1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown, May 9-15 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dear Internet:

My mom asked who the Countess's date, Courte, from this week's Real Housewives of New York reminded me of (actually, I think the way she put it was "who does this remind me of" - which would save all of us time; I've found this in my teaching as well; I'm teaching US History this quarter, and what I'd really prefer pedagogically is to expose students to multiple historical interpretations - for example, the dominant historical view of the Spanish-American War is it was an imperialist break with the isolationist tradition of US foreign policy; in contrast with the more radical view that it represented an unbroken line of expansionism best understood in the generations spanning Native American cleansing; in contrast with the view held by most Americans in 2010 which would be "what's the Spanish American War" - and while that's kidding on the square, the only view of US history available politically to everyone on the right and a healthy majority of those who are nominally considered on the left is that the US has been an unadulterated force for good throughout its history and anyone who would claim otherwise is insufficiently patriotic and hates the troops and the Baby Jesus.  I'd like to be able to consider the nuances of all of those positions, evaluating the evidentiary support for all and the current political realities which shape our views of the past - but I'm 39 years old and teaching 7 courses and my house doesn't have air conditioning, what I have energy to do is say "here's what you should believe, write it down" and then move to the next thing).

So, who Courte from this week's Real Housewives of New York reminds my mom of is a cross between Jackie Rogers, Jr. and Greg Norman

It's Tendown 26.  Let's Get it Poppin'!

First: The Middle

Eventually, this will be about LeBron James.  I don't know how long it will take to get there.

I don't fetishize the middle of the country; I live in South Florida, I grew up in Northern California, I went to school in Ohio - people are people wherever you go; there is good and bad, in everyone, but if we learn to live, learn to give each other what we need to survive, together ali-i-ive.

What?  A Martin Short picture and an Ebony and Ivory reference before the jump?  Apparently it's Hot Tub Time Machine Tendown.  Modern Family ended this week's Hawaii epside with a wedding vow renewal set to a ukelele version of Eye of the Tiger - which saved that scene from shark jumping; as a trope, the wedding vow renewal has worn me to the bone; there's one on deck for the New York Housewives finale (Ramona has taken the curious posture that 17 years is the longest imaginable time any two people could be married) and I'm only willing to watch if it includes someone playing I Love Rock-n-Roll on the spoons. 

I don't think the people in the flyover states are any more or less American than the people on the coasts; whenever I see a Republican give a speech in Topeka with the theme being "you are the real heart of this country; the true, real Americans and you want your country back" - I hope they see the pandering the same way I did in high school every time someone unleashed a "you are the future of the country; this is your time to shine" on me.  I have rhetorical strengths and weaknesses as someone whose most marketable professional skill is standing in front of a room of people and talking, but one easy place I don't ever rest is the "hey, give yourselves a round of applause" line of bullshit.  A club teachers of all levels and disciplines like to pull out is "I learn so much from my students every day" - which is good egalitarian/we're all just in a community of learning, I'm no different from the kid in the 4th row stuff, but almost entirely meaningless; I've got X minutes to give that student enough information about Mark Twain's reaction to the Filipino resistance to US occupation that he's got a fighting chance on my midterm; I don't have time to slather him in my recognition of his personal struggle.  If I'm working in a grocery store in Des Moines, I'd much rather have a politician tell me he's in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring a living wage so I don't need to keep ever increasing credit card balances just to cover my montly nut than bathe me in platitudes about how my morality is the one true morality.  But that's why he says it, of course.  Sarah Palin doesn't want to cut into the profits of her corporate paymasters so she pacifies me with a strawman of some socialist in Washington DC or a homosexual in New York City or a deceitful immigrant from Mexico - in the way American colonial leaders looked to pit the interests of poor white farmers against Native Americans or the way the slaveholding planation class looked to pit house slaves against field slaves - Republicans today are operating from a playbook even older than the republic - marginalize fringe groups, keep "out" groups in constant animosity toward each other - distract with intangible puffery about an imaginary afterlife where the goodhearted people who have to toil in this world will be rewarded - anything to keep her audience not focused on the economic truth of the United States - that our society is deliberately structured to serve the interest of the wealthiest few - that the role of virtually all of us is to spend the only life we will ever have working constantly to produce wealth for others.  We can read all the books we want, get all the degrees we like, devote our lives to work and service and still wind up in foreclosure - still wind up just a breath away from the dustbin - still wind up just chum in the oil soaked waters of the plutocratic states of America.

I am defeated.  I have, to use Mike Leach's line from this week's Friday Night Lights, lost my inner pirate.

I don't think it's projecting to say that's the look I saw on LeBron James's face this week. 

It's almost always error to attribute character failings to sports losses, particularly when it involves existential talents like James - but it was hard to watch Game 5 this week and not wonder if he was okay.  By the advanced metrics, LeBron James has just put up the two greatest regular NBA seasons since Jordan's prime - and it's not just that the Cavaliers didn't win the title (I did pick them to win each of the last two years, you can see my playoff picks here; the two points in my own defense are these - one, I got the other 3 teams remaining in the playoffs right - and Phoenix was not exactly a popular choice to be the Lakers opponent in the Western Conference Finals a month ago; and two, I did offer a "as long as James doesn't get hurt" caveat. Now the Cavs are gone - I'm picking Orlando to win the whole thing.) it's the seeming listlessness involved throughout game 5 and portions of game 6.  I think it has to be injury; that 2 months from now LeBron has surgery and historically this becomes the postseason about his elbow and not one that revealed some sort of lack of killer instinct fundamental deficiency like we enjoy putting on superstars like Peyton Manning and Alex Rodriguez, right up until the second they win, and then we decide they've grown up, somehow ratifying all of our previous character critique.  So, I'm choosing not to believe any sort of emotional flaw was revealed this week - that instead it was an injury that manifested as a lack of, almost a lack of interest seemingly in being LeBron James this week, but it's a take that I understand.  I'm worn out too; the metaphorical Rajon Rondo is slicing past me for another layup, and I don't have a whole lot of intensity left to stop him. 

And who I felt badly for is Cleveland.  I assume there is a Cavs/Indians/Browns fan of the same level of tenacity as my Warriors/Giants/Niners interest; and that's a town that hasn't won a title since somewhere approximating Jim Brown's first day shooting the Dirty Dozen.  When you consider all three of those organizations as a quixotic combination of awful and heartbreaking, that is just a challenging sports fan life.  I'm sure there were those watching Game 5 and seeing this chance drip away who were just crushed - that Cleveland sports fan, clinging to his guns and his god and his games to escape confronting the structural inequities in his life - the society of which he is a part and probably believes in to a far greater extent than a professor who teaches we invaded Cuba in order to create a market friendly to United Fruit, has no interest in his life except as an entirely disposible unit of production, and the place where he's chosen to escape provides him years and years of endless empty - a Byner fumble, a Jose Mesa meltdown, and the best player in basketball about to leave town - about to leave flyover country - for a bluer coast.

Or maybe he'll go to Chicago.

After the jump - the rest of the Tendown.
  1. The Defective Constitution
Michael Steele was one of a number of conservatives this week who took issue with soon to be Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's 1993 quoting of Thurgood Marshall's view that the "constitution, as orginally conceived, was defective."

Which seemed reasonable to Marshall, after all, he spent much of his career as a civil rights litigator, fighting for enforcement of the Reconstruction Amendments, Amendments which were needed to fix the defects created by the protections for slavery written into the original document.

And it seemed reasonable to Kagan; women weren't full participants in our democratic republic under the constitution as originally conceived, that required an Amendment passed 130 years later.

In fact, it seems reasonable to anyone with as much as a passing understanding of the Constitution; beyond that entire groups of people were kept from the ballot box - the electoral college was created in order to put a barrier between the American people and electing a President; the federal judiciary, of which Kagan is about to join, is entirely unelected, and the upper legislative chamber, the US Senate, was chosen by state legislatures until the 20th century. 

Heck, as an institution, the Senate itself is entirely undemocratic, a state like California has 70x more people than the smallest states, but each state is represented by an equal number in the Senate.  The result is that we allocate a wildly disproportionate amount of funds to smaller populated states - New York and California might turn the cultural wheel - but the pork goes to the smaller states, even the ones in the middle - if you want your voice to really be heard in the United States - you'd be far, far, far better off to live in Wyoming than in Los Angeles.  Move to the middle.  Your vote counts more.  Let me be the very, very first person to give LeBron James the advice that if his goal is to maximize his electoral power, he should go play for Oklahoma City with Durant. 
2. A Founding Father Fetish
Salon asked this week why it is that conservatives refuse to accept that the constitution was flawed - asking what is it with this founding father fetish? 

Largely its to feed/feed off the obsession with Biblical literalism that has taken over conservative Christianity in the 20th century; when you are able to claim not that your interpretation of the Constitution/Bible is more reasonable than my interpretation - but instead, instead argue that there is no interpreting to do - that there is a plain meaning of a document that is obvious on its face, and either you read those words or you do not - you're looking to win a war without firing a shot.  The right wing doesn't argue that its judicial interpretation is better than the left - it says right wing judges are the only real judges - that when Scalia makes decisions he does so by reading the words of the Constitution objectively, without instituting his political views in a way that the devilish liberals do.

It's absurd.  But its an argument they've made for decades and the media is complict in failing to understand why they do it.  For their constitutional literalism posture to have moral authority - then the drafters of the constitution had to similarly be outside of political pressures - the view of the constitution as a piece of legislation crafted from particular political postures is as illegitimate to the right wing as viewing the New Testament as written and then translated by human beings.  The word of their god is unfailing and its completely knowable through this book.  The United States, a land selected by god - a country founded by Jesus loving Christians, similarly has a creation document that must also be viewed as free of human defect.  They have married the apostles and the founding fathers to produce the twin documents of the constitution and the new testament and claim ownership of and fidelity to those texts.  For a conservative in 2010, saying the constitution was defective is like saying the Bible isn't literally true.  And you could say that in 1993.  Heck, you could say it in 1910.  But you can't say it in 2010.  Not without a firestorm. 

3. Your go-to Kagan links.
I'm anti Kagan.  I don't care if she's gay or that she's never been a judge.  When Republican Presidents get Supreme Court nominations the question conservatives ask is how reliably conservative will he be.  Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito - relaible votes for the right wing.  Harriet Miers wasn't dumped because she was dumb, wasn't dumped because she was a Bush loyalist, wasn't dumped because she hadn't been a judge - she was dumped because conservatives did not see her as a certainty - she did not have enough of a record of taking right wing positions to convince them she should get that spot. 

When Democatic Presidents get Supreme Court nominations - the question thats asked is how bipartisan is the nomination.  Is the nominee someone who Republicans can like enough to vote for.  Kagan's not being sold as "liberal firebrand - a liberal hero coming to the bench - finally, a liberal Scalia to begin to counterbalance the court" - instead it's what - it's, she has a winning demeanor and may be able to convince Kennedy to side with the liberals sometimes. 

Remember how Ginsberg was sold?  She and Scalia get along. 

I want someone who Scalia hates.  I want someone who Republicans protest.  I want people crying and waving Bibles on the steps of the Supreme Court.

You know how you feel about Scalia (just talking to the fellow lefties) that's how conservatives should feel about a Democratic nominee.

One of the reasons the right wing story about judicial interpretation (the left is activist, the right originalists) goes largely unchallenged is the lack of a liberal hero on the Court in two generations.  Pro-Kagan Democrats are taking the posture that we don't need to lose 5-4 decisions, that we don't need firery dissents - but that's exactly what we need.  As a law student, reading Brennan dissents in civil liberties cases is what helped formulate my understanding of the Constitution - that's always been how young lawyers, young legal scholars became galvanized  - it wasn't through watered down, compromised, middle of the road 5-4 narrow rulings - it was staking out principled positions on big issues - even losing positions - Rehnquist became a conservative hero on the ass end of 8-1 beatings in the early 70s - as opposed to constantly looking for ways to appease the right, as opposed to looking to say "look how moderate my views are - Reagan would have agreed with them, look how many generals agree with me" someone needs to be able to articulate liberal philosophies loudly and boldly.  The place where one can do that without ballot box retribution is the Supreme Court.

Greenwald agrees with me.  Here's a debate between Greenwald and Lawrence Lessig.  And here's her bio through Scotusblog.

4. Repeal the 17th Amendment!
In case you're missing this, part of the Tea Party fetishizing of the constitution is this attempt to take away our ability to vote for the US Senate.  In the 1890s, the platform of the Populist party condemned the United States government for creating a country based on "tramps and millionaires" - in 2010, the "populist" movement in the United States thinks we should be voting for fewer offices. 

5. Meanwhile, in Texas
And this week, we got proposed more proposed curriculum changes in Texas.
-Contrast the Founders’ intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term ‘Separation of church and state.

-Strike from a standard in the high school U.S. history course a 1948 court decision, Delgado v. Bastrop ISD, that barred segregation of students of Mexican descent in Texas public schools. McLeroy proposes replacing that decision with 2009 Supreme Court employment discrimination decision involving white firefighters in Connecticut (Ricci v. DeStefano)

-Change a high school U.S. history standard to downplay the positive impact of Progressive Era reforms and suggest that the work of the era’s reformers like Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois created a negative portrayal of America.

6. Texas > Alabama
Unlike the national title game in college football, Texas is still ahead of Alabama in terms of its grip on sanity - here's a campaign ad from this week from the Republican primary for Governor in which former Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore criticized an opponent for believing in evolution.  In 2010. 

7. Alabama > Arizona
But its Arizona which stays in front in the Know Nothing sweepstakes in 2010; on the back of the show your papers law came this, which eliminated ethnic studies programs in Arizona public schools.  Because there is only the white culture - and any attempt to demonstate how that white culture has historically oppressed other cultures is banned from Arizona schools.  So, when the "show your papers" law is correctly viewed as Jim Crow moved to the southwest by legal scholars - that scholarship will go undiscussed in Arizona public schools. 

8. Arizona okay, still < Maine, but Maine was pretty bad this week. 
The Tea Partiers in Maine decided to take a more direct approach and vandalize an 8th grade classroom this week.  A poster about labor movements in the US - tear that down! 

9. A Sleepy Week.
A big week for sleeping on the job.  Kit Bond, during an intelligence briefing.  Ken Griffey and Keith Hernandez during baseball games.  Bernie Carbo may or may not be asleep, but on today's Outside the Lines, which included a discussion of Hernandez's testimony back in that early 80s coke trial that Carbo introduced him to drugs, Carbo said there was only one game he played in his entire major league career where he wasn't high.  One game.  Awesome. 

Not as awesome as Dallas Braden's grandmother's reaction to the perfect game last Sunday.

                                                      "Stick It A-Rod"

10. And Not as Awesome As This
48 minutes of new Conan. Enjoy.

That's Tendown 26.  See you next time...if there is a next time. 

Your pal,



Anonymous said...

Hey Jim,

Yeah, there's a Cleveland person who's got the same interest in sports... me. Been in Cleveland since 1986.

I asked a bunch of people before the season started "If there was a deal on the table- the Cavs would win this year, but LeBron was guaranteed to leave then- would you take the deal?" Just about everyone in Cleveland said they'd take it. We're... I don't want to say desperate, but it's gotten so bad that I really don't want to pay attention to sports anymore. It hurts too much.

Anonymous said...

And by the way, about the 'clinging to God and guns' comment... look, I may be a sane and intelligent Conservative, but Cleveland's Congressman is Dennis Kucinich! (and no, I can't explain that one, either) :)

Jim said...

Cleveland's an historically progressive town - it was a hotbed of reform a hundred years ago.

Yeah, I really did feel badly for you watching that fifth game; I generally don't feel badly for any town's sports fans; Cubs fans had Jordan, for example - and I have 5 Super Bowl rings to make up for never having won a WS. But for it to go like this for the Cavs, that is a bad, bad beat.

He's leaving, right? I've assumed all along he's leaving - and should, if he wants to - this idea that an athlete should get drafted by a team and then stay there forever is a great example of the disconnect between how we view our own lives and how we evaluate the lives of athletes. If it's me or you, and we are in a job we don't want in a city we don't want - but we have the ability to leave that job and go someplace else - we wouldn't listen for a half second to someone saying we owed it to the company or the town to stay.

And that doesn't touch the idea that the athlete has a short shelf life - a small window to get to be all he can be before the tables turn and he has to do what he's told again (LeBron's never going to be as famous, and probably not as good, as Jordan - and the Wizards showed Jordan the door the first second they could when he wasn't selling tickets.)

If LeBron wants to go play in Brooklyn for Jay Z and the 39th richest dude in the world, he oughta go. His life.

But it's a bad beat for Cleveland, true story.

Anonymous said...

The only time I've ever been upset at an athlete for going for the money is Carlos Boozer, because of the circumstances (basically, Cleveland let him out of a contract where he was paid the near minimum for a handshake deal of a better contract, only he backstabbed them to sign with Utah)

I don't know if LeBron is leaving. Because of the way the NBA contracts go, he can't earn as much anywhere as he can in Cleveland (the Larry Bird rule).

The only team I can see him signing that has a better chance of winning a championship than Cleveland is Chicago- but I also think that his basketball legacy will be dimmed if he wins anywhere but in Cleveland.

It's Lebron's decision, and I won't rant and rave if he leaves. I'm hoping he stays.

Cleveland's rebounded from worse- we had to stomach Art Modell's team winning the Super Bowl, after all.

Blog said...

If LeBron leaves Cleveland before winning a championship, then IMHO he no longer has a claim to being one of the greatest NBA players of All-Time. Great players win championships; the greatest take responsibility and lead teams that otherwise probably wouldn't win a championship to them. Wilt. Larry. Mike. Guys like that. Without leading the Cavs to the title, LeBron can never be on the same level as those guys.

On a totally different note, mankind has now elevated itself to "god in training". Hooray for humanity!

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