Category: Culture

American Mythology (#1)

 

 

The history lessons I received in school

Have very little connection to the stories

My grandfather waited until I was 25

To begin sharing with me

 

School sounded a lot like the TV shows

Ads and movies that were produced

As Saturday morning serials in his day

And kiddie cartoons in mine

 

This should have made me nervous as a kid

Since FDR and MLK, the Cold War and Vietnam,

Sputnik and Neil Armstrong, crack and AIDS,

Computers and nukes, Coltrane and the Greatest

 

All changed history between my generation and his

But since there were bright colors and waving flags

I tried hard to believe the myths I was taught

After all, what else could possibly be true  

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2015

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Barry Bonds Making History

 

Fifteen years ago, Barry Bonds broke what used to be one of the most hallowed records in American sporting life. He hit 71 and 72 home runs in a single season. 

 

When, in 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa launched their epic chase to breach Roger Maris' 61 HR mark established in 1961, the nation rejoiced. America began falling back in love with baseball its ugly strike led to a 1994 season with no World Series. Even when most of us recognized something deeply suspicious about the Hulking physiques of these sluggers, we all smiled and kept watching

 

Three years later, the greatest (and surliest) player in recent memory hit bomb after bomb in a whole new world. Steroids were perceived as the worst destructive force the game had ever seen. The luster of the home run was gone. And outside his home park in San Francisco, fans mostly watched Bonds with begrudging eyes. 

 

I, instead, marveled. Sure, Bonds had enhanced his body dramatically. That seemed de rigueur in that era. I didn't hold him more responsible for steroid use than any other player. His excuses of using the BALCO derived "cream" and "clear" without knowing what they were seemed absurd and childish though perhaps they were a necessary fiction. The reality is that no one else was pursued for using steroids in quite the way Bonds was. Far more than his newfound power, Bonds' disdain for reporters and media etiquette was always his real crime. 

 

Let's remember, baseball is a game that requires exquisite timing and nearly instantaneous decision making, especially in the batter's box. Due to Bonds' unprecedented hitting acumen he was the recipient of astonishing numbers of walks, intentional walks and pseudo intentional walks. (This pattern only grew. In 2004, Bonds reached base 376 times on only 373 plate appearances. NOT a typo.) Despite seeing so few pitches because of the (understandable) desire of pitchers to avoid him, he maintained an unbelievably high rate of success. 

 

Now that the dust has settled and Bonds has been fired from his only post-retirement job in baseball, let's please take a moment to acknowledge the real life history we were able to watch a decade and a half ago. Let's remember when the greatest player since Willie Mays did what no one has ever done in the history of baseball. And enjoy it. 

 

 

FDO 

 

Trump as Empire Builder?

Numerous prominent Republicans have long suggested that Donald Trump is unwilling to release his tax information because he’s hiding something important, maybe even a “bombshell”. Perhaps his reticence is about having an even lower effective tax rate than the one Mitt Romney revealed in 2012 or using the kind of barely legal tax havens he’s bashed in the past. In an attempt to head off the kind of controversy that now swirls around Trump, National Review published a piece declaring that if “Trump won’t release his tax returns prior to the GOP convention, the delegates pledged to him on the first ballot should abstain” from voting for him. The implications were that something devious or even sinister lurks in the paper trail.

 

Now that we're just a few weeks away from Election Day, Trump has now offered to trade his tax returns for Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails while still pretending his audit status prevents him from releasing his returns. He hinted that he might not actually even pay taxes at all!

 

In the first Presidential debate, Clinton raised a host of speculative theories about why Trump refuses to make his tax returns public. My theory is much simpler. See, I think the only thing that might truly diminish Trump for his supporters is his bottom line number. How much money does he actually have?

 

We’ve all seen the story play out before. A celebrity appears to have an immense amount of wealth but it’s illusory. Michael Jackson used to own an amusement park house for goodness sake!

 

This is why perception matters:

 

Trump’s primary appeal is his status as an empire builder. He describes himself as a winner and people believe it. After all, the strongest association we have with Trump is as ‘rich person’. In an America devoid of culturally significant dynastic families, it’s people like Donald Trump and the Kardashians who represent the 21st century image of American wealth. (We know nothing about most of the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Kennedys and Rockefellers in our midst today.) We’ve already looked behind the curtain at the Kardashians and seen the ‘momager’ Kris Jenner herself. We know she’s the wizard.

 

We have no idea what we’ll see when the curtain is pulled back on the ‘Trumpire’. If there’s far less wealth than we’ve been led to believe, it will be disastrous for Trump. Not because he’s funding his own campaign, despite what he says. But because the core premise of his candidacy will be gone. It’s only his wealth that resonates as successful. Without it, he’s just another reality show star with bad hair and a bizarrely attached following.

 

Now that I think about it, I wonder if Todd Chrisley would have been a better choice?

 

 

-FDO

 

 This is an update of a post I wrote several months ago.

Where Do You Stand?

 

Every spring, my US History classes learn about the Vietnam War. For most students, it’s a new experience to study Vietnam. Invariably, students have an important misconception about the war: they presume most Americans were opposed to fighting in Vietnam. When I share evidence that the war was incredibly popular for years and never became statistically unpopular, they often feel shock. The reason is simple. People lie about their support for the Vietnam War. It’s now the cultural norm to acknowledge it as a bad war. People want to be on the right side of history in their memory, if not in their actions.

 

We are already seeing a similar process unfold regarding the Iraq War. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly lied about opposing the Iraq War. Why? Again, it’s culturally preferred to acknowledge that Iraq was a bad war. That means average citizens rewrite their positions in much the same way Trump does. These kinds of lies have become both ubiquitous and casual. Unless you’re a public figure, who will take the time to go back and discern where you actually stood on Iraq more than a decade ago?

 

But, do you remember? Do you remember what you thought a year after the September 11 attacks when President George W. Bush insisted Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was part of an axis of evil? Do you remember Donald Rumsfeld telling us all that Iraq was intimately connected to al-Qaida? Do you remember whether you told your family, friends and co-workers that we needed to invade Iraq or that it would be a horrible mistake? I’m guessing you do. I’m guessing that sending Americans to fight, kill and die in Iraq mattered enough that you thought about it and made a choice.

 

Well, what about now? If someone asked you about Iraq, would you tell them the truth? Would you acknowledge the wisdom or folly of your choice?

 

You already know where I’m going with this, right?! 2016 features the clearest choice between Presidential candidates in modern times. We have major party candidates with stark differences in experience, temperament, perspective and vision. The hallowed middle ground for which presidential campaigns usually compete is a void this year. And at the ballot box, America will make a genuinely historic choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

 

A decade from now, there will be an established cultural norm about this election. And in the referendum of history, Americans will have a story to tell their friends and family about where they stood at this decisive moment. What story will you tell? Will that story be true?

 

In 2016, where do you stand?

 

 

 

FDO

 

 

 

 

Dennis Green: An Appreciation

 

I was saddened to hear about the death of former Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green. According to all, Green truly was what we thought he was: a damn good coach.

 

He was also an important public figure in the great White north of Minnesota. I remain convinced that Green helped ready the Twin Cities for a host of Black leaders. To the best of my knowledge, Green was the Black person t0 ever lead a major element of the Metro community’s public life. (Some might suggest Clem Haskins, but U basketball rises and falls with its winning percentage and has a much smaller social footprint.)

 

Since then, the Cities have had prominent Black civic leaders like Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Bobby McFerrin, Representative Keith Ellison & head coaches of both the Timberwolves & Vikes. They have all built on Green’s success.

 

My adopted homeland owes him a tremendous debt.

 

RIP, Mr. Green.

 

 

More Love for Venus

 

During last year’s US Open, I posted a simple request: Can we show some love for Venus Williams?

 

Now that she’s made her way to the Wimbledon semifinals and solidly into the top 10 of the WTA rankings, I want to ask again for a renewed appreciation of a legendary, perhaps iconic American athlete.

 

In case you’ve forgotten, Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. She’s won seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals and revolutionized tennis with her unprecedented combination of power, speed and athleticism in much the same way Martina Navratilova once did.

 

The primary difference between those two is that Martina’s great rival was her foil, not her sister. The epic battles between Martina and Chris Evert elevated both players. The one sided finals Venus lost to her little sister, Serena Williams, seem to have added to Serena’s ledger of greatness but diminished Venus.

 

In my September post, I dug just a bit into the why of the Serena domination, but suffice it to say that Venus’ seven Grand Slam wins underrepresent her excellence. They also only scratch the surface of her historic importance.

 

Now that more eyes are on her again, let’s take a moment to recognize Venus Williams for her trailblazing brilliance.

 

Let’s go, Venus!

 

 

On the Death of Elie Wiesel

 

In considering the death of Elie Wiesel, I want to recognize the contributions Wiesel made to the world. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace, wrote and taught for decades and constantly stood on the side of the oppressed.

 

His most enduring work is the book Night. It’s a fascinating and horrifying look into the realities of life in Nazi death camps. Part of the power of the book is that its author survived the Holocaust and was here to tell us about it.

 

Night is not a straight history textbook and although it is intimately connected to Wiesel’s experience, now that Wiesel is dead, that connection is certain to falter and diminish. Probably sooner rather than later.

 

I think the process will be this. Night has already moved from being labeled an autobiography and is now often categorized as a memoir. Eventually it will move into the realm of historical fiction. (Did everything happen exactly? Didn’t he use some quotes? How could they be accurate?) And as the living memory of the Holocaust fades altogether, Night will become considered fiction. At some time in the not distant future, it will be forgotten as factual.

 

I'm confident this process will happen because anti-Semitism is alive and well. The same lies, misinterpretations and stereotypes that allowed much of Europe to embrace the Shoah in the 1940s continue to exist and receive sanction by important people all over the world.

 

(Ask for info if you don't believe me.)

 

That's why it is imperative that people of good will all over the world use the occasion of Elie Wiesel's death to celebrate his life, his accomplishments, his work and his story. To celebrate the continuing existence of the people of the book. And to ALWAYS challenge those who would obscure the truth.

 

Elie Wiesel has dramatically improved the world with his life. Let us commit ourselves to continuing to improve the world on the occasion of his death. Make sure the ripples he sent forth are amplified.

 

 

Forever.

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2016

 

World B. Free

This poem helps explain why I'll always be in love with basketball.

 

 

Twenty-five years ago

I went with my dad

To an old stadium

Gone and dearly departed

If not regretfully

To see my Indiana Pacers who

I loved stridently

At home

In the new Curtis Mathes set that

How were we to know

Lasted far too long

 

 

But there in person

For the first time

Was a different kind of feeling

Since they were bad

And most of my focus

Started and stopped on a man named

World B. Free

Although I’m not sure how much of

This poem

Is true

I have no doubt

About World B. Free

 

 

It started with his hair

Though it was not exceptional

Except in its lack of exception

Stuck in a time

I may never understand

But all the rest fit too

How much he loved the game

Even when it was an awful game

And tried without ever looking

As if he were trying

 

 

Mostly though

The shooting

Like little orange only rainbows

Up and down

With no gold at the end

Only more orange

And then at its beginning

The look that might have been a smile

If he’d known no one was watching

 

 

At the end of the game

It seems that no one else noticed him

Because watching him play

Might have kept someone from skipping school

As it did me from stealing gum

Off the too short racks

Meant to taunt me

At the store

But lots of kids did that

And their parents drank too much

Cheated with a waitress

Then left home

(Not because of the children)

Even though they’d seen World B. Free

On the court downtown

 

When I asked later on

My dad said he used to be called Lloyd

That may well be

But he was always World B. to me

  

 

© Gayle Force Press 2002

 

 

Perception Matters- Trump as Empire Builder

Some prominent Republicans have suggested that Donald Trump is unwilling to release his tax information because he’s hiding something important, maybe even a “bombshell”. Perhaps his reticence is about having the kind of effective tax rate Mitt Romney revealed in 2012 or using the tax havens he’s bashed in the past. National Review published a piece declaring that if “Trump won’t release his tax returns prior to the GOP convention, the delegates pledged to him on the first ballot should abstain” from voting for him. The implications are that something devious or even sinister lurks in the paper trail.

 

My theory is much simpler. I think the only thing that might make a difference for Trump supporters is the bottom line number. How much money does he have?

 

We’ve all seen the story play out before. A celebrity appears to have an immense amount of wealth but it’s illusory. Michael Jackson used to own an amusement park house for goodness sake!

 

This is why perception matters:

 

Trump’s primary appeal is his status as an empire builder. He describes himself as a winner and people believe it. After all, the strongest association we have with Trump is as ‘rich person’. In an America devoid of culturally significant dynastic families, it’s people like Donald Trump and the Kardashians who represent the 21st century image of American wealth. (We know nothing about most of the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Kennedys and Rockefellers in our midst today.) We’ve already looked behind the curtain at the Kardashians and seen the ‘momager’ Kris Jenner herself. We know she’s the wizard.

 

We have no idea what we’ll see when the curtain is pulled back on the ‘Trumpire’. If there’s far less wealth than we’ve been led to believe, it will be disastrous for Trump. Not because he’s funding his own campaign, despite what he says. But because the core premise of his candidacy will be gone. It’s only his wealth that resonates as successful. Without it, he’s just another reality show star with bad hair and a bizarrely attached following. Now that I think about it, I wonder if Kris Jenner will show up at the Republican convention?

 

 

-FDO

 

 

Perception Matters- Durant Is Clutch

 

We’re a week removed from one of the best NBA games this season. In many respects it was an instant classic. Golden State’s 121-118 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder had everything you’d want in an NBA game. There was star power, including the last two MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) and 5 2016 All-Stars. There was tremendous execution (239 dynamic points). There were three point shooting records (Curry tied the single game record with 12 makes and broke his own season record). Above all, there was drama as Curry hit an absurd, contested 32 footer to win the game at the horn.

 

What we didn’t see though, was winning, crunch time basketball from one of the five best players in the world and apparently no one else noticed. The reality is that Durant failed massively in the last few seconds of regulation. While the Thunder were up two with a few seconds left, Durant caught the ball and instead of waiting to be fouled or trying to escape the trap, he instead threw an awful, long pass that was intercepted by the Warriors. (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both played the defensive possession extremely well.)

 

Then, after this turnover and with less than a second left, Durant fouled Andre Iguodala while he was shooting a desperate jumper. @Andre then hit the game tying free throws to send the game into overtime. Now, going to OT does not mean Durant lost the game in this sequence but had he made the right play either time, his Thunder would have won the game.

 

This is why perception matters: Everyone thinks of Durant as a clutch player. Since his rookie year, he’s been a consistent big shot taker and maker, including some spectacular game winners. The perception is that he’s a fantastic player when it matters most. So the talking heads on TV basically ignored those last few seconds. Virtually all the follow up stories about this game were only about how awesome Steph Curry is, not about why he had extra opportunities to win this game, thanks to Durant.

 

But just imagine if it had been LeBron James or Dwight Howard who’d failed as spectacularly as Durant did. The narrative afterward would have been entirely different. It’s about perception.

 

 

FDO