Saturday, August 20, 2011

Today's Tune: T. Rex - I Love to Boogie

Thoughts on The New "Blade Runner" Film

By Govindini Murty.
August 19, 2011

Reports surfaced earlier this year that plans were underway for a new Blade Runner film. Blade Runner is one of our favorite films here at Libertas, so we heard the news with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. After all, like its great predecessor Metropolis (1927), Blade Runner is one of the seminal films of the modern age – a film that has literally shaped our concepts of how the future will look. It was inevitable I suppose that someone would want to turn it into a franchise. THR’s Heat Vision blog now reports that a new Blade Runner film with Ridley Scott attached is moving forward, with Alcon Entertainment producing the film and planning to release it through Warner Brothers:
“While the new movie is being described as a “follow-up” to the first film, the filmmakers have not yet disclosed whether it will function as a prequel or a sequel to the original. One thing it won’t be, though, is a re-make, Alcon co-head Andrew Kosove said. “We [sic] very fortunate that Ridley Scott has decided to come back to one of his seminal movies,” he added. “And with Ridley, I can tell you it will be fresh and original.” … Kosove declined to say what direction the project would go it, but did say he didn’t expect Harrison Ford, who starred in the original movie as a retired cop who hunts down replicants, to be involved.”

Alcon Entertainment is the company behind The Blind Side, The Book of Eli, and a number of other films with generally humanistic values. My hope is that any new Blade Runner film will espouse the life-affirming themes of the original and not be repurposed to support some contemporary political agenda (a problem that has plagued too many of Ridley Scott’s recent films). As we’ve discussed before here at Libertas, sci-fi works best when it explores timeless human questions – when it functions like a new mythology, inspiring the human mind through metaphor to explore new horizons – not when it bludgeons one over the head with a propaganda point.

The original Blade Runner (1982) was a film that worked precisely because of its sense of mystery and its resistance to easy answers. The film’s seductive blend of ’40s film noir and ’70s dystopian science-fiction captivated the imagination and lead it to a romantic engagement with the world and with human life. One can consider Blade Runner the reverse of Avatar or Planet of the Apes, two recent films that featured ‘heroic’ protagonists who reject humanity. The android replicants in Blade Runner want to experience life as human beings, but tragically, they cannot. They are like the angels who come to earth and who wish to become human in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, or like the angels who visit humanity and exclaim over the marvels of earthly life in Milton’s Paradise Lost. As the fallen angel Satan enviously describes the goodness of earthly existence in Paradise Lost:
“O earth, how like to heaven, if not preferr’d
More justly, seat worthier of gods …
Productive in herb, plant, and nobler birth
Of creatures animate with gradual life
Of growth, sense, reason, all summ’d up in man.
With what delight could I have walked thee round”
(Paradise Lost, Book IX, lines 99-100, 110-113)
The tragedy of the humanoid replicants in Blade Runner is that they wish to live longer than their allotted brief time, not realizing that their code is so engineered that it cannot be extended. The replicants are doomed to live only four short years, but they experience those years in a heightened, more vivid manner. In the pivotal scene of Blade Runner, the leader of the rebellious replicants, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) confronts Tyrell, the head of the shadowy corporation that created him, and insists that he alter his technology to extend his life. Tyrell tells him that this is impossible, and urges Batty to enjoy the time he has instead and live life to the fullest. Batty cannot accept this, but later, when he saves the life of detective Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Batty poignantly describes to him the beauty of what he has experienced in his short life:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe: Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.”
Blade Runner’s concern with the paradoxical briefness and richness of human life reminds me of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca’s wise essay On the Shortness of Life. Addressing his essay to his friend Paulinus, Seneca wrote:
“Most human beings, Paulinus, complain about the meanness of nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, and because this spell of time that has been given to us rushes by so swiftly and rapidly that with very few exceptions life ceases for the rest of us just when we are getting ready for it. …

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied, but wasteful of it. … ”

Because we have no control over the future and can only really take charge of what is in the present, Seneca advises that one should seize life and “live immediately.”
(Seneca, On the Shortness of Life, trans. C.D.N. Costa).
Thus, at the end of Blade Runner, Harrison Ford’s human cop Rick Deckard chooses to love the replicant Rachael, even though he knows she may have only a few short years of life. Rick and Rachael seize the time that they have and decide to live it together. It’s a heroic, intensely humanistic message. I hope the new Blade Runner film will live up to it.

Posted on August 19th, 2011 at 6:28am.

Son of Evangelical Royalty Turns His Back, and Tells the Tale

Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — In every line of work, there are family businesses. But no business is more defined by dynasties and nepotism than evangelical preaching. Lyman Beecher, Bob Jones, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Robert H. Schuller, Jim Bakker: all had sons who became ministers.

It is never easy stepping into Dad’s shoes, of course. But when the family business is religion, it is especially perilous. That is one of the central laments, anyway, of “Sex, Mom, & God,” a new memoir by Frank Schaeffer. To secular Americans, the name Frank Schaeffer means nothing. But to millions of evangelical Christians, the Schaeffer name is royal, and Frank is the reluctant, wayward, traitorous prince. His crime is not financial profligacy, like some pastors’ sons, but turning his back on Christian conservatives.

Mr. Schaeffer, who is now 59 and lives north of Boston, grew up in L’Abri, a Christian community in Switzerland founded by his parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer. In the 1960s, L’Abri was known in Christian circles as a drop-by haven for intellectually curious evangelicals, who could live in the mountains for a few days or even a few years, talking with Francis and Edith about the Bible, Christian art or existentialism. Mr. Schaeffer grew up surrounded by heady talk and, as he discusses in his memoir, tempted by the young women who passed through. He got one of them pregnant when he was 17, then married her.

In the 1970s, Mr. Schaeffer’s eccentric, relatively obscure family became wealthy and influential. Books like “The God Who Is There,” published in 1968, made his father a hero to American evangelicals, including future political activists like Jerry Falwell. Jesse Helms called the elder Schaeffer his favorite author. Edith Schaeffer also wrote books, and in 1977, Frank, an amateur filmmaker, directed his father in a 10-part documentary, “How Should We Then Live?,” in which Francis railed against the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Charles Darwin and abortion. The series was a sensation among evangelicals. Ryan Lizza recently wrote in The New Yorker that seeing “How Should We Then Live?” had a “profound influence” on the future presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

The younger Mr. Schaeffer wrote his own Christian polemics and, helped by the family name, became a well-paid speaker on the evangelical circuit. Having met important Republicans at L’Abri — Barbara Bush, Bob Dole and Betty Ford all visited — Mr. Schaeffer morphed into a versatile right-wing connector. As a literary agent, he discovered Mary Pride, the Christian home-schooling guru. As he writes in “Sex, Mom, & God,” he and his father were present at meetings with Jack Kemp and Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush “when the unholy marriage between the Republican Party” and the pro-life community “was gradually consummated.” He says that in 1984 he helped produce Mr. Reagan’s book “Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation.”
But “Sex, Mom, & God” is largely a story of Mr. Schaeffer’s doubts, which beset him throughout his career as a conservative activist. His break with conservatism, and with evangelicalism, came in the late 1980s. But he had long been skeptical of many of his bedfellows. He found the television pastor Pat Robertson and some of his colleagues to be “idiots,” he told me last week, when we met for coffee in western Massachusetts. Looking back, Mr. Schaeffer says that once he became disillusioned he “faked it the whole way.”

He faked it because it was easy, it was lucrative, and — rather poignant to say — he felt he had no other options.

“I had been home-schooled,” Mr. Schaeffer told me. “I had no education, no qualifications, and I was groomed to do this stuff. What was I going to do? If two lines are forming, and one has a $10,000 honorarium to go to a Christian Booksellers Association conference and keynote, and the other is to consider your doubts and get out with nothing else to do, what are you going to do?”

Mr. Schaeffer is still married to his teenage bride, and he now writes novels. He opted out of evangelicalism. But other heirs to Christian dynasties have struggled to uphold their fathers’ good names, and to preserve their institutions. Robert A. Schuller feuded with his father after taking over his father’s Crystal Cathedral ministry, which is now led by his sister — and is in bankruptcy. In 2007, Richard Roberts resigned as president of Oral Roberts University, founded by his father, after he was accused of misusing university funds.

“Any preacher with enough charisma, media savvy and fund-raising appeal can build his own empire,” says Molly Worthen, who teaches religious history at the University of Toronto and has written about L’Abri. “But they are like warlords in tribal Afghanistan, where leadership depends on relationships and force of personality rather than building institutions that can survive after the strongman passes the mantle to his son. Only those evangelical sons who have turned their effort to institution building, rather than trying to recreate their fathers’ charisma, have managed to make the dynasty prosper.”

Then there is Mr. Schaeffer’s more biting take, born of hard experience:
“North Korea and evangelical empires have the same principle of leadership: nepotism to the nth degree. You may not get the call, but you inherit the mailing list.”;

Empathy thrown under Obama's bus

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
August 19, 2011

Rick Perry, governor of Texas, has only been in the presidential race for 20 minutes but he's already delivered one of the best lines in the campaign:

"I'll work every day to try to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can."

This will be grand news to Schylar Capo, 11 years old, of Virginia, who made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days, and for her pains, was visited by a federal Fish & Wildlife gauleiter (with accompanying state troopers) who charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species and issued her a $535 fine. If the federal child-abuser has that much time on his hands, he should have charged the cat, who was illegally transporting the protected species from his gullet to his intestine.

So 11-year-old Schylar and other middle-schoolers targeted by the microregulatory superstate might well appreciate Gov. Perry's pledge. But you never know, it might just catch on with the broader population, too.

Bill Clinton thought otherwise. "I got tickled by watching Gov. Perry," said the former president. "And he's saying 'Oh, I'm going to Washington to make sure that the federal government stays as far away from you as possible – while I ride on Air Force One and that Marine One helicopter and go to Camp David and travel around the world and have a good time.' I mean, this is crazy."

This is the best argument the supposedly smartest operator in the Democratic Party can muster? If Bill Clinton wants to make the increasingly and revoltingly unrepublican lifestyle of the American president a campaign issue, Gov. Perry should call his bluff. If I understand correctly the justification advanced by spokesgropers for the Transportation Security Administration, the reason they poke around the genitalia of 3-year-old girls and make wheelchair-bound nonagenarians in the final stages of multiple sclerosis remove their diapers in public is that, by doing so, they have made commercial air travel the most secure environment in the United States. In that case, why can't the president fly commercial?

You'd be surprised how many heads of state do. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands flies long haul on KLM. Don't worry, she's not in coach, squeezed next to the mom with the crying baby and the party of English soccer hooligans baying moronic victory chants all night. She rides up front and has so many aides that sometimes she'll book the entire first-class cabin! By contrast, the president of the United States took his personal 747 (a transatlantic aircraft designed to hold 500 people that costs a fifth of a million dollars per hour to run) to go from Washington to a Democratic Party retreat in Williamsburg, Va., 150 miles away.

Queen Margrethe of Denmark flies commercial, too. For local trips she has a small Challenger jet. When she's not zipping around in it, they use it for fishery enforcement off Greenland. Does that detail alone suggest that a thousand-year dynasty dating back to King Gorm the Sleepy (regnant 936-958) travels in rather less luxury than the supposed citizen-executive of a so-called republic of limited government?

Undoubtedly King Gorm the Sleepy would have slept a lot better on Air Force One, yet the Danish Royal Family seems to get by.

Symbols are important. In other circumstances, the Obamas' vacation on Martha's Vineyard might not be terribly relevant. But this is a president who blames his dead-parrot economy on "bad luck" – specifically, the Arab Spring and the Japanese tsunami: As Harry S. Truman would have said, the buck stops at that big hole in the ground that's just opened up over in Japan. Let us take these whiny excuses at face value and accept for the sake of argument that Obama's Recovery Summer would now be going gangbusters had not the Libyan rebels seized Benghazi and sent the economy into a tailspin. Did no one in the smartest administration in history think this might be the time for the president to share in some of the "bad luck" and forgo an ostentatious vacation in the exclusive playground of the rich? When you're the presiding genius of the Brokest Nation in History, enjoying the lifestyle of the super-rich while allegedly in "public service" sends a strikingly Latin American message. Underlining the point, the president then decided to pass among his suffering people by touring small-town Minnesota in an armored Canadian bus accompanied by a 40-car motorcade.

In some of these one-stoplight burgs, the president's escort had more vehicles than the municipality he was graciously blessing with his presence.

By sheer coincidence, I happen to be writing a conspiracy thriller in which a state-of-the-art Canadian bus transporting President Michael Douglas on a tour of Minnesota goes rogue and takes over the government of the United States. Eventually, crack CIA operative Keira Knightley breaks in the rear window and points out to the Canadian bus that it's now $15 trillion in debt. In a white-knuckle finale, the distraught and traumatized bus makes a break for Winnipeg, pursued by Chinese creditors.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Instead of demonstrating the common touch – that Obama is feeling your pain Clinton-style – the motorcade tour seemed an ingenious parody of what (in Victor Davis Hanson's words) "a wealthy person would do if he wanted to act 'real' for a bit" – in the way that swanky Park Avenue types 80 years ago liked to go slumming up in Harlem. Why exactly does the president need a 40-car escort to drive past his subjects in Dead Moose Junction? It doesn't communicate strength, but only waste, and decadence. Are these vehicles filled with "aides" working round the clock on his supersecret magic plan to "create" "jobs" that King Barack the Growth-Slayer is planning to lay before Congress in the fall or winter, spring, whatever? If the argument is that the president cannot travel without that level of security, I note that Prince William and his lovely bride did not require a 40-car motorcade on their recent visit to Los Angeles, and there are at least as many people on the planet who want a piece of Wills and Kate as do of Obama. Like the president, the couple made do with Canuck transportation, but in their case they flew in and out on a Royal Canadian Air Force transport described as "no more luxurious than a good motor home": The shower is the size of a pay phone. It did not seem to diminish Her Royal Highness' glamour.

I wish Gov. Perry well in his stated goal of banishing Washington to the periphery of Americans' lives. One way he could set the tone is by foregoing much of the waste and excess that attends the imperial presidency. Believe it or not, many presidents and prime ministers manage to get by with only a 14-car or even a four-car motorcade. I know: Hard to imagine, but there it is. A post-prosperity America that has dug itself into a multitrillion-dollar hole will eventually have to stop digging. When it does so, the government of the United States will have to learn to do more with less. A good place to start would be restoring the lifestyle of the president to something Calvin Coolidge might recognize.


Rick Perry’s bad, Obama-style medicine

By Michelle Malkin
August 16, 2011 11:13 PM

Texas, we have a problem. Your GOP governor is running for president against Barack Obama. Yet, one of his most infamous acts as executive of the nation’s second-largest state smacks of every worst habit of the Obama administration. And his newly crafted rationalizations for the atrocious decision are positively Clintonesque.

In February 2007, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a shocking executive order forcing every sixth-grade girl to submit to a three-jab regimen of the Gardasil vaccine. He also forced state health officials to make the vaccine available “free” to girls ages 9 to 18. The drug, promoted by manufacturer Merck as an effective shield against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts, as well as cervical cancer, had only been approved by the Food and Drug Administration eight months prior to Perry’s edict.

Gardasil’s wear-off time and long-term side effects have yet to be determined. “Serious questions” remain about its “overall effectiveness,” according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Even the chair of the federal panel that recommended Gardasil for children opposes mandating it as a condition of school enrollment. Young girls and boys are simply not at an increased risk of contracting HPV in the classroom the way they are at risk of contracting measles or other school-age communicable diseases.

Perry defenders pointed to a bogus “opt-out” provision in his mandate “to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children’s health care.” But requiring parents to seek the government’s permission to keep an untested drug out of their kids’ veins is a plain usurpation of their authority. Translation: Ask your bureaucratic overlord to determine if a Gardasil waiver is right for you.

Libertarians and social conservatives alike slammed Perry’s reckless disregard for parental rights and individual liberty. The Republican-dominated legislature also balked. In May 2007, both chambers passed bills overturning the governor’s unilaterally imposed health order.

Fast-forward five years. After announcing his 2012 presidential bid this weekend, Perry now admits he “didn’t do my research well enough” on the Gardasil vaccine before stuffing his bad medicine down Texans’ throats. On Monday, he added: “That particular issue is one that I readily stand up and say I made a mistake on. I listened to the legislature … and I agreed with their decision.”

Perry downplayed his underhanded maneuver as an aberrational “error,” and then — gobsmackingly — he spun the debacle as a display of his great character: “One of the things I do pride myself on, I listen. When the electorate says, ‘Hey, that’s not what we want to do,’ we backed up, took a look at what we did.”

Are these non-apology apologies enough to quell the concerns of voters looking for a presidential candidate who will provide a clear, unmistakable contrast to Barack Obama? Not by a long shot.
How Obama-like was this scandal? Let us count the ways:

Trampling the deliberative process. Since Day One, President Obama has short-circuited transparency, public debate and congressional oversight. How can Perry effectively challenge the White House’s czar fetish, stealth recess appointments, selective waiver-mania and backdoor legislating through administrative orders when Perry himself employed the very same process as governor?

Not only did Perry defend going above the heads of elected state legislators, but his office also falsely claimed the legislature had no right to repeal the executive order. “The order is effective until Perry or a successor changes it, and the Legislature has no authority to repeal it,” Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody told The Washington Post in February 2007.

When both the House and Senate repealed the law six weeks later, Perry did not — as he now claims — listen humbly or “agree with their decision.”

Human shield demagoguery. In response to the legislature’s rebuke, the infuriated governor attacked those who supported repeal as “shameful” spreaders of “misinformation” who were putting “women’s lives” at risk. Borrowing a tried-and-true Alinskyite page from the progressive left, Perry surrounded himself with female cervical cancer victims and deflected criticism of his imperial tactics with emotional anecdotes.

He then lionized himself and the minority of politicians who voted against repeal of his Gardasil order. “They will never have to think twice about whether they did the right thing. No lost lives will occupy the confines of their conscience, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.” Perry, of course, has now put his own ghastly Gardasil order on that same altar — but with no apology to all those he demonized and exploited along the way.

Cronyism. Most noxious of all, Perry wraps his big government health mandate in the “pro-life” mantle. But the do-gooder theater is a distraction from the business-as-usual back-scratching and astro-turfing that are Obama hallmarks. Perry’s former chief of staff Mike Toomey is a top Merck lobbyist. Toomey’s mother-in-law CORRECTION his current chief-of-staff’s mother-in-law headed a Merck-funded front group pushing vaccination mandates. Merck’s political action committee pitched in $6,000 to Perry’s re-election campaign in 2007 and Merck discussed the vaccine with Perry staff on the day they donated.

The PerryCare executive fiat was not simply a one-off mistake explained away by lack of “research.” It exposed a fundamental lapse in both political and policy judgments, an appalling lack of ethics and a disturbing willingness to smear principled defenders of limited government who object to the Nanny State using their children as guinea pigs.

Trusting Rick Perry’s tea party credentials is a perilous shot in the dark.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Credibility of NCAA enforcement will be tested by Miami allegations

By Stewart Mandel
Inside College Football
August 17, 2011

Television trucks are parked outside of the University of Miami Isadore Hecht Athletic Center in Coral Gables., Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011. NCAA investigators were on campus this week to investigate an account by former booster Nevin Shapiro, who claims he treated football players with sex parties, nightclub outings, cars and other gifts. (AP)

Reading through Yahoo! Sports' bombshell expose about former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, my blood boiled thicker with every paragraph. But who exactly was I angry at?

Strangely, it wasn't Shapiro, the jocksniffing, 5-foot-5 sleazebucket with one hell of a Napolean complex. The man comes off mostly pathetic for thinking the 18- and 19-year-olds whom he took to nightclub VIP rooms, bought prostitutes for and handed over the keys to his yacht were actually his friends -- the kind of friends, mind you, who inexplicably abandoned him when he got sent to jail for his part in a $930-million Ponzi scheme.

Certainly it wasn't the players, who, though they knowingly jeopardized their eligibility and flaunted their status as football players, could no more resist the temptations of South Beach than any other 18- or 19-year-old. We didn't get mad at Ohio State players for getting free tattoos; we got mad at their coach for finding out and doing nothing about it.

It probably should be Miami president Donna Shalala, the long-outspoken advocate for her football program who recently bragged to ESPN the Magazine about monitoring the sidelines on game days for suspicious guests, yet was caught on camera, beaming over a $50,000 donation from the rogue booster himself. But no, not angry -- that picture's too funny. (She should still resign first thing Wednesday.)

Actually, one man towers over this story, even though he's only briefly mentioned: Former Miami athletic director Paul Dee.

Dee, you may recall, was the Committee on Infractions chairman for USC's much-publicized case last summer involving former stars Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo. It was Dee who, in announcing some of the stiffest penalties of the last 20 years (a two-year bowl ban and 30 docked scholarships), closed with the preachy reminder that "high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance."

Dee, Miami's AD during most of the period covering Shapiro's allegations, is retired and no longer under NCAA jurisdiction. Still, it seems only fair he should spend a day at USC's Heritage Hall wearing a sandwich board with the word "Hypocrite."

See if this sounds familiar: "We didn't have any suspicion that he was doing anything like this. He didn't do anything to cause concern."
I'm fairly certain I heard Pete Carroll say something to that effect, repeatedly, about Bush's time at USC. He insisted there's no way he or anyone else at the school could have known that Bush's parents were living the high life in San Diego -- a defense Dee and his committee sharply rebuked.

But no, those were the words of Dee himself, Tuesday, to the Palm Beach Post, in regards to Shapiro's allegations. Seriously. The same guy whose committee lamented the access outsiders had to the Trojans' locker room and sidelines also told the Post that, " [Shapiro] would come by, ask to go out to practice and we would send one of our staffers to accompany him."

You can't make this stuff up.

In seriousness, the USC and Miami cases do share much in common, starting with the fact Yahoo!'s impeccable investigative ace, Charles Robinson, broke both stories. The amounts of documentation and eyewitness corroboration that accompany Shapiro's allegations make them nearly impossible to refute.

Both involve glamour programs in large, pro-dominated cities that tend to attract rich bandwagon hangers-on. Some, like Will Ferrell at USC, just like to watch football. Others, like Shapiro, covet the adulation of athletic 19-year-olds.

Both involve figures that tried to haphazardly get in on the sports-representation business. Unlike Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels, who never did get that payday endorsement deal from Bush, Shapiro apparently succeeded, briefly, using his connections and wads of cash to sway former Hurricanes Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason to a sports agency he co-owned.
(Can we stop here for a second and take that one in? Two Miami players signed with an agency partly owned by one of its own boosters. If there were no other allegation in the entire report, that one on its own would make headlines.)

And now, here's where the two cases differed: USC's involved one football (Bush) and one basketball (Mayo) player. Yahoo's report implicates 73 athletes over an eight-year span, though Shapiro claims he gave impermissible benefits to 72.

The bagmen in the USC case did most of their dirty work in San Diego, far from the campus itself. Shapiro was an active Miami booster, so coveted for his donations he got to lead the team out of the tunnel, sit in the press box on game days, and had a lounge named in his honor.

And for all the hubbub over the Bush case, at the end of the day, USC gained no competitive advantage in football due to its running back's extra benefits. Miami, on the other hand, had assistant coaches allegedly arranging for recruits to meet Shapiro on their visits. On the basketball side, he allegedly paid $10,000 in 2007 explicitly to land a recruit, DeQuan Jones.

If USC got a two-year bowl ban and 30 docked scholarships, what should Miami get for an encyclopedia of allegations so tawdry as to make USC look like a bubble-gum shoplifter? Can you ban a team from the postseason for a decade? Can you take away 90 scholarships? Not likely. All that's seemingly left is the biggie -- the death penalty -- and it's entirely possible: Miami qualifies as a repeat violator for any violations before Feb. 27, 2008, stemming from it mid-90s Pell Grant scandal. But the NCAA hasn't gone there in 25 years.

Once again, the NCAA's entire enforcement process is under the microscope -- just a week after president Mark Emmert promised sweeping changes. The Committee on Infractions notoriously shows little-to-no consistency or adherence to precedent in issuing its verdicts, but Dee himself painted his former employer into a corner on this one. If you're going to rake one school over the coals for a single player's impermissible benefits, your entire credibility is at stake if you don't raise the consequences exponentially for a case involving 73.

But before we can even get to that, we have to go through the investigation -- and this one figures to be every bit as long and arduous as USC's four-year probe. (Investigators just arrived on campus Monday.) It's a sad but unavoidable indictment of the enforcement process that it takes a desperate, publicity-seeking con man like Shapiro for these violations to even come to light -- and even then only after Yahoo!'s reporters lay the groundwork.

In the meantime, this story has massive, immediate consequences for not only Miami but several programs around the country.

Among those named in Yahoo!'s report (which includes individual pages detailing the specific violations alleged against each player, many with audio of Shapiro's interviews with the feds) are current 'Canes quarterback Jacory Harris, receiver Travis Benjamin, safety Ray Ray Armstrong, linebacker Sean Spence and defensive tackle Marcus Forston -- some of the most important players on the team. Normal protocol says Miami declares them ineligible until their statuses are resolved and any found benefits can be repaid -- and that could take awhile. One former 'Cane accused of accepting benefits, quarterback Robert Marve, is now at Purdue. His status may now be in limbo as well. Ditto, Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown.

And then there are the coaches. Yahoo! raises some pretty serious charges against former basketball coach Frank Haith, now at Missouri, If they're true they could cost him his job. Two former football assistants, Jeff Stoutland and Joe Pannunzio -- accused of taking recruits to Shapiro's home -- are now on Nick Saban's Alabama staff. The NCAA will have questions for them. Ditto, Clint Hurtt (Louisville) and Aubrey Hill (Florida). Unlike all those former 'Canes players now in the NFL, the active coaches are obligated to cooperate with investigators.

Meanwhile, two particular coaches go conspicuously unmentioned throughout Yahoo!'s report: Former head coaches Larry Coker and Randy Shannon.
Apparently, they were unaware. Coker was oblivious enough in general to believe it, and it wouldn't surprise me if Shannon helped drive Shapiro away. By 2007 (Shannon's first season), Miami's compliance director, David Reed, was apparently so aggressive about policing player-booster contact it nearly drove a drunken Shapiro to punch him out in the press box.

And if Shannon was unaware of his players' off-campus activities, what chance did Dee have? Is a 60-something-year-old man supposed to hit the clubs on Friday night to check out who his players are hanging out with? Of course not. That's ridiculous.

Except that's exactly what he suggested USC should have been doing.
So go ahead, NCAA. Drop the hammer. If the Committee does in fact believe that high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance, Miami took negligence to an entirely different level.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Mark Steyn on the World
Tuesday, 16 August 2011

from National Review

From London’s Daily Mail: “Scientists have created more than 150 human-animal hybrid embryos in British laboratories.”

You don’t say. Now why would they do that? Don’t worry, it’s all perfectly legit, the fruits of the 2008 Human Fertilisation Embryology Act. So some scientists have successfully fertilized animal eggs with human sperm, and others have created “cybrids,” using a human nucleus implanted into an animal cell, or “chimeras,” in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos.

Writing my new book about the post-American world, I had to resist the temptation to go too far down this path. If you start off analyzing unsustainable debt-to-GDP ratios and possible downgrades of U.S. Treasury debt and suddenly lurch into disquisitions on a part-Welsh–part-meerkat chimera, the fiscal types tend to think you’ve flown the coop. Yet as I contemplate the prospects of the developed world I confess I do find myself wondering: How weird how soon?

Transformative innovation requires a socio-economic context: A few years back, a European cabinet minister explained to me at great length that governments had enthusiastically supported both the contraceptive pill and abortion because there was an urgent need for massive numbers of women to enter the workforce. A few years hence, developed nations will have a need for anyone to enter the workforce. Japan is the oldest society on earth. China, as I always say, is getting old before it gets rich. Europe is richer but lazier: Fewer than two-fifths of eurozone citizens work, and over 60 percent receive state benefits. If you track, as prudent investors should, GDP vs. median age in the world’s major economies, this story is going nowhere good.

When President Sarkozy’s government mooted raising the retirement age from 60 to (stand well back) 62, the French rioted. “Retirement” is a very recent invention, but it’s caught on in nothing flat to the point that most Western citizens now believe they’re entitled to enjoy the last third of their adult lives as a 20-year holiday weekend at government expense. And that two-decade weekend is only getting longer: Developed societies now face the prospect of millions of citizens’ living into their nineties and beyond and spending the last 20 years in increasing stages of dementia — at state expense. That sounds pricey, whether you rely on immigrants to tend them (as in Europe) or “humanoid” “welfare robots” (as the Japanese are developing).

So the disease the West would most like to cure is Alzheimer’s. How would you do that? The obvious way to experiment would be one of these human/animal hybrids the British are hot for: You’d inject human material (brain cells) into animals that are closest to man (primates). As it happens, that’s the plot of this summer’s new movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which title suggests the experiment went somewhat awry. “If you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into the brains of primates,” worries Prof. Thomas Baldwin, co-author of a new report for Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences, “suddenly you might transform the primate into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctively human — speech, or other ways of being able to manipulate or relate to us.” “The closer an animal brain is to a human brain, the harder it is to predict what might happen,” warns Martin Bobrow, professor of genetics at Cambridge University.

So the Brits retain a bit of squeamishness in this area: They’re aware of the pitfalls of injecting Ozzy Osbourne’s brain into an orangutan. Who might be less concerned about this fine ethical line? It was recently disclosed that China has a herd of 39 goats with human-style blood and internal organs created by injecting stem cells into their embryos, the work of Prof. Huang Shuzheng of Jiao Tong University.

I wonder what else the Chinese are sticking human stem cells into. I’m sure they’ll tell us when they’re ready.

The Coming of Age changes everything. The developed world will have insufficient numbers of young people to sell new stuff to: That’s an economic issue. But a distorted societal age profile doesn’t stop there: Switzerland, once famous for expensive sanatoria where one went to prolong life, is now doing gangbusters business with its “dignified death” resorts. With the increase in demand for “assisted” suicide at their general hospitals, the Dutch are talking about purpose-built facilities: You have an Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital, so why not a Death Hospital? After all, it’s more “humane” than the alternatives — for example, the mini-epidemic of missing centenarians in Japan: Tokyo’s oldest man was supposedly Sogen Kato, 111 years old. Last year, police broke into his daughter’s home and discovered his mummified corpse, still in his bedclothes. His relatives were arrested for bilking the government of millions of yen in fraudulent welfare payments. Tokyo’s oldest woman was supposedly Fusa Furuya, 113 years old. When welfare officials called at her home, her daughter said she was now living at another address just outside the city. This second building turned out to have been razed to put a highway through. “Human bonds are weakening,” a glum prime minister, Naoto Kan, told parliament. “Society as a whole tends to sever human relationships.”

Like I said: How weird how soon? Dutch drive-through death clinics on Main Street. Japanese welfare robots doing the jobs humans won’t do. British scientists breeding a Brit-animal hybrid class purely for the purposes of experimenting on them. And at a research facility somewhere deep in the Chinese hinterlands, an ape injected with human brain cells waits for the midnight shift change to bust through the security fence . . .

Today's Tune: Ramones - Yea Yea

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

White House Mischief

The Obama administration’s sleazy sleights of hand expose it to ridicule.

By Daniel Pipes
August 16, 2011

US President Barack Obama speaks at an Iftar meal, the breaking of the Ramadan fast, at the White House in Washington on August 13, 2010. Muslims all over the world abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan in order to purify themselves and concentrate on Islamic teachings. (Getty Images)

The White House engaged in two puerile gambits last week that exposed the Obama administration’s amateurish and deceitful Middle East policies in a painfully obvious manner.
The first case concerned the thorny issue of Jerusalem’s legal status in American law. In 1947, the United Nations ruled the holy city to be a corpus separatum (Latin for “separated body”) and not part of any state. All these years later and despite many changes, U.S. policy continues to hold this to be Jerusalem’s status. This ignores that the government of Israel declared western Jerusalem to be its capital in 1950 and the whole of Jerusalem in 1980. The executive branch even ignores U.S. laws from 1995 (requiring a move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem) and 2002 (requiring that U.S. documents recognize Americans born in Jerusalem to be born in Israel). Instead, it insists that the city’s disposition must be decided through diplomacy.

In a challenge to this policy, the American parents of Jerusalem-born Menachem Zivotofsky demanded on his behalf that his birth certificate and his passport list him as born in Israel. When the State Department refused, the parents filed a lawsuit; their case has now reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Things started to get interesting on August 4, when Rick Richman of the New York Sun noted that “the White House acknowledges on its own website that Jerusalem is in Israel — as does the State Department and the CIA on theirs,” undermining the government’s case. Richman pointed to three mentions of “Jerusalem, Israel” in captions to pictures on the White House website in connection with a trip by Joe Biden in March 2010: “Vice President Joe Biden laughs with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Israel”; “Vice President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel”; and “Vice President Joe Biden has breakfast with Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair . . . in Jerusalem, Israel.” Richman deemed this wording to be potentially “pivotal evidence” against the government’s case.

At 3:22 p.m. on August 9, Daniel Halper of The Weekly Standard reiterated Richman’s point by posting the first of those pictures. Two hours and four minutes later, at 5:26 p.m., Halper reported that “the White House has apparently gone through its website, cleansing any reference to Jerusalem as being in Israel.” The new caption read, “Vice President Joe Biden laughs with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.” Someone on the White House staff hoped to pull a fast one. As James Taranto noted in the Wall Street Journal, the Supreme Court does not take kindly to such pranks.

The second deceit concerns the iftar dinner (breaking the Ramadan fast) at the White House on August 10. The White House published a guest list “of some of the expected attendees” that included four members of Congress, 36 diplomats, and eleven “community members.” To the relief of those of us who watch these matters, the list mentioned no American Islamists.

But “some” was a weasel word. Research by the Investigative Project on Terrorism and others established that the published list did not mention the American Islamists attending that dinner, including Haris Tarin of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America, and Awais Sufi of Muslim Advocates.

(Also noteworthy: The White House invited not a single representative of the twelve-member anti-Islamist group the American Islamic Leadership Coalition, whose mission statement proclaims the goal “to defend the U.S. Constitution, uphold religious pluralism, protect American security and cherish genuine diversity in the practice of our faith of Islam.”)

In combination, these two deceits in two days make one wonder about the morality and even sanity of the White House staff under Barack Obama. Do his munchkins really think they can get away with such sleazy sleights of hand?

Separately, each of these deceits warrants condemnation; together, they symbolize the tenor of a failed administration in panic over its lowest-ever poll ratings (43.3 percent approval according to’s aggregation of surveys) and trying to revive its fortunes by whatever means necessary, even if its dishonest efforts expose it to ridicule.

More specifically, the two incidents point to the bankruptcy of the administration’s Middle East and Muslim-outreach policies. The arrogance of 2009 remains in place, but now it is tempered by failure and desperation.

— Daniel Pipes ( is president of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. © 2011 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

Jim Thome as genuine as they come

Having reached 600 home runs, 'world's nicest man' headed straight to Hall of Fame

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine
August 16, 2011

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 15: DH, Jim Thome(notes) #25 of the Minnesota Twins hits his second home run of the game in the seventh inning and his 600th career home run making him only the eighth player in Major League Baseball history to achieve that milestone during a MLB game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on August 15, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

The boy was 9 years old when he snaked through the crowd at Wrigley Field, then silently, miraculously, wiggled his way inside the Cubs dugout minutes before the start of a game in search of his hero, Dave Kingman. Young Jim Thome didn't get a chance to meet his idol before Cubs catcher Barry Foote delivered him back to his father, who was not surprised by the actions of his son. A young Jim Thome loved Kingman, the Cubs, baseball and home runs.

And now, 33 years later, Thome has hit home run No. 600, the eighth man out of the slightly more than 17,000 major leaguers in history to reach that level, a level with only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa as prior members. Thome has hit 158 more home runs than Kingman, with a slugging percentage almost 80 points higher and an on-base percentage 100 points higher, and Thome has achieved these Hall of Fame numbers due to tremendous strength, an equally strong work ethic, a great swing and a calm, steady hand. He's been a good dude every day that he has spent in the big leagues, the kind of guy who would embrace a 9-year-old who had somehow infiltrated the dugout, then promise to hit a homer for him that day.

"I didn't get to meet Dave Kingman that day, they got me out of the dugout before I could," he said. "But I loved Dave Kingman. He used to have a boat. And every time I would drive down Lakeshore Avenue in Chicago with my dad, we'd look at the lake and I would ask my dad, 'Is that Dave Kingman's boat?' I eventually got his autograph at the All-Star Game in Colorado [in 1998]. It was cool. But he didn't know that he was my guy."

And now, Thome is "my guy" to so many current players, especially teammates that he has affected in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Minnesota. Ask any player from those teams, and they have a hard time ever remembering seeing Thome angry, or in a bad mood, or mean or rude. Every day, he has been the same: Stoic and solid.

"He is the world's nicest man," said Twins closer Joe Nathan. "He's one of those guys that the hype is so great before you meet him, then he lives up to the hype, and more. When you see him from across the field, you think, 'He can't be that nice,' but he is. He is so genuine. There are other players that will be forgotten when they leave, but he will not be. We will be talking about him for years to come. To me, he's like [Hall of Famer] Harmon Killebrew. They are one in the same. When you meet both of those guys for the first time, you think, 'Wow, this is someone that I will be wanting to talk to on a daily basis.'"

"Jim Thome is the best," said Twins reliever Matt Capps. "He is just a regular guy. I've been to dinner with him, and people come to our table, and he takes time to say hi to a kid. I've seen guys with six months in the big leagues snub a kid in a restaurant. Not Jim, and he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He'll talk to a guy who knew him from Cleveland in 1993. He is a role model for all of us, he is like every one of us would like to be. I'd like to get 20 years in the big leagues like him, but what am I going to be like in 12 or 15 years? Meeting him, you would never know that he was on the cusp of hitting 600 home runs."

"He's like Babe Ruth around here," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, smiling. "The fans here get all mad at me for not playing him every day. The other day [as Thome was within two home runs of 600], the White Sox were throwing that [Chris] Sale kid, the left-hander throwing 97 [mph], and the fans wanted me to pinch-hit Thome for [Danny] Valencia [who bats right-handed]. They just love him here. He's great. He has been a pleasure."

"He is the nicest, gentlest, kindest guy you will ever meet … to everything except the baseball, he still hits that really hard," said Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer. "He has great fire to him. It's not like, when he strikes out, he says, 'Oh, that was such a good pitch.' It's nothing like that. That's the perception some people have of him, but he hates to lose. When he walks in a room, everyone watches everything he does. It's the way he treats people, it's the way he respects the game. When I heard he was re-signing with us, I was so happy for a lot of reasons, but one reason was I wanted to be there for when he hit No. 600. Every night, I would pray that I was on base when he hit his 600th home run."

Thome's major league career began in 1991, at age 20, a relatively thin, but strong third baseman, the position he played for his first six seasons. He moved to first base in 1997. He wasn't a particularly good third baseman, "but he really worked at it," said one of his former instructors. "You might have to tell him how to do something a hundred times before he got it, but he always got it because no one tries harder, no one cares more than Jim."

When Thome arrived in the big leagues, he was an opposite-field hitter, he rarely hit a ball to the right of center field. But he got bigger and stronger as he aged, he learned to pull the ball, and soon was hitting homers deep into the right-field seats at then-Jacobs Field, but he was still able to take that ball away from him and hit it deep into the seats in left.

By 1996, he had emerged as one of the best power hitters in the game. Thome hit 40 homers in a season six times, and 50 once. From 1995 to 2004, he hit 393 homers, fourth most in the major leagues. He averaged more than 45 homers a year from 2000 to 2004; only Bonds, Sosa and Rodriguez -- all with connections to performance-enhancing drugs -- hit more. Thome and Rodriguez are the only players to have a 40-home run season for three different teams. Thome holds the Indians' record for home runs in a season with 52. He holds the White Sox's team record for home runs in a season by a left-handed hitter with 42.

Thome's numbers came without flair, flash or controversy, especially involving steroids. But they are Hall of Fame worthy numbers: His on-base percentage is almost 50 points higher than that of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, and his slugging percentage is almost 70 points higher than Jackson's. Obviously, there is no comparison defensively with Ken Griffey Jr., but Thome's slugging percentage is 20 points higher and his on-base percentage is 30 points higher than Griffey's.

But Thome isn't flashy like Griffey, and he certainly isn't colorful like Reggie. There are no hilarious Thome quotes, no great anecdotes about his brushes with fame. He is a just a guy who loves to hunt, and hang with his buddies. He is Gomer Pyle, a soft-spoken guy from Peoria, Ill. The best you get from him is an occasional misstep born from his charming naivete. When he set the record for the most home runs by anyone in Indians history, he said, "What makes it so special, is that I hit all these home runs for the same team."

About as good as it gets from Jim Thome is when he talks about his family, including his brother, Chuck, "who is a monster," he said. "He makes me look like a runt." His aunt, Carolyn, is in the Softball Hall of Fame.

Thome and his dad also visited Cooperstown a few years ago to deliver his 500th home run ball to the Hall of Fame. "That wasn't a ball that I should keep, that was something the Hall should have," Thome said. "It would just be sitting on my mantle at home. Now it's something for everyone to see." The great father-son trip to Cooperstown "was really special for us," Thome said. "At the hotel [the Otesaga] there, my dad and I sat out on the terrace and they had lunch for us. They told us all the stories about the Hall of Famers. We toured the museum. I think it was the greatest days of my dad's life. And other than the birth of my children, it was the greatest day of my life."

They will go again, for sure, in another six or seven years, depending on when Thome retires. Only that time, Thome won't be going as a visitor. He will go as a member of the Hall of Fame.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.

Follow Tim Kurkjian on Twitter: @Kurkjian_ESPN


By Joe Posnanski
August 16, 2011

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 15: DH, Jim Thome(notes) #25 of the Minnesota Twins touches all the bases after hitting his second home run of the game in the seventh inning and his 600th career home run making him only the eighth player in Major League Baseball history to achieve that milestone during a MLB game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on August 15, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Here’s one thing we sort of lost during the Steroid Era: The jolly home run hitter. Remember? Baseball used to be filled with them — gentle giants, country strong men who would swing hard, tromp around the bases, maybe wink to a kid in the crowd as they crossed home plate. Heck, the home run was practically invented by one of those men, by a man-child they called Babe, who promised sick children in hospitals across America that he’d hit home runs for them.

The home run lists used to be filled with genial men — Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Frank Howard, Dale Murphy, Bill Beltin’ Melton, Hank Greenberg, on and on. Johnny Bench sang in night clubs. Jimmie Foxx was so admired and beloved, he wasn’t hit by a single pitch the year he hit 58 homers. George Foster didn’t smoke or drink, and later in life has longed to get on Dancing with the Stars. Big Klu — Ted Kluszewski — wore his sleeves rolled up to show off his arms and make a fist, smile, and say: “You know what that is? A Polish joke stopper.” They called Willie Stargell “Pops.” They called George Scott “”Boomer.” They called Jimmy Wynn “The Toy Cannon.”This is not to say that there were no surly home run hitters — of course there were, feared men, Jim Rice and Ralph Kiner and Dick Allen and Dave Kingman and many others. But, surprisingly often, those powerful home run hitters were lovable lugs. The home run itself was childlike fun, constantly surprising, overwhelming to the senses, not unlike cotton candy or a Jack in the Box.

Well … the Steroid Era screwed all that up, didn’t it? I don’t know how much steroids had to do with the enormous jump in home runs in the 1990s and 2000s — and I suspect neither do you — but we can all count. Cherished numbers: Smashed. Exclusive clubs: Crashed. From 1993-2002, there were six different seasons of 60-plus homers; two of them at 70 or more. Ten different players hit 50 home runs in a season. Forty three different players hit 40. One hundred twelve different players hit 30.

Madness. Insanity. It used to be you knew exactly who was in the 600 home run club — Aaron, Ruth, Mays. That’s it. Three people. Three titans. Now … add Barry Bonds, who then hit his 700th homer, then passed Ruth, then passed Aaron, all to the background music of boos. Add Sammy Sosa, who hit 60 home runs three times. Add Ken Griffey Jr. Add Alex Rodriguez. The 600 homer tree house was suddenly overflowing … it wasn’t much of a club anymore.

The home run was no longer innocent. It was no longer childlike. Players who hit a slew of home runs over a stretch became suspects. Players who hit those even-number marks that used to stretch the imagination — 300 homers, 400 homers, 500 homers — found that they needed defense attorneys when they reached home plate. It has almost reached a point where players find themselves APOLOGIZING for hitting too many home runs.

Well, we know all that. We still love watching home runs. We just watch them with more jaded eyes, I suppose. It’s like this: When I was young, I loved watching the Harlem Globetrotters because I thought they were the best basketball team in the world. Now that I’m older, I still love watching the Harlem Globetrotters. But I know they’re not the best basketball team in the world.

I wish Jim Thome had hit his 600th home run back when we all still believed in lovable lugs.

* * *

Thome hit his 599th and 600th home run on Monday night in Detroit — the 48th time in his remarkable career that he hit multiple homers in a game — and I immediately remembered his first homer in the big leagues. That was in 1991. He was playing for Cleveland then, my childhood team, and I was listening to the game through static in a dented red Nissan Sentra in a North Augusta, S.C., parking lot. I had to look up who he hit it against (Steve Farr) but I remembered that it beat the Yankees. And it did, 3-2. The Indians lost 105 games that year. But, hey, the Yankees lost 90. It was another time.

I had my eye on Thome for some time. He was an intriguing prospect. The Indians were supposedly building a promising future (how many times had we Cleveland fans heard that?). They had a hard-hitting second baseman named Carlos Baerga. They had a young outfielder then called Joey Belle. That year of Thome’s first homer — 1991 — they drafted a high school outfielder from New York named Manny Ramirez. And, later that year, they traded for a former college basketball player who everyone said could run like the wind, Kenny Lofton.

In 1992, I went up to Cleveland to see the Indians play a couple of games. Thome made errors in both games. He was awkward at third base, but I thought even then that he played the position with gusto. He did everything with gusto. The Indians sent him back to the minor leagues. I went to see him play in Charlotte. He made an error that night, too … but Thome found his destiny in Charlotte. The Charlotte Knights manager was a folksy hitting savant named Charlie Manuel — you may have heard of him — and Manuel had Thome watch video from the movie The Natural. He specifically had Thome watch something that Robert Redford, as Roy Hobbs, did before the pitch.

“See how he points his bat at the pitcher?” Manuel said, or some such thing.

“Yup,” Thome replied.

“Let’s do that,” Manuel said.

“OK,” Thome said, because he’s an amiable type, and loved Charlie Manuel. He pointed bats at pitchers, and he mashed 25 homers and drove in 102 runs in Charlotte, then he went up to Cleveland and hit seven more homers. The next year he hit all 20 of his home runs for Cleveland before the strike, and the next year he hit 25 and the Indians went to the World Series. The next year, he hit 38, then 40, and so on.

Later — from 2001 to 2003 — he would hit 49-52-47 in back-to-back-to-back years. At the time, he was only the sixth guy in baseball history to hit 47 or more homers three straight years, but already the home run was beginning to lose its magic, and Alex Rodriguez did it at exactly the same time, and so nobody really cared. Thome hit home runs like few ever had, but it was almost like he had come along too late, like he was Elvis after the Beatles landed.

Not that Thome minded. He has never seemed to mind much of anything. He always wore this big grin, and he made everybody around him feel like a million bucks. There are a million “Jim Thome is the greatest guy” stories. He’s won the Clemente Award. He’s won the Gehrig Award. He has been voted the nicest guy in baseball. My wife and I once ended up at a dinner with him and his beautiful wife Andrea. They didn’t know us. Before dessert even came around, they were inviting her to come up to Cleveland to watch a game, and they were talking baby names.

* * *

Jim Thome has been a great hitter. Not a good hitter. Not a very good hitter. He has been a slam-dunk, first-ballot, no-doubt Hall of Famer hitter. People have missed this because, well, people have missed a lot about Jim Thome. The man has a .403 lifetime on-base percentage, 25th all-time for players with 7,500 plate appearances, higher than DiMaggio, higher than Wagner, higher than Mays or Yaz or Rose or Ichiro. Many people will never respect on-base percentage the way they should, because many people just don’t like walks. But walking is an art. And Thome is Picasso.

Anyway, his on-base percentage is not all the 1,700-plus walks he’s earned. He’s a .277 lifetime hitter, which doesn’t sound great, but it’s better than many of the other big home run hitters — Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Matthews, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew among them. Heck, Thome hit .300 three times. He, of course, has struck out more often than any player except Reggie Jackson (and it doesn’t look like he will quite catch Reggie). But when he hit baseballs, he hit them hard.

Thome crushed fastballs in his prime. Crushed them. Annihilated them. In 1998, the Indians were playing the Angels in Cleveland, and it was the bottom of the 10th, and the score was tied. The Angels pitcher was Troy Percival, who in those days could throw about 294 mph. But those Indians destroyed fastball pitchers, and sure enough MannyBManny singled, and Brian Giles walked, and with two outs Jim Thome stepped to the plate.

There was never any doubt what was going to happen. Never any doubt. Thome pulverized a fastball for a three-run homer and the Indians won the game.

Here’s the thing: Two years later, on an August Friday night in Cleveland, Troy Percival again faced Jim Thome with the game on the line. By now, Percival was only throwing 273 mph. This time, the Angels were up a run. The Indians had a man on base. And there was never any doubt what was going to happen. Never any doubt. Thome pulverized a fastball for a two-run homer, and the Indians won a game. From 1995 through 2002, Jim Thome struck out more than 1,200 times. But I doubt he missed too many 100-mph fastballs then. You couldn’t throw the ball fast enough to get him out in those days.

Another memory: In 2004, when Zack Greinke was a rookie, he liked to fool around a lot on the mound. That year, he threw a bunch of 55-mph curveballs and he quick-pitched a time or two and so on. And I remember a game when he struck out Thome on one of those Bugs Bunny slow curveballs. Thome swung hard, missed by about a foot, looked pretty bad, though as usual Thome seemed chipper enough after the strikeout. Way to go, kid! Heck of a pitch!

Next time up, Greinke threw another slow curve to Jim Thome. And Thome blasted the ball about 900 feet.

“He’s just a smart hitter, I guess,” Greinke muttered afterward.

* * *

Jim Thome grew up in Peoria idolizing Dave Kingman. That seems a funny thing in retrospect, since Thome could not be more different from the surly Kingman, but I suspect it’s not funny at all. See, Jim Thome really grew up idolizing the home run. That’s what Kingman did. He hit home runs. Thome, like so many kids, idolized baseballs that sounded like fireworks as they cracked off baseball bats. He idolized that amazing still-life — the ball in the air, the pitcher with his neck wrenched, the outfielder facing the wall. Thome, like so many kids, wanted to be a home run hitter.

He became one, like few who have ever played the game. And the world should view him as one, view him in the same frame with those other lovable lugs in the Hall of Fame. But Thome hit home runs in the wrong era. He hit home runs at the time when muscle-bound men hit so many that Congress got involved. When he hit his 600th home run, someone sent me a Twitter question: “Is Thome a Hall of Famer?” I thought: Really? There’s a question?

Maybe there is. People just don’t love home run hitters like they once did. I asked Thome once how he wanted to be remembered. That’s not really the sort of question that Jim Thome likes to answer. He’s not the philosophical type. But since I asked, he wanted to answer. He kind of looked at me, then looked at the ground, then looked back at me. He thought for a minute. He put his hand on my shoulder, and he said: “You know, I’d kind of like to be remembered as a pretty good guy. Isn’t that how you would want to be remembered?”

I said something then about being remembered as a great baseball player. His eyes lit up.

“Sure,” he said happily. “Why not? That would be great too!”

Values haven't changed

By Tim Stevens
The News & Observer
August 14, 2011

Everybody knew me or my folks at the Piggly Wiggly.

The grocery store stood atop a steep hill in front of my house, and for years, my bicycle had to be walked up because my weak legs couldn't make the climb.

Walking was fine, because sometimes there were discarded drink bottles, clouded inside by rain flowing in red clay ditches.

The bottles were worth two cents at the store, where last week's high school football game was discussed by wives just like it was by the husbands at B.R.'s (or Mr. Bryan's), the service stations near the old school house where you could watch the community's only caution light blink.

Behind the store, someone once built a short-lived go-cart track, and we'd slip onto the track and ride our bicycles. It had a wooden overpass, a bridge that crossed nothing but dirt and stood about four feet tall.

We'd sit on top and swoop down, pedaling as fast as we could. We could go really fast, and there were no fire hydrants to avoid like there was at the smaller hill down the street from my home.

Many front wheels ended their round lives at that fire hydrant as we raced straight ahead and sometimes failed to make the curve.

The new First Citizens Bank, the third point of the hill's triangle with the Piggly Wiggly and Mr. Wilber's Phillips 66 gas station, opened one fall Friday night with a gala celebration.

There were lemon squares, peanuts and mints. Our pockets were stuffed with those provisions before we, along with most folks, left for THE game.

The mayor, whose son was my friend, drove. We sat in the backseat and ate most of our food before we got out of the city limits.

The mayor bought us popcorn and a drink before the kickoff. We turned the paper cups upside down and stomped them. Popping discarded cups was a service we provided free of charge with each drink purchase.

Unobserved amid our eating, popping of cups, exploring of the visiting bleachers, and general rough-housing, a high school football game was played. Its outcome is not recalled, and it had nothing to do with our enjoyment of the road adventure.

My friend was later paralyzed in a swimming pool accident. I should have visited him more. He was going to therapy the day he visited me at the hospital following the knee surgery that essentially ended my dream of playing sports. The knee would support most things, but not the day-after-day rigors of competitive sports.

But my friend showed me that I had no right to complain.

Sturdy knees are not prerequisites for all things, and I love to write.

In 1967, 15 years after my birth during what my un-air-conditioned mother repeatedly told me was the hottest summer ever, I received my first my byline.

That was about 10,000 stories ago.

The bank atop the steep hill is still there, but most folks follow the new road to the top.

My brother lives in the old home place, although he never rides his bike to the top. He rides no bicycle except for the one at the gym, and that bike can't go flying down a hill with a six-pack of soft drinks looped around each handle bar or smash into a fire hydrant.

The Piggly Wiggly is long gone, and Mr. Wilber's, where mother usually got $2 worth of gas and where a one-gallon glass apple vinegar jar would hold 35 cents worth, has been replaced by a fast-food place where you can buy a sandwich for about $7.

Through all the changes, though, my love for high school athletics -- and the feelings of community and for the hope for the future that come with them -- is unchanged.

The primary purpose of high school athletics in the United States is to develop better citizens. So much has changed, and yet that mission remains a noble cause. or 919-829-8910

Monday, August 15, 2011

Untold Story of the Bay of Pigs

Newly declassified CIA documents reveal new blunders and how close America came to war during the failed invasion of Cuba.

By Robert Dallek
August 14, 2011

President John F. Kennedy answers questions at a press conference about the attempted invasion of Cuba. (Bettmann-Corbis)

From a transport ship floating in Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, CIA operative Grayston Lynch knew the U.S. mission to overthrow Fidel Castro was faltering. The Cuban exiles he had brought with him had abandoned their posts, so he grabbed the boat’s recoilless rifles and machine guns and began firing at the aircraft overhead.

On a day of chaos and infamy in April 1961, Lynch would soon understand the consequences of his shooting. He had fired on his agency’s own planes, which were trying to protect the U.S.-led Cuban exiles invading the island from being slaughtered by Castro’s forces. “We couldn’t tell them from the Castro planes,” Lynch later explained.

The Bay of Pigs is one of America’s most infamous Cold War blunders, and it has been studied, debated, and dramatized endlessly ever since. Yet, for 50 years, details like Lynch’s story were hidden away in top-secret CIA files that were finally released this month and reviewed by NEWSWEEK.

The CIA’s official history of the Bay of Pigs operation is filled with dramatic and harrowing details that not only lay bare the strategic, logistical, and political problems that doomed the invasion, but also how the still-green President John F. Kennedy scrambled to keep the U.S. from entering into a full conflict with Cuba.

The disclosure is the handiwork of the dogged researcher Peter Kornbluh and his Washington-based National Security Archive. The right-to-know group used the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits to force the CIA to release all its major documents on Kennedy’s failed efforts to overthrow Castro, who this month turned 85 and stands as a living reminder of America’s failure to repel communism on an island just 90 miles from Florida.

Written by then–CIA chief historian Jack Pfeiffer between 1974 and 1984, the five-volume history—the last volume of which remains classified—seeks to spread the blame beyond the agency to the State Department and White House, while confirming that the invasion was even more disastrously handled than previously known.

Among the details hidden from public view all these years are that a CIA official transferred funds from the invasion budget to “pay the mafia types” for an assassination plot against Castro, which was so secret that the chief of invasion planning, Jacob Esterline, was not told what the money was for. Despite repeated White House instructions to keep U.S. forces from directly participating in order to preserve plausible deniability of American involvement, the CIA ultimately gave permission for U.S. pilots to fly aircraft over the beaches. The aviators were told that, if they were shot down and captured, they should describe themselves as mercenaries and the U.S. would “deny any knowledge” of them. Sadly, four U.S. airmen lost their lives, and it wasn’t until 1976 that they were given medals in ceremonies their families were encouraged to keep secret. Before Kennedy inherited the Bay of Pigs invasion plan from the Eisenhower administration, then–vice president Richard Nixon was a forceful advocate of bringing down Castro and urged the CIA to support “goon squads and other direct action groups” operating inside and outside Cuba.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the CIA task force in charge of the paramilitary assault did not believe it could succeed without becoming an open invasion supported by the U.S. military. The assessment was part of a brief prepared for President-elect Kennedy that he never saw. Kennedy later told one of his aides that the CIA and military did not believe he would resist their pressure to have American forces engage when the invasion was on the verge of failure.

Pfeiffer’s revelations are buried in a lengthy, comprehensive, and argumentative history. The volumes, which include 1,200 pages of narrative and documentary appendices, describe the White House, and particularly Kennedy, as responsible for the embarrassing defeat: It cost the invaders more than 100 lives, gave communists around the world a propaganda coup, and made a mockery of Kennedy’s promise of a new day in relations with Latin America.

In public, Kennedy put on a bold show of confidence, accepting that he alone was responsible. But in private, he struggled to make sense of the catastrophe: “How could I have been so stupid as to let them proceed?” he repeatedly asked his aides. He was furious at the CIA for having misled him. Waiting several months before he compelled CIA Director Allen Dulles to resign, Kennedy told him, “Under a parliamentary system of government it is I who would be leaving. But under our system it is you who must go.”

In the CIA history, Pfeiffer sought to aggressively defend the agency against two earlier assessments: a Kennedy presidential commission headed by Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Maxwell Taylor and including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and the report of the CIA’s inspector general, Lyman Kirkpatrick.

In Pfeiffer’s judgment, the CIA got a “bum rap” from the Taylor-RFK report for a “political decision that ensured the military defeat of the anti-Castro forces.” That decision was Kennedy’s refusal to use U.S. air power to support the invasion or to save it once it became clear it was headed for defeat. Pfeiffer argued it was absurd for Kennedy to think that he could hide America’s role in the invasion. “The U.S. government’s plan to maintain plausible deniability of its anti-Castro involvement had the impenetrability of the emperor’s new clothes,” he wrote. Hence, Kennedy’s own subsequent self-recrimination about being “stupid.” He could not forget his pre-invasion conversation with Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who asked how many men were invading and how many men Castro could field against them. Kennedy replied, perhaps 1,500 invaders and 25,000 opponents. Acheson marveled at Kennedy’s naiveté: “It doesn’t take Price Waterhouse to figure out that fifteen hundred aren’t as good as twenty-five thousand,” he said.

Kirkpatrick asserted that the CIA’s poor “planning, organization, staffing, and management” were the principal reasons for the failure. Specifically, the agency’s uncertainty that an invasion would “trigger an uprising,” which it considered essential to the success of the operation, and numerous leaks alerting Castro to the coming attack should have persuaded Dulles and Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell, Kirkpatrick said, to ask Kennedy to call it off. Also, the refusal to accept Kennedy’s word that he would not use American forces to prevent a failure made the CIA the responsible party.

The debate over who was to blame for the Bay of Pigs is a perfect example of what the Dutch historian Pieter Geyl meant when he said, “History is argument without end.” But it is well to revisit this disaster not to assign blame anew but to recall John Quincy Adams’s cautionary advice: America “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”