Archive for September 23rd, 2012

The Summer Game in Fall

The Saturday night movie was “Trouble With the Curve,” the latest Clint Eastwood offering.  A rom-com with professional complications and a baseball backdrop.  You can’t screw up baseball – the owners have proven that, try as they might – but you can make a predictable, formulaic rom-com, and that’s what they’ve done here.  It’s not exactly paint-by-numbers, but they’re not painting the corners, either.  The characters are, for the most part, barely one-dimensional and overplayed, at that.  Even the final, dramatic showdown between pitcher and catcher misses an obvious trick.

The movie aspires to be a sort of anti-“Moneyball,” with Clint playing an aging scout who thinks his eyes and ears can tell him stuff that the kids’ computers can’t.  That baseball is cruel and unfair won’t be news to fans.  But that it compounds the normal cruelty of high school athletes may come as a surprise to some.  The games are what they are, but the action for the scouts isn’t in the results, but the process.  The reason you need scouts for high school is that any major league prospect is going to so outclass his competition that the results at that level don’t suffice to distinguish between prospects and true star power.  But remember, in “Moneyball,” the whiz kids weren’t using SABRmetrics to scout high schoolers, but under-valued major- and minor-leaguers.  So the portrait of baseball resembles an Escher drawing – the details are right, but they’re placed in a world that doesn’t exist.

Clint and Amy Adams as his daughter turn in nice performances, as does Justin Timberlake, and while neither of the two younger actors has the resume of Eastwood, they can hold their own on the screen with him.  Eastwood is smart enough to know that actors bring their body of work with them to whatever new roles they play, and some skillful use of some footage of a younger Clint helps allude to the outside-the-rules Eastwood that we all remember.

Two, maybe two-and-a-half stars.  As usual, the real game is better.

Especially when your childhood team is finally playing meaningful ball in September.  In this case, that’s the Orioles.  September 2007 was magical here, and I was working a block away from Coors Field.  I got to see a couple of Rockies wins during that stretch, saw the play-in game against the Padres, and saw the two NLCS wins against Arizona, including the clincher that sent them to the Series.  But there’s nothing quite like seeing the team you rooted for as a kid go to the playoffs.

I subscribe to the radio broadcats at something like $15/year, and Joe Angel is back doing the games after a purgatory in Yankeeland.  In fact, even as I write this, I’m listening to the Orioles broadcast, and watching the Yankees play the A’s on TV.  Would that it were the other way around, but TBS seems to have some sort of contract that requires them to show Yankees games.

On the rare occasions that the Orioles have been on television it’s been fun to see Camden Yards full again,and the ads for local brands that I had forgotten about, like High’s Ice Cream.  Camden Yards was the first of the retro ballparks, and still one of the best, with the warehouse in right field, and the Bromoseltzer Tower in past center.  It replaced one of the other trendsetter parks, Memorial Stadium, which doubled for the Colts, and really long-time Orioles fans watched a lot of games there.

So one thing that’s been a little disheartening is the crowd cheers.  In Memorial Stadium, there was a guy name “Wild” Bill Hagy who used to lead a cheer from Section 34, spelling out “O-R-I-O-L-E-S” with his body as the crowd shouted out the letters.  There’s even a blog named for it.  Now, it’s basically the same soundtrack as here in Colorado, so it’s probably the same soundtrack as most parks these days.  I know “franchise” implies a certain uniformity of product, but I don’t think that means that the experience has to be the same at every ballpark.  You want to think there’s something different about your team, that just because the players are interchangeable these days, doesn’t mean the teams are.

You like to think that the team’s success is the payoff for all those old fans who’ve suffered through 15 years of losing seasons, and then you realize that by definition, there just aren’t that many who will stay interested through that kind of a spell.  And when you talk about a cheer they haven’t used in 20 years, you sound like the guy 20 years ago who was reminiscing about how hard it was to pick up the ball against the white shirts in center field in Memorial Stadium.

But you know, who cares?  O-R-I-O-L-E-S!

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Forward! To The 1870s!

A lot’s been made in the last few days about the new Obama campaign “flag,” which replaces the 50 stars with the Obama campaign symbol.  (After all, who need 50 stars when you can get by with The One?)  As a counterpoint, some on the left have taken to posting Lincoln campaign flags, and a few of my friends on the left haven’t been above calling conservatives names over their outrage.  It turns out it wasn’t just Lincoln who did this – it was a fairly common, almost standard campaign motif from about 1840 to William McKinley.  I’ve collected a slideshow (although those of you reading this in email will need to go to the site to see it):

Then, starting in the very late 1800s, around about the same time that we started to take our place on the world stage, our attitude about the flag started to change as well.  In 1898, the poem, “Hats Off!” was published.  It was still current as late as the 1960s, when it was being republished in a book I read as a kid.  The Pledge of Allegiance was published in 1892, as well.  (Ironically, Francis Bellamy was  a Christian socialist, but nowadays it’s the “right-wingers” who open meetings with it.  It was written in the days when American socialism was more nationalist, and less Internationale, I suppose.  Good thing they dropped the salute, though.)  And in 1924, the Code of Conduct for the Flag was finally enacted, about a generation after the flag’s started to become a more venerated symbol.  By that time, of course, putting your picture on the flag had long gone out of fashion.

Does this mean that the Obama campaign flag is much ado about nothing?  I don’t think so.  I was never outraged by the appropriation of the flag, but I did consider it to be just another example of the creepy cult of personality that Obama seems way too comfortable with, and which is completely inappropriate for a sitting president of a democratic republic.  Harsanyi missed this year’s DNC logo, a stylized Obama campaign “O.”  I looked back at convention logos of both parties from 1980 onward, and didn’t see anything remotely like that for either party.  He also didn’t mention the other weird stuff, like making an “O” with your hands in 2008, and the Obama Campaign Wedding Registry.

We’ve lionized presidents before, but usually after they’ve left office.  Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, and Reagan come to mind.  Three of them died in office, three led us through decisive moments in major struggles.  (JFK’s persists to this day.  I was looking at a poster of presidential portraits in DAT this morning, and while almost all were the official presidential portrait, Kennedy’s was of his standing with his hand on his desk, head bowed, in a golden haze, which struck me as a little over-the-top.  Fifty years on, that sort of thing isn’t doing anything to encourage serious appraisals of his time in office, is it?)  But I can’t remember anything like this for a living President, and Obama’s the eighth one I’ve been conscious of.

Certainly the way that Obama did this is different from what came before.  In some ways, the redesign does more violence to the flag than the portraits did.  The Obama “O” is a paler shade of blue, cyan really.  And the previous presidents and campaigns at least kept the stars there, rather than replacing them entirely.  But I’m sure that if he had put his portrait, or a stylized, dark blue monochrome of the Sheperd Fairey poster there, and kept the stars, it would still have been weird.  It’s not just about the design elements.

My friend State Senator Shawn Mitchell put his finger on it when he said that campaign symbols, indeed any political symbols, are created in a particular time and a particular environment.  In the 1870s, people were used to seeing this sort of thing.  Now they’re not.

The claim that this is just reviving an old tradition of flag redesign doesn’t ring true, not in today’s context.   A lot’s changed since the late 19th Century, and how we think about the flag is only part of it.  Maybe it was more acceptable when the Republic was younger.  Maybe there was a recognition that the presidency was itself, in some way, a national symbol, and that in the days before the federal government has usurped so much of the states’ powers, there was less danger in any one individual who occupied the office.

So how about a deal.  We’ll stop complaining about Obama “desecrating” the flag, if they’ll pare back the Federal Government to the scope it had in 1876.


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