Friday, March 31, 2006

Why Time Begins on Opening Day

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2006 at 10:55 AM

Baseball is a dance, according to Nashville author Robert Benson, so consuming and ritualistic that "It is a little like going to any Catholic or Anglican church ... on a Sunday morning." And this particular Sunday is Opening Day, truly one of the holiest days of the year, the day when baseball resurrects itself for another summer.

The poet Philip Dacey puts it this way:

Mystery Baseball

No one know the man who throws out the season's first ball.
His face has never appeared in the newspapers,
except in crowd scenes, blurred.
Asked his name, he mumbles something
about loneliness,
about the beginnings of hard times.

Each team fields an extra, tenth man.
This is the invisible player,
assigned to no particular position.
Runners edging off base feel a tap on their shoulders,
turn, see no one.
Or a batter, the count against him, will hear whispered
in his ear vague, dark
rumors of his wife, and go down.

Vendors move through the stands
selling unmarked sacks,
never disclosing their contents,
never having been told.
People buy, hoping.

Pitchers stay busy
getting signs.
They are everywhere.

One man rounds third base, pumping hard,
and is never seen again.
Teammates and relatives wait years at the plate,
uneasy, fearful.

An outfielder goes for a ball on the warning track.
He leaps into the air and keeps rising,
beyond himself, past
the limp flag.
Days later he is discovered,
descended, wandering dazed
in centerfield.

Deep under second base lives an old man,
bearded, said to be
a hundred. All through the game
players pull at the bills of their caps,
acknowledging him.

Robert Benson is a Nashville resident and the author of The Game: One Man, Nine Innings, A Love Affair with Baseball. Philip Dacey, who lives in New York City, is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Boy Under the Bed from which "Mystery Baseball" is excerpted with permission.

Lurching Rightward

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2006 at 9:19 AM

Bill Frist's recent rightward lurch on immigration seems calculated to appease what we casually refer to as "the base," but in doing so he's managed to tilt himself past even The Wall Street Journal. Writing on the editorial page today, WSJ deputy editor Daniel Henninger savages the current state of immigration law and takes a dim view of those, like Frist, who think more enforcement is the critical piece:

I think Mr. Frist's reading of the public mind is wrong, and Mr. McCain has it about right....Most Americans understand their heritage and do not want now to be "anti-immigrant." They don't want to be party to an 11-million-person round-up and deportation. What they want is a politics that takes seriously their anxieties, anxieties that involve not just immigrants but general unease about the direction of a turbulent, constantly changing U.S. culture, as in that 2004 presidential vote....It may be too much to hope, but the purpose of political leadership in such times is to find a path toward our best lights rather than our darkest impulses. At the moment, Senator Frist of Tennessee isn't measuring up.

"Darkest impulses" ... that'll look good on a Frist '08 bumper sticker.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Democracy Anyone?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2006 at 11:21 AM

Ibrahim al-Jaafari was named interim prime minister of Iraq after Shiites won a plurality in the much-ballyhood elections in December (remember the purple thumbs?). The Shiites recently nominated him for a full four year term. Yesterday, Shiites reported that the American ambassador delivered what he called "a personal message from President Bush" to the Shiites saying that Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, and doesn't accept" al-Jaafari as prime minister. The report was not denied by United States officials. Read about it in today's New York Times. What's wrong with this picture?

Jumping on a Partially Invisible Bandwagon

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2006 at 10:44 AM

It's a bit disconcerting to see the level of early editorial enthusiasm for Gov. Bredesen's new health care initiative, "Cover Tennessee," given that key program details remain sketchy. A Tennesseean editorial labels it logical, modest, workable, and affordable. Columnist Gail Kerr calls it "not perfect" but "good." And it may be these things.

And it may not. Readers should look at the initial assessment of the program by the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, which raises legitimate concerns about affordability, coverage, and the pull on federal funds. For many of these concerns, it's not that advocates like THCC see the plan differently; it's that there isn't yet sufficient detail. One question I'd toss into the mix: Will the "modest" coverage involved in this plan protect families encountering unexpected catastrophic illness from financial ruin?

My point is not to bash the governor here; he's seeking helpful solutions, and I'll even give him a minor pass on the seemingly crass election calendar timing of his decisons about when to take away health insurance coverage, and when to extend it. But it does behoove pundits and editorialists to explore the thing in detail before giving it their public policy blessing.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Read It and Weep

Posted By on Mon, Mar 27, 2006 at 7:55 PM

In the months of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the head of British intelligence (identified as "C") drafted what would become known as The Downing Street Memo summarizing the conversations between President Bush and Tony Blair. What gave the memo its notoriety (after it was leaked) was its full revelation that Bush intended to go to war irrespective of allied support or UN sanction, and irrespective of the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Further, Bush was not willing to allow the UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to continue his work, even though Blix and all of America's allies (except Britain) urged him to. As "C" succinctly put it, "the intelligence and facts" developed by our intelligence agencies were to be "fixed around the policy," already in place, to invade. That seems to be certainly what happened. The Downing Street Memo is analyzed in detail in a new book, The Secret Way to War, by Mark Danner to be published in April by the New York Review of Books.

Now, today's New York Times reports yet another damning memo from Blair's staff. David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy adviser, reports that Bush and Blair knew there was no evidence of WMD only days before the invasion and that Bush, lacking clear justification for the attack, envisioned painting an American U-2 in UN colors and flying it over Iraqi gun emplacements hoping to draw fire and trigger a war, much like Lyndon Johnson did with the Gulf of Tonkin "incident." Finally, in response to a British question, Bush was confident that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between different religious and ethnic groups," something he apparently continues to believe.

Read it and weep.

C.S.A. Director Tonight

Posted By on Mon, Mar 27, 2006 at 3:48 PM

A couple of weeks ago Ridley blogged here about the film C.S.A: The Confederate States of America at the Belcourt. Tonight after the 7:00 pm screening, there'll be a talkback with C.S.A. director Kevin Willmott. Tickets online here or at the door.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2006 at 5:46 PM


If you're out at Opry Mills tomorrow (and who wouldn't be?), local rocker Terry Lee Bolton plays a half-hour set at Tower Records starting at 4 p.m. He's also doing a TV taping later Saturday night at the Music Factory in Lebanon; call 793-0441 for more information. The title of Bolton's new CD is American Man, for reasons that should be evident from this photo.

Gore Bore No More

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2006 at 2:59 PM

The old new is now old, so the old is new again . . . or something. American Prospect magazine ran a profile of Vice President Gore entitled the "New New Gore." The article by Ezra Klein suggests that Gore, the once almost king, could be the once almost and future king, having generated buzz as a result of his association with, some pointed attacks on President Bush in the past year, and his coming out party at the last Sundance Film Festival. The author sees the beginnings of a groundswell of support, so much so that Gore might come out of exile from electoral politics and make a run for President in 2008. Klein proposes that the lack of enthusiasm from the Sarandon wing of the Democratic party and left-leaning Net denizens for Senator Clinton would form a vacuum that Gore could fill in his new position as the party's liberal monarch.

Continue reading »

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What is the 5598th 4866th most common word in English?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2006 at 8:46 PM

The answer here, at a website that Weinberger aptly labels "ineffably cool." Explanation (of sorts) here.

I Wanna Be a Paperback Writer

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2006 at 5:26 PM

The renowned poet and critic Randall Jarrell (a native Nashvillian) used to refer to paperback books as "paperbacks," intending to imply that giving something a label did not necessarily legitimize it. Of course, Jarrell died back in the 1960s when the decay of fine literary works into paperbacks had hardly begun. Now, oddly enough, hardbacks are in again, but still not for serious literary works, or so says today's New York Times. What sells in hardback today is lightweight fare like Sue Grafton's latest mystery or Ann Coulter's latest diatribe. Serious work doesn't do so well. So publishers are now issuing serious literary works as "paperback originals" at about half the price of a hardback-- Tennessean John McManus' recent and excellent Bitter Milk is a good example. It's an odd phenomenon, this upside down world where good literature is perishable and books that people buy but probably don't read (political biographies and the aforementioned Coulter) are hardly biodegradable. But it's not an unwelcome development for readers who haven't got the money for a hardback, which probably includes most readers of serious literature (if you don't know the difference between serious literature and hardback Coulter, give it up). "Sic transit gloria litterarum."

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