Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Horse is a Horse

Quite frankly, I find all of the overwrought reporting and writing concerning the death of Barbaro to be a bit much. Good Morning America ran a segment this morning entitled "What Barbaro's Courage Can Teach Us" or somesuch nonsense.

Barbaro can't teach us anything. Barbaro was a goddamned horse for Chrissake. What the situation can teach us is that if the stud fees are sufficiently astronomical then a broken leg is not necessarily a one-way ticket to the glue factory. That's about it.

Or consider this gem from the usually reliable Harvey Araton in today's New York Times sports page: "Why this national obsession with Barbaro? Maybe, as the fallen champion, the horse was reminiscent of a country that was seriously wounded on 9/11 and has been wobbly ever since."


Since 9/11 most sportswriters have been judicious in their descriptions of their human subjects as "brave" or as "heroes" given the daily examples of true bravery and heroism that one can find on a daily basis in the example of our men and women in uniform who have been thrust in harm's way on our behalf. Not even is employing the death of a horse as a metaphor for national malaise even more grotesque than the average sports mythologizing, it is just not correct.

I never once thought of Barbaro unless there was a news story about his latest surgery. I don't think much of anybody other than hard core racing fans thought about him either.

I mean, he was a horse . He was an awfully pretty one at that and one that I am made to understand is important to the history of an increasingly irrelevant sport.

But as for me, I would be a lot more upset if Roger Federer were put down.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Completing Poetry of Hoover Dam

My Sunday column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Hoover Dam made some men very rich and killed a few others. It diverted the natural appropriation of water, skewing the distribution toward the agribusiness concerns of California. And you and I are pretty much OK with that, unless we’re would-be monkeywrenchers, holed up with our Edward Abbey and our cubic mile of unshared air that we find necessary for proper respiration.

My Sunday Feeling

I am taking a break from my, well, break from blogging just long enough to put up this wonderful piece from today's New York Times about Indiana-born poet Norbert Krapf and his love of the Indianapolis Colts. It is also a reverie about the old Chicago Bears who used to hold their training camp at St. Joseph's College in upstate Indiana where Krapf played football as an undergraduate in the early sixties.

I was born in Indiana although much of my knowledge about the place comes from my father. The Indiana of Buck Bowen and Norbert Krapf was all about high school basketball, Notre Dame and Chicago Bear football and the Cubs. My father and a buddy used to hop trains in Valporaiso-where I was born-and ride to South Bend to see Notre Dame. Sometimes they would head West into Chicago to watch the Cubs or the Blackhawks depending on the season. He never mentioned that he ever went to Soldier Field. Presumably, a Bears ticket was just as hard to get back then as it is now. Since my Dad was one of those people that told everything he knew I can only assume he never saw the Bears in person.

True Story: My father had this buddy named Gene Sanders. Dad said that Gene went out on a blind date once with the sister of the late Abe Gibron who played on the line for and later coached the Chicago Bears. Gene said she looked just like her brother-he was not being kind-and that she drank him under the table.

I had not remembered that story until I read George Vecsey's essay in today's NYT.

I am making progress with my other projects and will be back on-the-air on a regular basis soon. See you soon!

Hit the link:

Sunday, January 21, 2007

One Last Post

My last submission for January may be found at our sister station http://strangepup.blogspot.com .

See you in a couple of weeks!

My Sunday Feeling


The link above is to a story that ran in yesterday's New York Times about the ongoing soap opera that is the Arkansas Razorback football program. In case you have no idea about which I speak, I shall attempt to summarize the current imbroglio in brief. Where to begin?

About this time last year Arkansas, like all other colleges, was out on the recruiting trail. The current occupant of the chair of football there, Little Rock's own Houston Dale Nutt, was feeling the heat from virtually all corners after 2 back-to-back losing seasons. He was also under some considerable pressure to get 3 or 4 kids from Springdale High School down the road from Fayetteville to become Razorbacks. Springdale had just completed an undefeated season and was widely considered to be one, if not the, best high school football team in the history of the state. Springdale had about 8 or 9 Division I players, including quarterback Mitch Mustain, the Gatorade Player of the Year. Springdale was coached by Gus Malzahn who enjoyed a considerable reputation as an offensive football coach even among the college ranks.

Things were not going well in Nutt's courtship of the Springdale Bulldogs. Their big offensive tackle committed early to Notre Dame. Wide receiver Damien Williams pledged his troth with Florida. And Mustain had withdrawn his oral commitment to Arkansas and was said to be considering following Williams to the Gators.

In the preceding two seasons, Nutt had come under withering criticism for running what was perceived by the armchair experts that make up much of the Razorback constituency of running an unimaginative offense. He was said to under pressure from Athletic Director for Life Frank Broyles to hire an Offensive Coordinator. So, Nutt evidently decided to kill two birds with one stone. He hired Gus Malzahn from the high school ranks to be the coordinator, in a move that was calculated to get Frank off his ass and maybe lure the Springdale kids to campus.

It worked on one respect in that 3 of the most coveted players came to Arkansas: Mustain, tight end Ben Cleveland and Williams who, in what was not recognized at the time as dramatic foreshadowing, welshed on his commitment to the Gators. However, the decision to hire a high school coach to run the offense at an SEC school was met with widened eyebrows in many corners including this one. Indeed, in a post dated December 11, 2005 I wrote that "[t]he potential for disaster cannot be discounted." It turns out that I was correct. I was just wrong in limiting the scope of my prediction to events on the field.

Fast forward: The 2006 Razorbacks were pretty damned good. They won 10 games, utilizing 2 running backs that ran roughshod over the SEC. One of them, Darren McFadden came in second in the Heisman balloting in the process. However, despite the stable of running backs, the offense sputtered at times, particularly in the final 3 games all of which the Razorbacks lost. The passing game got worse with time. Mustain got benched after leading the Hogs to 8 straight wins. His replacement, Casey Dick, didn't improve things much if any. And all of this time, a considerable faction of the Razorback Nation felt the fingerprints of Houston Nutt all over the offense despite the hiring of Malzahn to allegedly call the plays.

It was just before the bowl game with Wisconsin that things got interesting. The parents of the Springdale kids asked for a meeting with Broyles because they are "concerned about the direction the offense is taking." Amazingly enough, Broyles gives it to them. They play the Wisconsin game. They lose. A week later Damien Williams asks for his release and transfers to Southern California who had clobbered Arkansas in the opener for the second year in a row. A week or so ago, Malzahn resigns to take a co-coordinator position with Tulsa in weak-sister Conference USA, home of the Tulane Green Wave among other stalwarts of the game. It seems he found out that he was going to be pushed aside for another coach who was being imported from the Dallas Cowboys. And last week Mustain asked for his release. He is still in school at his own expense and is said to be considering his options for transferring somewhere else.

This is high drama even by SEC standards. And nobody connected to this story, with the possible exception of Malzahn and Ben Cleveland who has basically kept his mouth shut and played ball, has exactly covered themselves up with glory.

The parents of the players involved, especially Beck Campbell, Mustain's mother and Rick Cleveland who played in the NFL ,which makes him the world's biggest fucking expert on football, come across as stage parents from hell. Broyles merely heightened his considerable reputation for meddling by meeting with them. Somewhere Kenny Hatfield is making the Sign of the Cross. And he is Baptist. Nutt, who makes much of his Christian faith, comes across as paranoid and deceitful after pretty much being exposed as having lied to Malzahn in order to get him to come to Arkansas in hopes that his players would follow.

So what are the lessons we can take away from this little psychodrama? The first one is simple. Big time college sports is all about money and power and is largely irrelevant to the higher academic mission of the universities to which they are marginally attached. The corollary to that is that these young men-and you don't get this with the female athletes outside of tennis-that are elite athletes arrive at college with an expectation of entitlement and celebrity. This sort of thing used to be almost the exclusive province of basketball. But now you see young kids trying to hijack football programs as well.

Another lesson insinuated in the article above that is stated outright by my friend Phil Martin in today's column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is that there's a whole lot of folks around here that have way too much time on their hands. This mess is all we have heard about the last 4 weeks in the newspaper, on the message boards and on the call-in shows on the radio. Some guys even sprung for a half-page ad in which they called for the resignations of Broyles and Nutt. Cost 'em 5 grand. Surely that money could have been put to better use somewhere else. Like at Oaklawn.

The final lesson is this: It is never good when a parent lives vicariously through their kids. One of the theories being bruited about is the reason Mustain didn't immediately land somewhere else despite his allegedly all-world talent is that he is regarded in the coaching fraternity as a bad head with a pain-in-the-ass high maintenance Mom. Maybe so. I don't know.

But I know that I wonder "Where is the Dad?" I mean, I know his parents are divorced. But it seems to me that the one thing this young man needed more than anything was for someone-his Dad, a step dad, an Uncle, somebody, to put an arm around him and say, "Mitchell, you need to shut up and work harder. Nobody is going to give you anything. Talent only goes so far. The world does not need another Chris Simms and that is where you are heading if you aren't careful."

Defensive tackle Keith Jackson Jr. is quoted in the Times article as saying something along the lines of, " The problem with Mitch is that he wanted everything his way."

Who can blame him? It's all he's ever known. And that may be the only aspect of this story that approaches tragedy. No matter what else you read on the message boards or hear on the radio.

A program note: The world will not grieve at this announcement, but circumstances will force me to take a break from this corner of the blogosphere for awhile. Between the day job, a project I am doing for a non-profit organization I am affiliated with, and working on my house, I am pretty much swamped. Things will be better by the first of next month. But for now I need to focus elsewhere. See you in February and Go Saints!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Video From Springfield

This was sent to me by my brother Dave who lives in a rural area outside Springfield, Missouri. He hasn't had power since Monday or so. The Co-op says that they won't get power restored in his area for 5 more days or so and they are calling for 5 inches of snow Sunday.

He has his wife, his disabled Mother-in-Law, his Sister-in-Law and her 2 kids under his roof. They have tenuous heat and power because he has a generator going through the box that he is using to keep the lights on and run 2 space heaters.

But, he doesn't have enough juice to run the water pumps from the well. So you 6 people in the house without running water or at least flush toilets.

I don't know what your conception of Hell is but this would be pretty close to mine. Anytime I ever consider a move to the country, I will bear this picture in mind.

City utilities are a good thing in my estimation.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

My Sunday Feeling

"All the way to Jackson, I don't think I'll miss you much."

"Jackson" by Lucinda Williams

The only thing more depressing than Lake Providence, Louisiana in its usual state of entropy is Lake Providence all decorated up for Christmas. It would be something straight out of Dickens if Dickens had any black folks in his stories. This cheery thought occurred to me as I drove down US Highway 65 last Sunday en route to a court appearance in Jackson Monday morning.

I was in a pretty good mood despite the bleak winter landscape of the Delta. All brown and flat with an endless horizon. Just like it has been since I first started making that drive 30 years ago in an old Chrysler my mother bought me to take to law school. I was in a pretty good mood because court would be a no-brainer sort of proceeding that even I couldn't screw up and I would get to see my friends that live there.

I like Jackson. Always have. In fact, I strongly considered moving there about 15 years ago or so after I met a woman that lived there. That a long-distance courtship was a pretty crazy idea on both our parts became more apparent with the passage of time and the relationship became harder to sustain over a distance. On the other hand, I have a friend whose husband has been detailed to another city for the time being. She says it kinda works for them. Whatever. It didn't work for us.

Jackson is a lot like Little Rock. Or, it used to be more like Little Rock than it is now. Jackson has changed over the years I have been hanging around down there. And not for the better. Jackson is a lot like Little Rock in that it is easy to get around in despite the seemingly endless construction on I-55 that bisects it. Rush hour traffic on I-55 makes 630 here in Little Rock look like a country lane. I can't recall a time I've been out on 55 when I haven't seen the aftermath of some kind of traffic accident. Logistics aside, the people in Jackson are friendly, it's a great sports town and there are good restaurants. Beautiful women abound in Jackson. No kidding.

But like I said, Jackson has changed over the years. In the first place, violent crime in Jackson is absolutely through the roof. Much worse than Little Rock. As I am made to understand it, Katrina forced a lot of the New Orleans gangbanger types up the interstate to higher ground. As a result, people are getting whacked and robbed at an alarming rate. When I am in town I usually stay at any one of a number of hotels in the North part of Jackson which has always been considered a safe part of town. No more. One of my friends suggested that I stay in Flowood about 10 miles East of there "where it is safe." I stayed where I usually stay despite her advice just because I figured she was being an alarmist.

Turns out maybe I should have listened. As I was getting dressed Monday morning I saw on the news where the front desk of a hotel around the block from where I was staying got robbed Sunday morning in broad daylight. I will bear this in mind next trip.

Other differences: Jackson's Mayor is a certifiable loon. He is currently on probation for carrying a gun on school property. He is out on bond while facing charges of damaging a duplex that he contended was a crack house. Oh, and his Probation Officer is pissed off at him. Jim Dailey never made that kind of news around here.

Just from watching the local news I deduced that Jackson's racial climate is even more poisonous than what obtains here. Having said that, I can't imagine how you undo a generation's worth of institutionalized racism. The local nuts who wear their Civil War drag down at Mount Holly to celebrate David O. Dodd's birth (Or death. Whatever. I can't keep it straight.) like to imagine Little Rock as part of the Old South. Nonsense. Little Rock has but minimal relevance to the history of the Great Cause. Jackson is the Old South. And it still has the hangover in the form of racial enmity that seems far more pervasive than what you find here as bad as things are here.

I got downtown early on Monday and decided to walk around to see what had changed since the last time I had been to court there a couple of years earlier. The answer: not much. Downtown Jackson is tiny. Capitol Street is about 5 blocks or so in length. There is a beautiful Episcopal Church across the street from the Courthouse. North of it lies the Governor's Mansion, as handsome a structure as you are likely to see. There is a great diner across the street from the Federal Building that serves a great plate lunch where we all went after court. I was encouraged by a friend to try the liver and onions. I declined.

Not that Little Rock is exactly Manhattan but there's stuff going on here that is not-and will never-go on in Jackson. At least not until they elect one of their own President and he or she decides to build a Presidential Library there. The effect of the Presidential Library on real estate in downtown Little Rock is incalculable. Downtown is cool again for the first time since the early sixties. High dollar condos (who's buying these damn things anyway?) and high rise hotels are going up everywhere. A new ballpark will be ready to go in the Spring. The River Market is jumping every night. Ain't nothing like that going on in Jackson.

Still, I like Jackson. I made happy memories there. And there are people there that care about me. The kind of folks who call me when I am on the road to make sure I am OK. That's always nice to know in case I ever get run out of town. You always have to have a backup plan.

But I am glad I live in Little Rock. And I am glad that I didn't make last week's trip burdened with a broken heart unlike the poor thing in Lucinda's great "drivin' and cryin' song" about a girl's sad trip from Lafayette to Jackson. Because driving through Lake Providence is depressing enough as it is even when you are in a good mood.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Domestic Tranquility

Before he went over to Iraq, a buddy of mine made the observation that law enforcement depends upon folks having some sort of social contract with the government. As he put it at the time, " All it takes is 10-15% of the population determined to fuck things up to insure that you have major instability."

My friend was talking about Iraq. Here are the harrowing observations of Chris Rose of the New Orleans Times-Picayune about the situation on the ground in NOLA. When guys like Rose start talking about leaving, that's all I need to know about the gravity of the situation.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

On The Road Again

The day job requires me to be in Jackson, Mississippi tomorrow morning. So no post for today. Will get back at it sometime next week.


And how 'bout them Cowboys?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Glimpse At Some Of Our Competiton

My brother John somehow stumbled across this out on the Internet and passed it along. What I found striking about all of this is how completely serious this woman is about her "art."

As one of our frequent correspondents pointed out after poking around on this site, " No doubt she has received an NEA grant."

I cannot make this stuff up. Hit the Link. Enjoy!


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Simple Phone Call Will Suffice

Yesterday, while en route to Conway to help move Mother to her new apartment, I was struck down by a stomach virus just as I was crossing the Faulkner County line. Once I got back on the road, I opened the sunroof and cracked a couple of windows to let some fresh air in. I had managed to forget what misery it is to be driving 70 mph while fighting nausea.

I got to Trillium Park where Mom used to live. I stayed long enough to give Bob some money for lunch and a check for the movers. Then I was asked to "get the f*ck out of here" and so I headed back to Little Rock with windows open and teeth gritted.

Between brothers Bob and John and with cousin Janan pinch-hitting for me, everything went smoothly. Mom's place was pretty much ready by 11:30 or that morning and she was installed in her new digs by 1 or so. Of course, it should have gone smoothly. I had planned everything down to the nth degree in case something blew up.

It just didn't occur to me at the time that I would be the "something" that would go kaboom!

Some of my friends were predisposed to see the hand of the Almighty in all of this. As one such theologically inclined friend said, " You had done so much work and worried so much about all of this, maybe this is just God's way of telling you to let go and let others take over." I confess that this high-minded consideration was the furthest thing from my mind when I was taking a knee just outside of the Mayflower city limits.

" You know," I said. " If God wants to get a message to me, there's any of a number of ways to do it. He could have appeared unto me in a dream. That always worked in both the Old and the New Testament. He could have appeared as a whirlwind or he could have set my azaleas on fire and spoke to me from there. "

" Would it have killed God-speaking metaphorically of course-to have sent me an e-mail or to have hit me with a text message? With all due respect, if God is communicating His will nowadays through the intentional infliction of the stomach virus I would just as soon he minded His own business. "

But, as another of my friends who is still given to belief in Signs and Wonders even in this present age said, "Yes, but if He hadn't put this on you would you have listened to anything else?"

" Hell yes, " I replied. " I am a reasonable man. If the chinaberry tree bursts into flames and starts speaking Hebrew or impersonating Charlton Heston, I will take heed and know that
it is God. Either that or I will join AA."

Someone else tried to put it all in perspective. She is an Episcopalian and as such she tries not to let such ruminations get the best of her.

" The important thing is that your Mother was moved with as little stress on her as possible. All your hard work and the fact that you guys all get along and work well together made it possible for you to stay on the sidelines. If that's not a blessing I don't know what is."

OK. I can go with that one. I don't go out of my way to look for 'em but I will take my blessings where I can get 'em.

I am much better today. I ate a sandwich and some soup for lunch. So far so good. I've been reading out on my porch swing. The cool air feels really good. Looking forward to the Sugar Bowl later tonight. Notre Dame and LSU. Talk about a game that's hard to find somebody to root for!

I'll probably swallow my pride-now that I can swallow- and pull for the Tigers. LSU fans may be crazier than hell but at least they're not a bunch of damn snobs as the Irish faithful tend to be. Yep. I think I am on the mend.

But really, God. If it be thy will, the next time Thou desireth to get me told about something, try the cell first before Thou considereth other means of communication with Thy humble servant. Always got it with me.

It will be easier on everybody.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Really Bad Idea

The link below will take you to an article in the Legal Times about a lawsuit filed by a man who claims his privacy was invaded when a woman named Jessica Cutler wrote a steamy blog about her sexual exploits in which intimate details of the sex life of she and the Plaintiff (along with about 6 other guys) were laid bare for the world to read.

The local angle is that Plaintiff is now on the faculty of the UALR's Bowen School of Law here in Little Rock.

You gotta wonder if he's reconsidered the wisdom of having brought this action. The discovery process (depositions, requests for admissions etc.) can be quite, ummm, embarrassing.

The moral? Don't file a lawsuit unless you are willing to let the other side get up your ass with a flashlight.

Also, blogging can get you sued.


January 1, 2007

The new year begins cold and clear here in the People's Republic of Hillcrest. Not much is going on to speak of. I got up late-for me-and made bacon and eggs for breakfast. Not that I needed more food. Spent New Year's Eve at a nice dinner party where there was much food and drink. Tonight will have ribs and black eyed peas for dinner. No, I didn't need a big breakfast but what the hell. It's a holiday.

Been receiving text messages bearing glad tidings from all over. Talked with my friend Marge over in Jackson. She got up with her son early this morning to make sure he made it to basketball practice. God, I had managed to forget all of those basketball practices on New Year's Day. Nothing like line drills to put you in a festive mood. Good thing that I didn't have my first hangover until after my playing days.

I don't do resolutions. But I do have questions about what 2007 will bring.

Surge or Purge? Here's the biggest question of them all: What will we do in Iraq? The latest theory is that we dramatically increase or "surge" our troop level in a last-ditch attempt to impose order in that God-forsaken place. Note that I used "impose" and not "return." The last time there was any order in Iraq it was run by Saddam. And, suffice it to say, he ain't in charge. He ain't even sharing oxygen with us anymore. But more on that later.

I hesitate to classify the invasion of Iraq as a blunder. But this is only because I still have friends that are serving over there. What they are doing is noble and brave. I honor their service and I pray for their safe return. ( Matt has already requested steak on the grill when he gets back. You got it, buddy.)

But something has to change. We can't keep this up indefinitely, surge or no surge. We shall see.

Rough Justice: Saddam Hussein was hanged by the Iraqi government after what passed for a trial. His execution was calculated to be as humiliating as possible. He was not allowed a final visit from friends or relatives. According to eyewitnesses, he was mocked by the guards en route to the gallows. A grimmer bit of statecraft is scarcely imaginable.

Unless it was the torture and murder meted out by him during his reign of terror. Don't get me wrong. I weep not for Saddam. He may have been tried by a kangaroo court but then again genocide is a fairly easy crime to prove. If anybody on Earth deserved the death penalty it was that son of a bitch. The fact that he wasn't summarily rounded up and shot is more due process than he deserved.

But still. Say what you will about capital punishment. But we in this country don't mock the condemned. And we don't broadcast executions for public entertainment regardless of how cathartic it might be. The Department of Justice helped set this "court" up. Couldn't we have controlled these guys a little better? They could have killed him just as dead with a more dignified proceeding.

The execution of Saddam was brutal, sadistic and barbaric. And Uncle Sam's fingerprints are all over it. When a state orders that a life be taken, it must be an act of utter solemnity. Saddam was put to death by our proxy in a mob scene not much more dignified than the public executions conducted during the French Revolution.

I weep not for Saddam. But the way this played out sickens me both as a lawyer and an American. Our reputation for being the world's moral authority took a major hit when we invaded Iraq. I can't imagine that our status improved the other night.

All Things Razorback: Will the soap opera that is Razorback football continue in 2007? Which players will leave? Which assistants will be fired? Will Houston Nutt go to Alabama? Will the basketball Hogs win 20 games and go deep in the NCAA's (It says here no.)?

Will the radio callers and Internet rumormongers get a life and move on to other pursuits?

You must be kidding.

First things first: Barry Bonds is pretty much a lock to pass Henry Aaron's home run record if he manages to play long enough. My question is whether he will do so while under indictment or not. What will Major League Baseball do if that happens? What will be the response of the Player's Union if MLB suspends him?

How much fun will all of this be to watch? Words fail me.

That's enough for this New Year's Day. The Razorback game just started and I am tired of typing.

Best of luck to all of you in 2007!