Sunday, March 30, 2008

Letting Mr. Happy Do All The Thinking

TMFW is off tending to the sick or something and asked me to offer a few words in his absence.

This week saw yet another politician's career threatened by a sex scandal. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit was indicted for lying under oath about the nature of his relationship with an aide, then spending millions of public dollars to settle a related lawsuit. Like former governor Elliot Spitzer, his extramarital dalliance led to criminal charges, but unlike Spitzer, he refused to resign. Since the charges, based on the most cursory review of the evidence, are obviously true, one wonders what his defense will be, but he's staying put. I'm sure his tenure as mayor will be highly productive. Kind of like Bill Clinton's second term.

I've heard some commentators over the last few years say that this hue and cry over personal pecadillos, and the concomitant wallowing in schadenfreude that ensues, is the product of the modern (i.e., television) press, that Kennedy, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and many, many others all had extramarital affairs but that the press never exposed them. Personal sexual matters were not considered relevant to one's fitness for office. Or maybe the old boy's club rules were such that this sort of behavior was just expected from powerful men and considered unremarkable. Or maybe keeping your mouth shut about girlfriends was just part of the price of access, and if you were a reporter, access was more important than one story about an affair.

Maybe so, but sex scandals have been part of our country from the start. There's nothing recent about them Alexander Hamilton was bedeviled while in office by stories about his affair with the notorious Mrs. Reynolds and subsequent blackmailing by her husband. Stories about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings were circulating in his lifetime. Both managed to stay in office despite the stories.

Years ago, TMFW and I were talking about Wilbur Mills, who had been a powerful congressman from Arkansas who got busted, drunk, by a park cop in a compromising position with a stripper, who promptly jumped up and splashed across the reflecting pool in the Capitol Mall. TMFW, then known by a more colorful nickname, explained Mills' conduct as "Letting Mr. Happy do all the thinking."

A long sting of politicians, several per year, every year, Republican and Democrat, gay and straight, have gotten in trouble for letting Mr. Happy do all the thinking. Some, like Mills, Wayne Hays, Jon Hinson, lose their jobs. Some, Like Spitzer and Kilpatrick, get indicted for their liasons. Some, like John Jenrette and Edwin Edwards, get indicted for something else, like taking bribes. Some. like Barney Frank, Dan Burton, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Hyde, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, shake it off and continue their careers. Some, like Bob Packwood and Bob Livingston, get invited to resign by the bodies to which they were elected. Some, like Gary Condit and Wayne Hayes, run for re-election and lose, blaming the press' unrelenting focus on irrelevant details of their personal lives for the loss. Some, like Mills and Jenrette, blame the booze. Some gay-bashers, like Jon Hinson, Larry Craig, and Robert Bauman, make the surprising claim that having lots of gay sex with other men is not a sign that they're gay. But it's always humiliating and always bad for your political prospects, unless you're Edwin Edwards.

So why do they do it? Because they think they're going to get away with it. The kind of man who runs for office is used to taking risks, and the kind who gets elected is used to getting away with it. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Strom Thurmond and Franklin Roosevelt all did. In the rare case, a pol will achieve a heightened reputation for roguish charm, like Edwin Edwards and Aaron Burr. Politicians just seem to see themselves as entitled to do whatever they want, and proceed to do so, and in this age of text messages, cameras, tape recordings, e-mail, and television, where every mistake can be captured then played on Youtube for the amusement of computing public, lots and lots of them are going to get caught.

I don't know that our keen interest in this kind of news has lost us any excellent public servants. Spitzer was a jerk who wasn't getting anything done, as was Gary Condit. John Jenrette was a drunk. Bill Clinton kept his job, although the sex scandal was such a distraction that I don't remember much getting done in his second term. Whether we've suffered as a nation because of any of these scandals is debatable. Someone's always ready to take the job that's vacated. And a case can be made that the way politicians live their personal lives has no bearing on the way they carry out their public duties. No one, for example, thinks the public has any legitimate interest in knowing what candidates do in the bedroom with their own spouses. Still and all. People are interested in the sexual adventures of public figures, and this is unlikely to change.

Politicians could protect themselves, of course, by keeping their zippers zipped and being faithful to their spouses.

Since that's not going to happen, we can look forward to another one of these stories every few months, we can smack our heads and ask "How could he be that stupid?"

Answer: He's a politician. Mr. Happy does his thinking for him. They're just like that.

Putting out the light

Asked to fill in, I repeat myself — a new version of a very old column.It's not what you think, TMFW has just gone to Heber.
— PM

When he pulls you aside at a party you know it is something serious. He huddles with you and a couple of others to give you the news; someone you didn't know — someone that he knew— walked into the woods with a shotgun and did not come out.
Suicide is, among other things, an inconsiderate act. It engenders a certain social awkwardness, it causes good people to question their recent and remote interactions with the freshly dead. When someone you know kills himself, you recall every indifferent moment spent in his company, mining lost conversations for blunders and missed signals. Suicide is a blunt recrimination; every innocent heart indicts itself.
When someone you know knows someone who has killed himself, the best thing is to listen. Details don't matter, theories don't matter, and the dead one doesn't matter anymore. What matters is that your friend has been wounded, that a violent act has shaken him. However calm and Buddha-like your friend may appear, he has been roughed up.
"I'm at the point where I'm angry at him now," he says, and you can take this to be a good sign. Your friend knew the killer for more than 20 years, he worked with him, he knows his girlfriend, he never suspected and yet it all makes sense.
"It's like he had written it down in his Daytimer — it's Friday, today I kill myself," he says, and something in the way he says it hints at resigned fatigue, the kind of letting go we settle for when the world goes wrong.
Let him talk. He describes a mild narcissist, a careful young man who watched his body and his money. He doesn't sound much different than a lot of us, and, of course, this act of self-annihilation seems preposterous — at least to a few folks sipping wine in a Hillcrest kitchen.
"But some folks will not let themselves be held up to public ridicule," your friend says. "It's not that they can't, they just won't. They just say `They will not do this to me.'"

That is what your friend thinks happened —that the prospect of semi-public embarrassment drove his friend to suicide. He had messed up at work, and he might have lost his job. There might have been other consequences, maybe, probably not. It wasn't that bad.
Your friend thinks that's what happened, and that's good enough. He also thinks that what happened with Vince Foster, that he simply decided he would not be an object of ridicule. It is an elegant answer, and maybe it is as good as any other. Maybe it is something we all would like to think. Not all suicides are capitulations, that some are acts of perverse courage and terrible will.

I doubt there is a sane person anywhere who has not contemplated suicide. We are complicated creatures who work ourselves into such twisted states; we all fumble and hurt.
It's not so far a step from imagining to doing as we like sometimes to believe. A twitch of the finger, a quick jerk of a steering wheel and we'd be off, tumbling into the blistering light of the unknowable. What's extinction like, exactly, the state of non-being?
And any afterlife, could it be as blighted and difficult as this? Could it be as empty and pain-ridden? As delighting and limned with joy? As REAL?
All my trials, Lord, soon will be over. Crossing the bar. Zapping into some hyperspace special effects George Lucas Industrial Lights & Magic blur, a blizzard of pure energy, merged into that great collective consciousness, knowing all and why ....
Wandering cold, a pathetic lonely ghost. Disconnected, caught between worlds, the great unnoticed always looking in.
It's not for nothing these are great mysteries.


"Lucky" is the word for it.
Billy wasn't serious, though to be fair he probably didn't realize he wasn't serious. It was over some girl who had thrown him over for someone else, and after he took the sleeping pills and drunk the cheap vodka he took a few minutes to call a few friends to say goodbye.
Of course, his friends got there in time, and the ambulance pulled up in front of the dorm to take him to the hospital where they pumped his stomach and the stern old priest came to visit him and told him he had narrowly averted spending eternity in the bad place.
A couple of days later, they sent the fighting-young-long-haired-priest-who-coul d-talk-to-the-young-people to visit him. Father Gary told him, in confidence, that the girl over whom he had almost done himself in was, truth be told, "kind of a slut" and certainly not worth the bother. And in a few days, he felt a little better and was properly embarrassed by the whole deal, the whole contrived, created, worthless, stupid thing.
His friends mercifully let him forget it after a few years, except for one of them who wrote about it in a newspaper column once.
He went on to be a healthy guy, a scientist and father, married to a wonderful red-haired woman whom he hadn't even known existed back in those angsty undergraduate days. He got to see Paris and a World Series game.
Only a few friends and his mother remember him in that hospital bed, how pale and kitten-weak he was, and how the plastic identification band slid up and down on his wrist. Hospital light is never good light, that antiseptic scent stings your eyes and makes it look like you are crying.

There are lots of cliches about this business, a lot of stuff that people say that's probably true. It is a hard thing to live in the world, there are all sorts of appliances that people use to try to stay in it. We need these things, these things like love and friends and wine, they are necessary.
It is vain to pretend that we can know the mind of anyone else. We might know their hearts, but never their mind. When someone kills himself, perhaps the best thing to do is to mourn, and to understand we are mourning for ourselves.

Friday, March 28, 2008


ABC News reports that the asthma and allergy drug Singulair has been linked to suicide.


If y'all don't hear from me for awhile you might come look for me.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Different For Girls

While America fixates, and loses wads of money, upon the NCAA Men's' Tournament, the female of the species is also toiling away in relative obscurity in its Regionals all across the country.

The women's game has come a long way since I have been a fan. When I was a kid, they played 3 on 3 half court with only certain players being allowed to cross the center line. Not that they let the girls play in Central Arkansas was I was coming up. I guess girl's sports were considered something practiced by Little Rock's hick counterparts. All of that has changed and for the better. Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought equal access to educational programs and activities without regard to sex. Since that time women's and schoolgirl sports have proliferated.

DI women's hoops is not appreciably different than the men except for this: The men come down with it on offense, make 2 passes and then somebody does something stupid. The women come down on offense, make 5 passes and set 3 screens before somebody does something stupid.

There is something terribly different between the women's game and the men. In the men's game you have negative recruiting. In the women's game you have negative recruiting about concerning how "gay friendly" a particular program might be. I can say without fear of contradiction that there isn't a single "gay-friendly' program in the men's game.

God knows there are gay women in women's basketball, golf, tennis and softball. There just are. And if we were to be fair, according to the laws of statistics, there would have to be gay athletes over on the men's side. Would have to be. But women's basketball has a lesbian constituency that just cannot be denied. I can take you to certain high school games and the stands are full of female couples. Indeed, the WNBA has a marketing strategy for its gay fans. And there's not one damn thing wrong with that. Except that Athletic Directors tend to be tightassed male types whose gaze is never far off the bottom line. Some people out there, people with money, are offended by that sort of thing. That and I would be willing to bet that the Pokey Chapman situation did not exactly help the employment prospects for single women at the DI level.

If you have never heard of Chapman let me fill you in. Chapman resigned as the women's head basketball coach at LSU after another coach made an allegation about her having what the politicians would refer to as an "inappropriate relationship" with a player. The story is that she was considering suing LSU for wrongful termination but evidently thought better of it.

Now, according to a recent episode of ESPN's excellent "Behind the Lines" recruiters tend to bring up certain questions about certain programs "atmosphere" which is code talk for "too many dikes." And this is an issue for some parents and players who don't want to be involved with that. So you get grandfatherly types like Van Chancellor, LSU's new coach getting jobs that used to go to women just to avoid this "atmosphere" problem.

Which should make women who aspire to coaching-be they straight or gay- want to strangle Chapman whose foolish behavior perpetrated the myth that gay people are out to have sex with kids or to "recruit" them into the sorority. Thanks a lot, Pokey!

Let me make a modest proposal although I know that same will not be heeded. Let us strive to be free of bias in our hiring practices. A person's sexual orientation is absolutely nobody's business. Outlaw the use of the "atmosphere" card in negative recruiting. Conversely, all colleges should make as a condition of their contracts of employment with their coaches-male and female-that any sexual contact with a player or student is grounds for immediate termination. Take "gay or straight" out of the equation and focus on the conduct. Sex with a player in your charge is wrong. Period.

But that would require people to be honest. Some gay folks are interested in athletics just like some straight folks. Straights need to realize that this a fact. Gay people shouldn't make a martyr out of Pokey Chapman. Pokey's not a martyr. If she did what she is accused of doing, she's an idiot who deserves everything that got dropped on her. Period.

Focus on conduct instead of labels. Sex with a player is wrong. Doesn't matter who does it.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Easter Feeling

On Good Friday I went home to watch some basketball during my lunch hour. There is a coffeehouse in the neighborhood that is on the way home. On the bench in front sat two young women, one wearing sunglasses-I don't know... thirtyish-and behind the bench stood two other women. They were all holding hands and they appeared to be praying. The woman with the sunglasses was crying, lifting up her shades to dab at her eyes with her free hand.

While I cannot pretend to know what was going on, obviously the woman in the shades was experiencing some acute psychic distress of some sort. As we know, the possibilities for human misery are practically limitless. Perhaps a loved one died. Maybe she got some bad news from her physician. Traumatic breakups with "significant others"can get the tap turned.

Or maybe she's just nuts and her friends were trying to keep her from causing a scene. We can't know. But I was struck by two things.

First of all, you wouldn't see a bunch of guys doing this. Pretty much every woman I know has a core group of girlfriends with whom she derives sustenance. The previous administration around here had a GNO-Girls Night Out-that not only was inviolate but was typically planned with military precision. I know this because I was typically copied in on the emails that would fly around concerning the plans. I assumed that these messages were intended as a convenient reminder that I was to take a powder during GNO.

As the all seeing and all knowing Dr. GG says, "Women need other women." Maybe so, maybe no. I don't know any of the women that out there around the bench. But I do know that women tend to reach out to their girlfriends in time of trouble. Guys go out and drink. Or buy golf equipment. Anything to keep from talking about it.

And then I thought about somebody else who had a rough time of it on Good Friday.

It is said that Jesus during His time of trial in the garden at Gethesemane prayed so intensely that He sweated blood. As I understand it, Catholic tradition teaches that the fullness of evil in human history was revealed to Him at that moment-the wars, the famines, the Holocaust, Dancing With The Stars-in order that He might understand the gravity and the necessity of the sacrifice that God required of Him.

Because Jesus didn't want to die. He prayed that the cup prepared for Him might pass him by. Unlike the poor woman on the bench on the bench outside the coffeehouse, Jesus couldn't call upon his friends to comfort him. They were all asleep. Indeed, Simon Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus built the Church (if you believe that's what He was up to) would go on to betray Him later on that day. And this was a man who had seen the miracles with his own eyes.

"Human" Friedrich Nietzsche would later say. " All too human."

If you look at the Easter story through the lens of history Christianity is yet another of a number of world religions which required blood atonement for the forgiveness of sins. Typically, the blood offered the angried up deity belongs to someone else. A lamb, a slave, a captive for example. Human history teaches us that it is rare that the atoner himself will offer his own hide to buy off the Almighty for the sake of the common good.

And history is replete with instances of dying and rising gods. And gods impregnating humans. Viewed through this lens, the notion of blood atonement, which is still the cause of much wickedness and violence in this world, is a concept which is simply ridiculous from a literal perspective.

So what makes Easter different?

I once had a female friend who was going through some troubles. I offered to cook her something. She sat in a chair drinking wine while I stirred the red sauce I was making all the time listening to her tearful tale of sorrow and disgrace. After awhile, I asked her to come have a taste and asked her what she thought it needed. Maybe some oregano? Maybe some more wine? Pepper? Pretty soon she was stirring and tasting, distracted by the task at hand and comforted by the sauce she was tasting.

The moral of this cheap parlor trick? It is this: No matter how bad things are you can always figure out a way to make things better.

And that's what makes Easter Easter. Believe what you will. Reject what you can't. As for me, I take comfort in the Easter proclamation that no matter how bleak things seem at the time, things can get better. Tomorrow is another chance.

Don't give up. Things can get better.

I hope that girl I saw crying on Good Friday catches a break. It looked like she could use one. She obviously has people who care for her. That's a damn good start.

And while Jesus wasn't so lucky on His Good Friday, maybe her prayers will be answered.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No, This Time The Real Reason Is The Real Reason

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Major League Baseball Player's Union will investigate why none of the teams have made Barry Bonds an offer with only two weeks to go until the season starts. Donald Fehr, the head of the union, said it will examine whether the lack of offers is the result of collusion among the owners.

Hey, Donald. I can make this easy on you. There is a difference between unanimity of opinion and collusion.

Bonds is aging, has a bum knee and is about as mobile as a lamp post. He has the personality of a pit bull.

And there is also the small matter of his indictment for perjury in the BALCO steroids mess. Having Barry around under laboratory conditions is circus enough. Having him try to concentrate on both defending himself and clearing his name while expecting him to put up numbers without access to performance enhancing drugs is just too much or a gamble.

It's pretty simple to me. But then again I know there's a difference between unanimity of opinion and collusion.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

"What profitith a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?"

The resolute looking gentleman pictured here is high powered Mississippi lawyer Dickie Scruggs. Scruggs made over 400 million in attorney's fees after brokering a settlement in the litigation involving numerous states against the tobacco industry a while back.

Scruggs just pleaded guilty, along with his law partner, to one count of a Federal indictment for attempting to bribe a Mississippi state court judge $40,000.00 to see things his way in a dispute with other lawyers over-what else?-legal fees. Dickie's son Zach is also in between the Feds' cross hairs as well. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, known locally as the Clarion-Liar, reported yesterday that they were going to defer prosecution of Zach Scruggs in exchange for his giving up his license to practice law. The Clarion-Ledger, easily one of the worst newspapers in the business, reports today that they are going to trial in two weeks. Who knows? To read all about it, hit the link:

I love Mississippi. I do a lot of business down there. Some of my closest and dearest friends, people I talk to or send e-mails to on an almost daily basis, live there. I almost married a girl from down there. But I am glad that I don't have to practice law in state court down there. Mississippi can only be experienced. It cannot be described. But it's state courts are uniformly corrupt. My first thought when Scruggs got indicted back last Fall was not that I was surprised that somebody tried to bribe a judge down there. I was just surprised that he turned it down.

And while I wasn't surprised that somebody had been accused of trying to bribe a state court judge ,I WAS surprised that it was Dickie Scruggs who was accused of offering the bribe. It has been reported that Scruggs may have earned up to 800 million in fees over the tobacco litigation. The litigation he got indicted over concerned some 26 million. Granted, that ain't nothing to sneeze at. But 26 million is chump change for a guy like Scuggs. He didn't have to lift a finger the rest of his life if he didn't want to. Now he is going to prison for nothing in real dollar terms.

What was he thinking?

All white collar criminals do a risk calculation. Dickie Scruggs is a criminal. And a smart man. You would think that if he did the calculation he would have decided he was better off flying his plane around or playing golf rather than exposing himself to criminal liability for a song.

Which makes me wonder if he did no risk calculation because greasing the skids is just the cost of doing business in some places and he just happened to run across the wrong guy. If you read the article you will see where other lawyers in Mississippi, as well as a state court judge, have been prosecuted. God knows, Arkansas has got its share of problems. But you don't hear about that kind of stuff around here.

The events of last week provided us with object lessons in the price of reckless vanity. First, Eliot Spitzer and now this. I know that the Feds have a medical facility in Missouri and a psychiatric unit in North Carolina.

If they have a prison to hold those whose hubris morphed into criminality, Eliot Spitzer and Dickie Scruggs will be there.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Glass Houses

I'm just like everybody else who fools around with the written word. Some days it is really really hard to think of something to write about.

Today is not one of those days.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Elliot Spitzer, the Governor of New York was involved with a prostitution ring and that he had the misfortune to be caught on a federal wiretap discussing a rendezvous with an escort in Washington where he was going to attend a meeting. And if this were not shameful enough, the feds also have the girl he rented on tape describing how Spitzer had a reputation among the working girls for being "difficult" and that he had asked girls to do things that were "unsafe" in the past.

So not only is he a hypocrite. He may also be a freak.

Is he a hypocrite because he committed crimes while an elected official and cheated on his wife? Sure. But that's not what makes this transaction so completely despicable. People yield to temptation over sex and money all the time. Even politicians. There's hardly a soul among us who hasn't done something completely stupid with their pants off. Is it because he fooled around with an escort? Not really. In my mind what two consenting adults do behind closed doors is nobodies business. Not even the government's. I'm not suggesting for a minute that fooling around with the pros is such a good idea. I just refuse to believe that it is a hanging offense.

What makes Elliot Spitzer's behavior so despicable is that he made a political career out of his reputation as a hard assed prosecutor and State Attorney General of unimpeachable character who came down hard on white collar criminals and PROSTITUTION.

Louisiana's Edwin Edwards stole money by the fistful. He chased women relentlessly and he didn't make much of a secret of doing either. But he never was holier than thou about it. That's the big difference between a mere hypocrite and a scumbag.

And there's a difference between somebody who is knowledgeable about the criminal law and somebody who knows how to be a criminal. What did Spitzer in is that he ran the money he used to pay for sex through various dummy corporations in order to launder it. And he ran big sums of money through these shells. Indeed, the wiretap revealed that he paid the girl in Washington some 4 grand. 4 grand! For sex! This most likely caught the attention of the software at the bank that alerts the security people there that somebody seems to be "churning" some accounts there. Guess what? Depending on the dollar amount and the number of times you pass it all through, it might just get reported to the Treasury.

Nowadays I won't hardly see anybody outside my Zip Code much less take out a home equity loan to see somebodies skirt on the floor. Secondly, I would suspect that one can buy a lot of silence for a fairly nominal payment. You get to be known in some quarters as a guy who will throw 5 figures around for an evening's diversion and you might as well wear a sign around your neck that says, " I am an idiot. Please blackmail me."

Especially if you are the GODDAMN GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK!

I suspect that Spitzer will eventually be indicted or charged through a Bill of Information with using the banking and telephone system along with the Internet to structure financial transactions to avoid the reporting requirements in furtherance of a felony.

He really needs to plead guilty. Otherwise, the world might find out what he liked the girls to do.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

No, I Didn't Come Up With The Title

From this week's Arkansas Times:

My Sunday Feeling

Lord, now lettest thou thy Servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen it all now, boy. And what I saw at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Arkansas, was the Rockets of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys winning the State 7A Arkansas High School Basketball Championship.

Let us put this in perspective. The Rockets have been around since 1930. They have never gotten past the semi-finals. That's 78 years, if you are counting, which is a positively Cubsian history of incompetence and futility.

Actually, it's not as shocking as all of that. They have been a player or two away from being respectable for the past 8 years or so. The Seniors on the team have played together for 3 years. 3 of the guys played Middle School ball for Holy Souls down the street. So today marked the first time that three Holy Souls Wabbits-yes, Wabbits-played on a championship team.

It seemed like half the People's Republic of Hillcrest was there in Hot Springs to watch the local boys play. On the road to Hot Springs I noticed that every other car seemed to have a purple C on the gold background stuck to the rear windshield.

I sat next to my friend Steve, with whom I have watched the Rockets be on the receiving end of numerous ass-kickings over the 3 years of his reign as Principal and Maximum Dictator over there. To say he was wound tight is like saying Wally Hall is illiterate. As I looked over the scene below us, my mind drifted back to one of the happiest memories of my own youth.

My father and I used to go to the State basketball tournament together. This started when I was in Junior High although it may have been earlier. My father was from Indiana. Which of course made him the world's biggest goddamn expert on schoolboy hoops. Of course, even though I found his incessant talk about the superiority of the way Indiana ran it's tournament (everybody used to get in and all the schools big and small played each other) I had to concede he had some props. Up until that point in time, the best player I had ever seen was Central's Fred Allen. Since then the best guys I have seen were Little Rock Hall's Sidney Moncrief, Catholic's Chris Bennett(whom they cheated like hell to get), Parkview's Dexter Reed, Russelville's Corliss Williamson and Central's Joe Johnson.

Dad saw Oscar Robertson when he played for Crispus Attucks High in Indianapolis. I had to give him that one.

And although he never lived to see it, "Hoosiers," a film about the fictional Huskers of tiny Hickory High School winning the Indiana High School crown despite being coached by Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper became one of the most beloved sports films of all time mainly because even people that didn't like sports loved "Hoosiers." So I would have had to give him that one too.

But mainly I remember all those nights out at old Barton Coliseum with my Dad watching hoops. We get there early and watch the teams for the first game warm up. As you might imagine, Dad liked to go watch the country schools, the ones from little wide places in the road that I had never heard of at that point in my development. I remember watching, in no certain order of importance, Pyatt, Rector, Harrison, Desha Central, Fort Smith Northside, Pine Bluff, Alma, El Dorado, Charleston, in addition to all of the Little Rock schools. I remember seeing the last two "colored schools"in the county: Little Rock's Horace Mann and North Little Rock's Scipio Jones. I remember Mann had a kid named Scarborough that nobody could do anything with. I also remember how worried some of the white folks were that Mann might win it all. Quelle Scandale! I also remember asking my Dad why Harrison didn't have any black players. I remember him getting all uncomfortable and telling me that we would talk about it in the car on the way home.

Although our relationship deteriorated as I grew older, times were good during that snapshot in history. There was no better place to be than in old Barton watching basketball and eating hot dogs with my father.

My reverie ended when Conway and Catholic came out for the warmups. There was 6500 or so in attendance. Not bad. The crowd was a sea of blue for the visiting Conway Wampus Cats and purple for the Rockets. What fun.

Conway, with a couple of really scary sophomores, threatened to run Catholic out. Conway was hitting threes from all over the place while the jittery Rockets were clanging two footers. Catholic went in at halftime lucky to be down by 6.

Evidently the Rockets were reminded in the locker room by Coach Tim Ezzi that they ain't exactly the Phoenix Suns and that they needed to run some offense instead of running up and down the floor. All of a sudden the high-low post stuff they had left back in Little Rock reappeared in the nick of time. The guards started finding their range and Catholic went into the 4th quarter up by 5.

Whenever Catholic has a 1/2 point lead they pull the ball way out and immediately start running their version of the Princeton offense full of back screens, moving without the ball and going backdoor at every opportunity. This is the basketball equivalent of the dance of the Seven Veils. Or as the same Fred Allen mentioned above once described it to me,with no malice intended, "white boy ball."

Catholic was up by 1 with 9 seconds to go when Conway fouled to put them on the line. I grabbed my knees and looked at the floor.

" Uh-Uh!" Steve said. " You're gonna watch." And so I watched as the front end of the one and one bounced 4 times-4 times- on the rim before falling through. The kid missed the second shot but Catholic got the rebound. Ball game. Snowstorm in Hell.

My right arm went around Steve's shoulder. He had the baby in his right arm and his left around my back. Would have made a great picture.

Buck Bowen would have loved it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

This Is News?

Good Morning America did a feature today about how Spencer's Gifts sells sexually explicit items such as sex toys and other adult items next to otherwise legit mall tenants like Penneys and Toys r Us. Polycarp will be happy to know that the store they targeted for their investigation was located in the mall in Durham, NC just down the road from him. I know he will want to stock up.

Now THERE'S a newsflash. I am no Spring chicken. But when I was a callow youth I used to go to Spencer's at McCain Mall precisely for that reason. I also liked to go into a faux deli called Dunderback's over there because they would sell me beer illegally. Anyway, I used to go to Spencer's and marvel at the decks of cards with "naked ladies" on them, the "spanish fly," the day-glo nude posters and other stuff that in retrospect seems pretty stupid to me now in my dotage.

Besides I now know that Spanish fly does not work. I know this because experience teaches me that nothing "works" except the stars lining up correctly.

But Spencer's has been selling this stupid junk for 30 years. Why is this news? Do they lead sheltered lives at GMA? Or does this mean that Dianne Sawyer gets her ben-wa balls off the Internet?

Now THAT would be a story!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Nameless Guest Columnist on Political Vissictitudes

TMFW is out working for the public good today and invited me to submit a guest column in his absence. There are two ideas competing for attention in my brain: the memory of an Illinois Republican’s influence on this year’s presidential primary race, and a news item suggesting that the separation of powers intended by Messrs. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay has silently slipped into the water, neither noticed nor grieved in its passing. I failed both at finding a non-lame theme to unify them and at choosing, so here are both, in one disjointed column.

First the fun one. Think back to the relatively recent past of 2004. It was an election year, and the chattering classes were openly scornful of Democrats’ chances, not just of winning the White House, but of winning any election of any sort in any jurisdiction. Republicans were on a roll that looked like it might last forever. Karl Rove was talking about a permanent realignment of political power, and no one was contradicting him. In a lot of places it was hard to find a serious politician to stand for election as a Democrat. One such election was the U.S. Senate race in Illinois, in which Frank Ryan, a Republican former investment banker worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was poised to steamroll whoever the Democrats put up to run against him. Nobody good would sign up to run against him; it was pointless. Good-looking and, as Peter Sagal described him in his wickedly funny new book The Book of Vice, “perfectly-haired,” he was a prime example of the new Republicans who would be running the country for a generation.

It all blew up like a hand grenade over about a week. Ryan’s actress-spokesmodel wife filed for divorce amid rumors of unseemly sexual misconduct involving swingers’ clubs. A local newspaper sued to have the divorce records made public, and the papers were all over it like ugly on a gorilla. Ryan tried to tough it out for a few days but eventually withdrew from the race. Primary season was done and the election was imminent. The Republican lacked any plausible candidate and had to import a radio talk show host from Maryland to stand in, in an almost silly show of pride. It was pointless. The Democratic opponent, originally the dark-horse, a young state legislator with a good speaking voice and a funny name and few qualifications for the Senate, won in a landslide.

So, if you, like so many Americans, think that Barack Obama’s candidacy has livened up the American political landscape, you can thank Jack Ryan’s Republican libido, which wasn’t satisfied with a smoking-hot wife and all the money and power in the world, but just wanted that frisson of kinkiness to make it real.

The other item on the agenda is not something that happened, but something that failed to happen last week. You will recall that several months ago, Congress attempted to investigate the Bush Administration’s blithe politicization of federal prosecutors’ offices nationwide. Somehow under Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez a non-partisan system for selecting prosecutors that had worked through ten administrations was scrapped and replaced by a lone graduate of Oral Roberts’ law school who was pretty much told to reward the party faithful, fire those who weren’t cooperative, and make room for favorites. Resignations were demanded to make room for Karl Rove’s friends. Congress, biased Democrats that they are, decided to investigate.

The executive branch decided this firing of prosecutors because they wouldn’t prosecute more Democrats was none of Congress’ business and refused to answer questions in any meaningful way. Congress issued sternly-worded subpoenas. The Administration instructed the witnesses to comply, so they didn’t. Congress issued citations for contempt of congress and referred these citations to the Department of Justice for prosecution. And—here’s the fun part—last week, in a blandly-worded statement, Justice said “no.” Attorney General Mukasey, who once was a judge and so ought to know better, stated that since Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton were acting on orders from the President, that no crime had been committed, so he “declined to prosecute.”

So if the president tells you to do it, you can’t be prosecuted. What could be simpler than that?

As a former federal judge Mukasey knows better. Really, as a former high school civics student, he ought to know better. Mr. Madison and his buds Hamilton and Jay and a whole convention of other dead white European males designed our government to have three co-equal branches of government. That way, the executive can’t go out and arrest the judicial because it doesn’t like a verdict, and the legislative can’t pass a law that the president has to hold a press conference in his or her underwear because it doesn’t like him. None of the three branches can infringe on the other’s power, with the limited exception of judicial review, a non-constitutional power-grab deftly engineered by Jefferson-appointee John Marshall. Aside from that, each branch has its sphere of influence and, according to the Constitution, is supposed to stay in it.

From time to time there have been problems, of course. Scholars refer to these as “constitutional crises.” Sometimes the legislature passes a law that doesn’t pass constitutional muster, and the judicial branch tells them to knock it off. From time to time the legislature passes laws about which the executive branch is unenthusiastic. When this things happens, some chief executives, like Andrew Jackson, forthrightly state “You have your law, John Marshall, now go enforce it” which creates a constitutional crisis that is studied for generations. Others, of recent, issue “signing statements” informing the public that the executive branch is just not going to enforce any aspect of legislation of which it disapproves.

So. Last week, the executive branch, through the Attorney General, in response to the legislative branch’s request that it pursue criminal charges against witnesses who had willfully refused to testify in response to lawful subpoenas, said “no.” Witnesses defied Congress, congress asked the Attorney General to prosecute them for doing so, and the executive branch said “no.’

This is an unprecedented usurpation of congressional power by the executive branch, but it really wasn’t all that surprising. All those signing statements were a clue about things to come. What was surprising was that nobody noticed. I read three newspapers today, including the Sunday New York Times, and not one so much as mentioned this in its “Week In Review” section.

What happened to high school civics?


My Sunday Perspective column. By request of Tiny Monkey Fish Whistle.

Drinking on Sunday

My monthly Spirits column, here. Cross-posted from Strangepup by request of Thomas Michael Francis Wexford.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


No blogging this weekend. Had Governor's School auditions today where I was shocked to hear the 17 year old version of Samuel Ramey. Kid from Bentonville. Totally blew us away. There is a reason I keep doing this. And hearing that kid today reminded me of that reason.

I'm helping the photographers with the LR Marathon tomorrow. So I am booked solid.

Many of you have asked about "Missus P" about whom I wrote last week. I am ecstatic to report that she woke up last night Richard says her mental status seems good. She recognized everybody and was able to communicate. Now the docs will back the sedation down in order to get her off the ventilator.

The poor baby was asleep for 10 days by my count. She is still gravely ill. But she is back on this side of the shore. That's good enough for now.

Have a good weekend.