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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.

The Weekly Tendown May 29-June4 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dear Internet:

I'm under contract to develop a course in the history of American disasters; there's deliverable contact for the next four Fridays, and given my teaching 8 courses it's Tendown that gets sliced pretty closely to the bone (although, as it turns out, I decided to write a little bit this week). For those of you who care about such things - my apologies; if I had a way to make my living doing more of this and less of that, I would pursue that opportunity.  Absent that, I give you what I can this week.  A week where many saw more of Blake Lively and Anthony Weiner than had we anticipated.  Admittedly, I spent more time on the former than the latter, and despite only the Congressman's photo being a subject of news and chat show fodder, I'd expect I'm not in the minority.

Here's Tendown 79.

1. Have I Mentioned Lance Armstrong Used PEDs?
This week's story:

The director of the Swiss anti-doping laboratory informed federal authorities last fall that Lance Armstrong's test results from the 2001 Tour de Suisse were "suspicious" and "consistent with EPO use," The Associated Press has learned.

Also this week, this piece in SI, from a writer with cancer essentially saying that it doesn't matter.  What matters is the work Armstrong's done to combat cancer.

And...okay.  I'm in.  He's right and his correctness is self evident. Cancer is more important than PED use.  Going after Lance Armstrong seems a little frivolous.  And I'd view that piece with less irritation had I not spent the last decade reading/watching the full force of the sports media establishment deify Lance Armstrong while vilifying Barry Bonds, despite the level of evidence against both being essentially the same.  The ubiquity with which this thought has been reflected in sports platform upon platform, year after year, has caused otherwise reasonable people to uncritically accept the notion that Bonds's career somehow didn't happen; that he just simply could not have been the home run hitter that Roger Maris was.

Let's consider just the following.  Armstrong's first Tour win was '98.  He failed a drug test (later explained away) in '99, putting him on the European anti-PED radar.  The McGwire/Sosa home run race was '98; accepted wisdom is Bonds, seeing the acclaim each man got, despite not being the ballplayer Bonds was, began his PED use in '99.

Since 1999,  Lance Armstrong's been on the cover of SI 11 times.

Here's one.

Lance Armstrong, Cycling,

Lance Armstong, Bike racing, USA

Here's another.

Lance Armstrong, Cycling,

That's a third; I'll spare you all 11 - believe me, you can look real, real hard - you won't see the cover about PEDs.  To use the language of reality competition shows - sports media gave Armstrong the "hero edit". During the first decade of the 21st century, when you saw Lance Armstrong in SI or on ESPN, it was covered in glory, accusations against him dismissed as being part of the same French anti-Americanism that led to their failure to support us in our glorious war for Iraqi freedom.  Lance Armstrong=Great Sports Hero is a dominant thread in our recent sports narrative.

During this same time frame, Barry Bonds has been on 6 SI covers.

Barry Bonds, Baseball, San Francisco Giants

Like this one.

Barry Bonds, Baseball, San Francisco Giants

And that one.

Barry Bonds, Baseball, San Francisco Giants

And that one too.

Go read this piece, from 2007, discussing the clear way in which Sports Illustrated has framed Bonds as a villain throughout his career; my argument is SI is most easily captured by pieces like this and that - but from ESPN, to local radio shows from border to border - this type of systematic "Armstrong good, Bonds bad" message has branded itself into our sports brain.

So - this week, when another brick in the Armstrong used PEDs wall was met by the "but cancer is more important" response in SI; my response was to simultaneously nod in agreement, and curse the broader context in which that agreement takes place.

2. Cost/Benefit
We're spending 113 billion dollars this year in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, as part of budget cuts in New Jersey, Chris Christie is asking that Medicaid eligibility be reduced from the current maximum income of approximately $25,000 for a family of 3 to...ready...$5317.

I guess there are ways a country can have both policies simultaneously, but, at present, they escape me.

3. The Article You need to Read This week
It's Bob Reich.


Government could have enforced the basic bargain. But it did the opposite. It slashed public goods and investments — whacking school budgets, increasing the cost of public higher education, reducing job training, cutting public transportation and allowing bridges, ports and highways to corrode.
It shredded safety nets — reducing aid to jobless families with children, tightening eligibility for food stamps, and cutting unemployment insurance so much that by 2007 only 40 percent of the unemployed were covered. It halved the top income tax rate from the range of 70 to 90 percent that prevailed during the Great Prosperity to 28 to 35 percent; allowed many of the nation’s rich to treat their income as capital gains subject to no more than 15 percent tax; and shrunk inheritance taxes that affected only the top-most 1.5 percent of earners. Yet at the same time, America boosted sales and payroll taxes, both of which took a bigger chunk out of the pay the middle class and the poor than of the well off.


4. Rand Paul - Big Government Crusader
Rand Paul is a hardcore libertarian - a real believer in limited government - even when the result of that belief leads to a negative consequence.

For example, Paul believes the element of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that requires business open to the public to serve customers without regard to race is a government overstep.  Sure, that means a return to whites only lunchcounters - but Paul is arguing principle - the commerce clause should not be viewed as a large enough vessel to accommodate that broad a construction of congressional power.  It's not that Paul wants to see a hotel turn away black patrons - it's that he doesn't believe government should be powerful enough to stop it from happening.  Freedom over all.

This week,  Rand Paul said we should lock people up if they attend the wrong kinds of speeches.

I guess there are ways a United States Senator can hold both positions simultaneously.  But at present, they escape me.

5. The Top 1%
The richest 1% of households have 39% of global wealth.

The last 10 years was worse for growth in real wages than the Great Depression.

Not low enough for Iowa Congressman Steve King, who wants fewer government intrusions into the relationship between labor and management.  His argument would have been well received by the railroad operators of the late 1800s.

I think the free market should set the wages. Labor is a commodity just like corn or beans or oil or gold, and the value of it needs to be determined by the competition, supply and demand in the workplace.


But what we don't spend enough time doing is discussing the benefits of a subsistence economy, that was rectified by Texas Governor Rick Perry this week.

I think we're going through those difficult economic times for a purpose.  To bring us back to biblical principles.

The distance between our country right now and assigning blame for crop failure to judgment of a wrathful god seems slight to me.

6. It Gets Better.  It Gets Worse


As I promised a few weeks ago, here's the Giants video for the It Gets Better series.

Meanwhile, Brandon Belt's got a fractured wrist and, Buster Posey may never catch again.

7. I Write the Stories
My composition of the all time 45 man rosters for each NFL franchise continued this week - you can get to the Saints, Falcons, Panthers - here.

I'm working on the text for my top 100 NBA players of all time, that will release somewhere approximating the end of the NBA Finals (it could be that I was rooting against the Heat in Game 2 given how hard the price on investing in the Heat would then fall.  Could be.)

I also watch the graps - 3 4 star matches this week, the Kings of Wrestling against Go and Taniguchi from NOAH in April was 4 1/4, Sasaki v. Takeda from Big Japan in April was 4 stars; and Sekimoto v. Hero from WXW in April was 4 1/2 stars, meaning it is added to my Match of the Year post, which currently is up to 18 matches at 4 1/2+ stars for the year.

8. Bridesmaids.




I also saw movies - Blue Valentine, which you can watch; Michelle Williams was nominated for an Oscar, and she's great - but its a good reminder that Ryan Gosling is the best actor alive who isn't on your instant list for "who is the best actor alive"; Please Give, a meditation about death and furniture which you should move to the top of your Netflix queue; and Bridesmaids, which is funny and worth watching despite a conservative undercurrent that individual hard work is the key to overcoming economic hardship.  Did you lose your bakery in the recession?  Stop complaining about it and get back in the kitchen.  It's neither bad advice for the individual, nor a bad device for a film - but it doesn't offer structural critique; the film looks at the economy from a "life's unfair, grow up" perspective that denies decisions that have been made, that are being made right now, by policymakers which put Kristen Wiig in the position to need to move back in with her Rick Springfield caricature drawing mother.  My reaction was similar to the SI piece this week about Armstrong; I don't disagree with a word outside of the broader context.  When the Megan character talks about being bullied in high school and using the It Gets Better fuel of that to study real hard and now she makes a ton of money - that's an applause line for the audience; it's the Oprah moment - you are responsible for your own circumstance.  And the ubiquity with which that is said, the degree to which that message of your need/ability to repair your own circumstance penetrates us (like Barry and Lance) and renders, I'd suggest, messages that the real need is economic structural change, harder to get through - it makes it easier for the right wing to attack discussions of economic justice, of health care reform, of the need to raise taxes on millionaires as oppositional to the values of personal responsibility that we all uncritically accept.  Our responsibility, as we are reminded by Wilson Phillips in their performance of "Hold On", the knowingly chosen theme song for Bridemaids, is to "hold on for one more day, things are gonna change."

You know what will make things "get better."?  Laws.  Government policy that works on behalf of working class Americans.  The opposite of the past 30 years of US economic policy.  The opposite of what is being done in statehouses like New Jersey and Florida and Texas right now.  And when the right wing cuts social services even more brutally than they already have - putting even more Americans precariously close to destitution - there will be even more plucky pieces of pop culture telling us to stop complaining and bake some more cakes.

That's the thesis of a book I will never have time to write; the degree to which messages of personal responsibility in popular culture increase during times of economic inequality, obscuring the need for structural reform.

9. Speaking of Pop Culture
Something curious is happening with video games.

10. Don't Do This.  Seriously.
Who's up for a Rocky Balboa musical.

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

Your pal,

Jim

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