Friday, April 07, 2006

Jon Heder gets off the bench

'Napoleon' has put him in comedy's big leagues
Updated 4/7/2006 12:43 AM
By Anthony Breznican, USA TODAY

Jon Heder stands on a sunny sidewalk outside a Los Angeles novelty shop, staring through his own reflection in the store window with an expression that is partly amused and partly mortified.

The star of the 2004 cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite has heard of this chain of gag stores called Aahs, but he has never been to one before. On the other side of the glass, a mannequin in a rubber, empty-eyed Napoleon mask gapes back at him, wearing a T-shirt, hat and slippers emblazoned with the movie's famous phrase "Vote For Pedro."

All around the dummy are trinkets and dolls with that face — you know the one. In fact, as he surveys the merchandise, Heder is making it now: eyes at half-staff, his full lips hanging open limply until they spring back to life and say: "That is a creepy mask."

[PRESTON HIGH REUNION: What's become of the Napoleon Dynamite cast?]

Like many fans of Napoleon Dynamite, Heder is glad to see a part of himself in the character without really wanting to be him. With The Benchwarmers, opening Friday, Heder (it rhymes with "leader") will try to break away from the character that launched his career. This Adam Sandler-produced movie is about three grown losers who take on Little Leaguers at baseball. Heder plays a paperboy whose skull is thicker than his crash helmet.

Heder enjoys his pop-culture niche. He points to the window display to the left of the Napoleon tchotchkes: a heap of toys and clothing from Tim Burton's animated The Nightmare Before Christmas, and on the other side, collectibles from The Simpsons.

"You know what's cool, though?" Heder says, breaking into a grin. "We're right next to my favorite movie of all time. We're there between The Simpsons and Nightmare. That's a dream come true."

Three movies to come

Heder is 28 now, and it has been two years since Napoleon premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and over the course of the summer became one of the biggest sleeper hits in movie history.

Made for $400,000, the movie earned $45 million at the box office, became a DVD hit, collected assorted MTV and Teen Choice awards and draped kids across the country in a fresh batch of ironic T-shirts.

For the uninitiated, Napoleon Dynamite is about a hopeless Idaho teen who campaigns to elect his monotone pal, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), class president. He feuds with the family llama, slap-fights with his miniature older brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), and tries to escape from it all by wiring himself into a "time machine" purchased by his Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), which only paralyzes him with an electrical shock.

Heder has done several other movies, most awaiting release. Last fall, he was the spaced-out psychic in the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Just Like Heaven.

Other Heder films coming soon:

• In the computer-animated Monster House (July 21), he voices a chubby pizza-delivery guy who tells neighborhood kids the secrets of a haunted mansion.

In School for Scoundrels (Sept. 29), he's a meek meter-reader who takes a confidence-building class from Billy Bob Thornton, only to find himself competing with his teacher for the same woman.

Blades of Glory, now shooting and due in 2007, has Heder as the rival of a disgraced Olympic skater (Will Ferrell). They team up for one more shot at gold.

Gold is one thing he didn't get a lot of from Napoleon. As he looks over the toys, T-shirts, action figures, lip balm, wigs and other items at the Aahs store, Heder says he didn't get rich off the movie.

Napoleon was made by director Jared Hess, Heder's classmate at Utah's Brigham Young University. Heder starred mainly as a favor and was paid $1,000.

"Technically, that's what I was paid," he says, though Fox Searchlight gave him an unspecified bonus when the movie became a hit.

"Anything after (the original $1,000), which wasn't much, was Fox saying 'Oh, you put a lot of work in for us through promotions, so basically here's a gift check,' " Heder says. "It wasn't that much. But it was the most I'd ever seen, so I'm not complaining. I could never complain because it was a boost. I didn't have a career. This started it."

In Aahs, a television plays the film continuously, and a man and his two children stand transfixed. When the father tries to move them along, one little girl protests: "Let's see what Napoleon says!"

Heder whispers: "It'd be great to just lean down and say, 'Kids, buy my stuff!' "

But he doesn't. Now, Heder looks so different from Napoleon, maybe they wouldn't believe him anyway.

No bones about it

Movie stardom is an unlikely arc for a Mormon kid from Oregon, who started studying film to become an animator, not a leading man. Napoleon Dynamite is no pin-up material, with his throaty Beavis and Butt-Head voice and donkey-sized choppers, but Heder is far more handsome, though more Tom Hanks than Tom Cruise.

He and his wife, Kirsten, have been married for three years, and he spent two years in Japan on the traditional proselytizing mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's a twin from a family of six children, though he doesn't have any kids yet.

Napoleon has led to a first-look production deal at Universal Pictures for Heder, his twin, Dan, and their older brother, Doug, who will craft movies for Jon while producing their own animated features.

Gil Kenan, the director of the upcoming Monster House, says Heder's subtle facial expressions and unlikely limberness add a dangerous intensity to his performances.

"I broke his foot in the first take of the first scene," the director says. Heder also recently fractured his ankle working with Ferrell on Blades of Glory and wears a brace.

Kenan compares him to Monty Python's John Cleese: "As soon as you let him move his limbs, he's a big guy, but it feels like he doesn't have any bones. And it turns out he doesn't — in his feet."

But there's more to his success than slapstick. Heder and Hess (who directs Jack Black in the upcoming wrestling comedy Nacho Libre) presented a slice of life in Napoleon that is unique to rural Mormon culture in states like Utah and Idaho.

"I think that (Mormons) definitely see some correlation between the Napoleon character coming up with creative alternatives to swear words" like "Gosh!" "Dang!" and "Frickin' idiot!" Hess says. "In Mormon households, that's what kids have to do."

Robert Kirby, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, has seen Napoleon many times and has some lines of dialogue as his cellphone ringtones. He says Heder provides Mormons with a cultural caricature they can embrace.

"If you weren't (Napoleon), you at least knew him, these hicks who thought they were really with-it but were about two years behind the times," says Kirby, a Mormon humorist who has written the books Sunday of the Living Dead and Wake Me for the Resurrection. "(Heder) promises real hope for the way Mormons are regarded in film. What we're looking for is our own stereotype. And without doing it in an overt or in-your-face way, he brings the Mormon character to the screen."

Heder says that because of his religious beliefs he won't take roles that have cursing, excessive sexuality or violence. In Benchwarmers, he says he tried to make his role more kid-friendly, though there are still plenty of gross-out gags.

Laughing, not preaching

He makes it clear that he's a comedian, not a preacher. "It's tough now, because am I like an ambassador (for Mormonism) now? I was representing the church on my mission, and now I'm representing the church again in some ways," Heder says. "Sometimes I downplay it. 'I'm a Mormon. This is what Mormons do.' — That's not my thing. I want to get up there and tell entertaining stories but that are also to a certain extent clean."

Walking this Saturday morning around Westwood near the UCLA campus, Heder remains unrecognized. At the nearby Bruin theater, he was mobbed by fans nearly a year ago when he and his brothers attended one of the first public showings of Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. He says he should have known better. "Bad idea," he says now. "It was like geek central. Everybody was coming up, left and right, bugging me for autographs, pictures, cellphone messages, cellphone pictures. It was out of control."

But inside Aahs, surrounded by merchandise and admirers glued to the movie, he is tickled to be undercover. Still ...

As Heder stands in line to purchase a Napoleon MP3 cover, Napoleon lunchbox and Napoleon flip-flops, he watches the family seen earlier watching the movie leave the store. He laments, "I should have said something."

Or, as his alter ego would say: Dang it!

Posted 4/6/2006 9:50 PM

Victor Davis Hanson: Congresswoman McKinney & The Admiral

April 07, 2006
Victor Davis Hanson

Georgia Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney's recent run-in with a security official at the nation's Capitol reminded me of an earlier dust-up.

On New Year's Eve 2002, while I was a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, the superintendent - the distinguished three-star Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton - tried to enter the academy without wearing the photo ID required of all military and civilian personnel.

Naturally expecting that the young Marine sentry on duty would recognize his all-important superintendent, Naughton boldly tried to pass. But instead, the Marine asked him to produce identification. Angry words and some sort of altercation ensued between the admiral and the enlisted man.

Later, Naughton claimed he couldn't "remember" whether he had "touched" the guard, but he did concede he "might" have done so.

After a lengthy, ultimately damming investigation, Naughton resigned - first from his post as academy superintendent and then subsequently from the Navy altogether. During the investigation, some skeptics at Annapolis had doubted whether Naughton would pay any price. But his exalted rank, along with his race and gender, won no exemption.

I mention the Naughton case to illustrate that such mix-ups at government checkpoints are not unusual - and that eventually public pressure catches up with aristocratic arrogance and even the powerful are held to account.

Cynthia McKinney recently had her own Naughton moment when she tried to enter the Capitol.
Like the admiral, she took umbrage when confronted by a guard who didn't recognize her and was merely trying to do his job of protecting a government facility. She, too, found herself in some sort of physical altercation with a lowly subordinate. But that's where the comparisons end.

All the facts are not yet known, and McKinney is an elected official not subject to military accountability. But her reaction to this similar incident tells us a great deal about the pathologies of our current culture.

After witnesses related that McKinney was asked to stop three times - and replied with some sort of shove - she went public at a press conference. There she resorted to the now all too familiar fallback positions unavailable to Naughton. Surrounded by celebrities like Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, McKinney said, "This whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female, black congresswoman."

Note how she covered all the bases to preempt a possible indictment, putting the onus on the aggrieved. Plus, in our star-struck culture, we equate celebrity with gravitas. And so we are supposed to believe that an otherwise clueless Calypso singer or action-hero actor lend credence to McKinney's wild charges.

McKinney not only played the race and celebrity cards, but the feminist one as well - as if the dutiful policemen had kept his job this long by allowing unrecognized white male elected officials to enter checkpoints without showing identification.

And if race and gender were not enough, McKinney evoked the standard sexual harassment code words "inappropriate touching" - as if a randy guard were trying to grope the defenseless congresswoman.

McKinney realizes that claims of victimization are the keys to conning our system - and that the more accusations of racism, sexism and harassment the better for turning the cowardly aggressor into the heroically aggrieved.

Some of the official response so far has been depressing. The leading Democrat in the House, California's Nancy Pelosi, initially dryly dismissed the incident with, "I would not make a big deal of this."

Fine, except this same congresswoman recently referred to Vice President Dick Cheney's handling of his hunting accident as a "manifestation of the arrogance of the White House. They don't come clean with the American people. They think they are above the law and above accountability to the American people."

Note Pelosi's words "arrogance" and "above the law." Is deliberately slugging a federal security official at a Capitol checkpoint less arrogant or illegal than how Cheney behaved after accidentally peppering a friend during a private hunt?

So, what can we learn from the McKinney moment?

Slandering someone as racist and sexist is now supposed to do for Democrats what the old wealth and power purportedly did for Republicans - give them an unfair advantage and allow them to evade the rules.

Progressives once gained credence because they insisted merit should outweigh class, money and connections. These days they are losing credibility when they insist race and gender should trump merit and facts.

America has learned to apply the rules to a Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton; now it must also insist on them for Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

Victor Davis Hanson is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of Mexifornia. A State of Becoming (Encounter 2003).

(C) 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Won't You Please Help Me? The Life and Death of the Beatles

April 06, 2006, 6:25 a.m.
By Timothy M. Thibodeau

In his epic saga of the four lads from Liverpool, The Beatles: The Biography, Bob Spitz delivers a jarring reappraisal of the supposed glory days of the band that spearheaded the British Invasion. The Beatles's earliest performances in the grimy clubs of Liverpool; their brutal drug and alcohol fueled gigs in Germany; the bedlam of Beatlemania; and the petty dismemberment of the most successful pop ensemble to that date are meticulously chronicled with unflinching candor. Whether intentional or not, Spitz has succeeded in deconstructing the official, blissful Beatles myth that was propagated by Paul, George, and Ringo in their meandering television pseudo-documentary, The Beatles Anthology (1995).

After hearing an upbeat interview with Spitz on Laura Ingraham's radio show, I expected his book to indulge us with a joyful celebration of Beatlemania. Instead, the heroic Mop Top myth quickly disintegrates into an often dark and tragic morality play that begins with the dysfunctional family life of an angry teenager named John Lennon, whose eventual stardom led him to declare that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. The irony, of course, is that one is hard pressed to find a more apt illustration of Jesus' saying "What would it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?" than the John Lennon of Spitz's biography. (As it turned out, Lennon's fame also quite literally cost him his life when a deranged fan murdered him).

A Sad Man

Beatles fans know that the band's founder was a restless and unconventional soul, that Lennon had a biting wit and predictably offered huge doses of sarcastic buffoonery to his audiences. Spitz highlights many of these colorful displays: torrents of profanity at German audiences; Nazi salutes from the balconies of hotels; and John's famous, much-rehearsed quip in which he invited the British royalty to "rattle their jewelry" during a Royal Command Performance.

Spitz deftly takes us beyond these antics to lay bare a tortured soul that found no comfort in fame, no respite from his inner demons. While avoiding the pitfalls of playing the role of armchair psychologist, Spitz documents the traumas of young Lennon's life that weighed him down with an often-debilitating melancholia. His father abandoned him when he was five; his mother was killed in a car accident when he was 18; he flunked out of art college; his best friend and idol, Stuart Sutcliffe, the bassist for the Hamburg version of the Beatles, died of a brain aneurysm.

The grown-up Lennon found little solace in his musical art; instead, this despondent artist acted out his pain in increasingly frequent verbal and physical confrontations with his closest friends and associates. When the Beatles finally bid good riddance to the deplorable conditions of their early gigs and began to live like royalty, Lennon's alcoholism, drug abuse, and self-destructive tendencies became even more pronounced (many readers will understandably be stunned by the magnitude of his chronic drug dependency). The people who loved him the most — Cynthia, his long-suffering wife, whom he treated with humiliating contempt; and Brian Epstein, the Beatles' gay manager with whom John reportedly had a sexual encounter in Spain — were vilified, mocked, and abused. Lennon was also a miserable father who subjected his young son Julian to the same emotional deprivations that he had endured as a child.

How the Other Half Lived

The other half of the fabled Lennon and McCartney song-writing team seems to have been more immune to the vicissitudes of his life. While it is true that Paul came from a more stable home environment, he too suffered the trauma of a lost parent; his mother died of cancer when he was a teen. Yet Paul seemed to carry little emotional baggage into adulthood, or if he did, he was remarkably adept at concealing it. The Paul that emerges in Spitz's account is an exceptionally intelligent young man; a brilliant and disciplined musician who was brimming with self-importance; the consummate entertainer and showman who thrived on being in the public eye.

Like the other Beatles, Paul was often overwhelmed with the virtual imprisonment that accompanied stardom. But unlike John, Paul enjoyed being a Beatle, and when the joy ride came to an end, he didn't demolish his legacy with the same sort of vituperation and public lunacy as his partner. Spitz forces us to conclude that Lennon's hostility towards the Beatles after their break-up was largely the result of his deep personal animosity towards Paul. Always jealous and suspicious of Paul, even when they were at their collaborative peak, Lennon bitterly resented the fact that after Brian Epstein's untimely death, John's band became Paul's band. But given Lennon's drug addiction, mental instability, artistic incoherence, and puerile behavior, it is hard to imagine any other scenario.

Paul introduced the Beatles's lead guitarist, George Harrison, to the band. A solid musician who always stood in the long shadow of Lennon and McCartney, George seems to have been much closer to John in his cynicism about Beatlemania and the legions of shrieking girls who drowned out their performances. While he feasted on endless orgies of babes, booze, and drugs with the other Beatles, George looked to the East for spiritual enlightenment, convincing the other band members to embark on an ill-fated trip to study with the Maharishi. Despite the disappointment with his initial foray into Eastern spirituality, Harrison seems to have continued his introspective quest through his close association with Indian musicians,
Ringo Starr (born, Richard Starkey) became a Beatle when John, Paul, and George decided that their strikingly handsome and popular drummer, Pete Best, was an impediment to their success. Their manager unceremoniously fired Best; he was stunned that they weren't man enough to deliver the news to his face, and he broke down in tears at the ruthlessness of this act of treachery. Ringo had no qualms about leaving his band and taking Best's place. Most observers agreed that he was a talented musician who worked his own kind of ugly-duckling charm with the band members and audiences alike.

Disbanding the Band

The demise of the Beatles, recounted with mind-numbing detail in the closing chapters of the book, seems less surprising and more inevitable in Spitz's reconstruction. In fact, given the perpetual conflict, chronic drug abuse, and chaos that engulfed the band, we can only wonder how they endured for so long. The Beatles were great songwriters and performers but had no aptitude for the business end of Beatlemania. As Spitz notes, they were the victims of a number of bungled business deals and scams that resulted from the shortcomings of their all-too-distracted manager, Brian Epstein. His grooming of the Beatles when he "discovered" them in the Cavern Club paved the way for unimaginable success. But Epstein's bumbling through the terra incognita of celebrity of such magnitude was compromised by his own inner turmoil. A life-long homosexual (when such behavior was both scandalous and illegal), Epstein, like Lennon, fell into a downward, inward spiral just as the Beatles phenomenon had hit a dramatic crescendo. His own self-destructive and hedonistic behavior, which paralleled Lennon's, culminated in death by a drug overdose at the age of 32. If only he had found the equivalent of a Yoko Ono to pull him back from the abyss.

The Beatles never recovered from their manager's death. As Lennon later declared, when Brian died, "I knew we'd had it." Their brilliant producer, George Martin, continued to work his magic in the studio with the band members (his magnificent production of Abbey Road is perhaps his greatest achievement), but he invested little emotional or spiritual capital in his personal relationship with them. He clearly admired them as musicians but not as people. In aggressively attempting to fill the gaping hole left by the loss of Brian, Paul only generated more strife among the band members. Critics panned his disastrous television project, Magical Mystery Tour, and another of his ill-fated schemes, the movie Let it Be, unwittingly became an embarrassing archive of the band's demise. Even Paul admitted, years later, that he had crafted the "Beatles' break-up on film."

The disbanding of John, Paul, George, and Ringo comes as a relief by the time we finish Spitz's narrative. He unblinkingly catalogues the drug-induced absurdity of their new commercial enterprises. The anarchy and corruption of their own record label, Apple — with its host of con artists, groupies, and gold-diggers (Spitz counts Yoko Ono among them), who fleeced the Beatles for untold sums of money — makes for painful reading. It is hard to imagine that the band would have been capable of even of a modicum of artistic achievement in such a Dionysian setting. The angry young man from Liverpool who founded the Beatles had "gained the world," but in the process was quite literally losing his mind, not to mention his personal fortune. It really had come time for the lads to go their separate ways and to Let it Be.

— Timothy M. Thibodeau is professor of history at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y.

As Bonds Nears Baseball's Apex, a Sinking Feeling

By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006; A01

SAN FRANCISCO, April 5 -- Superimposed over the left field fence at AT&T Park are images of Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron and the words, "A Giant Among Legends."

Bonds's career home run total, 708, is displayed prominently in right-center, just above those of Aaron (755), Ruth (714) and a legend he has already passed, Willie Mays (660), who happens to be Bonds's godfather.

For more than a decade, the Giants have been financially and emotionally dependent on their mercurial slugger. Now, with Bonds the focus of a Major League Baseball investigation into steroid use, the dysfunctional relationship has come to epitomize an entire era in baseball, one that brought the sport unprecedented riches but ultimately embarrassment and unease.

"This is not a good situation," said Chicago Cubs Manager Dusty Baker, who managed the Giants from 1993 to 2002. "It's not a good situation for anybody, you know? I feel bad for everybody."

For those still in Bonds's orbit -- team officials, players, sponsors and his coterie of assistants -- dealing with Bonds has become a series of uncomfortable trade-offs. The lucrative benefits are offset by the player's demanding personality and mounting evidence that his greatest achievements were tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.

Giants owner Peter A. Magowan said his club intends to cooperate "to the fullest extent that we can" with baseball's investigation. Magowan said he and other club employees would provide information to investigators if asked. At the same time, Magowan said, the Giants, who will play their home opener against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon, are preparing to celebrate Bonds's 715th home run, which would move him past Ruth into second place on the all-time list.
"We think and our fans think it's quite an achievement and should be recognized as such," Magowan said in an interview this week. "We will recognize it."

Bonds has earned it, Magowan said. Since the Giants signed Bonds as a free agent left fielder in 1992, the franchise value has increased from $100 million to an estimated $381 million. Attendance, which averaged 19,272 in 1992, averaged 40,000 in the first five seasons at AT&T Park until dipping slightly last season, when Bonds was hurt for most of the year. The stadium is essentially sustained by Bonds's popularity. Built with private funds, the ballpark requires annual mortgage payments in excess of $20 million, putting intense pressure on the Giants to keep it filled.

"Signing Barry Bonds helped turn San Francisco into a baseball town," Magowan said. "This is a city where the 49ers won five Super Bowls. And now this city has drawn 19.5 million people" to see the Giants "over the past six years."

Asked if that record would be tainted if Bonds is found to have used steroids, Magowan said: "I'm not gonna talk about steroids. There will be a time when I hope I can talk about them, but that time has not come yet."

Fears of a Faustian Bargain

The Giants are not the only ones grappling with their relationship with the left fielder. The slugger is 47 homers shy of Aaron's record, perhaps the most hallowed in American sport. But Bank of America, which has sponsored the team for 30 years and has nine ATM machines inside AT&T Park, has announced it will not sponsor a home run chase because of "questions about the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in the game," said Joe Goode, a bank spokesman, not specifically mentioning Bonds.

Meantime, ESPN, which last year paid approximately $2.4 billion for the rights to broadcast baseball over eight years, has struggled internally with its decision to purchase "Bonds on Bonds," a reality series. In an emotional March 27 meeting, ESPN reporters questioned whether the network had sacrificed its integrity to air a series in which Bonds preapproves the content.

The growing uneasiness surrounding Bonds mirrors the larger question that increasingly haunts baseball: whether the sport's renaissance in the late 1990s was essentially predicated on a lie.

The renaissance began when Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs dueled to break Roger Maris's 37-year-old single-season home run record in 1998. McGwire set the new record with 70. Bonds topped that by belting 73 homers three seasons later. From 1998 to 2004, major league attendance and home run totals soared concurrently. Baseball's annual revenue rose as well, from $2.3 billion in 1998 to $4.7 billion last year, and nine teams built largely publicly financed stadiums at a cost of $3.4 billion.

McGwire, an iconic figure after the 1998 season, has disappeared from public view after a humiliating appearance before a Congressional subcommittee in March 2005. Sosa, his skills diminished and hounded by steroid rumors, is out of baseball.

Steroids help build muscle and speed recovery but have been banned by most professional sports leagues because they also are known to cause undesirable side effects, create an uneven playing field and are illegal without a prescription.

Bonds's current predicament -- chasing Ruth and Aaron while under investigation for using drugs to help him hit home runs -- at times borders on the surreal.

On the morning of March 30, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig announced that George J. Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader and part owner of the Boston Red Sox, would head baseball's investigation. As the basis for the investigation, Selig cited "Game of Shadows," a new book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters -- one of whom is the brother of this reporter -- that details Bonds's alleged steroid use in numbing detail.

That afternoon, at the corner of Third and King streets in San Francisco, a Borders bookstore had dozens of copies of the book stacked inside the front door. Across the street, Bonds, who has denied knowingly taking steroids, sat inside the Giants clubhouse, relaxing before an exhibition game while two of his personal trainers stared blankly at the television, where an ESPN analyst was pondering their boss's possible fate.

About 20 feet away from Bonds, shortstop Omar Vizquel offered support for his teammate while, at the same time, acknowledging doubts. "Obviously, Barry is a target because of the home run chase," Vizquel said. "Who doesn't want to talk about the home run chase and the record and is he or is he not" going to break it? "It's major league history. This is going down for the books forever. And I would love to [see] that moment on the field. How excited I would be to see Barry Bonds hit his 755th home run in front of 45,000 people. That's going to be unbelievable."

Asked if he would feel as excited if the investigation reveals that Bonds used steroids, Vizquel replied: "Probably not. If the whole thing comes out to be positive and it's out in the open, I don't know if it would have the same, what's the word? I don't know, it wouldn't feel as exciting."

Uncomfortable Trade-Offs

It is almost impossible to calculate how much Bonds has meant to the Giants. At the time the club acquired him, former owner Bob Lurie had tried to move the team to Tampa Bay. Rebuffed by his fellow National League owners, Lurie sold the Giants to Magowan, a former chief executive of Safeway. Magowan, in his first move, signed Bonds, then a free agent who began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, to a six-year, $43.2 million contract.

"That signing of Barry Bonds put into effect a chain of events that, number one, kept the Giants in San Francisco and over the next 13 years gave us the third best won-lost record in baseball," Magowan said. "It put the best player in the game in a Giants uniform and has helped us draw more fans in the last six years than any team in baseball except the New York Yankees. None of that would have been possible, I don't think, without Mr. Bonds."

By 2000, the Giants had moved into their new state-of-the-art stadium, then known as Pacific Bell Park. Bonds was the Giants' main draw; the ballpark, constructed so that long homers to right field would land in San Francisco Bay for "Splash Hits," was essentially built with him in mind.

But the team's reliance on Bonds came with a trade-off: The left fielder began to exercise his new power. He staked out a wing of four lockers in the Giants' clubhouse, replete with a leather recliner on which he napped before games. The area was soon peopled by Bonds's personal trainers, in violation of a league policy that limited clubhouse access to players, club employees, immediate family and others authorized to do business, including members of the media.

One of those trainers was Bonds's weight coach, Greg Anderson, who was later indicted in a federal probe of a San Francisco area nutritional supplements company known as the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or BALCO. Anderson later pleaded guilty to distributing steroids and was sentenced to three months in prison and three months of home confinement.

The Giants' response to Anderson's indictment in 2004 shows how the team has bent over backwards to accommodate Bonds.

In the wake of the BALCO scandal, MLB moved to enforce limits on clubhouse access. The Giants circumvented the policy by putting Bonds's personal trainers on the team payroll. They included Bonds's speed and flexibility coach, Harvey Shields. Bonds later testified before a federal grand jury on the BALCO case that like him, Shields ingested a clear substance that both believed was flaxseed oil, the Chronicle reported. Prosecutors said it was an undetectable steroid. To replace Anderson, the team hired another strength coach, Greg "Sweets" Oliver, who is frequently seen carrying Bonds's bats.

Shields and Oliver are part of an entourage that also includes a videographer, a chiropractor and a batting practice pitcher. Members of the entourage also work with other Giants players but their movements are controlled largely by Bonds.

Giants officials acknowledge that Bonds gets special treatment but said he has earned it as the cornerstone of the franchise. Asked how the club determined where to draw the line, General Manager Brian Sabean said: "You draw the line by what happens on the baseball field. In his case, at least my opinion, he has the effect of the great college basketball player. That's unheard of in baseball, where one guy can make five. When he's on the field in a Giants uniform, it can elevate everybody's game."

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report from Washington.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Michelle Malkin: The Party of Police-Haters

April 05, 2006
Michelle Malkin

There's only one thing more damning than the recent caterwauling of cop-bashing Rep. Cynthia McKinney and her race-mongering mob:

The stone-cold silence of Beltway Democrats.

While McKinney and her ilk sling wild charges of racism and conspiracy at the police, national Dems have yet to utter one clear word in defense of the men and women who protect their privileged backsides day in and day out in Washington.

But, hey, don't question their patriotism.

McKinney, who is black, is having the mother of all Beltway snit fits because, she claims, a white Capitol Hill police officer "inappropriately touched" her last week. After asking her several times to stop when she traipsed around a security checkpoint without proper identification, according to police accounts, the officer reportedly touched McKinney's arm or shoulder. In response, she struck the officer.

You know, Rep. McKinney, as a fellow "woman of color," I have been pulled aside by government security agents numerous times for secondary screening at airports over the last few years. I've had my bra straps snapped, my thighs pawed, and my torso wanded. I've had my cell phone tested for bomb residue, my laptop inspected, and my handbags manhandled.
My response was not to go postal or do a Naomi Campbell on the gropers. My response was to ask why they aren't doing more security profiling.

McKinney is spitting venom about "double standards" of justice. But if I had done what McKinney did to the police officer just doing his job, I would be marking time in the slammer. Caught in an imperial act of lawlessness, McKinney is now conducting her own victim Olympics to deflect blame and responsibility:

Lawyer James W. Myart Jr. called McKinney "a victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin. Ms. McKinney is just a victim of being in Congress while black." Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, admittedly ignorant of what McKinney did on Capitol Hill, were on hand to add their tribal "uh-huhs" and "amens" to the blanket condemnations of white police officers.

On Monday, an entire contingent of black leaders in Atlanta inveighed against law enforcement officers and lent McKinney their unconditional political support at a meeting of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta in the Community Church of God. (Hello, church-and-state separatists?) "Racial profiling is a well-thought-out and planned attack on black political leaders," fumed state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam. "It's going from the gold dome down to the White House. It's happening and it's wrong."

Another instigated the crowd: "We know what time it is, and that's why the most progressive of us are standing here. Because we know that if you can come and get Cynthia today, you'll come and get us tomorrow." Yet another McKinney supporter rattled his tinfoil and asserted: "I believe this incident with Cynthia McKinney is a setup . . . I say the politicizing of this event was planned and staged! They decided to set this brave sister up!"

McKinney later appeared on CNN to insinuate that the entire Capitol Hill police department had "problems inside with the treatment of -- or the respect for diversity -- let me say." She adamantly refuses to apologize for her treatment of the officer she hit.

Two Capitol Hill cops died in the line of fire in 1998 defending politicians and government workers from an intruding gunman who waltzed passed a checkpoint in the same manner McKinney did. The Democrats' refusal to condemn the McKinney mob's smear campaign against the Capitol Hill police sinks to a new level of political cowardice. And stupidity. Republicans have already announced plans to introduce a bill defending the 1,700-member Capitol Hill police force -- reinforcing the Donkey Party's haplessness on public safety and national security issues.

Contempt for law enforcement is a hallmark of the party of Ted Kennedy, Al Sharpton, Chuck Schumer, Jesse Jackson and the Clintons. New Yorkers won't forget the shameful attack on members of the Albany Police Department honor guard, who were cursed at and spat on by participants in the state Democratic Party convention in 2000. It's all of a piece. To quote a certain now-quiet Democrat senator from New York pandering to her black constituents:
"And you know what I am talkin' about."

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Joy of Conservatism: An Interview with Roger Scruton

by Maxwell Goss with Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton is a philosopher, essayist, foxhunter, farmer, publisher, composer, and man of letters, as well as a contributor to Right Reason, the weblog for philosophical conservativsm. He is also Britain’s leading conservative intellectual and The Meaning of Conservatism, which he wrote in 1980, is arguably the most important statement of the traditionalist conservative outlook since Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953). One sign of the book’s success is the hostility it provoked on the left; the journal Radical Philosophy, for instance, described it as “clearly too ghastly to be taken seriously.”

Roger’s recent books include, among many others, The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat (2002), News from Somewhere: On Settling (2005), and the autobiographical Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life (2005). Roger tells me he has “a strong attachment, recently acquired, to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Hazel River.” He and his wife Sophie recently bought a house in Virginia, and divide their time between rural America and rural England.

Roger graciously agreed to an interview on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Meaning of Conservatism, now in its third edition. We discussed a range of subjects including the reaction to the book from left and right, the possibilities and limitations of free markets, the U.S. Constitution, the nature of philosophy, the social function of religion, the prospects for conservatism under Tony Blair and George W. Bush, and the joylessness of liberalism.

Max Goss:What prompted you to write The Meaning of Conservatism?

Roger Scruton:I wrote The Meaning of Conservatism in 1979, during the last year of a failing Labour Government, when the Conservatives were in the process of choosing a new leader (Margaret Thatcher), and also looking around for a new philosophy–or rather any philosophy, having subsisted to that point without one. I was teaching in the University of London, and had begun to take an interest in political thought. I was surprised to discover that the politics department of my college library contained largely Marxist or sub-Marxist books, that major conservative thinkers like Burke, de Maistre and Hayek were hardly to be found there, and that the journals were all uniformly leftist. Academic political science was in the style of the New Left Review, with a strong leaning towards the idiocies of 1968, a sneering contempt for England and its heritage, and a witch-hunting tone towards the opposition, which it dismissed as middle brow, middle class, and racist. At the same time I was troubled to discover that the Conservative Party had no principle with which to oppose this kind of ‘resentment politics,’ other than the Free Market. I wanted to remind people that there really is a tradition of conservative thinking in politics, that it is wiser and deeper than the left-liberal orthodoxies of the day, and that it is not reducible to free market principles, even if it contains them. It should be added that I would not have written the book, had I not been commissioned by Ted Honderich, then politics editor at Penguin and also a University colleague, who was desperate to find someone, somewhere, however feeble, to defend the conservative position. Meaning of Conservatism, the intellectual left–whose ideas, emotions and very existence depends upon a stance of opposition–would have had nothing to oppose. Hence the book’s appearance caused a huge sigh of relief among my colleagues, who were at last able to hate again.

MG:What about the reaction among conservatives? I’m thinking in particular of your criticism of certain capitalist arguments. While noting the conservative affinity for private property, you say these arguments “present us with a vision of politics that is desultory indeed, as though the sole aim of social existence were the accumulation of wealth and the sole concern of politics the discovery of the most effective means to it.” Did your lack of enthusiasm for free markets win you a warm reception with members of the Conservative Party?

Scruton:So far as I know The Meaning of Conservatism elicited no response whatsoever from the Conservative Party or those connected with it. There was, at the time, a small circle of intellectual conservatives at the London School of Economics–a legacy from the days when Oakeshott and Popper both taught there–and another at Cambridge. Neither of them seemed to notice the book. The Conservative Party was very much in the grip of the free market ideology relayed by the Institute for Economic Affairs. The view of the IEA at the time was that I, and the Salisbury Review which I founded, should be avoided, as exhibiting dangerous tendencies towards extremism, fascism etc., or alternatively as being part of a sophisticated KGB operation to split the Conservative Party. Later, however, the IEA’s Social Affairs Unit, under the leadership of Digby Anderson, developed in a direction that I felt closer to, and broke away from the IEA.

MG:What deleterious consequences result from the “free market ideology” you mention? Are there particular economic arrangements that conservatives ought to prefer?

Scruton:The free market is a necessary part of any stable community, and the arguments for maintaining it as the core of economic life were unanswerably set out by Ludwig von Mises. [Friedrich] Hayek developed the arguments further, in order to offer a general defence of ‘spontaneous order’, as the means to produce and maintain socially necessary knowledge. As Hayek points out, there are many varieties of spontaneous order that exemplify the epistemic virtues that he values: the common law is one of them, so too is ordinary morality. The problem for conservatism is to reconcile the many and often conflicting demands that these various forms of life impose on us. The free-market ideologues take one instance of spontaneous order, and erect it into a prescription for all the others. They ask us to believe that the free exchange of commodities is the model for all social interaction. But many of our most important forms of life involve withdrawing what we value from the market: sexual morality is an obvious instance, city planning another. (America has failed abysmally in both those respects, of course.) Looked at from the anthropological point of view religion can be seen as an elaborate (and spontaneous) way in which communities remove what is most precious to them (i.e. all that concerns the creation and reproduction of community) from the erosion of the market. A cultural conservative, such as I am, supports that enterprise. I would put the point in terms that echo Burke and Chesterton: the free market provides the optimal solution to the competition among the living for scarce resources; but when applied to the goods in which the dead and the unborn have an interest (sex, for instance) it wastes what must be saved.

MG:Shifting gears, an important theme in your book is that the notion of a social contract, “a recent and now seemingly irrepressible political idea,” cannot ground political life as we experience it. Can you say a little about the contrasting idea of the “transcendent bonds” that you say give rise to our social obligations?

Scruton:My point was simply to emphasize that the most important obligations governing our lives as social and political beings–including those to family, country and state–are non-contractual and precede the capacity for rational choice. By referring to them as ‘transcendent’ I meant to emphasize that they transcend any capacity to rationalise them in contractual or negotiable terms. They have an absolute and immovable character that we must acknowledge if we are to understand our social and political condition. The refusal of people on the left to make this acknowledgement stems from their inability to accept external authority in any form, and from their deep down belief that all power is usurpation, unless wielded by themselves.

MG:Does your emphasis on authority give any substance to the claim, so often found on the lips of liberals, that conservatism is repressive and dictatorial?

Scruton:To describe an obligation as transcendent in my sense is not to endow it with some kind of oppressive force. On the contrary, it is to recognize the spontaneous disposition of people to acknowledge obligations that they never contracted. There are other words that might be used in this context: gratitude, piety, obedience–all of them virtues, and all of them naturally offered to the thing we love. What I try to make clear in my writings is that, while the left-liberal view of politics is founded in antagonism towards existing things and resentment at power in the hands of others, conservatism is founded in the love of existing things, imperfections included, and a willing acceptance of authority, provided it is not blatantly illegitimate. Hence there is nothing oppressive in the conservative attitude to authority. It is part of the blindness of the left-wing worldview that it cannot perceive authority but only power. People who think of conservatism as oppressive and dictatorial have some deviant example in mind, such as fascism, or Tsarist autocracy. I would offer in the place of such examples the ordinary life of European and American communities as described by 19th century novelists. In those communities all kinds of people had authority–teachers, pastors, judges, heads of local societies, and so on. But only some of them had power, and almost none of them were either able or willing to oppress their fellows.

MG:The authority of the hunt master also comes to mind; an interesting study might be “the foxhunt as mediating institution.” Are there freedoms or other goods that could not exist without the benign forms of local authority you identify?

Scruton:The example of the hunt master is a good one, since it shows both the spontaneity of authority and the willingness of people to accept it, when they see how intricately it is connected to their own well-being and to the well-being of their community. To put the point in the arid terms of game theory: authority is a spontaneous solution to problems of coordination, and may be the only solution available. In all matters when discussion, voting and bargaining would delay the decision beyond the point when it must be made, the artifact of authority is the rational solution to problems of collective choice. This is obviously so in the military, but the principle extends through all society. And once authority is in place it becomes part of the culture: there grows around it that sense of security and of being at home in the world that we knew in childhood, and which now radiates from the people, offices and institutions to which we turn for answers. Without authority the mass of people have only questions, and it is not possible to live with a diet of unanswered questions.

MG:Is this why religion is important? Is a shared religion required for the forms of spontaneous authority you mention?

RS:Of course religion offers the certainties that people need–if it didn’t do that at least, it would have no congregation. But the social function of religion can be fulfilled whether its content is true or false, and whether it is compatible or not with modernity. Not every religion is tolerant of the unbeliever, and it is a remarkable fact about our own religious tradition that it allows not only apostasy but overt atheism–emphasizing that we bear witness through forgiveness and not through usurping a right of punishment that belongs only to God. In short it is a religious tradition that presents certainty in the midst of doubt, and allows the two to compete freely for our affections.

MG:In your book you criticize “the attempt to remake the nation through statute, and to substitute statute wherever possible for common law.” In the U.S., however, conservatives tend to be suspicious of what they term “the rule of judges,” and pin their hopes largely on a judiciary that hews as closely as possible to the letter of the law. Is there a tension here?

Scruton:American conservatives have rightly complained against the power of judges under the American constitution. For the Supreme Court has been able to use its authority as constitutional arbiter to expropriate the law-making powers of the Legislature. The doctrine of the division of powers is like the doctrine of the Trinity: it enshrines a mystery, and nobody really knows how to keep the three powers separate but united. There is a constant danger that they will collapse into one, as they have done under the rule of liberal judges in the Supreme Court. The British experience is related but different. In our case the collapse has gone the other way, with the legislature displacing and canceling the work of the courts. This is because we have a single chamber Parliament (the House of Lords now counting for nothing) and an unwritten constitution that places no real brakes on the abuse of legislative power (witness the recent Hunting Act). The conservative view, as I see it, is to advocate balance, which means respect offered by each organ of government to the others, and a refusal to arrogate powers when there is any doubt concerning the right to do so. I would also point out that the common law–a great gift of history that both our countries still possess–is both intrinsically conservative, and better able to resolve social conflicts than the schemes of politicians.

MG:You are often described as a “paleoconservative,” a term that Russell Kirk, who was described the same way, eschewed. Do you accept this designation?

Scruton:I am not hostile to American neo-conservatism, which seems to me to show a commendable desire to think things through and to develop an active alternative to liberalism in both national and international politics. But I suppose I am more of a paleo than a neo-conservative, since I believe that the conservative position is rooted in cultural rather than economic factors, and that the single-minded pursuit of competitive markets is just as much a threat to social order as the single-minded pursuit of equality.

MG:What do you make of the critique of industrial society presented by the Southern Agrarians, or by contemporary agrarians such as Wendell Berry?

Scruton:Things have moved on since the Southern Agrarians, who were able to enjoy the last twilight glow from a way of life which now barely glimmers in the ashes. Of course people like Wendelll Berry will awaken a strong feeling of loss, and a longing for homecoming, in many Americans. But the real conservative is the one who wishes to recuperate the lasting sense of life and its value, even in circumstances that seem unpropitious–such as those that prevail in a modern city. Industrial society was rightly criticised from both the right and the left; but industrial society has all but disappeared. The future lies with the self-employed, and it is for them to form the new communities, on the model of the old.

MG:The sort of conservatism you espouse is not easily expressed in slogans, nor do the arguments for it seem as easily mastered as those advanced in behalf of more populist varieties. What hope, if any, does your vision of conservatism have for gaining ascendancy?

Scruton:Of course it is not easy to put my kind of conservatism into slogans. That is a defect in slogans, and not in my conservatism. You cannot put Hayek’s theory of the common law, Kant’s theory of republican government, or Hegel’s theory of civil society into slogans. But they are true, for all that. A philosophy is nothing if it does not aim at truth. (That is why Jacques Derrida and Giles Deleuze are not philosophers.) To aim also to persuade is commendable, and for this reason it is necessary for a political thinker to learn how to write. Marx solved this problem, unfortunately, but then so did Burke. Good writing affects the minds of the literary elite, and ideas in the minds of that elite will eventually filter down, to the point where some slick but ignorant journalist will find the slogans that correspond, at his level of mental life, to those distantly and vaguely perceivable notions. This is in part what Plato had in mind, when he advocated the noble lie. Not “noble” but elegant; not a “lie” but journalism.

MG:If you could persuade the governments of Prime Minister Blair or President Bush to take onboard one of the lessons of your book, what would it be?

Scruton:My advice to Mr. Blair would be to stop pretending to be President and recognize instead that he is just a minister of the Crown. The burden of my argument in The Meaning of Conservatism is that proven institutions are more precious than the people who occupy them, and that those who exercise authority ought also to obey it. Mr. Blair has shown no disposition to recognize that his authority has been conferred on him by institutions that he is duty-bound to respect. His frivolous attitude to constitution, procedure and the dignities of office has done something to undermine not just his own authority, but the authority of government as such. My advice to President Bush would be to look at the ways in which the power of the state might be needed in order to support the autonomous associations and ‘little platoons of American civil society. There are two evils in particular which need to be addressed: the litigation explosion, which has vastly increased the risk of small businesses, and also sown discord among neighbours; and the disaster of the inner cities, which have suffered from the worst effects of American zoning laws and laissez-faire aesthetics, with the result that the middle class has fled from the city centres, causing social decay at the heart, and an unsustainable growth in transportation and suburban infrastructure all around. I believe that federal policies could be initiated that would address both these evils, without increasing the role of the state in the conduct of litigation or in the planning of city streets.

MG:Thanks very much for making time for this interview, Dr. Scruton. Any parting thoughts for our readers?

Scruton:I think conservatives should study the ideas and arguments that prevail on the left. There is always something to learn from these arguments, if only which way the wind of resentment is now blowing. And lifting your eyes from this joyless stuff, you will thank God that you are a conservative.

The Meaning of Conservatism belongs on the shelf of every thoughtful conservative; click here to view it on Amazon. A complete listing of Roger Scruton’s books and much else can be found on his website. Dozens of his articles are linked on the internet bibliography compiled by Christopher S. Morrissey.

Copyright 2004-2005 :: The New Pantagruel

George Vecsey: Opening Day Never Grows Old

The New York Times
Published: April 2, 2006

OPENING day is still wonderful, even though baseball degrades it by staging it at night sometimes, for the benefit of the masters from television. Opening day belongs in the daylight, the way it will be tomorrow at Shea Stadium.

A character in "The Southpaw" by Mark Harris describes opening day in 1948 with passion that would be equally appropriate today.

As the temperature warmed up in recent days, there was no better way to prepare for the season than to reread Mark Harris's "The Southpaw," one of the finest sports books I know. The 1953 novel reminds me why so many Americans love baseball, because of the ritual of rebirth right around the first of April:

"Then the band played 'East Side, West Side' in honor of the mayor of New York, who come down and took a seat in the box behind first. There was a lot of cheering, and some booing as well, and the mayor waved his hand and pretended he did not hear the booing."

This is opening day in 1948, as described by a 17-year-old left-hander, Henry Wiggen, who dreams of pitching in the major leagues one day. For the moment, he is a brash kid from upstate New York, gawking at the monumental stadium in the Bronx.

"There was an announcement by the loudspeaker, 'Ladies and gentlemen, our national anthem,' and the band struck the tune and some lady that I could not see begun to sing, and a mighty powerful pair of lungs she had. It is really beautiful, for as the last words die away, a roar goes up from the people, and for a minute there is no sound but the echo of the singing, and no movement or motion except maybe a bird or the flags waving or the drummer on his drums, and then the music dies and the people spring to life and the chief umpire calls loud and long, 'Puh-lay ball! And the game is on."

No matter how grotesquely the Bluto Generation has bulked up on flaxseed oil, no matter how much money the players are paid, baseball seems pretty much the same as it was in 1948 when Wiggen and his dad (a former minor league pitcher) witnessed the opener.

"It's still what kids go through, throwing a ball around," said Harris, now 83 and living in Goleta, Calif., with his wife of 60 years, Josephine, the delightful model for Wiggen's girlfriend. Harris now lives the game through his children and grandchildren. "It's still wonderful."

By the 1952 opener, Wiggen is a punk rookie with the New York Mammoths, shocked to discover cork-tip cigarette butts outside his hotel-room door, a sign that a coach sat guard all night to make sure Wiggen did not go carousing, a tipoff that he is pitching the opener.

Wiggen will have a magnificent rookie season, enchanting some people and infuriating others. He remains as refreshing as opening day itself, a stand-in for all the captivating rookies who make fans wonder, how did we ever get along without Dontrelle Willis (or David Wright or Robinson Cano)?

Harris had his agendas. Wiggen is an independent soul who relishes that his black roommate (a decade or more ahead of the reality of black-white roomies) is not merely fast but also a student of how to run the bases and take somebody's job. Like the Mets' Carlos Delgado, who has sometimes ducked the playing of "God Bless America" in the seventh inning, there is a highly political catcher who hides in the runway during the national anthem. And there is a jaded old pitching ace who gives the rookie a pill that gets him through a big game. Plus ├ža change ...

"Essentially, the players are interested in their rewards," Harris said in a telephone interview the other day, not sounding put off by the eternal pragmatism of the athlete. Asked about the generation of apparent steroid usage, Harris did not sound shocked. After all, in his novel, he has Wiggen throw an illegal spitball to get a vital out, and then justify it to his idealistic girlfriend:

" 'Things are tight,' I said. 'Terrible tight. Every pitch is cash, Holly. Big cash. Not only my cash, but the cash of all the boys. It is a brick house for Coker Roguski's folks and a new start in life for Hams Carroll's little girl. This is for keeps. This ain't playground baseball.' "

Barry Bonds could not have said it any better.

Harris, who wrote four Wiggen novels, is perhaps best known for the second, "Bang the Drum Slowly," which was made into a movie. That book has one of the loveliest last lines in American literature, a regret from Wiggen for the way the players made fun of a slow-witted and now dead teammate: "From here on in, I rag nobody." We could all use that on our coat of arms.

In "The Southpaw," reissued in 2003 by the University of Nebraska Press, Harris is dealing with the eternal goofiness of humanity. He has the servile road secretary, the owner's hard-drinking daughter, the blustering manager, the selfish players, the venal sportswriters. Sounds about right.

Harris loves the game itself, and he never loses sight of its value to America. In the words of an aimless socialite Wiggen meets at a party on Beacon Hill in Boston: "I wish I was a ballplayer, for a ballplayer is a man that lives by what he does in life."

The ballplayer lives by what he does, starting on opening day. It's been a long and lonely winter. Puh-lay ball! indeed.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Yankees' Lineup Among Best Ever?

April 3, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Seventy years ago, American League pitchers were forced to navigate through a Yankees lineup comprised of future Hall-of-Famers Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and Tony Lazzeri.

And those AL pitchers often found themselves thrown against the rocks.

The 1936 Yankees statistically were the most fearsome group in the Bronx Bombers' lineage since Prohibition ended, scoring more than 1,000 runs, without a designated hitter, in a 154-game schedule – more potent than even the 1927 Murderer's Row club.

And now?

"There's a chance this could be one of the best of all time," Johnny Damon said, talking about the names on manager Joe Torre's lineup card for tonight's opener.

It starts with Damon, the Yankees' prime off-season target – the kind of leadoff hitter they've craved since Chuck Knoblauch retired, and who inspires comparisons with Ichiro Suzuki.

That's how Alex Rodriguez views it, and he's the reigning AL Most Valuable Player, batting cleanup tonight between sluggers Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi.

Hideki Matsui, whose RBI total has risen from 106 to 108 to 116 in three seasons, bats sixth. Switch-hitters Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams follow. And Robinson Cano, who hit .297 with 14 homers in his rookie season, is ninth.

Now Derek Jeter can maximize his inside-out swing to become "the best No. 2 hitter in baseball," Giambi said.

And now for the disclaimer: No one is guaranteed to repeat the numbers on the back of his baseball card. Injuries could happen at any time, especially for a lineup with an average age of 32.

Still, in the pantheon of Yankees' lineups past, "I don't think there was one better than this," said television personality Keith Olbermann, a lifelong Yankees observer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research.

For overall balance, Olbermann sees two comparables – the 1951 club, the only year DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle shared, and the 1978 team.

"Even on the greatest teams, there's always one role player," said Olbermann, who clicked off names such as Jerry Lumpe and Charlie Silvera – men who appeared on the opening-day lineups of pennant-winning Yankee teams.

But since 1978, "This is the first lineup that doesn't leave you shaking your head later and saying, 'What do you mean that Dennis Werth was the opening-day designated hitter? [in 1981]' '' Olbermann said.

As the cleanup hitter on that 1978 world championship club, Reggie Jackson admittedly has a far more personal preference for that lineup, though it scored only 735 runs – an average of 4.54 runs per game.

Looking at the current lineup, "This should be a 900-plus [runs scored] team," Jackson said. "It could be the best offensive team of the recent era. But it's not the best offense ever."

Jackson concedes that to the Yankees of the pre-World War II era.

"It's hard to match up with [Babe] Ruth or Gehrig, or any of those powerhouse lineups of the '20s and '30s," Jackson said, quickly adding the true measure of any lineup comes in October.

"Obviously, October is something I need to improve on," A-Rod said after the Yankees finished their workout Sunday in Oakland. "We need to have a team that's structured to win, and that's our goal."

Jackson credited Mickey Rivers' instinctive abilities in the leadoff spot as something that set apart the Yankees of his era. Almost 30 years later, Damon was imported to provide the very same thing.

"Johnny Damon gives us the greatest flexibility," Torre said. "As a prototypical leadoff guy, Knoblauch was that guy for us, and Johnny is that guy."

Damon said he's in a "dream spot, with all those [potential] Hall-of-Famers coming up behind me."

Jackson mostly likes how Damon's personality fits in. "From what I've seen, he's a special player,'' he said. "I think his makeup, the total package of what he brings, his style – he's a little odd, a little carefree and he just goes for it."

But like Jackson's Yankees, who "were a little heavy left-handed," these Yankees could be vulnerable to certain left-handed pitching.

Cano and Damon will bat back-to-back, but for now "we'll let it play and see how good we are," Torre said.

There's less concern about the patient Giambi and Matsui (who hit .354 against lefties last year) batting consecutively against lefties.

So is this the best lineup Torre's ever written out?

"I hope so," the manager said with a smile.

Brian Cashman, who was in his first year as general manager in 1998 when the club won 114 regular-season games and the World Series, still clings to that lineup as the most potent – a lineup of which Jeter, Williams and Posada remain.

"This lineup, obviously, is as stacked as you can get," Cashman said. "But the '98 lineup was obviously stacked, too. So, we've got a little competition going on."


Adrian Wojnarowski: UCLA's Tainted Dynasty

April 3, 2006
The Bergen County Record

INDIANAPOLIS -- Everywhere Jerry Tarkanian goes at this Final Four, the blue and gold, the magical four letters, the thunderous U-C-L-A chants on the streets, bring Tark back to college basketball's greatest dynasty, back to a name most synonymous with the championship seasons.

Only, it isn't John Wooden.

Or Lew Alcindor.

Or Bill Walton.

"I think about Sam Gilbert," Tark said Sunday afternoon.

And that's the name that causes a roomful of frolicking Bruins boosters and fans to go uneasily quiet. Sam Gilbert, the two dirty little words of the dynasty.

For the record, Tark will go where others genuflecting at the altar of John Wooden will never journey. He'll say the name that amid the hype for tonight's UCLA-Florida national championship game, you're guaranteed to never hear on CBS. The NCAA tournament loves its nostalgia, its mythology and you'll be getting the full force of this farce from the RCA Dome.

"To people, John Wooden is a god," Tark said.

It is a losing proposition to suggest that UCLA's 10 national championships under Wooden were won with anything but the talent of great players and the lessons and leadership of a legendary coach. It just is never talked about -- out in the open, anyway.

It was what it was, though: Sam Gilbert was a Los Angeles construction man who lavished the Wooden-era UCLA players with money, cars, gifts, the run of his mansion, whatever. Anything those players wanted, the dynasty's sugar daddy was reputed to provide it.

"To this day, what blows me away -- what still makes me angry -- is that Sam Gilbert never tried to hide what he was doing," Tark said. "But the NCAA was never going to investigate UCLA. They were the marquee team. They had all of the games on television. But I lived 20 minutes away in Long Beach and I knew what was going on there. The whole country, the NCAA, they all knew what Sam Gilbert was doing at UCLA.

"Hell, he bragged about it to a lot of people. He bragged about it to me. Once, he liked my point guard [Robert Smith] and said, 'Why don't you send him over to UCLA so I can take care of him?' The NCAA was always harassing me, but Sam Gilbert was violating more rules than anyone in America.

"I was told that John Wooden used to always say that he wished Sam would stay away from the program. I was told that he went to [the AD] J.D. Morgan about it, and Morgan told him that he would take care of it. But it went on and on."

These days, Tark is hardly on the UCLA warpath. Truth be told, he loves the Bruins' coach, Ben Howland. As funny as it sounds, Tark will be sitting in Howland's seats for the game tonight.
What's more, Tark's never had a personal problem with Wooden, who always was very nice and very generous with him through the years. His issue isn't with Wooden, but a system that selectively punished cheaters.

This isn't to absolve Tark by means of some great conspiracy to get him. He is a well-deserved and well-decorated NCAA probation loser at Long Beach, UNLV and Fresno State. I covered him for 2½ years in Fresno, had my drag-outs with him, but the years have taught me that some of the most respected names in the sport -- some of the so-called giants -- are the biggest crooks going. Tark always told me, and only in the last few years have I come to agree with him.

Ultimately, Tark thinks that if you want to believe that his four Final Fours and his 1990 national championship are tainted, then you have to take a look at UCLA, too. I always believed that his fight with the NCAA wasn't so much about his own innocence, but the fact that there were competitors of his who had been deemed untouchable and never got popped too.

If you think this is just Tark barking at the moon, trying to justify his own misdeeds, consider a different source, someone whose agenda is beyond reproach. While working with Tark on his memoir "Running Rebel," author Dan Wetzel dug up a Bill Walton quote from a 1978 book, "On the Road with the Portland Trail Blazers."

If you ever want to debate that there is a double standard between the chosen programs and those branded as renegade by the NCAA, consider this stunning passage.

"UCLA players were so well taken care of -- far beyond the ground rules of the NCAA -- that even players from poor backgrounds never left UCLA prematurely (for pro basketball) during John Wooden's championship years," Walton said. "If the UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s were subjected to the kind of scrutiny Jerry Tarkanian and his players have been, UCLA would probably have to forfeit about eight national championships and be on probation for the next 100 years.

"... The NCAA is working night and day trying to get Jerry, but no one from the NCAA ever questioned me during my four years at UCLA."

Here's the thing, too: This doesn't make Wooden less of a philosopher, less of a teacher, less of a great American icon. To me, it doesn't change the fact that the afternoon I spent in his condo two years ago rates as one of the best days I've ever had in this business. It's just a reminder there is no Camelot in sports. And there are no saints.

Wooden is 95 years old, bigger and more beloved than ever, and as Tark said one Hall of Fame coach told him this weekend, "People won't really start talking about [Wooden's] legacy until he's gone."

Wooden is still the kind of man, just like those Bruins were the kind of champions, who never will be duplicated. The banners are still hanging in Pauley Pavilion, the 100 years of probation that Walton swears would've been warranted never did come. Admire the UCLA history tonight, but don't let yourself get lost in the mythology. There was no Camelot in college basketball, no saint.


Interview: Daniel Pipes

Daniel Pipes: An Expert Unplugged
By Bill Steigerwald
April 3, 2006

It's no surprise Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes has made so many political friends and enemies. A conservative columnist, counter-terrorism analyst and author or co-author of 18 books, he's a staunch supporter of Israel and a harsh critic of radical Islam. Praised as an "authoritative commentator on the Middle East" by his allies at the Wall Street Journal, he's been branded "an anti-Islamist extremist" by some Arab-American groups. He's also the founder of the Middle East Forum (, a think tank that includes a website called Campus Watch that monitors how Middle East studies are taught at U.S. colleges. I talked to Pipes by phone last Tuesday from Sydney, Australia.

Q: Were you in favor of going to war in Iraq, and how do you think it's progressing or regressing?
A: I was in favor. I continue to be in favor of the campaign to eliminate the rule of Saddam Hussein, with all the dangers to the Iraqis, to the region and to ourselves. From April 2003 on, I have argued that the U.S. government and its allies should have lower expectations than actually is the case. That we should treat the Iraqis like adults; that we should understand that they are going to run their own future, their own destiny, not us; that our role there is at best advisory, and that we should be patient. So lower expectations and a longer time horizon.

Q: Does that mean a significant change in what we are doing now, in terms of policy. Should we announce withdrawals?
A: The number of troops is not my issue. It's the placement and role of the troops. For three years now I have been protesting the use of American troops to mediate between tribes, help rebuild electricity grids, oversee school construction, which seems to me to be a wrong use of our forces, of our money. The Iraqis should be in charge of that. We should keep the troops there, in the desert, looking after the international boundaries, making sure there are no atrocities, making sure oil and gas goes out, otherwise leaving Iraq to the Iraqis.

Q: How do you define your politics?
A: Conservative.

Q: You're not one of those neocons who allegedly talked President Bush into going to war in the Middle East?
A: I have been called a neo-conservative. I don't exactly know how a neo-conservative differs from a conservative.

Q: Do you generally agree with President Bush's Middle East policy -- its goals and its methods? A: I agree with the goals much more than the methods. I just gave an example of Iraq, where I believe the goal of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and trying to have a free and prosperous Iraq are worthy goals. I criticize the implementation. The same goes with democracy. I think democracy is a great goal for the region. I criticize the implementation; I think it's too fast, too American, too get-it-done yesterday.

Q: Is there anything major that the Bush administration should do now to make things go smoother?
A: We did something good in getting rid of the Taliban and getting rid of Saddam Hussein. That is really the extent of our role, to get rid of the hideous totalitarian regimes. Let me add that I see these issues as basically sidelines. We are engaged in a war, a profound war and long-term war, in which Afghanistan and Iraq are sideshows. The real issue is the war that radical Islam, a global phenomenon, has declared on us and that has already been underway for many years, and we're still at the beginning of it. That's the really major issue.

Q: Recently I talked to Peter Galbraith and Ivan Eland, foreign policy experts who both favor a three-part partition of Iraq as a way to forestall or make a civil war in Iraq go away. Any thoughts on that?
A: Well, the neighborhood is unanimously against it and Iraqis are fearful of it, so I don't think there is much of a chance.

Q: What should U.S. policy be in the Middle East?
A: Well, I endorse the president's vision of a Middle East that is no longer under the control of tyrants, as it is today, or despots -- unelected officials, at best. But it is a long-term project that's going to take decades, not months, and has to be approached with that in mind. Secondly, if we go too fast, as is the case, we bring our most fervent enemies to power, as we've seen most dramatically in the Palestinian territories, where a terrorist organization (Hamas) won a majority of Palestinian support. One can see that also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Algeria. We have to be very cautious about pushing a process before the people of the area are really quite ready for it -- until they've gone beyond what I call the "totalitarian temptation," so that they have a more balanced, moderate view of the world than they do at this time.

Q: Do they have a lot of catching up to do?
A: To give an imperfect analogy: Germany went through a hideous period between 1933 and 1945. The condition of the Muslim world is not that bad but it's comparable. It's going through a particularly bad time...Our goal is to help the Muslim world move beyond this war through educational programs and other means. Fundamentally, we're at war with a substantial minority of the Muslim world and we are at war with them because they have declared war on us and we have to answer that.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the Iraq war?
A: The ingratitude of the Iraqis for the extraordinary favor we gave them -- to release them from the bondage of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. They have rapidly interpreted it as something they did and that we were incidental to it. They've more or less written us out of the picture.

Q: How will we know when the occupation or the invasion of Iraq was a success or a failure?
A: Oh, it was a success. We got rid of Saddam Hussein. Beyond that is icing.

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Bill Steigerwald is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's associate editor. Call him at (412) 320-7983. E-mail him at: