Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

Category: Philosophy Page 3 of 11

The Critical Mass

The Abby Wambach bobblehead and the electric chair

Our hometown U.S. women’s World Cup star, Abby Wambach, returned Wednesday night, and Kerry managed to secure tickets to the game. Nearly a dozen women who played in the World Cup were on the two teams, Wambach’s Florida-based majicJack (I guess that’s named for some kind of phone service) and the Western New York Flash.

He's alright: "I will take your place and DIE FOR YOU."

He's alright: "I will take your place and DIE FOR YOU."

Now, when I say Kerry got us seats, these were Bob Uecker specials. The very top row of the stadium. We were likely the first humans to sit in those seats, as part of not only a record crowd for the stadium, 15,404 people, but a record crowd for the relatively new Women’s Professional Soccer league. I’m still mulling this over in my head: Was this the first record I’d ever been a part of? Can my life have been so mediocre?

Wambach is nursing a tender Achilles tendon, so she didn’t play, although she was healthy enough to kick soccer balls into a taxi on Late Night With David Letterman the previous night. But she did address the crowd at halftime, and we enjoyed watching her walk around the packed stadium on this beautiful summer evening, accompanied by two burly body guards, signing little girls’ T-shirts and doing TV interviews.

It’s been less than a week since the World Cup championship game. A game that millions of people believed the U.S. was entitled to win. Even people who never pay any attention to soccer. American sports fans seem to think we’re ordained to win everything. During the Winter Olympics, you’ll hear sportscasters wailing about how America is not devoting enough time and money to developing curling competitors. That’s not a joke. They were actually saying that. People track national pride on a scoreboard rather than how our kids are doing in the classroom.

As the two women’s World Cup soccer teams battled through the overtime period tied 2-2, TV commentator Julie Foudy, once a World Cup player herself, exclaimed “The U.S. still has six minutes!” As though there wasn’t another team on the field putting on a similarly inspiring performance,  and with an equal chance to score. A team of underdogs in search of good news to bring home to a country that in recent months was hit by a devastating tsunami and has been trying to contain a wayward nuclear plant. Japan ruined our storybook finish!

Don’t let it be said that you can keep America down for long. Wednesday night, we couldn’t get to the stadium quick enough to be among the first 1,000 adults pushing their way into the gates and brushing aside hero-worshiping kids so that they could get one of the Abby bobblehead dolls (hers looks a little like Dennis Leary)  and put it on eBay this morning (one seller was asking $50). But as I entered the stadium, a callow-faced kid did hand me something for free. A publication called Set Free.

It tells the story of a convicted criminal, John. “Regretfully, John wished he would not have to go to the electric chair but he knew death was inevitable,” it reads. Clunky grammar aside, the tale moves swiftly. John is strapped into the chair, “his heartbeat pounding in his head. John frantically cried out…. IS THERE NO HOPE?”

Maybe you’ve already figured out what happens next. The door to the execution chamber opens and the warden walks in, accompanied by a man named Bill. The warden orders the security guards to release John. Bill announces, “I will take your place and DIE FOR YOU.” Wow, I’m thinking. Who is this Bill fella?

Alas, I’ve been tricked. This little scenario actually never happened, Set Free admits. But, it warns severely, it could.  “Just as John was condemned to death because of sin, all of mankind has received a death sentence.”

So now they’re dragging all 6.93 billion of us into it. Even you Muslims, I guess. And I’m left with two questions:

1, I’m guessing the Set Free target audience is largely conservative. So I’ll ask you: If that wasn’t John sitting in the electric chair, but John Wayne Gacy, would you still applaud Bill’s offer to take his place? And…

2, Why does Bill look like Kenny Loggins?

The Critical Mass

Pursued by your own death

I dream. But when morning comes, I’m one of those people who rarely remember what was creeping around in my head at night. Last night was an exception.

I was in some kind of dark Gothic tattoo shop, flipping through a loose-leaf notebook of tattoo designs. I’d pretty much settled on some kind of weird, rodent-like thing for my shoulder when my friend Frank walked into the shop. “Look, man, I’m finally getting my first tattoo,” I told him. Frank nodded in approval: He doesn’t have much room left on his own heavily-inked carcass.

“What do you think of this one?” I asked the guy running the tattoo shop. It was the actor, Randy Quaid. “I don’t know,” Quaid said, throwing his hands in the air and walking away. “I’d never get one myself.”

Naturally, I awoke wondering: Whatever happened to Randy Quaid? Last year, Quaid pioneered the concept of Hollywood star gone absolutely bat-shit crazy – a career move more recently adopted by Charlie Sheen – when he claimed he and his wife, Evi, were being pursued by “Star Whackers,” a mysterious group whose purpose was to kill movie stars. They had already gotten Heath Ledger and David Carradine, the Quaids said, and they were next. The couple  subsequently fled to Canada. The Santa Barbara Distract Attorney suggests the Quaids were actually fleeing charges that they hadn’t paid a $10,000 hotel bill, and trespassing charges for living as squatters in an uninhabited California home.

Thankfully, the Quaids have cleared up the whole matter when, last month, they premiered their new independent film, coincidentally named Star Whackers. A review of the film appeared in a Vancouver newspaper:

The film opened on Mr. Quaid standing nude in a windy field with a long fur coat draped loosely around his shoulders. For 10 minutes, he repeats four lines of Shakespeares’s “Julius Caesar” while wandering around the field with a clump of purple hair – at one point bending over to clench the hair between his buttocks.

Mr. Quaid also appeared as a man with a deer skull adorning his head and as a black-suited assassin armed with a submachine gun. Judging from one scene in which Mr. Quaid uses the weapon to riddle a glossy photograph of himself with holes, it appears that the Quaids used a live submachine gun for the film.

In between random Shakespeare quotes, Mr. Quaid’s three characters graze on grass, play violin alongside a cattle drive and attempt to negotiate with donkeys. At the film’s end, Mr. Quaid repeats excerpts from Hamlet’s soliloquy for about ten minutes before dying.

“Star Whackers” is “a hyper-surreal aspect of what it is to be pursued to your own death,” explained Ms. Quaid later.

This is why I don’t remember my dreams. Real life is too bizarre to bother with them.

The Critical Mass

Is there such a thing as a genius?

A friend recently said to me, “I don’t understand why people keep calling Jay-Z a genius.’ ”

And yeah, I have to agree. Nothing against Jay-Z. He’s a successful entertainer, but I’m not sure where the “genius” part comes in. It’s this over-use of the word “genius” that’s the problem.

I frequently encountered this issue during my previous life as a sportswriter. Sportswriters  get a little tired of typing simple identifiers like “49ers football coach Bill Walsh.” So over time he was promoted to “West Coast Offense genius Bill Walsh.”

Nothing against Bill Walsh. He was a successful football coach. But I know a little about football and, to be honest: It doesn’t take a genius. Drawing up plays for your 11 guys to run isn’t exactly like designing a suspension bridge. The secret to football is finding enough 320-pound guys with what the scouts euphemistically call “a mean streak.”

Bill Clinton and Karl Rove are frequently referred to as political geniuses. Really? I guess they look pretty good alongside some of their stumblebum contemporaries. But throughout their long careers, both made major miscalculations that proved costly to their political parties. In politics, you’re only as brilliant as the outcome of the last election. Genius seems to beg for some kind of consistency.

Was Albert Einstein a genius? Sure, in some respects. There is some anecdotal evidence suggesting he moved about more comfortably in the realm of theory than reality. Was Ernest Hemingway a genius? He wrote three great books – The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms – that are brilliant. He also wrote The Old Man and the Sea, and it strikes me as vastly overrated. Were Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol geniuses? Marketing graffiti and soup cans strikes me more as right time, right place for an idea. Was Emily Dickinson a genius? Or simply a woman in her bedroom with a lot of time on her hands?

Genius, it now seems to me, might be more about ideas than people. Sure, smart and focused people more frequently come up with moments of brilliance. The conditions that led to one moment of genius might even last for a while, leading to more moments of genius. But the inner voice that spoke to Hemingway as he wrote his three great novels went AWOL for Across the River and Into the Trees.

Is Bob Dylan a genius? I’m not sure. But he has been, at the very least, consistently excellent. An artist who understands who he is, and from where he draws his inspiration.

But there is one 20th-century icon who I do consider a genius. Not Winston Churchill: too many lies and terrible errors accompany his finest hour. No, I was reminded of a man of true genius when friends recommended I type three words into YouTube and watch. I did, and  I thought, yes, this is genius. A man who for years had things to say, and said them with great humor, truth and clarity. Try it yourself: Carlin, God, religion.  Or click here:

Carlin, God, religion

Page 3 of 11

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén