Monthly Archives: May 2010

One Curse at a Time

It’s a gorgeous, sun-kissed day here in Chicago and Wildbilly has a big day ahead of him. At 3:10 he’ll be sitting up the right field line at beautiful Wrigley Field watching his suprisingly resurgent Cubs take on their hated rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals and their omnipotent slugger, Albert Pujols. The Cubs floundered in April and early May despite playing the weakest schedule in baseball. Despair and resignation reigned on the North Side as the Cubs looked at their upcoming schedule stacked with excellent clubs: Dodgers, Rangers, Rockies and Phillies. Leading into yesterday’s game, the boys in blue were a surprising 7-3 during this stretch, including two shutout victories over Los Angeles, who entered the series as the hottest hitting team in the National League. Yesterday’s loss to the Cardinals was more depressing than usual, with our starting pitcher failing to register a single out before being pulled from the game. Here’s hoping they raise the “W” flag over Wrigley today.

As the Cubs try to wrench their way back to respectiblity, another Chicago team stands on the precipice of greatness. Like their counterparts on the North Side, the Chicago Blackhawks are the dubious owners of the longest streak in their sport without a championship (1961). Tonight they begin their quest for the Stanley Cup against the Broad Street Bullies, the Philadelphia Flyers. Hawks-mania has gripped the city and it’s virtually impossible to turn on a radio or walk by a bar without hearing the campy, 1960’s Blackhawk Theme song:

If they manage to exorcise their championship demons, could the Cubs…dare I say…be far behind? While it won’t approach the magnitude of a Cubs’ Series victory, seeing the boys skate around the United Center ice with Stanley Cup in hand would be a welcome sight to these eyes. They’ve even outfitted Michael Jordan to commemorate the occassion.

Freewheeling Darjeeling

A visually stunning and historically informative documentary about Indo-Tibetan culture will soon start making the rounds in select theaters across the country. It’s called Journey of a Dream, and it’s about a Tibetan man, Shenpenn Khyamsar, lead guitarist and songwriter for a heavy metal band called Avatara. Khyamsar was born among the exiled Tibetan community in Darjeeling, India, and his story touches upon the ways in which Tibetan history, exile in India, the Tibetan Freedom Movement, Buddhism, and heavy metal music have converged in his life.* The story sends up trenchant messages about the dangers of nationalism, the power of social cohesion, and the capacity of music and art to deliver political critique.  From the looks of the trailer, the film has some pretty interesting history of the rock-n-roll scene in Darjeeling. Check out the trailer here!

The film is set mostly in Darjeeling, the misty mountain hill station of northeastern India. Darjeeling is probably known by most folks nowadays as a type of tea that is grown in the hill terraces surrounding the town. The British established a sanatorium in Darjeeling in the 19th century, and built up the town with British-style schools, summertime political institutions, and many leisure clubs, and the town served as a cool weather retreat from the lowland plains of Calcutta and Delhi, which were too bloody hot in the summers for the British and their woolen attire. They also cultivated (on the backs of Indians and Nepalis in the region) tea plantations in and around Darjeeling, many of which continued to thrive after the Queen officially gave up British colonial rule in South Asia in 1947. Nathmull’s of Darjeeling is a fine example of the thriving tea industry today in Darjeeling.

Darjeeling is a truly beautiful place, one of my favorite in all of India. It’s very hilly, situated just across a small valley from Mount Kanchenjunga (28,225 ft!), with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and roadside temples peppering the sides of hills, mountain plateaus, and winding footpaths. Today Darjeeling enjoys an interesting mix of British colonial and Tibetan Buddhist architecture, a smattering of Hindu temples and art, a large central square, Chowrastha mall, that hosts speakers and musicians and lots of people just hanging out, not to mention a bustling market that winds along the main pedestrian thoroughfare of the town.

*Khyamsar’s parents fled Tibet following the 1959 “Lhasa Uprising” against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which had previously quashed the Tibetan army at Chamdo in 1950 and proceeded over the next several years to “peacefully liberate” Tibet by trying to annex the country into the PRC. During the 1959 uprising in Lhasa, over 300,000 Tibetans opposing the PRC’s occupation of Tibet surrounded the Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace to protest the PLA’s ongoing military presence in their country. The PLA retaliated with a violent attack on the protesters, reportedly killing 86,000 Tibetans. Many Tibetans, including the current (#14) Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled the PLA’s persecution and sought sanctuary in India, with large numbers of refugees settling in the Himalayan towns of Dharamsala in the northwest (where His Holiness presently lives) and Darjeeling in the northeast.

The Age of Video [Game] Violence?

Who needs another [nonviolent] distraction? Here’s one surely to bring you back to the good old days when video games didn’t involve larceny, homicide, rape, and other human atrocities. Sure, a few blinking ghosts get whacked, or the round chomping mouth bleeps and “expires,” but does Pac-Man promote violence like the electronic video games of today? What’s astonishing to me is that in spite of the game’s low tech graphics, lo-fi music, and bare bones storyline, I still experience a high level of suspense and excitement trying to make Pac-Man outrun the hungry ghosts. How about you?

I like Pac-Man, and I’ll be curious to know what scores you all pull down on Google’s web version of the classic arcade game (see the link above). But this post is also a roundabout way to give a nod to the Supreme Court’s recent review of another free-speech challenge: Whether U.S. states can ban the sale of violent video games to minors. The public radio stalwart Diane Rehm had a show about this very issue last month that’s worth a listen.

Do you suppose Lou Highness was referenced (with a slight emendation to his poetry) in the Supreme Court decision or dissent?

The currents rage, the dawn’s upon us
This is the age of Video [game] Violence
No age of reason landing upon us
This is the age of Video [game] Violence

Na Na Na Na Na Na
Na Na Na Na Na Na

Posted Without Further Comment

We Don’t Need No Water, Let the Second Baseman Burn

Posted by Bad Kermit
Posted on May 5, 2010

If you were wondering why Jeff Baker had several consecutive days off at the end of April and beginning of May, Son of Jim Essian Edelweiss may have discovered the answer.

By the way, there is a reason Baker has not been starting until today. I know someone in the Cubs organization, who informed me last week that Baker and two pitchers, one of them a starter, were lighting farts in the clubhouse, when something went awry, and Baker suffered second degree burns to his patoot. Even worse, a pitcher got a slight burn on his throwing hand. The hair on Bakers behind got singed, so he is now hairless there. In tonights game, he was lifted for a pinch hitter, something Lou never does. The reason—–the blisters on his bottom burst, causing so much water, that Theriot accused him of wetting his pants. He never came out of the clubhouse, so Lou was forced to put in Fontenot.

I have no reason not to believe this story, especially since Muskat was completely elusive when someone in the Muskbox specifically asked her where Baker had been.

CARRIE: You’re right, Baker hasn’t played since April 26. But he’ll probably start Tuesday night against Pirates lefty Paul Maholm.

I’m going to go ahead and believe this. So, what are the odds that the starting pitcher involved in this zaniness is Ryan Dempster. One hundred percent? TWO hundred percent? And what are the odds that Theriot pointed at the seat of Baker’s pants and yelled, “Wigwam, igloo, and a tee-pee, Baker’s wee-wee just went pee-pee!”

I’m sure glad this wacky bunch of screwballs is celebrating their run at another year of mediocrity like a bunch of college freshmen! Clown boy up!

Fee! Fi! Foe! Fifa? Sì, FIFA!

Yessir fútbol fans, it’s that time of the quaterni anni again, FIFA World Cup time!  With just 23 days to go before the big tournament begins, it’s now time to peruse the eight groups (if you haven’t already) to pick your teams, possibly delight in the placement of reigning cup holders, Italy, eagerly anticipate the match-up between South Korea and Argentina, and wonder how on earth the USA will ever get past England.

For me, the last World Cup seems like it occurred just months ago. Back then, I had the unfortunate luxury to be fresh off of knee surgery just as the games began. I was laid up for nearly four weeks on the sofa or pedaling away on the stationary bike (a big thanks to http://www.freecycle.org in Cambridge, MA for that!), and so got to watch many great games during the 2006 Cup. A non-cable TV owner at the time, I was lucky that Telemundo carried most of the games. I’m in a similar situation this time around, given that ESPN holds the television rights to the games and I only get the major network stations, including Telemundo (there will be 44 games on ESPN, 10 on ESPN2, and just 10 on ABC). Here’s hoping the Spanish channel comes through again, especially in the early rounds when ABC apparently would rather air soap operas. There will be many exciting things things to watch, no doubt. Will they live up to the feats of 2006? Probably. But what about the “headers” of 2006? Doh! Ouch! Who could forget the amazing antics of France’s Zinedine Zidane against Italy’s Marco Materazzi? Zidane’s headbutt was perhaps the most unbelievable sporting act (assault?) that I’ve ever seen live (on TV).

Today in History

One of the seminal events of American history occurred today in 1846: the begining of the Mexican-American War.  The War, overlooked in contemporary classrooms, dramatically altered the American landscape by adding California, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Nevada to the Union’s territory (they became states later) and annexing portions of Colorado and Wyoming as well.  Because of the growing discontent with Mexico, America sought a quick settlement to the “Oregon Question” and thus a northern border with Canada was established by treaty with Britain; the intended side-effect of this pact virtually eliminated the English desire to claim California for the Crown.  In addition to establishing the current borders of the country, it also fueled mistrust between North and South.  Many Northerners sought greater expansion into the Oregon Territory to compliment the growth of “free” states while the South saw the acquisition of the Mexican territories as fuel for the addition of “slave” states.

Future players in the Civil War featured prominently in this conflict as well: Congressman Abraham Lincoln was an opponent of the war and his later day counterpart, Jefferson Davis, established himself as a vociferous proponent.  Generals Grant, Lee, Meade and Jackson served as comrades and could hardly predict their later adversarial roles.  A relatively swift campaign, the American Army marched into Mexico City a few years later after the Nation’s first amphibious assault — hence the “From the Halls of Montezuma…” line in the Marines fight song. 

Ironically, amongst the Mexican casus belli was illegal immigration: of Americans into Texas.  Texas had already fought its war of independence from Mexico and much of Europe and the United States recognized it as a sovereign entity.  Resolutions favoring Texas statehood were perpetually introduced in Congress, but had yet to pass.  Texans deeply desired statehood so they encouraged immigration to their new Republic.  The Mexican government, which viewed Texas the way Lincoln viewed South Carolina, Virginia et. al during the Civil War, deemed the “illegal” immigration a threat to their country and warned the United States that annexation (or statehood) of Texas meant war.  Border skirmishes erupted near the Rio Grande.  When the Americans sought to purchase what eventually became the western US from Mexico — and said offer was rebuffed — the Texas skirmishes protracted into a larger war.

In terms of objectives met, the war was enormously successful for the United States.  With the Gadsen Purchase a few years later, wherein America acquired additional Mexican territory, the continental borders of the country were set.  James K. Polk presided over the war and probably would have easily won a second term, but he walked away from the Presidency having fulfilled his greatest ambition.  The war sowed seeds Americans would reap for decades: slavery, the Indian Wars (who turned from opposing Mexico to the US) and, of course, our relationship with our southern neighbor.

Let the games crawl on…and on…and on…

Yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition, sports commentator Frank Deford weighed in on a growing concern of MLB authorities (Bug Selig, et al): the length of regular season ballgames. Apparently, from 1999-2009 the Yankees led the league in the longest games played; the Red Sox stand a close second (in 2008 the two teams tied with an average 3 hours and 8 minutes per game). This morning The New York Times reported on this very issue, anticipating the Yankees and Red Sox series this weekend. Their previous three game series, in early April, combined for a cumulative 10 hours and 55 minutes (3.46, 3.48, and 3.21 each – and game three was 10 innings!). Upon the close of game 2, seasoned umpire Joe West, who eventually worked all three games, described the first two games as “pathetic and embarrassing.”

Frank Deford’s piece on the longue durée of contemporary MLB is worth a listen (plus, there’s shout out to the Cubbies of yore, which Peashoot’s lone reader might enjoy). The game has slowed down, I’m told (I can’t recall a time when it was much faster, frankly). And it’s interesting to consider what might be at work in the play of America’s pastime today: We’ve come a long way in this country from the days when cricket was once a game of the land (really, it was, look here), when folks (mostly men) played games that lasted days, included breaks for tea and lunch, and often ended with astronomically high scores. Is American sport returning to its source? Is the one-time rival to cricket in British North America, namely baseball, slowing down, taking its time, becoming a leisurely activity for colonial-type élites? Who can afford to go to the ballgame, cost or time-wise, these days? Is it true that Miller Park in Milwaukee now serves Earl Grey tea after shuddering the beer taps in bottom of the eight? Something limey is afoot! But seriously, it may be worthwhile to heed the historical method of the Annales School, for it appears that Deford’s point, also reflected in Sandomir’s NY Times piece, is that the state of MLB today–its painstakingly slow at-bats, numerous pitching changes, visits to the mound by catchers and coaches, commercial breaks, and the like–is a product of multiple structural developments over (at least) a century of development of the game. The media is a large part of the slowdown, accompanied by the wild fanaticism of baseball’s fan base. This all means revenue. Competition naturally emerges, on and off the ballfield. The consequences of winning and losing have grown for all involved. And well aware of that, all involved have withdrawn into their heads and cerebralized their games, so to speak. I can’t help but think of the Naked Gun and it’s parody of baseball coaches and their ridiculously excessive and at times puerile signaling codes. It’s not sport but a battle of wits. And we are even told as much on some broadcasts. Take the incredible exchanges between Joe Buck and Tim McCarver week after week on Fox about what players are thinking when they’re on the mound or at bat. These sportscasters speak as though they truly know such unknowable things and we, the audience, should believe that they know. The game takes time today for the players’ and coaches’ ornamentation–signs, rituals, warm ups and cool downs, cup checks, dust offs, and so on–and the media’s attempts to draw viewers into the on-field pageantry because, supposedly, it matters for the outcome of the game.