March 24, 2007

Not how we say cricket

Filed under: Game of Base, General Me, The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 4:58 pm

(Edited March 25, 12:05 p.m.: SI link given, minor fixes made; 1:22 p.m.: link to previous sports post given)

Spring having sprung, I’ve been looking for a way to write about baseball again. Thanks to Shashi Tharoor, and the New York Times Letter Editor, I now have an excuse.

Tharoor is a departing UN under-secretary, and he decided to advance his mission of international goodwill by publishing an Op-Ed in the New York Times that essentially calls Americans stupid suburban drones because we don’t enjoy cricket. Here are some salient highlights:

“Ever since the development of baseball, the ubiquitous and simplified version of the sport, Americans have been lost to the more demanding challenges — and pleasures — of cricket. Because baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus — the basic moves may be similar, but the former is easier, quicker, more straightforward than the latter, and requires a much shorter attention span. And so baseball has captured the American imagination in a way that leaves no room for its adult cousin.”

“…nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld.”

“Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers and believes in the capricious influence of the planets — so they can well appreciate a sport in which, even more than in baseball, an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss of the coin at the start of a match or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform the outcome of a game.”

And finally, his even-handed, diplomatic conclusion:

“So here’s the message, America: don’t pay any attention to us, and we won’t pay any to you. If you wonder, over the coming weeks, why your Indian co-worker is stealing distracted glances at his computer screen every few minutes or why the South African in the next cubicle is taking frequent and furtive bathroom breaks during the working day, don’t even try to understand. You probably wouldn’t get it. You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you.”


First of all, even if I accept at face value the claim that a sport that doesn’t feature the split-fingered fastball, the squeeze play, and double play depth is more complex than the one that does, WHO CARES? This cult of complexity drives me crazy–Hold ‘Em is a better poker game than Stud, because more complex; postmodern writing is smarter than New Critical writing, because more difficult, etc. Obviously as an academic I understand the value of complexity as a means to an end, but the valorization of complexity for its own sake is, ironically enough, simplistic. The sort of complexity that requires a match to go on for 30 hours before a winner is chosen does not necessarily serve the goal of a sport, which is to entertain and excite. Why not 130 hours?

Second, there are certain phrases that I usually hate, but which sometimes are the only way to refer to something. “Politically correct” is one example. “America-bashing” is another, and this piece is the poster child for America-bashing. Tharoor does not give any evidence that he knows anything about baseball (hey, Tharoor, NAME FIVE BASEBALL TEAMS), let alone enough to compare its merits with those of his favorite sport. Instead, he just figures that it’s American, ergo stupid; cricket is not American, ergo smart. Does it occur to him that baseball has been popular here for almost 150 years? Were we a “homogenized McWorld” before McDonalds existed?

That’s but an excerpt of my full rant. But when writing to the New York Times, one has to be pithier:

To the Editor:

If, as it seems, Shashi Tharoor’s goal was to make me feel stupid for preferring baseball to cricket, he would have been better served had he not included the following: “Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers.”

(As some of you may know, this is the second letter I’ve had published in the New York Times. The first one is located here. A comment calling that letter “simplistic in the extreme” and “BS” is here.)

With two published opinions about sports (remember this?), I believe I am officially a sports pundit (does sports have pundits?), and so here’s another opinion. Fire Joe Morgan has already noted Ozzie Guillen’s descent into small-ball madness, but this item from Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview cries out for further mockery:

Forget that only two teams in the majors outscored the White Sox last season. Or that no club was more productive than Chicago with runners in scoring position. … Manager Ozzie Guillen arrived at training camp still peeved over his team’s offensive performance last season. “We were s—, pathetic,” Guillen growled early in spring training. “We hit too many home runs. Our situational hitting was horrible. This year we’re going back to small ball.”

If you spit out your coffee at the sentence “We hit too many home runs,” give yourself ten points! Hitting home runs is the best thing one can ever do offensively. There is no better offensive result to an at-bat than a home run. “We hit too many home runs” can never, ever, make literal sense. Now, I understand what Guillen is trying to say – as when he says “our situational hitting was horrible,” he means that the team didn’t get enough hits with runners in scoring position. However, as the reporter instructs us (probably ironically) to “forget,” the White Sox were the most productive team with RISP last season. In other words, what the hell are you talking about, Ozzie Guillen?

Also, in the same SI issue, the following praise for Royals 3B prospect Alex Gordon:

“He’s a total stud, a five-tool guy,” says one AL West scout. “And he’s a gamer. I saw him last year, and he dived headfirst into first base to try to beat the throw. In Double A ball!”

Well, diving into first, as opposed to just running through the bag, 1) slows you down, making it harder to beat the throw, and 2) exposes you to injury. So what this scout is saying is, “He already has a bad habit, and I want to encourage him in it.” How long will players keep doing this thing that everyone knows is a bad idea? Probably at least as long as they keep getting meaningless compliments for it.

March 13, 2007

Yes, this *is* my singing voice

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 10:01 am

A Trouble Clef Timeline (from the liner notes to Tomicide: The Complete Trouble Clef, 1997-2007):

October 1996: First known composition: inspired by “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Amish Paradise,” and in response to a school assignment, Tomemos composes and performs “Glucuose Paradise,” which parodies Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” while teaching listeners about cellular respiration. Performed in Mr. Spohn’s Berkeley High biology class; accompaniment provided by a cassette with the instrumental track of “Gangsta’s Paradise.”

Summer 1997: While riding BART, Tomemos decides on a rap name: “Trouble Clef.”

Fall 1998: Friend suggests an opening line to a Tomemos rap song: “My name’s Tommy H, and I don’t mean Hilfiger.” Trouble later completes the couplet with the line “I gotta be a rapper, ’cause I ain’t no singer.” Also during this period, Trouble settles on the album name Tomicide.

June 1999: Writes and performs a rap for the staff of the Berkeley High school newspaper, the Jacket, to commemorate the end of the school year and the graduation of the senior editorial staff. First performance under the Trouble Clef moniker, given in the second couplet of the song: “My clothes are wack, but my flows are def/And ’round Berkeley High, they call me ‘Trouble Clef.'”

August 1999: Writes and performs a rap to commemorate the end of a guided rafting trip on the Rogue River in Oregon. (Due to the lack of writing materials, the rap is committed to memory and later transcribed.)

November 1999: Writes and performs a rap as a birthday present for a friend. “‘Round Berkeley High” becomes “‘Round SLC.” The song is well-received, and Trouble performs birthday raps for two more friends in the following January and February.

Summer 2000: Begins writing what will later become “Elmer Season.” Drafts are unavailable, but lines that probably appear during this period are “I’m the bomb, like President Truman,” “I throw down comedy like Benjamin Stiller,” and “I’ll fuck Miss Scarlet, bust a cap in Mister Boddy.”

Spring 2001: As part of a required seminar for Sarah Lawrence club leaders, writes a rap touting The Bubble, Sarah Lawrence’s satirical newspaper. This constitutes the second half of Trouble’s “student journalism” cycle.

Fall 2001: In England for a study abroad program, begins performing an early version of “Elmer Season” to entertain American classmates.

March 2002: Writes a parody of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” which apologizes to the subject for not sending a present in time for her birthday; performs it as an answering machine message in early April. The song contains at least one rhyme that will appear, in modified form, in the final version of “Elmer Season.”

Fall 2003: Performs final version of “Elmer Season” for fellow UC Irvine grad students. “‘Round SLC” becomes “‘Round UCI.”

January 2004: Receives an offer from Patrick Keller, who would later found Dutch Missionary Records, to record “Elmer Season.” Trouble expresses interest, but takes no action.

December 2006: Records “Elmer Season” as a contribution to Dutch Missionary Records’ ILL Literates compilation.

March 2007: Final version of “Elmer Season” released:

Trouble Clef, “Elmer Season”, © 2007, Dutch Missionary Records

Produced by The Beat Conflicts

Backing vocals by The Beat Conflicts and Praxis

Thanks to The Beat Conflicts for getting me onto wax, and to TBC and Praxis for their help making this song ready for the studio. Thanks to Title Fight for inspiring me in 1999. And a big Thanks to everyone who’s listened to this song over the last six years. —TC

March 10, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 11:55 am

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. […]

–Thomas Hardy, “Hap”

There’s a heartbreaking article in this week’s New Yorker (not online, unfortunately, though the abstract is here) about the use of traditional remedies to fight AIDS. Such remedies are untested, and when tested they’re found to have no medicinal value, but their use has been endorsed by South Africa’s Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, and Director-General of Health, Thami Mseleku, who have claimed that HIV does not cause AIDS and that antiretroviral drugs, the only effective treatment that has been found, are “poison.”

I’ll dispense with the outrage right away; I’m no fan of the pharmaceutical industry—marched on ’em once in New York, over AIDS drugs—and probably if they had built up a higher reservoir of trust (by allowing generic AIDS drugs sooner, by making their profiteering a little less shameless), this sort of quackery wouldn’t get this much momentum. However, this does not excuse high-ranking public health officials from increasing that distrust by making statements wrong enough to be considered, simply, murderous. Tshabalala-Mansang and Mseleku are in a position both to know better and to make a difference, and their refusal to do either (well, they are making a difference) deserves the highest degree of condemnation.

But that isn’t what I’m writing about. I was struck, reading the article, by the following statement from Herbert Vilakazi, a retired sociology professor who is one of the biggest proponents of the use of traditional African remedies to treat AIDS:

“Let us be honest. Who benefits from A.R.V.s (antiretrovirals)? Hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars have been spent on research and you have to get a return on your investment. It is the first rule of pharmaceutical companies, and they simply terrorize your opponents. Very frankly, in America … there are a lot of people in the African-American community who feel maybe there is a conspiracy and that racism has a lot to do with it. Why, for instance, is AIDS the biggest problem that exists in Africa? … Is it not a coincidence that Africa is the poorest continent in the world? Did you ever think that it’s in the interest of some people for it to stay that way?”

Vilakazi really believes this; he is not making any money from the sale of traditional remedies. What I want to call attention to, though, is the familiarity of this statement. This happens again and again: a tragedy caused by a horrifying indifference on the part of the privileged and powerful, is made more comforting, perversely, by attributing it instead to a malicious act. Since AIDS became an epidemic, and continuing at least until I was in high school, people in this country liked to say that the disease had been engineered by the government and foisted on the population to kill homosexuals and drug users. After Hurricane Katrina, many believed that the government had intentionally blown up the levees, and thus caused the flooding and devastation that hit black New Orleans.

It even happens with events that were perpetrated maliciously, but by individuals or by groups smaller and more unpredictable than we might like. 9/11 was a “conspiracy,” in that a number of people all over the world worked and planned together to make it happen. However, the idea that a group of terrorists could catch the US government napping on its own soil, and in its own skies, is intolerable. Therefore, people come to believe that the government (or some other feared group, like international Judaism) either knew that the attacks were going to happen and let them happen, or actively carried them out. A murderous government we can live with—we at least know where we stand—but a negligent one, never.

I have a friend (perhaps he’s reading this—hi!) who is a strong believer in both individual conspiracy theories (including those around 9/11) and a generally paranoid world in which events are engineered by an unseen cabal, a New World Order. We’ve talked about this since high school, and we don’t agree on the particulars very often. However, one thing we have agreed on is that this is an insiduouly attractive world-view, for two inter-related reasons. First, as Hardy’s poem demonstrates, it is more comforting to believe that one is being actively targeted than to believe that one is being ignored and left to die; those actively murdered are important enough to die, whereas those killed by the passivity of the powerful are not important enough to live. Second, because the perpetrators of such a conspiracy are by definition all-powerful (“a Powerfuller than I”), one is relieved from the effort of resistance. The crusade for protest and progress, which sometimes seems futile, is shown to be futile.

Of course, for those dying of AIDS along with the rest of their generation (whether in gay America 1985 or South Africa today), or for those whose entire neighborhoods lost their homes and possessions, and some their lives, to a hurricane and flood that were utterly predictable and utterly ignored, the prospect of progress (at least, progress that would benefit and remunerate them) is indeed futile. In those cases, the tragedy and betrayal one experiences is so thorough that that bitter comfort, of having been singled out for suffering, is the only comfort that remains. Those of us who are personally spared by these tragedies, though, have no excuse for laying down our burdens and nestling in the arms of a malevolent god.

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