Monday, December 31, 2007

From all of us here at Cole Slaw Blog ...

This is going to be the first New Year's Eve I've spent not putting up with CrimeNotes' nonsense since 2002. A list of previous Auld Lang Synes can be found here.

'Notes has made a pilgrimage to Orlando, to watch Michigan's bowl game. I will be holding it down in New York, with an indefinite band of crazies that includes our princessy pal, Meg. Based on previous New Years' the personnel involved (which could include my cousin), our antics may include a panoply of activities, almost all of which are likely to result in injuries to eyes, ears and even noses. Meg bought a quartet of champagne flutes today. I'm guessing at least one of them, and possibly up to three, don't live to see Jan. 2.

I also have no idea what I'm doing for dinner, who's coming over, if we'll wind up at some dive bar or on a roof, lowering cake and crumpets to grateful revelers. What I am sure of is that we'll all shoot each other with dart guns, drink some really good Champagne, and trust in our ability to have a great time. There might even be a Queen, but don't count on it. Danielle may have us all believing in the divine right.

Pervliness is next to godliness, peasants.

Oh, and I'll report back about it sometime in 2008. Warmest wishes for a Smashtastic New Year to you and yours, from all of us here at Cole Slaw Blog.

Sayonara, 2007

You started with a shitty Rose Bowl loss. Which, as bowl games go, is better than a lot of bowl game wins. But still.

You ended with the Browns completing their best season since I was in high school doing what they do best: kicking me in the kidneys.

In between: The Cavs' amazing and somewhat surprising run, including a game that I still can't talk about without having my neurons short out. The Indians' amazing and actually not all that surprising run, which I still can't talk about without feeling pangs of regret: I honestly thought that team was going to win the World Series. I've never thought that about a Cleveland team before.

Oh, and this Michigan season.

What to say? I think I've never been more and less proud of my university than I have at various times this year. We all knew Mike Hart was the kind of player we'd all want to be if we had the talent and the drive for it. This year, he just kept reminding us again and again.

And then there was that fucking Purdue game. I know, of all the games to hate from this year, it seems our biggest blowout is a dumb one to pick, but I'll always remember watching it, from California, where a bunch of us had gathered for a classmate's wedding.

We all went together to watch Michigan, which kicked off at 9 a.m. We were sitting -- outside -- on a shaded patio, watching Michigan play Purdue on TV. The sun was burning off the cloud cover, I had a bloody mary in front of me, and good friends all around. Occasionally, I would turn around to marvel at the bizarre landscape of palm trees, parking lots and distant mountains. I had my university on TV and good friends all around. At a TV in front of us, a fat Ohio State fan in sweatpants sat smoking and yelling at the TV immediately above his head, which he had turned up to maximum volume.

After one of the typically incredible runs Mike Hart will always be known for, a friend said: "I could watch him run all day."

I agreed, and then my brain flooded with endorphins as I considered doing just that. Shortly after, I looked up at the TV. Hart was hopping and limping. He was done, and he hasn't been himself since. And now, after one more game, he'll be gone for good. And Michigan football will go to a whole new place.

After the Purude, we drove around Los Angeles, to see the sights. We paused on Mulholland to view the valley, left clear from the previous night's rains. We marveled at the eternally pleasant weather, and mansions clinging to hills. We drove through Hollywood and went to the beach. I silently compared the landscape and architecture against my Midwestern and East Coast understandings of these things.

Occasionally someone made a comment that indicated they were thinking about what it would be like to live there. I know I was. It's tempting. The weather's great all the time. Stuff is just there for the taking. But there's drawbacks -- you have to drive everywhere, sometimes long distances, because nothing is close. There's traffic, but you just have to put up with it. But there's beaches and sunsets and sometimes just incredible natural beauty. If you're far enough out in the hills, the sun sets all pink and purple and the wind smells like sage and mesquite. It's what everyone dreams of.

But I'm not sure it's what I dream of. I want the snow and the slush and the pride that comes from doing things the right way, and wishing for not warmth and sunsets, but Mike Hart, running all day.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

NFL broadcast decisions are occasionally sub-optimal

At this moment, with one spot left to be decided in each conference, CBS in New York is showing a game between the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. Neither team has anything to play for but pride and draft position.

Meanwhile, unseen in New York will be the Cleveland Browns game, which helps determine if the Browns get the last spot in the AFC playoffs. But hey, what New Yorkers want to see is two teams -- one or the other of which is hated by most New York fans -- with nothing to play for.

This, I suppose, is the league's revenge for bringing last night's Patriots-Giants game out of hiding.

Oh, and about those Browns? Dear lord, after last week, I don't know what to think. It's hard not to take that performance -- five interceptions in a 19-14 loss with the playoffs on the line -- as a breach of covenant or something.

If they win today, I'll pay attention to the Titans game tonight -- in which the Colts have already announced that they're going to just go through the motions. But my dreams were shattered last week. Much like Michigan's season, the Browns' started disastrously, showed promise in between and now seems poised for a crappy ending. I hate to be pessimistic, especially because I did such a good job at not succumbing with any of my other teams this season, but I can see my future, and I'm preparing for a whirlwind of rage.

I think I'm going to go out to the Strand and buy The Iliad or something. You know, to calm me down.

UPDATE: Oh, seriously, fuck everything. I think I got some of the earlier post wrong, but I'll leave it standing as a testament to my anger and stupidity. Like there's not enough of those on this blog already.


Oh, and I couldn't make up my mind which translation of The Iliad I wanted, so I bought a $2.95 copy of Hamlet instead.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Everything changes on New Year's Day

Tomorrow I will fly out of Newark airport and travel to a city I don't want to visit in order to watch a team that won't exist this time next week.

I flew to Ann Arbor in September and watched Michigan lose 39-7 to Oregon. I flew to Ann Arbor in November and watched Michigan lose 14-3 to Ohio State.

Physically, the Ohio State game was one of my most miserable experiences as an adult. This was my own fault. Before we left for the game, I could have opted, like everyone else, to wear a jacket or buy a poncho. No. If it was going to be an afternoon of cold rain, I wanted to feel cold rain. I wanted to hurt. Win or lose, the pain would heighten my experience. And it did.

Now I'll go to Orlando. Fuck knows what the score is going to be on Tuesday afternoon. I don't expect Michigan to win. It could happen, I guess. For the appalling, unjustified, infuriating contempt that this program endured in 2007, New Year's Day promises to be the first time that Mike Hart and Chad Henne will actually be healthy for an entire game. This is a cause for joy and sadness.

I've wanted to write about Mike Hart all season, but I still don't know how to do it. Even now, I'm at risk of falling into a mess of hyperbole. At some point in his career, Mike Hart became Michigan. The New York Times ran a lengthy profile on him this fall. Friends and I traded some astonished e-mails about this guy, who we already loved so much. He'd done enough on the field to embody everything that we hold dear about the program -- its stubborn pride, its consistency, its scrap and resilience -- and then late in his career we realized that there was this fully formed person behind it all. Mike Hart is a guy who embraced the university and ingratiated himself to everything from the Indian Students Association to the school's Dance Marathon. He invested himself in the life of the school in ways that had nothing to do with football. The guy wasn't just a football player anymore, but one of us.

Hart talks about Michigan with the kind of intensity and ferocity that's familiar: It's the kind of bizarre enthusiasm that Michigan spurs in some people. Not all of its students and alumni, but a wonderfully wound-up minority. A couple years ago I went to Stuyvesant High School to recruit Michigan applicants and could not shut up about the school. (This is not unique to Michigan. I know Duke grads and Dartmouth grads who act the same way about their schools, which is why if through a horrible accident I someday procreate, the kid can only go to Dartmouth, Duke or Michigan.) Hart tapped into this weird collective unconscious of the University of Michigan.

An Auburn fan who visited Michigan Stadium this fall observed the following:
I spent the first part of last Saturday at the Big House watching Michigan blast hapless Purdue, and one of the things you can't help but notice is just how much Wolverine fans care about Mike Hart. Whether it's the endless stream of "20" jerseys, Hart t-shirts, the cries of joy when he spun off the back of a defender and scored on what appeared to be a lost play, the cries of anguish when he left the game with a limp and appeared on the JumboTron grimacing as his ankle got the once-over.

. . . I know as an SEC fan I'm supposed to never admit envying anything about a Big 10 program under any circumstances, but yeah, I was jealous.
It seems like Hart and Henne have been there forever. Before them there were John Navarre and Chris Perry. Perhaps unfairly, Navarre was never loved. Five years ago, if you asked me to name my favorite Michigan player, I immediately would have responded with Perry, but then came Hart, and Perry was just a memory. Someday Hart will just be a memory, too. Sunday Morning Quarterback described Hart and Henne's rise at Michigan thusly:
... I can't say I necessarily remember any of those players as freshmen, not very well, not like Henne and Hart, who were almost instantly ubiquitous; none of them so quickly became the face(s) of one of the most high profile programs in the country, and none of them succeeded so spectacularly out of the gate: behind the freshman stars, the 2004 Wolverines won the Big Ten and came within a few seconds and one point of outduelling Vince Young in the Rose Bowl, where Henne threw for four touchdowns.

Michigan has played that well since (virtually the entirety of 2006) and returned to the Rose Bowl - consider: Henne has thrown a school record 84 touchdown passes, and since his first start against San Diego State, Hart has topped 90 yards in 31 of 35 games in which he's logged at least 15 carries, including every single game he's played over the last two regular seasons; he is so so slow in the open field, but there is no contemporary parallel for that level of consistency from a running back. Michigan is 36-13 in games at least one of them starts and has scored at least 17 in 45 of those games, etc. Imagine Michigan fans, following these two faces more than any others on a weekly basis for three months over four years, in the end spending the better part of a full cumulative year of their lives watching Henne and Hart grow, praying to false gods and any powerful entity who might conceivably hold vigil over their injuries, and finishing each season more and more disappointed.
Elsewhere SMQB observed that " I'm not allowed to love Mike Hart the way Michigan fans love Mike Hart, the kind of love that isn't possible ..."

And then next Wednesday morning I'll wake up in a hotel room in Orlando and get ready to leave for the airport. Win or (much more likely) lose, it will not be a good morning. Hart will be gone. Chad Henne will be gone. Henne, like Lloyd Carr, has been the target of anger that he never deserved. During the Oregon game he went out with one of the many injuries sent from Zeus' lightningbolts. Freshman Ryan Mallett was his substitute. I don't know if I've hated Michigan fans any more than I did on that day, when the crowd booed Henne and cheered as Mallett took the field.

Henne does not speak out like Hart; he is not a cinderblock like Jake Long. He was not elected a captain of this team. He has merely been consistent and quiet, performing Herculean tasks when called upon, achieving things as a freshman that no Big Ten quarterback aside from Troy Smith has done during his tenure. Then he got hurt; for this, he is regarded in some circles as a disappointment. He deserved better from us. As eloquently observed in November:

It is over for Chad, the quarterback who told us this didn’t feel like the same team from last year, and then came back from a torn knee ligament to remind us what it looked like. The one who separated his shoulder against Illinois, left for a half, then came back a little later and won the game for us. And afterward, he described his shoulder constantly clicking in and out, with an ambivalent face and tone of voice, as if it were a canker sore his front teeth kept accidentally rubbing up against, and not every reason we know he exists. We had never felt the pain he felt, we knew only that it was more than we could handle, and that it was best left to be endured by men like him.

The man who tripped over a goal post after defeating Michigan State (when he went 10-13, and threw for 129 yards and 2TD in his final two drives), and consciously fell flat on his face because he knew his shoulder had to be saved for answering our prayers. It is over for that man.

On January 2, Lloyd Carr will be gone. I'm not at a point where I'm going to write his coda. If K.C. Lopata had played on September 1, 2007 instead of Jason Gingell, and maybe even if Sean Crable and his overeager helmet weren't penalized in November 2006, the first draft of history regarding his tenure would be different. And that's fine. Like Hyman Roth, this is the life he has chosen. Like Mike Gundy, he's a grown man -- he can take it. The small margins aren't an excuse. A loss is a loss, teams lose close games, and that's sports.

As disappointing as this season has been, and as unpleasant as I expect the team's performance against Florida to be, in a weird way 2007 has been a testament. Michigan was humiliated in its first two games, but the team never fell apart. Starting out that way, other teams would become defunct. If you told us on September 8 that Michigan would finish the year 8-4 and play Florida on New Year's Day, despite Hart and Henne spending the season defined by terms like "high ankle sprain," "dislocation" and "torn ligament," we would have been overjoyed. The knee-jerk line of ignorant Michigan fan -- that the program does so little with so much talent -- was flat off this year. With its plague of injuries and green defense, this team may have actually outperformed. It might have become South Carolina; it might have become Notre Dame. People sit around with bottles of beer and flatscreens and bitch like these games are about X's and O's and can be won just like on PS2, when there are matters of motivation, training and cohesion that those of us on the outside know literally nothing about. Charlie Weis proved that.

Still, it's been a miserable season. When I've written about football this fall, it really hasn't been about football, just excerpts from Dante or ee cummings and the occasional written purge of pure pain. If I were doing that poetry shit tonight, this post would've started with Dante Gabriel Rosetti. This bowl trip is not joyful, and I care about the result less than other Michigan games. I'm going to Orlando because I want to be there for the last time that Carr, Hart and Henne are on the field, while the program still means something more to the school and its fans than a jerry-rigged offensive scheme and the arbitrary zeitgeist dictated by ESPN and half-wits with blogs.

Really, I don't dislike Rich Rodriguez, but amid the excitement of his announcement, I don't think many of us have thought about what it's going to be like when we walk into Michigan Stadium next fall and see the previous 40 years discarded. A house that needed a fresh coat of paint and a new roof is going to be absolutely gutted. It might turn out just fine, but I think the premise is hard to dispute. Some people have been screaming for that; maybe they're right. These people would have given us a program that never would have recruited Hart and Henne.

One last bit of media bile in 2007

Time Out New York took a real, live ironworker (ooh, so salt-of-the-Earth!) to some fancy restaurants, apparently to measure themselves and the trendspots they applaud against the values of an honest-to-God working-class hero. And not to engage in some holiday-season noblesse oblige, or to affirm the mindless worship of celebri-chefs or the exalted dining salons of the clapping-seal foodies. It's just because, hey, let's see how the other half lives.

Also, he was so cute!

[H]e has a handshake for every busboy we see (he used to be one himself), charms a beer or two out of each bartender we encounter and seems completely unintimidated by his task. He’s also “fucking starving.”
At Jean-Georges, he almost identified bergamot, which shows how his soul is pure. Kind of like how he preferred his sushi at Masa without the soy sauce. Then at Momofuku Ssaam Bar he stumbles and can't finish his "Santa Barbara sea urchin with warm tapioca pearls, shrimp crackers, yuzu whipped tofu, furikake and sel gris."

Oh no! But luckily, our the not-self-loathing-at-all Time Out is there to save the day with a scenester take on real-man food. Here come the pork-belly sandwiches with hoisin, cucumbers and scallions! And of course, Ironworking Donnie loves it!
Donnie proclaims the dish the best of the night: a 9. “That shit was slammin’!” he shouts, and, in celebration, orders another beer.
You know what else is slammin'? My head in a door after reading this!

This was my Christmas

I flew out of a busy and mildly irritating Newark. Even though I randomly had been granted an Elite Access boarding pass by the Continental gods, I had a longish wait to check a bag so that I the present I was giving that involved more than three ounces of liquid would not become a casualty of the War on Terror.

I sat next to a pilot heading home for the holidays. He'd just flown 200 some passengers in from Brussels. We talked about the airline industry, unions, the general degradation of the airline experience from flying's golden age, and NFL football.

I'm not telling you where I was for Christmas, but the lake level was a good six feet lower than we were used to, leaving an expanse of mudflats, one of the gas stations had a vending machine that sold live bait and I had lunch at a Chick-fil-A.

My sister, who falls for every trick in the book, got flustered when the boyfriend of her boyfriend's mother accused her of calling him "Limpy." He has an artificial leg.

At the location of a second bunch of relatives, which I'm also not telling you about, except to say that there's a university and lots of hills, my uncle poured me a tumbler full of bourbon, then another. Once I switched to beer for my own good, I gave my three-year-old cousin a sip , and she thanked me sweetly. The next day we drank champagne for lunch, and then did steaks on the grill (while at the store obtaining said steaks, CrimeNotes called me from Michigan, excited about his plans to sled in honor of Benazir). That night, my cousin and others went to that college town's equivalent of the Brown Jug, a hole-in-the-wall with signs from students and visitors all over the walls, some just months old, others from two decades in the past.

It was much more exciting than I made it sound, trust me. I did, however, sleep 11 hours when I got back.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir would have wanted us to sled

Last night I went sledding with some New York friends who grew up near me.

There are all kinds of interesting observations about neoconservatism's origins among reformed Trotskyites. People on the left now use "neoconservative" as a pejorative label for things that they simply do not like, including tax and regulatory policies, when at base, neoconservatism's sin is naive optimism about human behavior. It's a lot like Marxism in that respect.
We paid $17 tickets to enter the sledding park. It's been a few years since I've gone sledding, but I loved it when I was a kid. It's all we did at recess. We'd take our roll-up sleds to the hill behind our school and sled for 15 or 20 minutes. It only takes a couple of days before fresh snow turns to sheets of ice. For most of elementary school, I spent my winters with bruises on my legs and hips and scrapes on my face. Our tailbones always hurt from the way we slammed into bumps and makeshift ice ramps.
The Bush Administration's neoconservative project has sometimes used as its justification this idea that freedom is human destiny and mankind's ultimate achievement, that a free Iraq will be a beacon for the Middle East and have a restorative power over neighboring repressive regimes. This kind of observation is hopelessly naive, and dreamier than the most extreme lefty-hippie talking points. No supporter of this administration can claim to favor a toughminded foreign policy grounded in reality.
When we got to the sledding park, most of the other clients were fifth graders and their parents. As the night went on, the crowd transitioned to rowdy teenagers and a handful of other people in our age range. I liked the teenagers better. They would plow each other down at the base of the hill. My sled and I slammed into a few dudes as the night went on. A member of my party hurdled some guys. No big thing.

Even if you want to believe in them, neoconservative ideals, like Marxist ones, are just unattainable. They are premised on selflessness. They can't work in practice. As in, you've got the Bush crowd talking about the transformative power of freedom while simultaneously lying in bed with a military dictator in Pakistan. They're talking radical idealism while playing classical-realist hardball. Musharraf is another pro-American dictator, just like the Shah, Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos and Batista. Supporting his regime is irreconcilable with neoconservatism.
It's been maybe 10 years since I've gone sledding, and it's as good as I remembered. Maybe it's not as cool as yuppie favorites like skiing and snowboarding, but with that shit you have to worry about balance and coordination and everything. Sledding, it's all out of your hands. You can throw other bastards off their sleds, get knocked down, knock other people down, and there's none of that shit about sharp poles or edges.
And, you know, Benazir Bhutto was no saint herself. Her governments were corrupt. She was part of a family political dynasty that ran itself like a ruthless political machine. As the BBC was saying all day yesterday, the Taliban rose in Afghanistan under her watch. She was extremely attractive to us as Westerners -- Oxford educated, handsome as she grew older but truly beautiful 15 years ago. Benazir had a great media image. She was hard not to like.
The same group of teenagers kept channeling behind us. A couple of girls flailed and fell down as we waited to ascend the hill. When I tripped and slammed on my ass, they laughed hysterically. I brushed myself off. They apologized for laughing at me. "I saw you guys fall," I said, "and your falls were way worse than mine." Later, the teenagers debated the merits of going to iHop versus Denny's at 4 a.m. They were around 16. I know because one of them talked about driving so the others could drink on the way.

This is how we go into 2008: An instable nuclear power is on the verge of collapse. American capital markets are unmanageable. The dollar is becoming worthless. Foreign governments are acquiring significant holdings in American financial institutions. We're on the eve of the worst recession in 30 years, and the weak dollar invites the people running China, Dubai and -- who's next, Putin? -- to keep buying up American institutions. It's one massive, rotten flea market. Pakistan is on the brink of becoming a failed nuclear state, and when the inevitable coup d'etat ends with Musharraf getting the Ceausescu treatment, hello nuclear South Asia. It's a great time to be alive! Happy New Year!
I wanted to go with them to iHop or Denny's and drink in their car. I wanted to knock girls on their asses with my sled and then become self-righteous when they yelled at me. I wanted to push my friends on the ice patch, just because. Then they could push me back. Snow was down my boxers due to a mid-hill wipeout. Rosebud

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 reviewed

Instead of some "10 Best" list, which I hate, here are a few concluding reviews and arguments. The theme to all of this is, "Christ, I'm a fucking cliche."

Favorite Album: I'm Not There Soundtrack

This is an album of cover songs. The Byrds and Hendrix showed that Dylan was meant to be covered. This album is better than The Byrds and Hendrix. It is the best collection of Dylan covers ever.

It's a testament that you can hear a song for literally the five-hundredth time and the experience is as thrilling as it was sophomore year of high school when Highway 61 played on tapes played in friends' basements. Special highlights include the Sonic Youth cover of the title track, the Richie Havens cover of "Tombstone Blues" and the Cat Power cover of "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," a Jack Johnson (!) cover of "Mama You've Been On My Mind," The Hold Steady covering "Can You Please Crawl Out My Window" (they take an obscure song, add some "Positively 4th Street," and it still sounds like they cooked it on their own.) Aside from fairly unimaginative tracks from Stephen Malkmus and Calexico (which aren't bad, just easy) the entire album is stunning.

This soundtrack and Dylan's Chronicles memoir make it clearer than ever that Dylan is America's gift to 20th century culture. Someday, Faulkner and Louis Armstrong will be the territory of specialists (they probably are already) but every generation will rediscover Dylan and adopt him.

The Album to Love Most After 10 Listens: The New Pornographers, Challengers

Skim the ebullience from their three preceding albums, and the product is starker and simpler, a kind of musical hug, Simon & Garfunkel's harmonizing without the treacle. It took awhile to sink in. The first few times I felt empty-handed, but once the expectations readjusted, it seemed clear that this is the Pornographers' best, most rewarding album, even if it's not the rowdiest.

The Album that Couldn't Be Loved: Wilco, Sky Blue Sky

It's a glass of room-temperature water that sat on the bedstand all night. It's a plate of scrambled eggs that's too undercooked and too close to room temperature. Tepid, bland, and unmemorable. That's okay, though. Good artists get to fail, and when they do, it reminds you of the parts you like about them so much in the first place.

Elder Statesman Who Hit His Peak: Bruce Springsteen, Magic

I get it, and the enthusiasm hasn't weakened as the weeks pass by. This was a very good album. Maturity has its privileges.

The 2006 Album that I Found in 2007, When it Proceeded to Monopolize my iPod: The Thermals, The Body, the Blood, the Machine

It's the violence and fright of Children of Men set to music, and made angrier. This album fucks you up. It's got the rage of Rage Against the Machine made catchier. So I like it. Technically it shouldn't count because it came out in 2006, but I found it this year and I get to set the rules. The album is something about teenage rebellion against an imagined Christian-fascist state, and a certain numbness that goes away as our protagonists flee.

I also found out that I really like the Cold War Kids, even though their album was 2006 as well. The band name was an initial turn-off, I think.

Second-Favorite Concert of 2007: Wilco, Hammerstein Ballroom

Even Sky Blue Sky sounded good when they played it live. What I wrote then:
[T]here's sometimes this sense of smugness in the band's product, that Jeff Tweedy, while not tweedy, kind of thinks he's the smartest guy in the room. It's almost like he overthinks. He never lets loose with the kind of passion you hear in Neil's "Powderfinger," or in "Like a Rolling Stone" or in "Sway." The blue, you see, is sky blue, never subterranean-homesick or tangled up. Sometimes precision is a shame.

The caution of this band's albums -- as good as they are -- doesn't show when it plays live. They know how to guide a crowd, and the undercurrent of stately adornment fades. So "Heavy Metal Drummer" feels like more of a celebration, and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is just a kick-ass song, and the blue tangles up just enough to position passion ahead of perfection.
Favorite Concert of 2007: Arcade Fire, Radio City Music Hall

I'm not into handicapping shit like this, but after seeing Arcade Fire at Radio City and Randall's Island, I think they're going to be as big as U2 in a few years. They can own a massive space. They sing serious songs but remain accessible. I liked Neon Bible (Jeff, we disagree) but never felt much for the band until I saw them live. The Radio City show had moments of anarchy and chaos -- Win Butler openly encouraging people to defy security and rush the stage, projectiles flying through the whole show, pyrotechnics and a screaming crowd, in a spectacular venue that usually doesn't see such antics. It was everything a show is supposed to be. If this sounds gimmicky or stage-managed, it wasn't.

2007 was a year of great live shows. There wasn't a single show where I shuffled my feet, glanced at my watch, and wanted the encore to wrap so that I could head home. Highlights included The New Pornographers at Irving Plaza, Spoon at Bowery Ballroom and Neil Young at United Palace. Only The White Stripes show at the Garden left a little to be desired, but it hardly qualified as a low point.

Favorite Book of 2007: Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson

But then sometimes the hype is right, and this was one of those times. There was a huge, ambitious book, with big themes and plots, and in the final pages a series of payoffs that made the whole exercise worth it. There was no slight of hand or gimmickry. This is the best big novel in the past 10 or 15 years -- more coherent and disciplined than Underworld, and up there with American Pastoral, Atonement and Never Let Me Go as the greatest piece of accessible literary fiction published in my adult lifetime. (How heavily qualified was that?)

I must have re-read the book's strange opening passage about four times before I really dug in. It started back in September, when I bought the book in Ann Arbor and then went to Ashley's to smoke cigarettes, drink beer and read the first sixty pages. I closed the book and put it aside -- great stuff, and I was not prepared. Along the way, I read Johnson's Jesus' Son and pecked at The Name of the World, both of which are fine but not in the same class as Tree of Smoke. When I revisited the book in December, I cut through its 614 pages in about 96 hours, taking notes and drawing lines between names and dates in the book's end pages, holding the book close to my eyes and doing my best to track every character and element in smudged, penciled-in notes.

It's war fiction. It's about mythology -- Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism and local practices in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. It is about underground tunnels and obsessions. Like all post-Classical war stories, it is about corruption and our heroes' ruin. It is deeper, bolder, more expansive than Johnson's claustrophobic drug horrors in Jesus' Son.

Denis Johnson is a helluva writer. His sentences are rich and vivid but never intrude. I can't recall a book with better prose. You, the reader, are never turned off by a feeling that he is trying too hard to dazzle. The book is loaded with paragraphs as good as this one:
Through the doorway of a tavern -- a couple of sad-drunk infantrymen dancing in the jukebox glow, each alone, chins down, fingers popping, shoulders working, heads bobbing, trudging like carriage horses toward some solitary destiny. She stopped to watch them. In the songs on jukeboxes or on radios tuned to AFVN she often heard God calling out to her -- "Love me with all your heart" -- "This guy's in love with you" -- "All you need is love" -- but tonight the voice sang only to soldiers, and its message didn't reach the street.
Tree of Smoke, p. 309. If there's another book with such great language, show me the way.

The Two Books that Idiot Critics Underrated: Exit Ghost and Falling Man

It's fun to tear down idols. I get it. Philip Roth got away with Everyman so it was time to pull out the knives. He started the book by talking about prostates and most of you couldn't overcome that. So you shut down, got lazy, and barely bothered to read the rest. Your loss.

The Falling Man response was much shoddier, because somehow you couldn't get it out of your feeble little minds that the guy didn't throw in a bunch of clever know-it-all tricks. He wrote a straightforward story. He nailed it. Eerie, funny, sad, scary, smart and credible -- probably the best thing that he's written since White Noise.

Least satisfying book of 2007: The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz

It was fine, but it's now about Exhibit G of the CrimeNotes Thesis: With the exception of Zadie Smith or Mark Z. Danielewski, overpraising young writers screws both the writers and their readers, leaving you feeling empty when a novel is merely good and not a masterpiece, thus leaving you the reader unnecessarily wary of buying future books because the critics set the stage for a let-down when it didn't need to be that way. See also J.S. Foer, Marisha Pessl, Nell Freudenberger, Benjamin Kunkel.

Unless they've written the new V. (actually written V., not something merely decent that makes the reviewer pine for V.) a rave review for a first novel should be no more enthusiastic than: "This is a strong debut that shows much promise. The young novelist did some things well, and if the book was uneven, it was less uneven than most."

This is fine. F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel pretty sucked; Junot Diaz's first novel is better than This Side of Paradise. Let him be.

Book that changed my fucking life in 2007: The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

A very scary book that begins with CIA experiments in brainwashing, then charts the rise of neo-liberal economics at the University of Chicago, following how psychological warfare in Latin America led to radical economic restructuring at the behest of American corporate interests and intellectuals who treated nations as their petri dishes for radical theories.

The Shock Doctrine is a secret history of geopolitics since World War II. Klein's principal leap -- that sensory-deprivation techniques used on an individual level translate into entire nations traumatized by coups and turmoil -- isn't quite persuasive. She just didn't have the social science to back this up her major thesis. But this is a less damning criticism than it should be. Her account of the bonds between radicals in academia, government and corporations is the real revelation, thoroughly persuasive, and more frightening than any conspiracy theory Oliver Stone conjured. Think tanks ad faculties make for unlikely villains, and then she turns to Chile.

Plus, the book has a fucking trailer produced by Alfonso Cuaron:

Best movie of 2007: No Country for Old Men

Actually, this is the only new release I saw in 2007, so it's the only eligible entry. Going to movies in New York sucks. It's like hanging out in an airport -- tons of lines, confusion at ticket kiosks, frustrated patrons, too much advance planning, and passive-aggressive seat jockeying. I hate it. If you spontaneously decide to go to a movie on a Sunday afternoon, God help you, sir.

As to the movie itself -- pretty good. Great work by Javier Bardem and Kelly MacDonald, every other performance is credible, it's engrossing throughout, the photography was good even if the geography made it easy, and then you get to the end and it all felt a little empty. I love the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy and therefore expected one of the greatest things of my life. It asn't as good as Fargo, Blood Simple, Barton Fink or Miller's Crossing, but better than anything they've done in 10 years. (I don't understand the Big Lebowski cult.)

I also saw Knocked Up on-demand and judge it the most overrated movie of 2007. There was one funny scene involving a bouncer. That was it. It was a comedy for pro-life frat boys who support Mike Huckabee and desperate single girls who want babies. I told someone this and got yelled at, and was duly informed that not all Democrats want abortions.

Whatever. If Seth Rogan's character knocked up Giselle, she would've made a quick run to the clinic. Giselle had that baby because she wanted Tom Brady's genes, and now he's trapped. We live in a cynical world -- the Tom Bradys and CrimeNoteses of the world could auction their semen at Sotheby's, but Seth Rogan would be stuck with crackwhores. In real life, the chick in that movie never would have carried the baby of a fat loser Canadian with no viable income, and none of us would have held that against her. 40-Year-Old Virgin: brilliant. Knocked Up: unfunny, right-wing fantasy for losers.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Oh, fuuuuuuuuuck

I set the alarm for 4:30 a.m., with a car reserved for 5 and a flight leaving Newark at 6:45.

The problem is that I always fall asleep between 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., and wake up every day like clockwork at 8:50.

I slept through the alarm, then somehow woke at 5:15. My car presumably came, waited, and left. I hadn't finished packing. I had 90 minutes to dress, pack, find a cab, travel the width of Manhattan and then on to Newark, go through lines at check-in and security, and hop on a commuter jet.

Out the door within 10 minutes, there was, bizarrely, a parade of on-duty cabs rolling down my street. I leaped into one, negotiated an extra charge to get my ass to Newark, and motored off.

It worked out in the end. Newark was packed and hopping by 6 a.m., but Continental staffed heavily and lines moved quickly. There was even time to grab a coffee and muffin on the way: from wake to gate in an hour.

I abruptly ran into a college acquaintance about to board the same flight.

"Jack!" I shouted, full of holiday cheer. "Merry Christmas! Are you still at [employer redacted]?"

Yeah. He didn't want to talk about work any more than I did. I said that it was great to see him anyway, then went to work on a Times Crossword. (In my rush to get out that morning, I forgot to throw Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs into my carry-on.)

When my parents met me on the other end of the flight, they said that I looked bright-eyed for that hour of the morning. I laughed at them, and if my jacket reeked of cigarettes, they either didn't notice or didn't comment.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thursday Night Massacre

Here's what Michigan's new head coach Rich Rodriguez has done since he woke up on Sunday morning:
This is putting aside various culture-clash criticisms from friends, which I've found petty and nasty -- stuff about his wife's hair and the fact that their kids' names all start with the letter "R." This is also putting aside the general unease some feel with ditching a successful system for a style of offense that has been classified as junk and gimmickry.

Good-bye, future Tom Brady; hello, future Michael Vick.

We've gone from guarded optimism, to actual enthusiasm, to trepidation and dread in the course of 96 hours. Draw Sharp might actually have been right, which is the most disturbing part of all of this. And Les Miles actually may have been the lesser evil.

One thing's for fucking sure: If Michigan goes 3-9 next year, at least we won't hear claptrap about tradition.

From this point forward, Michigan is just any other program.

Other observations: The Dolphins job will open soon, and some view Miami as a special place; Tom Osborne would make a fine interim Athletic Director at schools other than Nebraska; and in a few years, Ron English will probably have the resume to take over as Michigan's head coach.

It's also possible that this is an overreaction, which would be unusual. I'm usually not much into hyperbole.

Update: This afternoon I read the following from Mike Hart, and became even angrier:

Senior tailback Mike Hart said he was disappointed to hear about the staff changes, but said he knows the coaches "are all going to get jobs." Hart said he hopes Rodriguez and his incoming staff "learn Michigan tradition."

"Obviously, when I come back (to visit), there's going to be no one here for me," Hart said. "That's 128 years of history gone, with no one (on the new staff) with any recollection of that and the tradition. If these guys get to know the history and tradition, they will learn that Michigan is a lot different than any other place. I just hope they learn Michigan and what it's all about."

I wished that he'd pegged Rich Rodriguez as Lloyd Carr's little brother.

And then great relief came with this news:
New Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has plans to rehire at least one member of the current staff -- longtime assistant Fred Jackson.
"I'm looking forward to working with him and learning that offense," Jackson said, referring to Rodriguez's spread offense. "I'm looking forward to keeping the Michigan tradition alive."

Rodriguez appeared on "The Mike Tirico Show" on Friday afternoon and reiterated there's a potential for other rehires.

"I sat last night and met with all the staff members, not just the position coaches, but the support staff and talked to them," Rodriguez said on the show. "I don't call it retain, but I'm rehiring a lot of these support staffs. I've already rehired one of the position coaches in Fred Jackson. Not all the position coaches are leaving. I'm rehiring Fred and most of the administrative staff will be rehired or already have been rehired.

Jackson is a very well liked guy, apparently an excellent recruiter, and one of the assistants widely expected to be retained through any transition. This goes a long way toward calming my fears.

This post isn't the opening salvo of a running effort to bitch about Rodriguez. I don't hate him. The circumstances of his departure from West Virginia are concerning. Reports of an immediate and universal firing looked like evidence of a similar institutional disrespect. His presser on Monday was brilliant and it's been less than a week, but yeah -- there's enough here to warrant tough scrutiny. Concern and harsh judgment aren't the same as vendetta.

Nicknames I've had

Edited, of course, to use my blog pseudonym.



Sl[op] [Flop]

Special [Flop]s



[Flop]meister General

[Flop] Dawg

Tr[op]ic of [Flop]

[Flop]py Bag of Donuts

Big [Flop]py

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My sweet-assed Christmas playlist

Whenever I'm visiting my parents for Christmas, there's always a lot of negotiation over the music selection. My mom wants to hear carols non-stop. Me, it's been about 17 years since I've liked most of that stuff. I don't want to be a fucking Grinch, so in car trips I'm trapped listening to this crap non-stop.

Then I reached a solution. I originally wanted to come up with a list that would please my parents without hurting me, but now I realize that it's oh-so-much better than that. Download these songs and arrange them in this precise order, and you're guaranteed a happy Christmas regardless of creed or temperament.

1. That's What Christmas Means to Me My Love, Stevie Wonder.
If the lyrics were different, I'd listen to it year-round. This song is just really, really good.
2. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), Darlene Love. Always reminds me of Goodfellas, and might explain why I consider Goodfellas a Christmas movie.
3. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee. An old standard that doesn't suck.
4. The Chipmunk Song. Annoying even in tiny doses, but in the company of these other songs, it's a Yuletide delight.
5. Run Rudolph Run, Chuck Barry. Rowdy and zany!
6. Santa Baby, Eartha Kitt. For the seductive materialist in all of us.
7. Feliz Navidad, Jose Feliciano. I rocked out to this during the Sesame Street Christmas special when I was about three or four. Another indispensable classic.
8. Frosty the Snowman, The Ronettes. Christmas and Motown go together brilliantly.
9. 'Zat You Santa Claus? Louis Armstrong. Can't spell "rousting morals" without Louis Armstrong!
10. O Holy Night, Tiny Tim. What makes a traditional religious song palatable to an atheist? A hilarious, wacky rendition, that's what.
11. Mambo Santa Mambo, The Enchanters. Calypso also goes well with Christmas.
12. White Christmas, Darlene Love. See entry 8.
13. White Christmas, Bing Crosby. Throw in a traditional song to keep Mom happy. The two versions of White Christmas work best back to back.
14. The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole. This also makes Mom happy, but it's a great song to boot.
15. Frosty the Snowman, Jimmy Durante. It's funny.
16. Sleigh Ride, The Ronettes. See entry 8.
17. We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Jingle Dogs. Also featuring: cats. You go out with a bang, and all the pets in the house will go moderately crazy, cocking their heads and barking and running around.

This playlist goes well on Christmas morning with the family, yes, but it also works as a normal hang-out playlist. I listened today as I walked around Manhattan's cold canyons, Marlboro Light dangling from my mouth as I spread a unique brand of holiday cheer. It really got me in the spirit of the season.

It's also good stuff for someone who loves Christmas but prefers to stay true to its pagan roots. But even if you're a Believer, it's good for you too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Some brief thoughts on the occasion of Michigan hiring a new football coach

Throughout the past month, as bloggers and even some of my respected fellow alums drove themselves intensely, twitchily crazy pouncing on every shred of internet-spread information re: Michigan's coaching search, I have done my best to remain calm.

  • No coach is a savior. Michigan doesn't even need saving. Lloyd Carr is a pantheon-worthy Michigan coach. My biggest concern was coming to grips with the fact that no one else would be, you know, like him. Lloyd seemed to me the ideal of a balanced man, with interests above and beyond college football. He will be missed. Michigan could have hired the second coming of Fielding Yost and I'd still miss Lloyd. It's OK.
  • There were three major inflection points in this roller-coaster ride of a search. Maybe four. The first was on the final Saturday of the year, when Kirk Herbstreit looked into the camera, batted his baby blue eyes and announced that Les Miles would be coming to Michigan, and bringing Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta with him. I emailed Crimenotes, noting that Tenuta (whom I've admired for years) helped soften the blow of Michigan having hastily nabbed Miles, and went out to the greenmarket. I came back to the chaos that was the aftermath of that whole fiasco. (Personally, I think Martin slow-walked him on purpose. But it's possible he just got too caught up in christening the Flying Wasp. We should all be so flaky.)

  • The second was the near-hiring of Greg Schiano. Apparently, he took Michigan's offer home, mulled it over in the brand-new house he has on land carved out of a nature preserve on the Raritan River, then walked a few steps over to his office and told his guys he couldn't leave. Totally understandable. I was mildly disappointed, having gotten excited about having a defense of 11 guys flying around like angry happy fun balls.

  • Then there was the actual hiring of Rodriguez, which was an on-off-on situation. At first it seemed he would stay, but then he changed his mind, apparently after a discussion with his mentor, Don Nehlen. Who was an assistant with, yes, Bo Schembechler.

And so it was that Bo helped get Michigan a new coach, who was born in a small town in West Virginia, just a couple miles from the one where Fielding Yost was. It sounds like a nice, tidy storybook ending, but really it's just beginning. Nothing is promised. Bad things happen.

But so do good ones. Doubtless, We'll have much more to say on this, but I wanted to get some thoughts down on "paper" for now without trying to overthink things. There are issues to discuss, not least of which is the massive, massive culture shock Rodriguez is in for coming from West Virginia to Ann Arbor.

I told you being tough was important

Faceful of snow: Fun!

Especially when you play a bunch of soft, warm-weather pansies like the Buffalo Bills, who wouldn't know cold if it worked its icy finger around their puka-shell necklaces and down their chicken-wing themed Hawaiian shirts.

This is what we've been waiting for in Cleveland. For a long time. The Browns played an important game in December for the first time since 2002. And even then, that was kind of a fluky year in which a lot of things came together. To some extent, the same could be said of this one.

But these Browns have real talent and ability. Braylon Edwards would start for any team in the league. Ditto Joe Thomas and Kellen Winslow most likely. Derek Anderson has been a revelation at quarterback, and there's even some good players on a defense that is, well, it's not all that impressive. But between the defense that plays better than it's league-worst ranking and near blizzard on the lakefront, the Browns held the Bills scoreless and won 8-0.

If that score looks like one from another era, it's because the NFL hasn't seen a final like that since 1929. And it happened not on a TD and a two-pointer, but on a pair of a highly improbable field goals by Phil Dawson, who should get some sort of medal or something for making kicks in that snow -- especially the one from almost 50 fucking yards.

Playoff implications aside, this is a highly satisfying win.

Whose lake? Our lake, bitches.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

You've got to be tough

Even after looking at handfuls twice, I didn't believe what I was seeing, so I scooped a handful of the slushy snow onto the navy blue brim of my cap. But it wasn't slush or snow, either. They really were spherical little ice crystals, falling out of the sky at 3 in the morning.

The way they looked under the street light against the dark cloth made me think of diamonds, spilled onto black velvet somewhere warm and dry for appraisal. I got into a cab and wondered if we'd get hit by some idiot driver who couldn't handle the weather, and if I'd get killed or maimed or something, my life forever changed by some stroke of bloody-minded luck, like I was in some Raymond Carver story.

But we didn't, and I got out and walked a couple blocks to my place. The wind drove the hard little balls of ice -- not hail; hailstones grow in layers, going up and down in thunderclouds until their weight is too much for the convection and out they spill. They stung my ears and eyes and I had to put my head down and let my cap take the brunt of it for me.

A couple hours earlier, I'd been IMing with my friend who lives in Portland. The one in Oregon. He reported that he thinks the black guys in his neighborhood don't fuck around with his naive, suburban self because he often wears a Browns hat. It's his version of one of those T-shirts that reads [Location or place name]: You've Got To Be Tough, except in Portland, maybe they don't get the joke.

I thought about that while I was trying to estimate the speed at which these tiny bits of icy buckshot were peppering me. Fast enough for them to be moving horizontal. Weather like this just isn't surprising. Sometimes, I think I should move out there, move to fucking California where nights are soft. I wonder what it'd take to make me laugh out loud on the street there at 3 in the fucking morning.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I can't believe I'm actually defending Bill Martin

It seems like I've bitched about him virtually from the beginning. My dislike peaked with the quickly-withdrawn sponsorship offer to give SBC naming rights for the Michigan-Ohio State game, but really had momentum with his shepherding of the Michigan Stadium renovations. The anger there wasn't so much toward luxury boxes themselves -- they're a necessary evil -- but because he showed as much respect for dissent and process as Robert Moses at his worst.

The agendas of regents' meetings were manipulated to limit the speaking time of those who disagreed with him. Most egregiously, he used the memorial service for Bo Schembechler as an opportunity to pimp his stadium plans. I've searched for transcripts of his remarks, but I can't find them. Essentially, he recalled that one of his final conversations with Schembechler involved overhauling the stadium. He claimed that Bo supported the plans, which was evidence that until his dying day Bo wanted what was best for Michigan. Putting aside that such conversation can never be verified, Martin essentially used the funeral for a beloved coach to rally support for his pet project, and implied that people who disagreed with him were anti-Bo, and hence, anti-Michigan.

I think Martin's a manipulator and a dick.

Still, Martin's list of accomplishments is incredibly impressive, even if they don't all track my own agenda. A short recap from the top of my head includes the following:
  • Push through the aforementioned stadium renovation plans, despite dissent from regents and most of the faculty. He played dirty, but he got what he wanted.
  • Plans for a reconstituted baseball facility.
  • Retained a very popular and successful baseball coach right at the moment when it looked like he'd be poached.
  • Hired John Beilein. (I don't know about basketball or give a damn, but everyone seems to think this was a great hire.)
  • Hired a women's basketball coach.
  • Most importantly, fixed an Athletic Department that was in a financial mess following Tom Goss's tenure.
There's more that I'm forgetting. He's abrasive and manipulative, largely unlovable, but his job isn't to be loved, it's to keep finances strong and get shit done. Half-wits can give him grief for scheduling Appalachian State, but in his list of responsibilities and priorities, that falls somewhere around No. 63.

The problem isn't that he's fucked anything up, it's that most people literally have no understanding of what his job is. He could completely blow this coaching search. It would be a black mark on his record, but would only land somewhere in the top five flashpoints of his tenure. It certainly wouldn't be a firing offense. Taking the athletic department into the red, accounting irregularities, an NCAA investigation, hideous cost overruns: those would be firing offenses. Those are the things that his job is about. Not to serve as a figurehead or comforter-in-chief.

So far as I can tell, Bill Martin's sins in the Michigan coaching search are the following:
  • He sails. So did Don Canham.
  • He didn't land Les Miles. As stated in previous posts, I hate Les Miles, so I don't view this as a bad thing. If you think this non-hire is the product of sailing-related negligence, you're dreaming. Anyone with a position of even marginal responsibility in this world -- including yours truly -- is reachable at any time. Blackberrys are Satan's curse. If Michigan wanted to hire Les Miles, Martin would have been available. Michigan did not want to hire Les Miles. This angers people. That is a policy disagreement, which is not the same thing as incompetence.
  • He didn't land Greg Schiano. Greg Schiano has his own reasons for staying put. It's highly possible that no offer from any school other than Penn State would attract him. This wasn't a product of Michigan getting snubbed by lowly Rutgers. Look, I don't know how much experience people have in being recruited for jobs, or trying to recruit other people for jobs, but these decisions are made for about a dozen different reasons. Money and prestige are not always the determining factors, even for high achievers. By this rationale, Bo should've left for A&M when they dangled a fat paycheck his way. People don't always operate this way, and we're better off for it.
  • He didn't hire a search firm. Maybe this would have smoothed the process a little, but as we learned in the stadium project, Martin seems less concerned about process than getting the results that he wants. If he's got some kind of decision tree or list of candidates that he knows he wants, a search firm might have made things marginally easier but I don't see how it would have affected the end result. This leads to the following criticism:
  • This is happening too slowly. Bullshit. You're hiring somebody who's going to be there long term. This isn't a race. The goal isn't to hire the flashiest name as quickly as possible. It's a long-term investment, not day trading. Do your fucking diligence and take into consideration the dozen or so factors that you want in the next head coach. Nothing would be worse than a knee-jerk decision to hire the flashiest new thing (e.g., Pinkel) and bask in accolades, only to find out three years down the line that you've brought in a horrible mismatch. That's program suicide.
  • He had advance notice that Lloyd was likely leaving, and didn't do enough advance planning. Brilliant call. If there's been any actual problem with this goddamn search, it's that every time someone sneezes there's a leak and the latest turn is all over blogs and newspapers. If I were Martin, I'd have a Nixonian level of paranoia about leaks at this point. Say he uses intermediaries and starts putting out feelers to prospective coaches over the summer and fall: At this point, there's no doubt that such shit would've hit the press within five minutes. For all the people who seem to give a shit about nothing but recruiting, official rumors of the head coach's imminent departure sure wouldn't have been good for that, right? There would've been no season, only obsessive speculation about who was coming next, when that issue wasn't even ripe.
There are plenty of reasons why a person shouldn't like Bill Martin. I don't like him. But I have to acknowledge that for the length of his tenure, he's done an extremely difficult job really, really well. He singlehandedly righted the athletic department's finances, went on a building spree reminiscent of Robert Moses, handled the final stages of the fallout from the Ed Martin/Steve Fisher scandal, and generally gotten everything that he's wanted. He's nothing if not an extremely smart and capable of son of a bitch. He's not responsible for micromanaging the fucking basketball team, it's not his job to handicap Appalachian State, and the fact that he didn't hire a dream candidate that you've fetishized for months does not equate to a firing offense.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Republican primaries: short version

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

e.e. cummings

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Les Miles will never be my coach

I can't stand the guy.

It's not just that I'm a Lloyd "apologist" or "loyalist," whatever those things are. There's a real possibility that Les Miles wooed teenage athletes by telling them that Michigan's head coach (beloved in my circle though not everywhere) suffered from a chronic neurodegenerative disease. If I'm the Marques of Queensbury because that makes me hate him, so be it. I'm loyal to my school, not a prospective head coach to be named later.

The qualities that seem to draw Joe Michigan to Miles are the same things that make my stomach roil. "Excitement" and "aggression" make sense when they're value-added. Miles is Steve Fossett in a ballcap. Cool shit to watch from a distance, but not so cool when you're scraped across the desert because adventure ballooning sounded fun. At LSU, he's had talent but still only won by razor-thin margins. To call his on-field playcalling "risky" would be an understatement. In The Deer Hunter, Christopher Walken did well for a long time playing Russian Roulette. He made plenty of money, and then it came to an end.

But it's more than all of this.

The University of Michigan is not a football school. It's a vast, great academic institution that happens to have a football program.

Michigan losing to Appalachian State didn't change my life. It ruined a three-day weekend and briefly prompted ideations of suicide, but a week later life was back to normal, even after Oregon's ass-kicking.

The team can lose on the field, and I'll be pissed and traumatized. I have nightmares about losses, condemn my lifestyle choice, scream to my friends that I wish I'd gone to Middlebury or Amherst or some other liberal arts school where kids spend Saturdays high, reading Keats in the woods somewhere. But that, I can divorce from my overall feelings about Michigan as an institution. When I walk into work and a millionaire in his sixties gently mocks me about losing to Appalachian State, I can laugh uncomfortably and concoct a rationalization.

What I could not rationalize is having a head coach whose public behavior is a consistent embarrassment. It's why Gary Moeller managed to get himself fired. Unfortunately, Michigan's head football coach is linked to how the public at large views the school. Lloyd was terse, close-mouthed, careful -- he might have been abrasive with sideline reporters and he might have been a dull interview, but you never feared that he'd utter words to embarrass you as an alumnus.

Michigan's unofficial spokesperson cannot be someone who would say, "We have a new rival in fucking Michigan State." He can't get choked up in press conferences. He can't rationalize a two-loss record as tantamount to being undefeated in regulation. He can't storm in front of television cameras and deliver a UFC-style rant.

That shit's fine at Oklahoma State or LSU. Alabama coaches can call people "coon-asses" and compare losing a football game to September 11. At some places, football plays a role in the hiring of college presidents and is a principal fundraising motivator. I did not go to one of those schools. Mary Sue Coleman, Lee Bollinger and a $7 billion endowment have nothing to do with a team.

I can handle losing to the Appalachian States of the world. I could even handle the program decaying into a Northwestern-style mediocrity -- that would surely suck and require years of pain and adjustment, but it would not make me renounce my degree or tarnish my feelings about the school.

I wouldn't feel the same way if the school's highest-profile employee were perpetually uncorked and verbally reckless. Michigan has always kept sports in its place, and that's no easy achievement. You can spend four years at the school, ignore its athletics, and not feel like you're missing anything. You can be on faculty without giving a damn about football. If you're a major donor wanting to give $20 million for cancer research, your decision of whether to donate to the hospitals at Duke, Michigan or Columbia will not incorporate coaching behavior.

This is why big-time athletics at Michigan have always been risky. By and large, they're good public relations and enhance the undergraduate experience. They also open up the school to forces that have nothing to do with its institutional mission, which, if kept unchecked, risk overshadowing everything else.

And then one day there's a clip repeated ad nauseum of some dumb-ass head coach popping off in a press conference, or in headlines because he said something dumb about the Pac-10, and Michigan starts to look like a football school. As an alumnus, you have a hard time explaining the person away. As a prof, maybe you feel embarrassed to be affiliated with a circus. And as a donor, the football program still doesn't mean jack shit to your decision, but if you're looking to do something serious with your legacy, quite possibly there's an itch somewhere about not wanting a new rival in fucking: Michigan State.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

This is how it happened

Last Saturday was a fiasco for Michigan athletic director Bill Martin. He was apparently totally unreachable down at his club in Key Largo, Florida, when Les Miles' agent called him, frantically hoping to get an offer for his client now that LSU had upped the ante. When he got back to Michigan, reporters were calling wanting to know why he spent the day sailing. Even the bloggers were mocking him, making it sound as if he'd been enjoying himself when really everything had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

First, Mrs. Martin snapped the bowsprit off their new sloop when she tried to christen it. Then Miles roared past in the new cabin cruiser LSU bought him and the wake nearly knocked everyone off the dock. Then, after Miles was done terrorizing jet-skiers and quintets, he flew up to Atlanta, called a press conference and announced: "I just got head from Amelia Earhart!"

Sources say any counteroffer would have to involve Pancho Barnes.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Champagne wishes

When the Ravens scored in the third fourth quarter to take a touchdown lead, Tony Kornheiser pointed out that Shula had grabbed his back in excitement. Shula pretended like he wasn't rooting against anybody ... but we knew. -- Deadspin, Dec. 4, 2007.

It would certainly be nice to have once been part of some band of brothers that achieved something singular and unique. And it would be nice, if, once a year, all of us having gone our separate ways, we paused our lives at the same moment to celebrate and remember all that we accomplished.

If, however, that cause for commemoration was that someone else had failed, leaving the glory alone to us, I would have to wonder how people had lived with me all this time. What an ugly spectacle the 1972 Miami Dolphins now seem to be making of themselves, with the New England Patriots aiming at an undefeated season that would not just match the Dolphins' achievement, but surpass it by two wins at 19-0-0.

Yes, the Patriots have cheated. Yes, I too am tired of hearing each of them held up for adulation as if the men who don that uniform are somehow jewels the rest of the league, never mind us mere mortals, can never hope to equal. Yes, I have my own team's interests in mind, too.

But man, how narcissistic must you be to celebrate someone falling short of your own achievements? I wonder who else is this awful? Do you think Max Planck put his fist through his hat when Einstein won the Nobel Prize three years later? Do you think Sebastian Coe kicks his Corgi every time someone says the name "Hicham El Guerrouj"?

I mean, not to indulge in metaphor here, but the behavior of the 1972 Dolphins is something like if Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay busted out the Piper-Heidsieck every time the Nepalese Air Force had to helicopter a corpse off of Everest.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Crisis averted

Depending on the ultimate explanation, I'd like to thank Mary Sue Coleman, the University of Michigan Board of Regents and/or Les Miles's avarice for sparing my university years of pain and embarrassment.

I look forward to sleeping the sleep of the just and discontinuing vitriolic e-mails.