Is It Spring Yet?
While I wait for the warmth of spring and the baseball fan’s certainty that opening day (148 days away by my count) brings all things new again with every team in first place, I content myself with thougths like these:
“As I think back and look forward, I see how nothing is straightforward nothing is unambiguous. Salvation does not come through simplicities, either of sentiment or system. The gray, grainy complex nature of existence and the ragged edges of our lives as we lead them defy hunger for a neat, bordered existence and for spirits unsullied by doubt or despair.” ~ A. Bart Giamatti
‘A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores.” ~ Corporal Klinger from MASH. (He was a fan of the Toledo Mud Hens if I recall correctly.)
“That’s baseball, and it’s my game. Y’ know, you take your worries to the game, and you leave ‘em there. You yell like crazy for your guys. It’s good for your lungs, gives you a lift, and nobody calls the cops. Pretty girls, lots of ‘em.” ~ Humphrey Bogart
“Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.” ~ Casey Stengel
“There have been only two geniuses in the world. Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare.” ~Tallulah Bankhead
“From here on in, I rag nobody.” ~ Henry Wiggen, the pitcher in Mark Harris’ classic book “Bang the Drum Slowly.”
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” ~ Rogers Hornsby
Is It Spring Yet?
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” - A. Bartlett Giamatti
The late, great Commissioner of Baseball, Bart Giamatti, while serving as President of Yale, said: “All I ever wanted to be president of was the American League.”
He ended up heading the National League and somehow – what were baseball owners thinking – they made this brilliant, big hearted man of unflinching integrity the boss of baseball in 1989.
Giamatti, a real commissioner back when baseball owners fleetingly thought they wanted a real commissioner, had a writer’s sensibility and a fan’s devotion to the great game. A Renaissance literature scholar, Giamatti was also a street smart ethicist who knew Pete Rose had to be the example of baseball’s zero tolerance for a lack of integrity. I have often wondered how as Commissioner Giamatti would have dealt with the drug scandals of recent years. I think I know. The owners wouldn’t have liked it.
Shortly after his very premature death after just a few months as Commissioner, Joe Garagiola, the broadcaster and one-time backup catcher, summed up the Commissioner: “One thing you can be sure of, you’ll never hear anyone say I knew someone exactly like Bart Giamatti.”
Giamatti’s little book – A Great and Glorious Game - contains some of the best writing ever about baseball.
At this time of year, with the World Series decided, with NFL and college football dominating the sports page, with the warmth and green of another spring a far distant thought, I always think of Giamatti and his superb, poetic little essay The Green Fields of the Mind.
“The game begins in the spring,” he wrote, “when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
Put another log on the fire. It will be a damn long winter. I hope I can wait until once again those glorious words are spoken in the spring: “pitchers and catchers report.”
What Are The Lessons From Election ’09?
Are Republicans poised for a comeback? Sure.
We are a two party nation and – with apologies to the 1840′s Whig Party – the party out of power always finds a way to claw back to relevance.
Does the GOP have some challenges? Absolutely.
Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis sums it up well when he says the party out of power has a chance now to catch a wave of voter anger about the economy and spending: “The challenge for Republicans is to catch that lightening in a bottle and build a coalition that can lead you to huge congressional gains,” Davis said. “But it’s easier said than done.”
Do the elections of Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia signal danger ahead for the Democrats? Perhaps.
I tend to think gubernatorial races normally turn on more local issues – taxes, roads, and schools – but the party in power is due for a gut check. The message from the two statewide races Tuesday may simply be that “it’s the economy, stupid.” Are Democrats listening?
The most interesting races, with potential national implications, took place in New York. The upstate congressional special election illustrates the tensions in the GOP. And the Big Apple’s mayoral contest proves, well, I don’t have any idea what it proves. Money buys happiness, perhaps.
As Governing magazine notes: “The race cost [Michael] Bloomberg an estimated $90 million. In his three races, Bloomberg has spent more of his personal fortune on campaigns than any candidate in U.S. history. Now, Bloomberg and the city face a $5 billion budget deficit.”
So, let the Republican and Democratic message machines spin Tuesday’s results as they will. The election that will tell us more about the longer term direction of the country will take place next November.
As CQ notes: “The governing party almost always loses seats in midterm elections, when the voter turnout is lower and the bulk of the energy and enthusiasm is with the opposition party. With 257 House seats, Democrats are nearing the maximum number of seats they could conceivably control under the current Congressional maps. Surveys show the 2010 elections could be unfriendly to incumbents.”
Many things are in play for both parties, primarily the economy. Will things be a good deal better next summer or fall? Will the GOP be able to unite behind something (or someone) positive as an alternative to Barack Obama? Will Afghanistan be front and center as a kitchen table issue?
Could this be an historical parallel? In the mid-term elections in 1934, Franklin Roosevelt’s party actually expanded its margins in the Congress even as the economy remained in the ditch. Voters concluded that FDR had an optimistic plan and was both trustworthy in carrying out the plan and focused on the concerns of most Americans.
Congressional Republicans in the 1934 mid-term elections were unable to articulate an effective alternative to FDR’s still emerging plans and they simply had no counter to his likable disposition and communication skills. Many shrill voices took to calling the president a dictator, a socialist, or worse, but the vast majority of Americans simply didn’t buy it.
We know Obama has read this history. But knowing history’s lessons and applying them is only part of the challenge of political leadership. My guess is the president can still tap a reservoir of patience among most Americans, but by next summer voters will really be judging him.
Can’t Wait For This Film
Is there a better actress in the world than Helen Mirren? OK, maybe Meryl Streep, but it would be a close contest…or a tie.
Ever since Mirren seemed to inhabit the role of the hard living, chain smoking, hard luck British Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the superb Masterpiece Theatre series on PBS, she has been better and better in each succeeding television or film role. Now she is poised to open in Boise director Michael Hoffman’s new film – The Last Station - about the life of Leo Tolstoy. Dame Helen plays Tolstoy’s wife, Sofia.
She won the best actress award at the recent Rome film festival for her role in Hoffman’s new film and the Daily Telegraph has an interview on Mirren’s return to her family roots in Russia.
The film opens in January next year. I’m sure the film will be great, but Helen Mirren, well – she’s just the best.
States May Still Call the Shots
Here is the opening graph of a Washington Post piece that ran on November 1st:
“The debate over whether to let states opt out of any government-run health insurance plan overlooks a key facet of the health-care measures being assembled in Congress: When Washington is done, the shape of any new health-care system is likely to be finalized in Lansing and Boise and Baton Rouge.”
The full Post story is here.
Will states be up to the challenge? Indianapolis may be an example of what local initiative can accomplish. Emergency responders in the Indiana capitol city now have wireless access to medical records.
According to the publication, Federal Computer Week, “The goal is to help the medics provide more effective emergency care to patients by having real-time access to a digital record of the patients’ pre-existing medical conditions, previous treatments, allergies, current medications and other information.”
Like almost all big changes in American public policy, much of the detail and implementation in health care and insurance reform- regardless of the overheated rhetoric out of Washington, D.C. – will take place under the eyes of part-time, citizen legislators. Depending upon your point of view, that could be a very good thing or not. We will find out, piece by piece, state by state.
On All Souls Day, a remembrance of those we love and live among us in memory, two poems by John Updike and W.B. Yeats.
I can’t get this little Updike poem – one of his last – out of my head and, on this crisp fall day of remembrance, it once again seems particularly appropriate.
It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
“Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise – depths unplumable!”
Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
“I thought he died a while ago.”
For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge,
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.
- John Updike
from “Endpoint and Other Poems”
Epilogue to “A Vision’
Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell
And may a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls’ Night,
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost’s right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.
The rest of the All Souls’ Night is here: