a jim jividen blog

Here's the thing. I'm watching one of these shows on the Cooking Channel featuring food trucks. There's a Scottish expat making fish and chips; in a thick brogue he somewhat wearily explains his irritation with Americans who habitually order a side of tartar sauce: "tartar sauce is basically gherkins." That's this blog. I claim no particular insight, no revelation. If you enjoy the flavor, great, but this blog is basically gherkins.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Weekly Tendown December 26 2010 - January 1 2111


Dear Internet:

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Snooki's in a ball.  Obviously, it's a new year.  Let's hit Tendown 58.

1.  If Larry Bird Were Black, He'd Be Just Another Bad Guy.


I get a week off between quarters (12 weeks on, one week off, that's my year) which is not enough, but it's the world in which I live.  During that week, I try to consume the culture.  If you have a smart basketball fan in your life, let me strongly suggest the purchase of this book FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History.  It's nifty; for example, on page 94, you can find the following from Bill Walton:

              And when I think of Boris Diaw, I think of Beethoven and the age of the Romantics.


and

  If Eric Piatkowski continues playing at this level, he's going to replace Jerry West on the NBA logo.


What you can't avoid, reading the series of essays about NBA greats, is how easily could the description of Russell be switched with Kareem be switched with Oscar: prickly, distant, guarded, estranged from teammates, fans, media.  Distance has allowed for revision of some; Russell's difficulty in Boston is clearly now understood by most in a racial context, but for others those original tags have stuck (read Simmons's embrace of Russell and discard of Kareem as a "ninny" for example); it's hard not to see Larry Bird through the same prism.  Isiah famously said about Bird that if he were black he'd be "just another good guy," but consider instead the following construction of BlackBird - quitting on Bobby Knight, not only losing, but playing badly in the '79 finals against Magic, to this date the biggest college basketball game ever played - Bird burning through a teenage marriage and denying the paternity of a daughter whom he ignored all of her young life.  Bird - prickly with media, distant with teammates and fans, running as far away from Boston as possible in the off seasons - Bird the ultimate trash talker, his verbal swagger so legendary even all these years away from his retirement he's still being voted as the best ever.

BlackBird would be enigmatic, controversial, unsportsmanlike, uncoachable, thinks he's bigger than the team; he'd be seen through that haze of facially neutral virtues darts that we selectively throw.  Were we to rewind two years and say "what's a more egregious transgression, more worthy of public scorn - a married athlete having numerous affairs - or a married athlete sending numerous unwanted text messages (and at least one picture of his dong) to one and perhaps several low level female employees of the team for which he was a star player," were we to then say that the second one had previously sought treatment for a drug addiction - which would be the bigger, blacker mark - which would be the story that would stick?

Tiger Woods spent the year reading about his need to be "humble"; he lost Buick, he lost AT&T, he lost endorsements for Gillette and Gatorade just this past week, over a year after the Thanksgiving car accident. Tiger Woods dropped 21 million dollars in endorsement money in 2010.

 Brett Favre - fined this week for refusing to co-operate in the NFL investigation of sexual harassment allegations against him, is keeping both Wrangler and Briggs&Stratton.


Favre's marketability is unlikely to take a huge hit from the investigation, said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, an marketing/consulting firm.


"It was a minor infraction, a text message," she said. "This is in no way on the scale of Tiger Woods."

There you go.  The PR people have spoken.  And that makes it so.

2. Are You Better off than You Were 30 years Ago?
Also, this week, I read The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America as if there has been a better example of public relations creating an image out of whole cloth, I'm unaware of it.  This book, which I'd also recommend for the smart basketball fan in your life, is less about Reagan as myth, and more about the myth of Reagan - the thoroughly uncritical bipartisan mainstream acceptance of his "morning in America" legacy as if the catastrophe that has occurred subsequent should not properly be laid at the feet of his economic sleight of hand.

His betrayal of working people of America could not have been more complete. Thanks in large part to Reagan's policies, the two periods of economic expansion that followed his election did little for Americans in the middle and lower income brackets. While Reaganomics helped create huge fortunes for those at the top of the income ladder, it brought a reversal in the slow gains that the working class and the poor had made the previous two decades. An exhaustive survey of wealth published by the Economic Policy Institute in January 2001...


(my note - check the date, January 2001 - that's before the massive wealth shift under the Bush Administration)

...painting a picture of rising inequality. Expressed in constant 1998 dollars, households whose wealth placed them in the bottom 40% of the country had seen none of the benefits of two decades of economic growth.  Between 1962 and 1983, the average household net worth of that group had grown from $800 to $4700. By the time Reagan was out of office in 1989, that group had a negative net worth of $4100.


The top 1% of households saw its average net worth grow from $7.2 million to $9.1 million between 1983 and 1989...the next 9% at the top of the ladder saw its worth grow from $814,200 to $897,000.


It's Reagan - that's when the wealthy declared modern day class warfare on the rest of us.  It's why in my 44 Presidents v. 44 Super Bowls post (my best ever, probably - now with pictures!) I had Reagan losing to the crappy SB 40 game between Pittsburgh and Seattle (the refs stole that one from the Seahawks as surely as corporate America and their partners in government stole our money during Reagan's two terms).  It's Reagan who birthed the Wall St. friendly "third way" Clinton Administration and finally the first decade of the 21st century.


Statistics show the problem is getting worse. According to a study by Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley, the top 1 percent of earners captured two-thirds of all income growth between 2002 and 2007. The most recent census statistics show a continued march in the same unbalanced direction. The bottom 20 percent of the population—which earned 5.4 percent of national income in 1967—earned just 3.4 percent of it in 2009. The highest 20 percent went from 41.5 to 49.4 over the same period. The Gini Index—the standard measure of income inequality—ticked up again between 2008 and 2009, from .451 to .458. According to the CIA World Factbook, this figure puts the United States ahead of Russia and Turkey in inequality, and on par with Mexico and the Philippines. 


3. Meanwhile, back at the Front...


The Republicans, sophists that they are, have adopted the completely fact free posture that tax cuts don't add to the deficit, only spending increases do.  Which is exactly like saying it doesn't matter how many calories you consume, all that counts are the calories you burn.

Even if the electorate, trained by Reagan to believe any taxes were affronts to freedom, doesn't understand that, behind closed doors, obviously elected officials do...right?

Not in 2011, 


2010 marked the emergence of a new, even more profound level of magical thinking: the belief that deficits created by tax cuts just don’t matter. For example, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona — who had denounced President Obama for running deficits — declared that “you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”


It’s an easy position to ridicule. After all, if you never have to offset the cost of tax cuts, why not just eliminate taxes altogether? But the joke’s on us because while this kind of magical thinking may not yet be the law of the land, it’s about to become part of the rules governing legislation in the House of Representatives.


As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the incoming House majority plans to make changes in the “pay-as-you-go” rules — rules that are supposed to enforce responsible budgeting — that effectively implement Mr. Kyl’s principle. Spending increases will have to be offset, but revenue losses from tax cuts won’t. Oh, and revenue increases, even if they come from the elimination of tax loopholes, won’t count either: any spending increase must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere; it can’t be paid for with additional taxes.  


4. Or so the Germans Would Have You Believe.
I'm teaching US history this quarter, my first class session includes a discussion of what the purpose of a course in US history is - and I disclose my bias toward the view of the historian articulated by John Quincy Adams, that he must "know no country."  Perhaps the best way to understand the current state of our country is to leave it.  This is a multi-part series in Der Speigel International.  Consider taking a look:

Today an American CEO earns about 300 times as much as an ordinary worker. In 1950, that number was only 30.


The rich keep getting richer, with the top 0.1 percent of income earners making more money than the 120 million people at the bottom of the income scale.


The naked fear of the undertow is palpable throughout the entire country, where people who once considered themselves part of the middle class, the solid center of the country, now feel threatened. These are the people who, now that the smoke has cleared, are suddenly realizing that 30 years of economic growth, all the boom years, have virtually passed them by. In 1978, the average income for men in the United States was $45,879. In 2007, it was $45,113, adjusted for inflation. 



At the beginning of the millennium, families were paying twice as much for health insurance than a generation before.  Everything was paid for with borrowed money. Total US household debt is now approaching $14 trillion, which is 20 times as much as in the 1970s.



The United States of 2010 is a country that has become paralyzed and inhibited by allowing itself to be distracted by things that are, in reality, not a threat: homosexuality, Mexicans, Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, health care reform and Obama. Large segments of the country are not even talking about the issues that are serious and complex, like debt, unemployment and serious educational deficits. Is it because this is all too threatening?


It has become a country of plain solutions. People with college degrees are suspect and intelligence has become a blemish.


But given their curious choice for New Year's entertainment, maybe we can't trust the Germans so much.


5. Pork
But at least we have this 500 million dollar canceled rocket.  Thanks Republicans!

6. I Write the Stories!

The latest chapter (and maybe the very best ever) in my 5 year, hundred thousand word, professional wrestling counterfactual is here.  I'm now 70 players into my rank of the 200 greatest baseball players of all time. I ranked the best professional wrestling matches of the year here. My 2010 Athlete of the Year post is here.  I picked every college football bowl game, both against the spread and straight up here. (my record against the number is 18-9-1, which is terrific - I'm in a decent sized $ contest and am in play as we drive down the stretch).

Not that any of them will be as well read as this brand new blog about superheroes and the law.

7. And I Win Fantasy Football Titles.
Just one, unfortunately.  I made all 3 title games this year, which was a nice accomplishment - but only took one of the leagues.  I'll take it, it's my only fantasy title in any sport in 2010, but I would have liked grabbing a second chip.

8. And Now I can Win Monopoly
Would you like an optimum Monopoly strategy.

9. You're The Jannetty
In a previous Tendown, I explained my latest creation The Jannetty, to communicate the idea that in any breakup - there is a winner and a loser.  I thought of that reading this week's Entertainment Weekly when, in successive stories, was Scarlett Johansson filing for divorce from Ryan Reynolds - and the woman Reynolds left to be with Scarlett, Alanis Morissette, having her first child.

I like Alanis, we all like Alanis, there's nothing wrong with Alanis - but... you know...


...it's probably been suggested to Alanis a time or two that Ryan traded up.

But as I read those two stories together this week, I couldn't help but wonder if Alanis didn't consider tweeting "who's the Jannetty now, motherfucker?"

The Jannetty.  Let's get some traction on that in the new year.

10. The World Champion San Francisco Giants


Barry Bonds - you know, selfish, egotistical, prickly, trash talking, defined as a bad guy not at all like Larry Bird, Barry Bonds has a website the way all athletes do.  Right now,  all the memorabilia links are gone, there isn't an item for sale, there isn't a clip from Bonds's career - there isn't anything about his accomplishments, and as the greatest baseball player anyone reading this has ever or most likely will ever see, those accomplishments are many.  But right now - if you click that link - literally all you will find is the following:

Congratulations to the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants!

There is no city that deserves this championship more and I congratulate Bill Neukom, the entire ownership group, Bochy and most of all the guys on the team that fought hard to bring that trophy home to the city of San Francisco. I also want to congratulate Mike Murphy who has spent over 50 years working tirelessly for the organization. Murph has witnessed so much Giants history and I am thrilled that he finally gets his San Francisco Giants World Series Championship.
I grew up watching my dad and godfather as Giants, lived out my dream playing in the same uniform in front of the best fans in the world and I just witnessed the Giants winning the World Series. I am ecstatic for the team, the city and all the fans - you truly deserve it.


Barry Bonds 


Selfish jackass.

Here's American hero Brett Favre's website.  I wonder if Jenn Sterger got one of those 200 dollar New York Jets mini helmets thrown in with the penis pics.

That's all for this time.  I'll be back next time.  If there is a next time...

Your pal,

Jim