Books, Football

Welcome to the Big Time

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Boise State University’s football program has earned its way into the elite ranks of the nation’s college programs. For the most part, it seems, the program has done it all the old fashioned way – hard work, determination and integrity.

Still, you wonder if there isn’t always some price to pay for running with the big dogs. It is a thought that hovers over the fiercely fought, if not terribly well played Boise State – Oregon game this week.

The Broncos, behind a powerhouse defense, won the game – a very big win, indeed, for the hometown heroes. Still, the lasting image of that victory will surely be the few seconds of video, played over and over, of an Oregon player landing a heavy punch on the jaw of a BSU player. The Duck running back has been suspended for the season, while the BSU player will be disciplined “internally,” whatever that means.

No judgements here on the punishments, but rather questions about what the incident says about our culture of sport and, in particular, college football.

Google BSU-Oregon football this morning and you’ll find 2,381 news articles. The YouTube video of the punch has been seen more than 314,000 times (about equal to the number of times it has aired on ESPN) and, of course, the video is rated 5 stars.

The pundits weigh in:

The New York Times suggested today that the punch seen ’round the world was just the latest of a whole series of tawdry incidents blacking the eyes of college sports. The Los Angeles Times headline: “Let’s be blunt that Oregon-Boise finish was a fiasco.” Writing at Oregon Live.Com, Bob Rickert, applauds the Oregon suspension, but wonders about accountability all around.

One suspects we haven’t heard the last of the punch. There will be NCAA and PAC-10 Conference reviews and lots of Monday morning quarterbacking.

I couldn’t help thinking, as the Oregon – Boise State game dominated the attention of Idaho’s Capitol City over the last couple of weeks and the punch dominated the morning after, of Boise State President Bob Kustra’s State of the University speech a few days ago.

Kustra made headlines with criticism of health insurance cost increases for part-time university employees. The Idaho Statesman praised his courage in raising the issue.

About those higher insurance costs facing part-time university employees, Kustra said, as the Statesman reported:

“I just think it’s so ironic in this world in which we live that these folks who make these decisions dress up in blue and orange and come to seven football games a year and spend two and three months asking me as I travel down the street, ‘How’s things going with the team? Are we going to beat Oregon?’ I wish just once somebody would say, ‘How’s the lab technician going to handle the 40 percent increase? How is the custodian going to handle the 40 percent increase?'”

Almost every college president would argue that a successful intercollegiate sports program is a huge marketing and alumni asset to a college or university that is primarily dedicated to providing academic excellence, but at the same time even the most erstwhile fan – or president – would have to admit that the priorities can get pretty fuzzy from time to time.

Stay tuned, there will be more. When you’re talking college football, the Big Time means many things – good, bad and occasionally ugly.

Air Travel, Books

What is Obama Reading…

Andrew MalcolmThe L.A. Times – Top of the Ticket

Andrew Malcolm looks like a writer doesn’t he? Andy does a lot of the writing for the L.A. Times’ blog called Top of the Ticket. It’s a good daily take on politics spiced with a little of Malcolm’s ready display of good humor.

The post on the president’s Martha’s Vineyard reading list is worth a look.

Andy, by the way, once served a brief stint as Laura Bush’s press secretary and a longer stint in the same position with former Montana Governor Marc Racicot.

Andy is a Canadian by birth, a hockey fan by choice, and author of 10 books, including The Canadians and Huddle: Fathers, Sons and Football.

Good guy, good writer, good blog.

Air Travel, Basques. Books, Books, Guest Post

Feasting on Hemingway

HemingwayThe New Edition of A Moveable Feast – A Guest Post

I’ve asked Martin L. Peterson, a member of the board of the Hemingway Society and a scholar of all things Hemingway, to guest post today regarding the controversial new edition of A Moveable Feast – The Restored Edition.

The original Feast was published 1964 after Hemingway’s death. Here’s Marty’s very interesting take:

Hemingway: Still Creating A Lot of Buzz
By Martin L. Peterson

It is the kind of thing that most authors can only dream about. A new edition of one of your earlier books comes out. Christopher Hitchens writes an extensive review in The Atlantic. Other publications, such as the Kansas City Star, do the same. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, a friend blasts the new edition, stating that the original edition is much preferable. And the son of your publisher writes a letter-to-the-editor of the Times also supporting the original edition. But even these negative pieces help publicize that the new edition has been published.

Few authors have such experiences. And even fewer have them nearly 50 years after they die. But that is much the way with the posthumous life of Ernest Hemingway. Even though he won both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes and was a bestselling author in his lifetime, he has sold more books since his death in 1961 than in life. In fact, the new edition of his memoir A Moveable Feast lists him as the author of 26 books, with 12 of them published posthumously.

A Moveable Feast was first published in 1964. It was subjected to considerable editing by Harry Brague of Scribners and Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary. Among other things, Mary cobbled together a preface from various manuscript fragments and signed Ernest’s name to it.

But, even with the edits, the book has always regarded as being Hemingway’s work, just as A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, must also be recognized as Hemingway’s work. The new edition was edited by Hemingway’s grandson, Sean. Sean’s uncle, Patrick, provided an enthusiastic foreword to the work.

The Hemingway archives at the John F. Kennedy Library are probably the most extensive archives of any prominent author. If it was on paper, Hemingway filed it away. He wrote before the days of word processing, so his notes, drafts with deletes and edits, and correspondence are generally available to anyone with an interest in Hemingway.

Because of the existence of all of this material, there have been arguments among scholars since the initial publication of A Moveable Feast as to what Hemingway did or did not intend to have included in the book. About the only thing they fully agree on is that the title for the book was never one of the titles that Hemingway considered. It came from a conversation that A.E. Hotchner said he had with Hemingway in Paris in the 1950s.

Hotchner, a friend of Hemingway’s during his later years, wrote a scathing op-ed piece in the New York Times concerning the new edition of the book. He states, among other things, that he had delivered the original manuscript of Scribners in 1960 in exactly the format that Hemingway wanted it published. An interesting claim when you consider that Hemingway was still making changes to the manuscript as late as April 1961 and had only come up with titles for three of the book’s original twenty chapters at the time of his death.

Hotchner also states that he thinks that much of the driving force behind this new edition is to make Pauline Hemingway, Ernest’s second wife, appear in a better light than in the original edition. Pauline was Patrick’s mother and Sean’s grandmother. She may appear in a slightly better light due to the addition of some materials left out of the original addition. But the classic line about his love for his first wife, Hadley, remains – “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”

It should come as no surprise that the publication of this new edition would be anything less than controversial. But, unlike the edition that Mary Hemingway edited, Sean Hemingway makes considerable effort to explain the justifications behind his editing decisions. He has reordered some pieces into a more chronological fashion than in the original edition. He has also relegated some chapters to a section in the rear of the book titled “Additional Paris Sketches.” And there are also several new pieces that apparently Hemingway had kept from the original edition in hopes of eventually publishing a second volume of memoirs.

Regardless of the content, I would have bought this new edition just for the cover. The original edition’s cover with a painting of Pont Neuf in Paris has been replaced by a classic Hemingway photo. There are an estimated 10,000 photographs of Hemingway at the Kennedy Library. My favorite of the lot is his 1923 passport photo, taken prior to his move to Paris. It disproves the old adage that there is no such thing as a good passport photo. In my mind, it is the best photo ever taken of him and having it on the cover of the new edition makes it worth the price of purchase.

The end result is yet another great Hemingway book. Scholars, friends and family members may squabble over the differences between the two editions, but The Restored Edition is 100% Hemingway at his best and a treat to read.

(Martin L. Peterson is Special Assistant to the President of the University of Idaho.)

Air Travel, Baseball, Books, Politics

The Johnson Treatment

What Would Lyndon Do…

Before Vietnam defined his as “a failed presidency,” Lyndon Johnson assembled an historic record of legislative accomplishment. He got civil rights and voting rights legislation passed, created Medicare, federally guaranteed student loans and the national endowments for arts and the humanities. And that is certainly a partial list.

Of course, the bigger than life Texan – the flawed giant in biographer Robert Dallek’s words – had lots of help with all that legislation, but Johnson was the catalyst, the cajoler in chief. History records him as the nation’s greatest legislative politician.

In a great piece on the Daily Beast website, LBJ aide Tom Johnson, writes about how his old boss would have gotten a health care reform bill through the current congress. It’s worth reading to understand the full impact of the “Johnson treatment” and how effective LBJ could be in winning votes for his legislation.

Like every good politician, Johnson kept lists and he settled scores. The great Idaho Senator Frank Church was victim of Johnson’s attempt to make sure that the press and other Vietnam critics knew that the president can always have the last word.

As American involvement in Vietnam continued to divide the country with dimming prospects that the conflict could be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, Church became more and more outspoken in his opposition to the war. It was a principled and courageous stand at odds with many of his Idaho constituents and certainly at odds with President Johnson.

After a White House dinner, LBJ cornered Church to work him over for his stand on the war. According to the story, recounted in LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer’s fine biography of Church, the senator allegedly told the president that he had come more and more to agree with the celebrated Washington columnist Walter Lippman, who had turned sharply against LBJ’s Southeast Asia policy.

Only later did Church come to believe that Johnson himself was the source of a story making the rounds among reporters and cocktail party goers in Washington that LBJ had responded by telling the Idahoan, “Next time you need a dam out in Idaho – go talk to Walter Lippman.”

Makes you wonder what LBJ would be saying to Max Baucus or Chuck Grassley about health care reform right now.

Only two presidents in the past 50 years – Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan – have been able to consistently and effectively work the levers of presidential power to fundamentally reshape the American political landscape. We know Barack Obama is a student of history. The next few weeks may tell whether he can begin to work the levers as well as Lyndon and Ronnie did.

Books worth considering:

  • Ashby and Gramer’s Church biography is Fighting the Odds. It is the complete life and offers great insight into Idaho politics in from the 1950’s to the 1980’s.

 

  • Among the newest LBJ biographies is a fine book by Randall Woods called LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Not exactly a favorable treatment of LBJ, but a fully nuanced take on his remarkable accomplishments and equally remarkable failures.

 

  • Bob Dallek’s two volume bio of LBJ – Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant – helped redeem, to a degree, Johnson’s reputation as a great legislative tactician.

 

  • Robert Caro’s monumental four-volume Johnson biography is still in progress. Give Caro his due – he knows more about LBJ and had written more than anyone – but he lacks either Woods’ or Dallek’s sense of nuance or balance. Anything Caro produces is a must read for political junkies and his emphasis is always on the exercise of power, but count on heavy emphasis of the darkest of the dark side of Lyndon Johnson.

 

  • Finally, when it came out in 2005, William E. Leuchtenburg’s The White House Looks South received less – much less – attention than it deserved. Leuchtenburg focuses on FDR, Harry Truman and LBJ as he weaves a great narrative about how those three Democratic presidents had “one foot below the Mason-Dixon Line, one foot above.” His treatment of Johnson’s presidency is particularly good reading.

What would Lyndon do with a Congress coming back from an August recess all spun up about what to do with health care reform? You can bet LBJ would have had an aggressive plan and he would have worked himself into a lather trying to make it succeed.

Air Travel, Books

A Giant of Western Storytelling

guthrie“Every story is the story of a man or a woman or a small group of people.”A.B. Guthrie, Jr. – A Field Guide to Writing Fiction

A.B. “Bud” Guthrie, Jr. deserves a place in the front ranks of American writers. A new biography of Guthrie, published earlier this year, should help cement the Pulitzer Prize winners place among the best who have ever written about the West. I hope, as well, that it might renew an interest in Guthrie’s amazing body of work.

The book – Under the Big Sky – A Biography of A.B. Guthrie, Jr. – by Jackson J. Benson was published by the University of Nebraska Press. Benson has also written fine biographies of Wallace Stegner and John Steinbeck.

Guthrie was a successful newspaper editor in Kentucky when he was awarded a Neiman Fellowship at Harvard and while studying there he finished his first novel – The Big Sky – published in 1947. He followed with The Way West and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1950.

There followed many other works of fiction, including some great mystery stories, two memorable screenplays – Shane in 1953 and the Kentuckian in 1955 – as well as magazine pieces and non-fiction.

After moving permanently to Montana in 1956, Guthrie became a more outspoken conservationist and, to some, a bit of a crank. I think his personality was in keeping with the western characters he created – independent, pithy and always in touch with the land.

If you are in the market for a great late summer read, go search out Benson’s fine new biography or one of the Guthrie titles. You won’t be disappointed.

Air Travel, Books

The Big Burn

The Big Burn by Tim EganTim Egan Has Another Winner

Ninety-nine years ago today – August 20, 1910 – the worst forest fire in modern times reached a climax in northern Idaho, western Montana and eastern Washington. By the time the great fire of 1910 had burned itself out, three million acres of timberland had given way to the relentless force of wildfire and 125 people had died.

Tim Egan’s new book – The Big Burn – Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America – won’t be out until October, but a read of the advanced copy has me convinced the Spokane native and long-time New York Times writer has another major winner on his hands. Egan’s book is gripping history intercut with fascinating narratives about characters like President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot (the first chief of the Forest Service) Senators Weldon B. Heyburn of Idaho and William A. Clark of Montana, and Ed Pulaski, an Idaho forest ranger who is the hero of the fire story.

Egan makes a convincing case that the great fire saved both Roosevelt’s dream of the still new U.S. Forest Service (Heyburn was a sworn enemy of the federal agency) and gave the Forest Service a mission – controlling fire – that remains controversial to this day.

Egan’s last book – The Worst Hard Time a story of the dust bowl, was a best seller and won the National Book Award for history. The new book is every bit as good.

Egan also writes a weekly column – Outposts – for the New York Times on-line and frequently pinch hits on the Times Op-Ed pages.

Tim Egan will headline the Idaho Humanities Council’s Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities in Couer d’Alene on October 8th and you can be sure he will make a great talk.

Here is a brief except from the Prologue of The Big Burn:

“By 10 P.M., the streets of Wallace, Idaho – where President Roosevelt had walked seven years earlier – were overwhelmed by flames, and the forests he had set aside for future generations was in ruins. Hundreds of firefighters were lost, and thought to be dead.”

Near midnight on August 20, 1910, a telegraph operator in Wallace sent this message:

“Every hill around town is a mass of flames and the whole place looks like a death trap. No connections can be had with outside towns. Men, women and children are hysterical in streets and leave by every possible conveyance and route.”

The Big Burn is a great story told by a terrific writer. Look for it in book stores in mid- October.

Air Travel, Baseball, Books, Politics

Good Food for Political Junkies

The Battle for AmericaThe Definitive Book on the ’08 Election?

Political junkies, regardless of partisan leanings, may find the new Dan Balz/Haynes Johnson tome on the 2008 election must reading.

The book features sharp insights into GOP and Democratic grand strategy -including why Obama focused unprecedented attention on Idaho. The grand mistakes are aired, as well, including a dissection of the devastating infighting in the Clinton and McCain campaigns and McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Balz, the Washington Post’s top political writer, and Johnson, a Pulitzer winner and widely published author, have written the first really detailed account of the historic election.

The Battle for America 2008 doesn’t offer a lot of groundbreaking new material, but even a lot of the story we know is engagingly packaged. As a political tale it is no less interesting now than it was during the course of the long, long 2008 campaign. One particularly interesting section centers on the Obama campaign’s focus on caucus states – including Idaho.

Idaho – a Key to Obama’s Caucus Strategy

“Idaho became the textbook study of the Obama [caucus] strategy,” Balz and Johnson write. “Only a few thousand people had participated in the caucuses in 2004. Obama’s advisers realized that with a relatively modest investment, they could probably win. What made Idaho even more attractive was the volunteer cadre already at work.”

Obama’s national field director is quoted as saying: “By the time our first staffer landed in Idaho at the beginning of October, the Idahoans for Obama had organized themselves….they had an office ready to rent, had the phone lines already on order….and they had figured out the caucus rules and typed them up and put them together in sort of an easy-to-use here’s how to caucus in Idaho.”

Balz and Johnson go on to compare what happened to the Democratic campaigns in New Jersey and Idaho as a result of the attention by the Obama strategists on the opportunity they saw in ruby red Idaho.

“New Jersey had 107 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday, Idaho had just eighteen. [Hillary] Clinton won New Jersey by ten points (54 percent to 44 percent) and won eleven more delegates than Obama. But Obama’s investment in tiny Idaho neutralized the impact of New Jersey, as he won there by an astounding sixty-two points, more than 79 percent to Clinton’s 17. With that margin, he gained twelve more delegates than Clinton.”

(The fellow who gets a lot of credit for creating the Idaho organization, TJ Thomson, is now a candidate for Boise City Council.)

Not surprisingly, some of the juiciest material in The Battle for America involves the role Bill Clinton played in Hillary’s campaign.

Balz and Johnson do offer up some curious passages, usually when they attempt to draw larger political lessons from the 2008 campaign. They discuss, for example, changing demographics, particularly in the west and southwest, that helped drive Obama’s wins in places like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

Then there is this passage:

“Through the 1970s and 1980s, Republicans had counted on California, the Rocky Mountain West, the South and the Great Plains to produce a virtual lock in presidential races. This was the springboard for the election of every Republican president from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan.”

Say what? The “virtual lock” observation is true enough, but the only Republican president between Nixon and Reagan was Gerald Ford who lost in 1976 when Jimmy Carter won the White House on his way to losing every state west of the Mississippi with the exception of Texas. Perhaps a better point would be to acknowledge that two Republican presidents – Nixon and Reagan – were each twice elected (and you can throw in George W. Bush, as well) by employing a Western/Midwestern/Southern strategy.

Still, a few nitpicks aside, if you love politics and find that you still cannot get enough of the last great campaign, The Battle for America 2008 is an engaging read.

The new book will fit nicely on the political bookshelf with Teddy White’s Making of the President series, Jack Germond’s and Jules Witcover’s fine books about the 1980, ’84 and ’88 elections and Richard Ben Cramer’s classic What it Takes about the 1988 candidates for president.

Air Travel, Books

Remembering Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt“…Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

Frank McCourt, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his unforgettable memoir about growing up poor, Irish and Catholic in Limrick, died of cancer on July 19 at age 78.

McCourt’s book – Angela’s Ashes – is one of only two books I have read (Mitch Albom’s Tuesday with Morrie is the other) where I found myself both laughing out loud and tearing up all in the space of a single page. Albom has written a moving tribute to McCourt where he remembers his friend as “wickedly intelligent.”

I can identify with that. I spent a truly unforgettable day with McCourt back in the fall of 2002 when the Idaho Humanities Council – a truly wonderful organization and reoccuring gift to Idaho – brought him to Boise for the Council’s annual Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities.

McCourt participated in a lunch for friends of the Council at the private The Arid Club in Boise. He was impressed with the fancy lunch and the good conversation, but really enjoyed more than anything, I believe, an hour long stop we made at Capitol High School to visit with teachers and students. Frank McCourt spent years teaching in the New York public schools before he became an overnight sensation with the publication of Angela’s Ashes. He took command of the classroom at the high school, his Irish humor (frequently more than a little randy) and charm in full flower. Most of all I remember his care with the kids and his interest in what they were reading and writing.

Asked once about the most difficult aspect of teaching, McCourt said:

“Energy and patience. The gap between the adult and the kid is so great. You have to go where they are and have compassion.”

Frank McCourt struck me as being like that one special teacher most of us were lucky enough to have in our lives. He is the teacher you never forget.

The haunting, yet funny lines from the opening page of Angela’s Ashes keep coming back:

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

McCourt’s obit in the New York Times is worth a look. And, if you haven’t read Angela’s Ashes, hurry and find a copy.

Being an Irishman, Frank McCourt was known to enjoy a bit of the whiskey. As I recall, he favored Bushmill’s Black. Remembering the teacher and author seems reason enough to pour a little taste.