guy gets to be number one a little while longer.

2. I Pledge Allegiance to the Debt
The "did you just see that" moments in the Super Bowl were for me, four - the Manning pick, the onside kick, Jay Leno on the couch with Oprah and Dave, and the issue advocacy commerical that sneaked up on all of us while we were waiting for Tim Tebow to shout out "don't kill your baby".

That was this, I Pledge Allegiance to the Debt, which featured elementary school kids pledging allegiance to our national debt and our new Chinese landlords.  The ad's part of a campaign by the corporate funded Employment Policy Institute which has campaigned against the minimum wage and health care reform, which the current right wing debt discussion is wholly looking to attack - the idea that any money should ever be spent on social programs.  Debt talk didn't exist from the right (and certainly not on the Super Bowl, which again, has taken a position against progressive advocacy ads for years) while the Bush Administration was generating trillion dollar wars - when it comes to the military industrial complex, discussion of that monetary outlay is off the table - but when it comes to measures to actually help the American people, suddenly conservatives become very dollar conscious.

According to The New Republic, Rick Berman, the President of the Employment Policy Institute has a history of right wing, corporatist issue advocacy:

Over the years, he has set up a series of non-profits that have crusaded against organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and PETA, and legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act. His groups have tried to debunk the “myths” that mercury in fish poses serious health risks, and those regarding the danger of sugar alternatives such as high-fructose corn syrup.* At the behest of the various unnamed persons and industries that fund him, Berman is apparently trying to dismantle even the most commonsensical aspects ofthe nanny state. “He’d have no restrictions on tobacco advertising, junk foods galore in schools. No minimum wage. He wants to leave corporate America unfettered of any regulations that protect the public's health," explained Dr. Michael Jacobson, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, on “60 Minutes” in 2007.

When you add that to the anti-choice Tebow ad and the curious run of spots aimed at freeing men from their emasculated state it was a good reflection of the tenor of our times.  Men are apparently under assault at home and abroad, and the only way out is a Dodge or by trading your wife for Bridgestone tires, or by using Dove bodywash. 

The tag for the Dockers spot ('member that weird run where there were back-to-back commercials where men weren't wearing pants?  The second one was for Dockers) was "it's time for men to wear the pants."

I guess that was the theme for the year - everything's gone to hell - and it's time for men, so marginalized in the United States - their ideas pushed aside for so long, to get a seat at the table of ideas once again.  About time. 

3. Wine and Dine
This week's episode of Real Sports had a feature on Johnny Weir, the most interesting sports story of the past few years that I just only am on the barest periphery of is the movement to masculinize male figure skating; the idea being that declining ratings patterns are due to a disconnect between skaters like Weir (who could be described as flamboyant) and whatever fan base it is that they believe they're missing (presumably the Dodge Charger owners).  Frank Deford's piece on Weir is good enough (and you can read more about the overarching skating issue here) - but what struck me was a phrase used in another piece, "wine and dine."

Why don't we ever hear wine used as a verb on its own? 

No one ever says "where shall we wine."  "Wine and dash" is not a term used to describe the act of drinking without paying the tab.  "Wining out" is not a euphemism for "let's go drinking."


This leads me to the following conclusion - that "wine" only exists as a verb in our language if used in conjunction with "dine" - and that can only be the case because the words rhyme, which I have always thought is an incredibly lazy use of the language.  It's okay to rhyme as a rhetorical device, but rhyming to create content where content would not otherwise exist is beneath good discourse.  Like, for example, back when Joe Montana was throwing/running for a total of 13 Super Bowl touchdowns without an interception, occasionally a clever sports fan would deride his team with the slur "Forty-Whiners"

I never liked this.  Not because it was a criticism of my team.  I like it when my teams are criticized - you know who doesn't earn hatred from opposing fans - bad teams.  No one hates my Niners anymore; I'll trade dealing with the pejoratives to win the occasional game, thanks.  Why I disliked it was because it didn't refer to anything - it wasn't the case that the 49ers were notoriously complaining somehow, that they were "whining" about bad treatment.  The word "whiners" was solely placed as a knock against San Francisco because of the rhyme with Niners - and that's just mentally lazy.

In fact, had instead the nickname been Forty-Winers, with the argument being that the effete "wine and cheese" stereotype (also false) of 49er fans could somehow be imputed to the team, that would have solved both issues presented here. 

4. Different Is Nice But It Sure Isn't Pretty, Pretty is What It's About
My lady type friend and I went to the theater this week; we saw the national touring company for A Chorus Line.  Now, with the qualifiers that (1) I had a good time, my lady type friend and I have been together for two years now, and I can count the number of occasions where I haven't had a good time with her on zero hands, and on Valentine's Day, you damn well bet I'm going to say that up front and (2) I have a lifelong affection for A Chorus Line because my mother went to see the touring company in San Francisco when I was a boy and I enjoyed listening to the soundtrack on our family record player (this sounds like a coming out story, it is not - although I will be rooting for Johnny Weir in Vancouver provided he stays off the fur, and that sounds like a euphemism, it's not - he's in a fur wearing controversy).

With those qualifiers issued let me offer the following - I didn't care for the production.  There are 3 reasons for this.

A. None of the individual performances stood out in any way.  I was moved by "At the Ballet" but every other number really fell flat.
B. I've never liked Cassie.  I like the idea of Cassie, but the strongest elements of the show are kids on the line telling their stories and singing their songs - and Cassie takes me out of that, particularly in the extended dance sequence.
C. It just feels fake.  This is the sacreligious part of this week's Tendown - at its core, Chorus Line works because you feel the desperation, you feel the anguish, the "I really need this job" element of the audition....

...Oh, Oh, Oh, before I forget, because I almost just did - what kind of godawful musical are they auditioning for?  I assume someone has done this before - put together the musical that Zach's directing, but with the kick line and the tap dancing and the gold lame outfits and "One" - I don't think I want to go see the show they're putting together, even if I know the actors in the chorus.  I mean, there are top hats!  It's the 70s, why are you going to see a crazy lavish Broadway musical with a chorus with kicklines and top hats! Let's put this in the discussion next to (1) what sort of creepy documentary could be made with 5 years of footage from a paper company in Scranton and (2) why will Ted Mosby's voice sound like Bob Saget's in 2020?  Ted's not a child - won't his voice basically just, you know, sound like his voice?

Anyway - at no point in the entire audition process did I root for anyone, did I feel badly for anyone, I wasn't manipulated in any way, it never felt like a real audition. It wasn't as good as the documentary about the relaunch Every Little Step and it wasn't as good as (wait for it...) Hollywood week of American Idol which began this week (my favorite stretch of Idol, and really the only element of the show that I think of as good television as opposed to kitschy/campy bad television).  35 years ago we hadn't seen, "front line, I'm sorry, back line you're going through" - so it felt more vibrant, more raw - but now, maybe a decade of reality competition shows (Survivor 20 also started this week, the heroes should have sent Cirie home instead of Sugar) has risen the bar for real life, make or break moments.  When that extra rural girl went home this week on Idol ('member, the one who couldn't sing that well, she had never been on a plane, she liked to jump into the creeks or whatever shoeless, backwoods body of water she was jumping in) that got to me in a way that Chorus Line  just never did.  It was a thought I did not have prior to this week; and that's ideally, the purpose of Tendown - obviously, when Sarah Palin writes on her hand, I'm going to put that at the top of this list - but the thing about this exercise that makes sense for me is that I really want to have something new in my brain every week - this week, it was wine as a verb and that Hollywood Week is better than A Chorus Line, so, you know, I maybe need to rethink some things. 

5. Wait, Where's my Dove Body Wash?

So, I'm rooting for Johnny Weir and I went to see A Chorus Line (and no, I wasn't dragged there by the lady type friend, I'm the one who knows all the songs), but I did engage in some more traditionally masculine entertainment this week - professional wrestling!  ROH had a 4 1/4 star Bucks/Wolves on free TV Monday night, and there were two free 3 1/4 star matches, Punk/Rey on Smackdown and Danielson/Low Ki from the Florida developmental show that aired last Sunday.  Also, for those of you so inclined, I wrote an enormous entry into the Counterfactual this week, the Road to Wrestlemania Silver, Part One, which includes links to all of my previous Manias.  And Roddy Piper was on Carolla's show, which you can find here.

6. Pitchers and Catchers
Pitchers and Catchers report this week.  Thank God.  On Baseball Tonight, Morgan Ensberg said my Giants were the 5th best team in baseball.  This is error.  If I'm betting we're .500 and the 4th best team in the NL West, but I like hearing otherwise nonetheless.  And Tim Lincecum didn't go to arbitration, which is not as good as his signing a five year deal, but good enough nonethless.  Giants!

7. Rate My Professor
If you're outside of academe you may not be aware, but there are websites where college students can rate their instructors on all manner of criteria (including hotness, but oddly enough, not ferocity).  An Alabama science professor killed a few of her colleagues this week when she was denied tenure (I would have guessed it was because she was teaching 8 courses in the same academic term, a defense for diminished capacity if I ever heard one).  And the right wing found an entry on Rate My Professor that said that she was a socialist - and is complaining that should be a greater part of the story.

I've written before about the torrent of right wing violent language that has been demonstrably turned into homicide.  The attempt to link one anonymous student comment to this professor is the same attempt to say "see, everyone does it" that allows the right cover in all of its pathological behavior.  Every story has to have two sides, regardless of the merits of those sides.  For every "weapons of mass destruction" there's a "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" - for every "this was the warmest decade on record" there's Sarah Palin looking at her hand and calling global warming junk science, for every O'Reilly saying "Tiller the Baby Killer" and then washing his hands when George Tiller's murderer says he should get off because Tiller was killing babies, there's Rate My Professor.  We don't have the ability to evaluate claims.  That would be anti-American, one of those hope-y, change-y law professor types of things.

8. Grounded Bob
In that Carolla podcast - Piper said that Andre the Giant was 7'8".  He was not.  And yesterday, a significantly smaller than that Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being too fat (and not in an Emersonian metaphorical sense; it wasn't as if the pilot said "Zach and Miri Make a Porno debased not only our national dialogue but was a poor reflection upon your earlier, smarter work")  There were tweets.  Not sweets, although there probably were those too.  Note to self, when I put on these next 50 pounds, make sure to fly Delta.

9. America Without Health Care Reform
Kevin Smith's a rich guy, so he doesn't have to worry about paying for health care.  The rest of us aren't so lucky in a country that has collectively decided that treating health care like we treat education would make us Nazis.  Here's a great piece this week from Slate detailing how Blue Cross (my current insurance company) goes about denying coverage.  Not that this would bother GOP head Michael Steele who said this week "trust me, after taxes a million dollars is not a lot of money" - which you should remember the next time you're charmed by Sarah Palin's homespun handwriting. 

10. Happy Valentine's Day
And speaking of pre-existing conditions.  Here's a Wall St. Journal piece on broken heart syndrome.

And that's Tendown.  I'll see you next time...if there is a next time....

Your pal,



Mark said...

As someone who's only ever lived in Europe, the whole thing with Palin baffles me. To use a wrestling term (as we all should at every available opportunity), she just wouldn't get over here. She wouldn't get past local politics. That level of obvious stupidity wouldn't count in her favour. Wouldn't appeal to the general public. And that's not saying that our politicians aren't dumb. Some are. But not the leading ones. The higher-ranked ones aren't always good at their jobs but they're invariably crafty and opportunistic at the very least. They can deal in populism but never stupidity.

It's just the weirdest thing to see Palin's ignorance lauded as something worth celebrating. I just don't get how it happened.

Blog said...

Just read the quote of the week:

"...violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer." - Joe Stack (1956-2010)

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