Wednesday, December 31, 2008


“Doubt” portrays the moral and emotional struggle arising between a priest suspected of pederasty and the nun who suspects him. A younger nun embodies the good conscience and competing moral impulses of the audience, for which the antagonists compete.

What I’m about to say blows the plot line, so those who do not want to skip the first-level tensions of initial encounter -- ought probably read no further.

The promotional clips imply a convent western; St. Francis vs. Bloody Mary, Big Nurse down on the lovable loonies. This, together with Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in costume and harness is how you build some kind of a gate.

But I expect that the movie will not do much business. It is not made for our C+ culture and D+ national mentality. It is an anti-western. It is a difficult, spiky lesson in moral philosophy.

Formally, the plot moves in grim parody of Tomesian logic: thesis (He did it), antithesis (No, I didn’t) synthesis (In that case …) But in this case, the young nun arrives at no satisfactory, reconcilliatory judgments. She tacks with the wind. As do we. That’s because the arguments acquire and lose force continuously. They tend, but never conclude.

More than religious professionals are at war here. Sentiment defies logic. Intuition thwarts evidence. Sympathy confounds obligation. Integrity repels kindness. Right and wrong switch habits.

Sermon over, we’re navigating personality traits, hierarchical privilege, child psychology, racial tragedy, domestic abuse, institutional corruption, authoritarian pathology, male prerogative, dismayingly rare roast beef – a red and yellow basket of more-and-less poisoned apples and oranges. No picnic.

The fun of the movie is being drawn in through ingenious craft and emotional power, being tempted to indulge this or that emotion or bias, then getting smacked up side your conscience with the consequence of your self-indulgence. Do you want to do the right thing or enjoy your popcorn? Turns out you can’t do both for more than a couple of minutes. That’s why I don’t think Americans will find much here to recommend.

I have worked the same basic formula in writing case study exercises for clients including the Army National Guard (before it became a combat force), an aluminum can manufacturer in Chicago, and a couple of others.

In one case, a supervisor is required to report a plainly bogus sexual harassment claim to HR – with predictably bad outcomes for all concerned. In another, a Guard recruiter is driven by honorable motives to use unapproved methods.

Of all the corporate goop I have written over twenty-odd years, nothing has come remotely close to these ethical-dilemma activities for exciting participant interest – not to mention impassioned, often angry debate. Frame a job-related conflict between immediate decency and longer term imperatives and you’ll create involvement second only to sex – in my professional experience.

But Doubt is not likely to stimulate this kind of debate. That’s because it layers the impulses so subtly, divides and arranges the moral and sympathetic qualities so evenly – that wherever you start out, you will find at least part of yourself lined up against you. I guarantee it. The aftermath will best be experienced internally, or in slower conversation. Or, as in my case, through an unpleasant dream.

The movie opens with Hoffman delivering an admirable sermon as Steep stalks the pews like a predatory stork, eyes alert for inattentive young heads to back-smack. After a few seconds, I told Joan that I feared we were in for a twisty ride because it couldn’t possibly be that simple and where the thing would lead I could not imagine.

I was, for a change, entirely right.

Monday, December 29, 2008


The non-heterosexual community (or most of it) is increasingly designated by the initials GLBT – Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender. The term pertains to persons at-risk for discrimination and abuse by virtue of gender orientation and behavior.

Needless to say, I support the squashing of all gender discrimination and abuse. Not only is there nothing wrong with being GLBT, but I believe that same-sexers have much to contribute from their special vantages. I hope they are encouraged to express themselves fully and often -- as equally advantaged citizens. Certainly, one hopes to hear more from this group than from, say, Italo-Americans.

However, I don’t know why Bisexuals get equal billing. Gays surely merit recognition for the many at-risk aspects of being Gay. Lesbians the same. Transgenders may need our sympathy and protection most of all.

But Bisexuals? People are not persecuted because they are Bisexuals. They are persecuted because they are part-time homosexuals. It’s not as though gay bashers get on them for crossing over and poaching our women or gentlemen. No, as long as they do opposites, they are pretty much all right. It’s only when they go same-wise that they catch it.

True at-risk communities get in trouble because of: 1. characteristics they cannot shed such as physical features, national origin, or swishing, 2. beliefs they should not have to relinquish however distasteful these beliefs are to the rest of us: deep religious convictions, political preferences, or 3. voluntary group behavior which does not harm others, like dressing up funny.

Most Gays, Lesbians, and Transgenders fit snugly into category One; they face risk because of how God made them. Some may locate themselves in category 2, having made purely personal choices to look or be G. or L., especially while still in college. In Gay Pride parades, category 3. takes the stage.

The same broad scheme covers B’s operating in Q. mode – functioning as G’s and L’s. Otherwise, they are not at risk. They simply wind up with more options than most people. This is no curse which hangs about their necks like an hormonal/genetic albatross, attracting arrows. We should all be so lucky.

I remember a brief period decades ago when light skinned African-Americans were represented as seeking their own identity – as mulattoes. A couple of people wrote articles about it and then it blew over. The mulatto identity idea suggested an impulse to duck the more reviled darker identity. As I remember, this attracted little support except from the M’s who wrote the articles.

I’m not judging. In the face of actual, physical anti-Semitism, I might very well suggest that blue-eyed atheistic Jews get a category of their own. When fascism comes, who knows what I will pretend to have been doing all my life? I try to have no illusions.

Nor do I consider myself an expert on same-sex politics or resistance strategies. But in this case I remain curious.

Do Bisexuals really require their own designation? If so, how come?

Do B’s really wish to separate themselves from their wholly fish and wholly fowl fellows? If so, why can’t they be happy as part-time G’s and L’s?

Do they consider Bisexuality especially snappy?

Has the B been added to GLBT not by B’s themselves – but by 100% G’s, L’s, and T’s as a means of building the base with or without the Two-Way community’s consent?

I know that some of Papadablogger’s readers may have more important things to do than think about this. Still, I’m on the lookout for those who have thoughts on the subject, or better yet, answers to the questions above. In this spirit, I will return filled with hope to the Comments box in the days ahead.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Two Jean Shepherd Stories

TWO JEAN SHEPHERD STORIES (Contained in an email correspondence between Fang Harrison and Valentine Marofsky)

STORY NUMBER 1 (sent by Fang Harrison to Valentine Marofsky)

The Man Who Told A Christmas Story
What I learned from Jean Shepherd.
By Donald Fagen [a New York City musician and co-founder of Steely Dan.]

Updated Monday, Dec. 22, 2008, at 10:04 AM ET

If you know Jean Shepherd's name, it's probably in connection with the now-classic film A Christmas Story, which is based on a couple of stories in his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. He also does the compelling voice-over narration. On Christmas, TBS will continue its tradition of presenting a 24-hour Christmas Story marathon. There are annual fan conventions devoted to the film—released 25 years ago this Thanksgiving—and the original location in Cleveland has been turned into a museum. But long before A Christmas Story was made, Shepherd did a nightly radio broadcast on WOR out of Manhattan that enthralled a generation of alienated young people within range of the station's powerful transmitter. Including me: I was a spy for Jean Shepherd.

In the late '50s, while Lenny Bruce was beginning his climb to holy infamy in jazz clubs on the West Coast, Shepherd's all-night monologues on WOR had already gained him an intensely loyal cult of listeners. Unlike Bruce's provocative nightclub act, which had its origins in the "schpritz" of the Catskills comics, Shepherd's improvised routines were more in the tradition of Midwestern storytellers like Mark Twain, but with a contemporary urban twist: say, Mark Twain after he'd been dating Elaine May for a year and a half. Where Bruce's antics made headlines, Shepherd, with his warm, charismatic voice and folksy style, could perform his most subversive routines with the bosses in the WOR front office and the FCC being none the wiser. At least most of the time.

I was introduced to Shep, as his fans called him, by my weird uncle Dave. Dave, who was a bit of a hipster, used to crash on our sofa when he was between jobs. Being a bookish and somewhat imperious 12-year-old, already desperately weary of life in suburban New Jersey and appalled by Hoss and Little Joe and Mitch Miller and the heinous Bachelor Father, I figured Dave was my man. One night, after ruthlessly beating me at rummy, he put down the cards and said, "Now we're gonna listen to Shepherd—this guy's great." The Zenith table model in the kitchen came to life midway through Shepherd's theme music, a kitschy, galloping Eduard Strauss piece called the "Bahn Frei" polka. And then there was that voice, cozy, yet abounding with jest.

He was definitely a grown-up but he was talking to me—I mean straight to me, with my 12-year-old sensibility, as if some version of myself with 25 more years worth of life experience had magically crawled into the radio, sat down, and loosened his tie. I was hooked. From then on, like legions of other sorry-ass misfits throughout the Northeast, I tuned in every weeknight at 11:15 and let Shep put me under his spell. Afterward, I'd switch to an all-night jazz station and dig the sounds until I conked out. Eventually, this practice started to affect my grades and I almost didn't graduate from high school.

Listening to Shep, I learned about social observation and human types: how to parse modern rituals (like dating and sports); the omnipresence of hierarchy; joy in struggle; "slobism"; "creeping meatballism"; 19th-century panoramic painting; the primitive, violent nature of man; Nelson Algren, Brecht, Beckett, the fables of George Ade; ; the codes inherent in "trivia," bliss in art; fishing for crappies; and the transience of desire. He told you what to expect from life (loss and betrayal) and made you feel that you were not alone.

Shepherd's talk usually fell into one of four categories. Fans of A Christmas Story will be familiar with the basic comic tone of his Depression-era tales, elaborations on his experience growing up in Hammond, Ind., a Chicago suburb in the shadow of the U.S. Steel Works on Lake Michigan. These stories featured his manic father ("the old man"); his mother (always standing over the sink in "a yellow rump-sprung chenille bathrobe with bits of dried egg on the lapel"); his kid brother, Randy, and , bullies, beauties, and other neighborhood types. While the film preserves much of the flavor of Shep's humor, not much remains of the acid edge that characterized his on-air performances. In the film, the general effect is one of bittersweet nostalgia; on the radio, the true horror of helpless childhood came through.

Then there were the stories culled from his three years in the stateside Army during World War II (a juvenile ham radio and electronics freak, he was assigned to the Signal Corps). The third hunk of material was informed by his adventures in postwar radio and TV. He seems to have done every possible job, from engineer to sportscaster to hosting live cowboy music broadcasts. Finally, there was the contemporary stuff, comments on the passing scene.

In between, he'd sing along to noisy old records, play the kazoo and the nose flute, brutally sabotage the commercials, and get his listeners—the "night people," the "gang"—to help him pull goofy public pranks on the unwitting squares that populated most of Manhattan. In one famous experiment in the power of hype, Shepherd asked his listeners to go to bookstores and make requests for I, Libertine, a nonexistent novel by a nonexistent author, Frederick R. Ewing. The hoax quickly snowballed and several weeks later I, Libertine was on best-seller lists. (Shep and sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon eventually codged together an actual novel for Ballantine Books. I owned a copy.)

Hilarious as Shep's tales could be, one sensed a tough realism about life that ran counter to the agitprop for the Leisure Revolution that the media were serving up in those years. With the Soviets flexing their muscles and the constant specter of global nuclear war, the government was going to fantastic lengths to convince everyone that things were just peachy. From Bert the Turtle's exhortations to "duck and cover" in the face of an atomic blast to the endless parade of new products hawked on the tube by Madison Avenue, Americans were feeding themselves a line of hooey that was no less absurd than the most hard-core Maoist brainwash. "Relax, life is good," we were told. "Your government and Walt Disney have got the future well in hand." To skeptical Mad magazine-reading little stinkers like myself, it was this mendacity on the part of adults that was the most sinister enemy of all.

Because Shep made it clear he was just as dazed, enraged, and amused as you were, that he noticed what you noticed, he established himself as one of a handful of adults you could trust. (Others were Mailer, Ginsberg, Vonnegut, and Realist publisher Paul Krassner.) Night after night, Shepherd forged the inchoate thoughts and feelings of a whole generation of fans into an axiom that went something like: "The language of our culture no longer describes real life and, pretty soon, something's gonna blow."

Toward the beginning of the show, Shepherd frequently read news clippings that listeners, his "spies," had sent in. These were mostly odd little fillers he called "straws in the wind," indicators of the prevailing mood. Once I mailed Shep an article from our local Central Jersey paper about a guy who, after being fired for some petty infraction, got loaded and tossed a Coke bottle through every store window in the local shopping mall. A couple of nights later, I'm listening to the show and Shep does his usual bit: "So, this kid sent me a piece ..." and ACTUALLY READ MY CLIP ON THE AIR! Wham: I had connected. My life as an independent consciousness had begun. I remember scurrying down to the "TV room" and announcing this amazing event to my parents. Having always considered both Shepherd and my uncle Dave to be half-cracked, they were greatly underwhelmed.

As grateful as I am that Shep was there for me during those crucial years, my idealization of Shepherd the Man was not to survive much longer. In December of 1965, I came home from my first year of college for Christmas break and noticed that Shepherd was going to be appearing at nearby Rutgers University. On a frosty night, I drove my used Ford Galaxy to New Brunswick, where I sat on the floor with a congregation of Rutgers students and watched Shep walk into the spotlight to enthusiastic applause. He had neat but stylishly long hair and was wearing a green corduroy sports coat with the collar up over a black turtleneck T.

Onstage for almost two hours, he had the young audience in his pocket from the downbeat. But, for me, something wasn't right. On the radio, speaking close to the mic, he was able to use vocal nuances and changes in intensity to communicate the most intimate shadings of thought and feeling, not unlike what Miles Davis could achieve in a recording studio. Live onstage, he spoke as though he'd never seen a microphone in his life, trying to project to the back of the room. Moreover, he blared and blustered like a carnival barker, as if he had the scent of failure in his nostrils and was ready to do anything to get the crowd on his side. It was obvious that the guy I thought was so cool had a desperate need to impress all these people, whom I assumed to be casual listeners at best.

In truth, even at home, listening on the radio, I'd noticed a strain of grandiosity creeping into Shepherd's routines. Apparently, he'd originally come to New York with the idea of being a stage actor or making it big on network TV. But it's easy to imagine mainstream producers and network execs being put off by Shepherd's contrariness and intrinsic marginality. Supposedly, when Steve Allen retired as host of The Tonight Show, he'd suggested Shepherd as a replacement. NBC ended up giving the job to the eccentric but more cuddly Jack Paar. In any case, as the years rolled by, Shepherd rankled at being confined to the ghetto of radio and must have come to see his crown as King of the Hipsters as a crown of thorns.

What I saw that night at Rutgers wasn't pretty. In the studio, his occasional abuse of the lone engineer on the other side of the glass could be seen as the petulance of an artist trying to make things work on the fly. But, incandescent under the gaze of all those kids, his self-indulgences looked more like straight-up narcissism and his "hipness" was revealed as something closer to contempt. By the end of the show, he'd crossed the line between artist and showman and then some. No longer wanting to meet the great man, I left before the reception, scraped the ice off my windshield, and drove home. Anyway, the cool early '60s were over and the boiling, psychedelic late '60s had begun. Shepherd was no longer part of my world.

Not long ago, in the absence of any books, films, music, etc., that seemed to give off any light, I started looking back at some of the things that used to inspire me as a kid, including some of Shep's old shows, now available on the Internet. Hearing them almost a half-century down the line has been a trip. Despite the tendencies I've already mentioned (plus the gaffes one might expect from a wild man like Shep ad-libbing before the age of political correctness), much of the stuff is simply amazing: The guy is a dynamo, brimming with curiosity and ideas and fun. Working from a few written notes at most, Shepherd is intense, manic, alive, the first and only true practitioner of spontaneous word jazz.

I've done a little catch-up research: Shepherd stayed on at WOR until 1977, when the station did a makeover. His books, collections of stories based on the same material he used on the air, sold well. He had a successful career on public television and continued to do his bit on stage into the '90s. And, of course, there was the collaboration with director Bob Clark on A Christmas Story. But I'm sorry to report that the narcissism thing kept getting worse as he got older.

Like a lot of fine-tuned performing artists, Shepherd increasingly exhibited the whole range of symptoms common to the aging diva. He became paranoid and resentful of imagined rivals, whether they were old ones like Mort Sahl or upstarts like Garrison Keillor. At the same time, he disavowed all his radio work, claiming that it was just a temporary gig on his way to some fanciful glory on the stage and screen. He even seemed to want to kill off his childhood, insisting that all those stories and characters were pulled clean out of his imagination. Old fans, for whom he had been almost like a surrogate father or big brother, were often met with derision when they approached him.

He didn't drink himself to death like his pal Jack Kerouac or OD like Lenny Bruce but gradually succumbed to that very real disease of self-loathing and its accompanying defenses. Disappointed in the way the world had treated him, he retired to Florida's west coast and died in 1999.

Although Shepherd almost never divulged details about his private life, he wasn't shy about giving us a bit of unflattering self-analysis, as this attests:

Protective coloration is extremely important in our lives. ... [W]e are in the weeds all the time because we find it better down here in the weeds. ...

Look at me. ... I am not at all what I appear to be. ... [T]his is merely a mask ... that more or less covers up the real me that's underneath. The real me is a saber-toothed tiger. I couldn't dare go down the street the way I really am. I'd get shot in five minutes. They'd have me in a wagon with a bunch of Doberman pinschers.

To an adolescent back then, long before a therapeutic vernacular had entered the language, this was reassuring news. It's possible that Shep's greatest lesson to the gang wasn't just "things are not what they seem" but rather "things are not what they seem—including me."

Copyright 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

STORY NUMBER 2 (Sent by Valentine Marofsky to Fang Harrison)

Victor’s Story:

I just had lunch with Victor who told a wonderful story about Jean Shepherd.
Victor was a fan in the 1950s much as you and Don Fagen were. It was adolescent idolization.
Years later Victor was an associate Dean of Continuing Education, Liberal Arts Division at NYU. There he inherited Richard Brown who ran a course on theater. Brown was supposed to bring famous names as a draw for the course, but thought that he was more interesting than Robert Redford, etc. The strange this was, Brown was more interesting than his guests. After looking at Robert Redford for a few moments, what else is there.
As part of the program Victor was trying to find other personalities who could draw famous people from different walks of life to give courses similar to Richard Brown's. One day Brown or some other course giver told Victor that Jean Shepherd was scheduled to be the evening's guest speaker. Victor was invited to dinner with the host and Shepherd prior to the course being given. Victor was going to ask Shepherd to host another such a course, and Shepherd (who had been told of Victor's coming invitation of employment) was very much in favor.
The problem arose as soon as Victor joined Shepherd and the host at dinner because it was apparent that Shepherd in person was a boor (see Dan Fagen's similar impression at Rutgers). Even worse, at the course given that evening, which Victor was obligated to attend after the dinner, Shepherd alienated the audience almost immediately and did nothing to remedy his awful impression. He was so full of himself that he was unbearable on stage. After about an hour, the audience could take no more of Shepherd and an insurrection was brewing.
Then someone from the audience shouted out, "Do your ....... routine."
Shepherd, knowing that the audience was hostile and restive (he was not stupid) gladly agreed and launched into his bit from the radio show.
After that was finished someone else shouted out, "Jean, do your ........... routine."
Shepherd happily complied and the audience enjoyed the final hour of the presentation in excellent humor.
This, I'm sure you will agree, is such a better story than Fagen's at Rutgers.
P.S. - Shepherd did not get the job as a host at NYU School of Continuing Education, Liberal Arts Division.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


How about: Relapsing and Remitting Narcissistic Empathy Deficit Disorder?

Say you’re trying to give directions over the phone. A third person interrupts repeatedly. She wants you to suggest a different route – not knowing that the other party has reasons for avoiding this alternative route.

After you hang up, she says, “How come nobody ever listens to me?”

This individual suffers from RRNEDD. In other words:

In the press of the moment (Relapsing and Remitting) the self-involved (Narcissistic) third person fails to understand 1. The direction-seeker’s priorities, and 2. The bad impression she has made on you (Empathy Deficit Disorder.)

I mention this in connection with an article in last week’s New York Times: Psychiatry’s Struggle to Revise the Book of Human Troubles.

It’s struggling, all right.

Psychiatry faces many challenges as it attempts to update the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The new edition, DSM-V, is a guaranteed best seller, so that, at least, is not among Psychiatry’s problems.
But a plateful remain.

According to the article, Psychiatry must fend off drug companies bent on bribing contributors and editors to hype conditions ripe for treatment by patented medicines. Otherwise, the DSM-V will come out with Prozac Deprivation Syndrome and Hypovaliumism.

Another challenge reflects Psychiatry’s ignorance of its subject matter. It does not know exactly what anything is, or what causes it, or more often than not, what to do about it. As the article points out in the words of a perceptive actual psychiatrist, “ … this is not cardiology or nephrology.”

However, the DSM does serve as a means of getting people paid. It does so by attaching a number to each diagnostic label, such as RRNEDD. This number, say 897.9, triggers the insurance company’s reimbursement (or denial) mechanism, allowing mental health care to function.

The New York Times article explores the skeptical view of the above-quoted doctor who has authored a book which summarizes Western Civilization under the title, “ Before Prozac.” He’s concerned that identifying people as having “obsessive-compulsive” disorder may impose a negative impact on their self-perception if and when they hear about it.

Also, the current approach may not give some gender permutations the encouragement they deserve.

I could see that this article was no mere exercise in industry cheerleading. That’s probably why it wasn’t in the Science section. Still, for another objective viewpoint I visited Iris, my childhood chum and on-call psychiatrist. Not having cracked the DSM for a long time, I asked her to fetch hers and together we vetted.

I was quickly reminded that Psychiatry has set itself a noble task in attempting to categorize the whole of human experience for purposes of reimbursement. This is one of its most daunting challenges -- struggling to encapsulate every facet of what goes on day by day.

My eye fell quickly on the pot section. I read sadly about Cannabis Dependency, with its compulsive and destructive aspects. “But what,” I wondered, “is meant by 305.20 Cannabis Abuse?” Turns out, this condition comprises driving high, getting busted, smoking at work, arguing about smoking dope with spouse or parents, and toking up in the presence of minors.

Nor does Psychiatry go easy on legal agents, as evidenced by 292.89, Caffeine Induced Sleep Disorder. Armed with a degree and a number, you can get reimbursed for telling people to cut down.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder involves arguing with adults, disregarding authority, blaming others for your own fuck-ups, being annoyed and annoying, and showing an angry, resentful, or vindictive side. To qualify your psychiatrist for reimbursement, these tendencies must get in your way.

The same goes for 312.89 Impulse Control Disorder, 301.50 Histrionic Personality Disorder, and 302.89, Frotteurism, or touching people on the subway. My favorite is Factitious Disorder, or making up disorders.

Psychiatry is struggling to do its best. With all the challenges it faces, it can use some help. I don’t intend to stop with RRNEDD. I’m taking notes on other troublesome manifestations, too.

I urge readers to join me in this practice and send your notes to Pappa. When we have enough, I’ll give them all numbers and forward the whole batch to Psychiatry.

Leo Durocher's Bid Was Foul

Sometimes There Was Magic - December 23, 2008
On Old Cassette, Barber’s Voice Brings to Life Game He Missed
No one broadcast Johnny Vander Meer’s second consecutive no-hitter in June 1938, but that did not deter fans from telling Red Barber years later how much they enjoyed his call.
Barber should have called it, at least for symmetry’s sake.
He was then in his final season with the Cincinnati Reds (his storied run with the Brooklyn Dodgers started the next season) and behind the Crosley Field radio microphone for Vander Meer’s first no-hitter on June 11 against the Boston Bees.
But because the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees were in the last season of a five-year ban on radio broadcasts from their stadiums, Vander Meer’s no-hitter at Ebbets Field on June 15 was a witness-only event, unheard on any airwave. So while Vander Meer was making history in Brooklyn, Barber was home in Cincinnati, being called by exhilarated fans who knew that his home number was listed under his wife’s name.
Forty-one years later, Barber came to the annual meeting of the Florida Association of Broadcasters. They presented him with their Gold Medal. He recalled a prayer about the “changes and chances of time,” then offered his listeners the gift of time passed.
“Something no one has,” he said. He later added, “It’s going to be yours.”
Rome Hartman attended the broadcasters’ conference, which he recalled being held in Orlando, Fla.
“It was so extemporaneous that everyone was in awe,” said Hartman, a former sportscaster who was then general manager of a radio station in West Palm Beach. “He had it in his mind because he didn’t read it off any script. It came out of his memory.”
The first part of his gift, preserved in a cassette tape bought by Hartman after the conference but forgotten in a box of memorabilia for many years, was Barber’s vivid recap of the first eight innings. “Suddenly, this thing became alive,” Barber said.
Barber’s recapitulation of the game is a reminder that Vander Meer, no matter the sensation he caused with his first no-hitter, was an afterthought early on in the Brooklyn game. It was the first night game at Ebbets Field, and 38,748 fans, well beyond capacity, had jammed in. “They must have been in the aisles and hanging from the rafters,” Barber said.
The second part, which lasts just over three minutes, is Barber live — yet 41 years late. He calls the bottom half of the ninth as if it were being played before him, with Vander Meer facing the bases full of Brooks with one out.
“Now,” Barber said, “on the brink of greatness, unprecedented greatness, he’s gone wild.” With Reds Manager Bill McKechnie at the mound trying to calm Vander Meer, Barber said: “There’s no one warming up in the bullpen. It’s going to be Vander Meer going all the way. It has to be. He pitched a no-hitter four days ago at Cincinnati against Boston, and tonight is his night. His father and mother are here. The girl he’s going to marry. They’re all here. And this crowd is now for him. They’ve turned their backs on their ball club, the Dodgers. They want him to do it.”
Barber, who died in 1992, was 71 at the time, 13 years past his firing by the Yankees. His lyrical voice rose excitedly during the half-inning and sometimes lowered as if he were telling Cub Scouts a ghost story. He spoke rapidly and clearly, describing the runners on base and the Reds’ defensive setup. And when he said Vander Meer’s name, the syllables were transformed by Barber’s Mississippi roots into the gentler-sounding “Van-da-me-ah.”
“Ernie Lombardi, ‘Big Schnozz,’ sitting back of the plate, ready to give the sign,” he said. “Koy up. Vander Meer pitches. It’s a strike. No balls, one strike. The score is six to nothing in favor of the Reds. But the score is not the story. The story is Vander Meer!”
Bob Edwards, a Sirius XM talk show host, talked to Barber every Friday for 12 years on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition”; he remembered Monday that at a public radio conference in 1983, Barber surprised attendees by recreating the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 of the 1947 World Series. Brooklyn’s Cookie Lavagetto broke up a no-hitter by the Yankees’ Bill Bevens with a pinch-hit double and won the game for the Dodgers.
“It was the only good thing that happened at that conference,” Edwards said, adding, “He was a showman. When he was a kid, he wanted to be in vaudeville.”
With two outs and shortstop Leo Durocher facing Vander Meer, the tinkling glasses in the banquet room were muted. His audience of broadcasters was quiet.
“Durocher swings, and it’s a hard line-drive going down the right field and it’s foul just by a couple of feet in the right-field corner,” he said and his audience exhaled loudly — “You had to catch your breath,” Hartman said — and applauded. (The New York Times article the next day said Durocher’s foul went into the right-field stands.)
Then, the conclusion: “It’s no balls, two strikes, three on,” the old Redhead said. “It’s a high fly ball going to medium center field. Harry Craft comes under it, sets, and takes it, and it’s a double no-hitter for Vander Meer.” A brief pause, and, finally: “Thank you.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Obama, Science and Religion

Valentine Marofsky says:
In support of my previously expressed view that Obama's choice of a bible thumping pastor to pray for us at the Inauguration is a political gambit, and his political core supports science over religion or any fundamentalist form thereof, see the NYTimes editorial pasted below:

December 22, 2008
NYTimes Editorial
A New Respect for Science
Though Barack Obama’s cabinet appointments have received the big headlines, it is worth noting two important sub-cabinet choices. Both are scientists, committed to using rather than abusing science to address issues like climate change, and a welcome departure from the many ideologues and lobbyists that Dick Cheney assembled to advise President Bush on environmental matters.
The first of these choices is Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a division of the Commerce Department responsible for the health of the atmosphere and the oceans.
Ms. Lubchenco is an expert on two grave threats to the oceans, both linked to global warming. One is acidification, which is destroying coral reefs, the other hypoxia, a condition that robs fish of the oxygen they need to survive. She has also been a powerful advocate for stronger federal and international efforts to protect declining fish species.
We are also heartened by Mr. Obama’s choice of John Holdren, a Harvard physicist, as his science adviser. Mr. Holdren has served as chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as has Ms. Lubchenco. Both have argued strongly and repeatedly for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Like Mr. Obama’s earlier appointments — in particular Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, to run the Department of Energy — these choices solidly affirm Mr. Obama’s commitment to aggressively address the challenges of energy independence and global warming.
The broader point, though, is what they say about his appreciation for the processes of science. That was not much in evidence in the Bush administration, some of whose appointees edited and suppressed scientific documents to serve the administration’s political agenda.
As Ms. Lubchenco observes, identifying a problem is not synonymous with solving it. But Mr. Obama has at least surrounded himself with serious scholars of some of the most critical issues of our times.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let Doubt Enter

Obama is attempting to rise above ideology in choosing someone from the far right to lead the invocation prayer at his inauguration.

  • If the right feels included and the left gets over it, we may be on our way to reconciliation.
  • The left may still think the right is stupid and the right may still think the left is immoral,
  • But the point of his choice is that we can live together and disagree in harmony.
  • Then, maybe, Doubt will enter the lives of those on both sides who suffer from moral certainty.

Valentine Marofsky Has Spoken


The first time I voted in a Presidential election was 1964. Remember, you had to be 21 years old back then. Like most other Americans, I cast my ballot for Lyndon Baines Johnson. On the list of things I regret in life, that would be somewhere on page 2. The problem of course is, you don’t want to know what’s on page 1.

I was anti-war in the 1960s. Who wasn’t? I “punished” Hubert Humphrey in 1968 by refusing to vote for him. I wasn’t alone. We sure showed him something, didn’t we? Instead we got Richard Nixon. Idiots! Served us right. Still, I didn’t vote for another Democrat (phony bastards!) until this year.

I voted for Barack Obama. So did Papa’s lovely and talented Momma, my wife Maria. We sent him money. We put his yard signs on our front lawn. Maria worked at a local Obama-Biden phone bank on Election Day, getting out the vote. I’m still wearing my bright blue OBAMA ’08 baseball cap.

I have some reservations about some of Obama’s appointees, thus far. But, I keep remembering the operative phrase is – his appointees – they work for him. When our federal system operates properly, in accordance with the Constitution, the President makes Executive Branch policy – not the Vice President – not some unnamed political advisors – not the unaccountable underlings, secreted safely in an undisclosed location, deep in the bowels of the Pentagon – and certainly not the Generals, Admirals and Commandants whose names we don’t know and whose pictures we couldn’t identify. I want a lawful government, for a change.

I expect the Obama Administration will be just that. So, I hold my reservations about folks like Hillary Clinton and Iowa’s Tom Vilsak and even Eric Holder who will be America’s first black Attorney General. And yes, I hold my nose and squeeze my sphincter at the thought of Bush’s Defense Secretary still showing up for work as the head honcho in the Pentagon. I trust none of them, but I have high hopes for Barack Obama as “Boss of Bosses.”

Now… to the problem at hand, the California clown, Rick Warren.

Someone needs to tell Mr. Obama – “Ok, we get it. You’re a Christian. You love Jesus. You are not a Muslim!” Someone needs to tell him – “The election is over. YOU WON!”

Show me a “religious leader” (that’s what you call them to lend them social credibility), and I’ll show you a fundraiser, a huckster, a charlatan, a phony or a fake (that’s what you call them when you’re looking for an accurate identification). Rick Warren, Joseph Lowry, the Ayatollah whatshisname, the Pope, the rabbi in Brooklyn who won’t step foot in Israel until the messiah comes back – they’re all cut from the same piece of cloth, slices of bread in the same loaf, all of them this far away from “Glengarry, Glen Ross,” barely a step removed from toting around a headset in a crowded phone bank in Bangalore– and none of them have any place in the governmental affairs of the American people. That includes the Inaugural ceremonies, at which Barack Obama will officially become the Most Powerful Human On Earth, scheduled for the 20th of next month.

I couldn’t care less how Rick Warren (or any of the other jokesters I name above) feels about gay marriage, a woman’s right of dominion over her own body (can you explain why we still talk about this as a “public issue” when the thought of questioning a man’s similar rights is unthinkable?), or where he stands on any issue of legitimate public consideration. Why should I care what Rick Warren, or any of these phony bastards, thinks about anything?

What Papa would have liked to see from a new President advocating “Change You Can Believe In” is an Inauguration in keeping with the separation of church and state; an Inauguration with no such nonsense as an opening and closing prayer; an Inauguration that didn’t supply a platform to any religion or any religious entrepreneur. By all means, let Aretha sing. Take your oath. Make your speech. Let’s party! Skip the rest.

Today, in my maturity, perhaps even in my sunset, Papa is an optimist. I like to think I’ve learned from and grown as a result of the mistakes of my younger days. I’ve forgiven myself for LBJ. So, for President Obama, I excuse his slavish obedience to the perceived political necessities of kissing the ass of Magical Thinking, and I take some consolation in the hope that the next administration will really end the wars, curb the commercial thieves and corporate criminals, bring American medicine into the modern world where the good health of a human being is a fundamental right, not a matter of private profit, and (if it can be done) revive our economy and save us from what appears to be our headlong slide into the same cold grave where lies the remains of all previous dominant Empires.

If, at the same time, Pastor Rick Warren happens to go broke (or worse), and gays get to be married (if that’s what they really want), that’ll be fine with me.


My father skipped college.

He went from Thomas Jefferson High School to St. John’s two-year law school. Like my mother, he was self-educated, well read, and exceptionally literate. Unlike her, he never doubted his intellectual sophistication.

This may be why, whenever I dragged myself home from college, he never interrogated me about the later novels of D.H. Lawrence, the wisdom of Pericles, or the Iconoclasts of Byzantium. What did catch his interest was my close acquaintance with a bohemian crowd including Performing Arts graduates bursting with apparently authoritative knowledge of the theatrical and gay communities.

He wanted to know who was gay in Hollywood.

My new friends took personal responsibility for his enlightenment.

“Ida Lupino and Randolf Scott,” I reported one week.

Usually, he nodded without comment.

Sometimes not.

“Tony Curtis and Wally Cox.”

“I can understand Cox. You sure about Curtis?”

I half-recall involving John Wayne.

A hard-ass, anti-communist Liberal with a benign social outlook, he would be pleased to see a black president-elect catching hell from a politically potent gay community for awarding the inaugural invocation to a California bible thumper who has publicly opposed gay marriage.

He would have supported gay marriage as an irritant to religion.

I cannot resist saying that this is just the kind of indefensible insult we want to have riling us up.

The Rick Warren controversy arrives absent the scent of cataclysmic potential. Whether our same-sexer pals achieve the sublime status this year or next, and whether or not Barak has shown us an unsightly callus, the final outcome will not bear on the probability of war, global depression, and the crash of the Western polity.

B.’s economic and foreign policy appointments have us up to our armpits in testy speculation over just these existential issues. Poppadablogger believes it likely that the Elect’s choices will position him to take bold, leftward steps essential to salvation. Poppa celebrates the corpulent Christian’s invocation as the death knell to Don’t ask-Don’t tell.

Our friend The Unrepentant Marxist, believes that what we see is what we will get. And what we will get is a murderous continuation of neo-con foreign policy targeting Afghanistan now and possibly Iran, Syria, or Lebanon before the game is up; continued economic malpractice at the hands of Friedman/Gekko disciples who’ve been gnawing at social equity and sensible planning since Reagan times.

In my view, these debates reflect more preconception and temperament than scientific insight. I believe that they go more to our need to express ourselves than to any sound hope of calling the finish. I personally feel that The UM is probably more right than wrong. I also believe that I believe this because I am a pessimist by nature. I do credit PDB for straightforwardly presenting his energetically argued position as no more than a hopeful guess. The UM, on the other hand, admits no possibility that he will be proved wrong. Nevertheless, I’m ready to bet that he will be proved right.

It’s hard to be sure where those old-time Dubinsky Liberals like my father would have come down in this argument. The ones I knew are all dead now, some having morphed right, some leftish.

I’m fairly sure about how they’d have felt had FDR been invoked by a preacher unsympathetic to the admission of Jews to medical schools.

Speaking of Jews, thank God none have been involved in the Bernie Madoff affair. And speaking of Bernie Madoff, I think its fair to say that he has been a unifying figure. Give him credit for that. Rich and poor want to kill him. And nobody gives a flying fuck about whether or not he is gay.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


As most people know by now, Slumdog Millionaire follows the progress of a young “chai walla” or telephone help-desk tea-server through the process of breaking the bank on an Indian version of “Who Wants to  Be a Millionaire?”

The movie opens to find him under torture in a local police station. The cops have been told that the accuracy of his answers amounts to proof of cheating. As the victim eventually explains, chance is responsible; each of the questions has evoked a personal experience which happens to have imprinted the correct answer: e.g. the inventor of the revolver, the holder of a cricket record.

Flashbacks structured by the sequence of questions then give us a vivid biographical portrait of the contestant, his elder brother, and the girl whom he has known from childhood, lost more than once, and never given up on finding again. The biography comprises the substance of the movie as it thunders from early childhood into real time and culminates in full resolution of all outstanding problems.

The first of these flashbacks treats us to the scene of cops chasing two small children from a prohibited area in which they have been playing, through the slum in which they live. Only the happy appearance of their mother saves them from official mayhem. Homey scenes of abysmal conditions follow.

Before long, we witness a Hindu pogrom during which the two brothers see the same mother clubbed to death. Soon after, they take a similarly orphaned girl under their protection and next appear on the local garbage dump, picking filth for a living, and residing in a tent. Here they are discovered by a smooth gangster who gives them Cokes and whisks them off to an encampment for street children. There, he feeds and houses dozens of little boys and girls, and prepares them for careers as street beggars or prostitutes. This preparation includes blinding and maiming, which we witness.

The two boys escape but the girl is captured trying. Thereafter, our protagonist, now eight or nine years old, pursues his lifelong quest: to find, rescue, and protect the lost girl, whom he loves. His unrelenting effort forms the engine of the movie and involves him with dangerous gangsters and repeated fraternal betrayals.

What I remember most vividly are the scenes of homicidal communal violence, universal indifference to the fate of helpless children, their blinding, maiming and daily exploitation (all presented as normal features of life in the big city) the routine use of torture on the merest suspicion by everyday police (this little station keep electrical equipment on hand for the purpose) and a general, straightforward, unabashed level of social snobbery so smarmy as to register in the pit of the stomach.

This is, however, no expose. The extensive scenes noted serve only as background for a facile and ultimately silly romance devolving on the conceit described. The action is camera driven. The tension relies on manufactured delay and forced uncertainty. The characters aspire neither to depth, texture, nor personality. The girl is typically beautiful notwithstanding the dreadful scar inflicted by her vedddy vedddy bad tormentors.

Most strikingly, the creative sensibility betrays no larger or principled interest in its depiction of abominations. The fiendish use of small children is mere local color.

Those with strong stomachs and a taste for formulaic melodrama in distant lands may buy it. Many have and no doubt will. I found it the creepiest motion picture I have seen in a long, long time. Creepier still is the popular practice of describing – and, I must conclude, experiencing – Slumdog Millionaire as a “feelgood” movie.