Monday, October 31, 2011

Profiles in Florida: I DO AUTOPSIES

Florida might be the best state in the country for accidentally great billboards. In the past year, driving on odd little highways far from the interstate, I've lost count of the number of times I've kicked myself for not having a camera ready in time to try to snap an in-focus picture of some sublime artistic atrocity. I particularly regret missing the bloodied, manacled wrists of what I presumed was Jesus accompanying a vague shaming statement about marriage.

Rain, darkness or absent-mindedness have led me to miss one of the simplest and best signs, which stands at the side of a long, straight stretch of Interstate 10. It exhorts the driver to "DISCOVER THE POWER OF PRAYER" and shows two cadaverous, wrinkled gray hands emerging from starched white cuffs.

Every time you pass it, you can pick a new explanation for it. The artist had just seen the episode of Buffy with "The Gentlemen" and used them as a model. He was a huge Evil Dead 2 fan, and he depicted the severed, demonically possessed hand that tries to strangle Bruce Campbell. Someone ripped off a Charles Addams work and wrote the line about prayer over a happier tag-line, "Why thank you, Thing!" If you replace the cuffs with shaggy fur, both hands look like the sort of objects that fulfill your every wish with an ironically terrible curse.

Speaking of wishes, I sympathize with the Christian injunction to proselytize and save, and on a purely emotional level, I even find the billboard's message sort of heartening, once I get past the thought of the hands garrotting me in my sleep. But it just seems so badly premised, like it's going to reach someone from the south in some way that everything else about Jesus somehow screwed up. Hopefully a motorist will nod and gradually smile, his face dawning with slow epiphany, "Huh, prayer, you say. That thing that people have been doing for 2,000 years? I was going for bird divining first, but I can't make heads or tails of this ornithomancy textbook." Or, better yet, some truck driver slaps his head and says, "Waitaminute — just asking someone to give me all the shit I want? I'd have never thought of that!"

Still, as great as that billboard is, it pales — absolutely pales — next to this one:

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Fall Classic and 'What Is a Classic?'

I don't think the tenth inning was even halfway over when Joe Buck started referring to Game Six as a classic. I don't know if that's true. A moment after Game One ended, writers praised it as a cerebral masterpiece, but the eagerness to make these games into metaphor and referenda probably overlooks what they've actually been.

Game Six does seem hard to top. This surprising, infuriating series demands a lot of energy even from spectators. In the ninth inning, I yearned for it to end, just to stop the frustration. I suspect the Texas Rangers might feel similarly. It would shock no one if both they and the Cardinals were unequal to the task of playing like they did last night.

Luckily for the Cardinals, they can feel buoyed by a thundering positive crowd and by the fresh memory of overcoming two different two-run leads in deciding innings. The Rangers must confront blowing those leads, blowing Josh Hamilton's redemptive moment, then come back to try it all again under a blanket of hostile noise.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tim Tebow's Passion Play

Tim Tebow is doomed. I don't mean that metaphysically, because I'm sure he's going to Heaven. Although, for humor's sake, I hope it's 99% full of Muslims and unprepossessing socialist members of the Church of England.

I don't even mean that from an athletically evolutionary level, although pairing him with John Fox virtually guarantees that whatever abilities he develops will be stamped out of existence by two runs, an obvious heave on third and long, a punt and repeat. Fox evinces a native disinterest in aerial yardage that suggests he won't mind if it germinates independent of his efforts, but until then he'll refuse to nurture it. (Only he could have been more surprised by Jake Delhomme's 2003 performance than Jake Delhomme.) Meanwhile, Tebow's NFL youth plays out like he's been sent to The Ayn Rand School for QBs: Do you know what a quarterback says when he reaches for drills and game tape? He's saying, "I am a leech."

But if anything's doomed Tebow, it's coverage.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Albert Pujols Still Strikes Out Where It Counts

Three nights ago, after the Cardinals' tough loss in an exhilarating World Series Game Two, Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan criticized All-Star slugger Albert Pujols for disappearing from the clubhouse, refusing to answer questions and showing a failure of leadership after a tough error cost the Cards the game. Since we lack the credentials to respond to Mr. Passan, we, the good people of Et tu, Mr. Destructo? turn to award-winning LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke. He has not eaten a penis on video since 2008.

Three Rounds of Dinger Therapy Can't Cure Clubhouse Cancer

Last night, Albert Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only men to hit three home runs in a World Series game. While driving in six runs, his five hits in six at-bats tied Paul Molitor's record for most hits in a Series game. The one thing he didn't do was prove Jeff Passan wrong.

Here's what Passan wrote following Pujols' no-show after Game Two: "Real leaders, you know, lead. They own their mistakes, like a ninth-inning error in the World Series, and they damn sure don’t let the pups in the clubhouse, the ones in their first postseason, stand and answer questions they’re not equipped to answer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

This Isn't Chess: A La Russa Rhapsody

Apart from a bizarre attempt at pardoning Mark McGwire's very public use of androstenedione, I can't think of any time Jayson Stark has written something objectionable or especially silly. True, he might have, and I might have missed it. Otherwise he comes off like a good guy who loves talking about trades and spring training, and mostly he seems to get things right. Yesterday, not so much:
Maybe he's a long-lost relative of Anatoly Karpov. It's possible he grew up with Boris Spassky. Or maybe he just ran into Garry Kasparov at a chicken dinner someplace.

But once again Wednesday night, that noted grandmaster of the emerald chess board, Mr. Tony La Russa, checkmated his way through the World Chess Championships of October, at his Karpovian best.
Analogies like this are tempting, especially with La Russa, who probably does everything he can to suggest them to sportswriters, without overtly making a recommendation or editing their notes. His aloof, baseball traditionalist-craftsman image invites the analogy, drawing twerp satellites like George Will spinning on axes of doggerel into his orbit, reflecting light back at him. The only problem with the analogy is that it's really dumb.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Criterion Recollection: Phantom History

Note: We, the good people of Et tu, Mr. Destructo? are proud to present Criterion Recollection, an analysis of the popular Criterion Collection of historic and unique achievements in film. Your guide is Mark Brendle, a former media critic for and a short-fiction writer. Brendle lives in the Pacific Northwest in a small post-recycled yurt adjacent to America's largest family-owned retail video and book store, Art Trough. When not writing or staring purposefully at culture, Brendle works as a fair-trade coffee beanist. You can follow him on Twitter.

Phantom India, The Eclipse Series (1969)

Phantom India is such a fitting title for Louis Malle's most personal work. The film not only focuses on India's underclasses, a near invisible people, hidden from western view by the pretense of India's elite, but the documentary form proves a phantom as well, mixing self-awareness, humility and outrage into an organic whole that even today jars us from our expectations. This seven-part miniseries, running over six hours, explores India during the late 1960s, before its unbridled industrialization exploded in full force.

Westerners hailed India as an exotic jewel, a land of sensuous pleasures, of vibrant colors, robust vitality and spirituality. India became an ideal, a sentimental notion of otherness to which westerners could retreat when they tired of their own mechanistic society. Take for example, the Powell-Pressburger masterpiece Black Narcissus, which used this idea-model of India to great effect. Malle shatters this image with an honest foray into the lives of Indians and a comprehensive overview of India's sociopolitical conditions in the late 1960s. This film captures a fragile and lost part of India’s history, between the era of colonial imperialism and the modern era of outsourced labor force, when the tides of westernization were on the horizon, but had yet to crash.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Remembering the League Division Series

GAME 162
On the last day of the season, the Phillies eliminated the Braves, letting the Cardinals slip into the NL Wild Card spot, while a rain delay and extra innings allowed a historic Red Sox collapse to nearly synchronize with an Evan Longoria homer that sent the Rays into the playoffs as the AL Wild Card. It was amazing, and it prompted an almost explosive joy from fans. This was what the end of the season should be like. This is why we didn't need another wild card team: "This is what you can shove up your horse and ride outta town, Mr. Bud."

At once, I sympathized and felt confused.

Disliking Bud Selig feels natural, like flowers growing toward sunlight or toddlers fearing snakes. Bud Selig does bad things to baseball, but wanting another wild card isn't bad so much as it's the least progressive solution to expanding opportunity for all teams. It's a simple solution, and as is the case with most institutional solutions in America, we assume that simpler ones are better because difficult or unseen challenges automatically portend something worse. Adding another wild card feels a lot like solving the inequities of private health insurance by mandating everyone buy it instead of trying a public option: when in doubt, motion will be mistaken for a valid substitute for real improvement.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Occupy Wall Street protesters would have to vacate Zuccotti Park, their place of occupation, so the park could be cleaned. After that, they would not be permitted to re-enter the park with sleeping bags, tents or other necessary occupation supplies.

The Occupiers refused to move, delaying their eviction. They suspected a trap: after all, having watched Boston police swarm protesters in riot gear and drive them out with all the subtlety of Hungary in '56, the smart play for Bloomberg and the NYPD would be to lure the protesters out, then keep them locked out. A decidedly non-aggressive tactic such as that would provide few stirring images of victimization. Then, in the streets, protesters on the move could be arrested, as they have been for weeks.

However, one particular group of campers is more than welcome on the streets of New York. My friend Robert even worked up a handy graphic to explain it:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Achilles Heel


The night the Phillies' window begins to close, Ryan Howard steps to the plate with two outs in the ninth. It is a mild evening in Philadelphia, but it has gotten colder as the game goes into the later hours. No one has left. The Phillies are down to their last out in the 2011 NLDS. Unless Howard can tie or at the very least prolong the game, they will fall 3-2 to the wild card St. Louis Cardinals.

Howard has had a miserable series. In 20 plate appearances, he has two hits, a sacrifice fly, a walk and six strike outs. Those two hits were a home run in Game 1, an 11-6 shootout win in Philadelphia six days earlier, and a single in Game 2 the next night, which the Cardinals took 5-4.

To his credit, Howard has continued his bizarre, allegedly unrepeatable "skill" of hitting with men in scoring position—with only a home run, a sacrifice fly and a single, he has 6 RBI in the series. This is more than any other single batter on either team. St. Louis's Game 2 hero David Freese will end the series with three singles, two doubles and a home run and only rack up 5 RBI; his teammates Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot finish with a combined 12 hits, 4 for extra bases, and only 4 RBI between them.

If players have narratives, that is Ryan Howard's: he is clutch. His hits matter more than other men's hits. That is the reason the 46,000-some Phillies fans in attendance this night have some hope that their 102-win season is not about to come to an unfulfilling end.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Al Davis and the Media's Poison Jobs

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis died yesterday at 82. For most of you, that means the end of the scabby creature who ran the Raiders and leavened seasons of humiliating losses with employee firings suffused with Nixonian paranoia and loathing. Skimming Twitter reveals pretty much exactly what you expect from the internet: "jokes" linking Davis to Lovecraft monsters, fantasy monsters, sci-fi monsters, other permanently arrested-development genre monsters.

I can't claim to have done much better. Years ago, I wrote out a kind of silly thought-experiment likening Davis to Hitler. I didn't mean to sincerely equate the two, nor to rehabilitate Hitler in any way. At the time, it was funny to compare the Raiders' hermetic and endlessly back-biting front office with Hitler's last ten days:
Davis' ending has yet to be written, but it's currently playing out with the same drama of palace intrigue.... Messages go out from the Davis bunker: this is the year!—we are winning! Like Hitler's movement of paper armies in the face of the Soviets' overwhelming forces, the gestures are empty and futile. Conflicting reports emanate from underground: this one is out of favor. This one shall be the successor. No!—we were presumptuous: the leader has not named a successor. Davis has taken to issuing public comments to pressure head coach Lane Kiffin to resign...; the gestures echo Hitler delusionally promoting Paulus to Field Marshal to drive him to suicide.
This wasn't an obituary, though, and was never meant to be. This was clowning around with gossip and strange newsbites.

I still feel a little ashamed of it, because it sounds like a slightly less boneheaded version of the "he was a crazy skin-cancer goblin who sucked!" narrative I've spent the day reading on message boards and the last few years pushed by a lazy and easily sated media. I felt like I was re-pimping an already cartoonish pimp job offered on behalf of Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell in exchange for ample buffets and token opportunities for "access."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Seven Games in September, Part I


Jonathan Bernhardt is a freelance writer born in Baltimore, Maryland who lives and works in New York City. His very first concrete memory of the Baltimore Orioles is Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. He hopes they either get good or move to the American League Central before his liver fails. You can follow him on Twitter.

I. The Mathematics of Emotion
Since the last round of expansion in 1998, the 30 teams of Major League Baseball play a regular season of 2,430 games across six months—roughly 13 of them a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. Each of these games in turn lasts nine innings; some go longer, but for simplicity, let's say nine innings. That's 21,870 innings, bare minimum, each year.

Each team plays 162 of these games, roughly 26 per month. One thousand, four hundred fifty-eight innings—the regular season is unkind. It is long and grueling, and it bleeds together until games are just moments of madness linked by double plays, blown saves and fat men behind home plate. In the end, the difference between elite and hopeless teams is 40. A 100-win team is going direct to the playoffs; a 100-loss team is going direct the other way.

The Baltimore Orioles won 98 games in the 1997 regular season. Between then and last Monday, the team played 2,096 games of regulation baseball. In a few years, they will pass that 2,430 number. When you dream of Hell, pray you dream of lakes of fire and men with farm tools, not of 20,000-odd innings of the Baltimore Orioles playing the Baltimore Orioles, 13 hours a day, every day, all the way down. If you do, pray you wake up. If you don't, pay attention to Daniel Cabrera's year; it's possible this is the change of scenery he needed.

But that moment is still terrible basement-dwelling seasons away. Last Monday, the number stood at 2,096. Our story begins before the first of those; it begins with one last great fight between Could Have Been and Never Was.

Seven Games in September, Part II

Continued from Part I, "The Mathematics of Emotion."

II. The Chase
The first game of the doubleheader on Monday, September 19 is a solid Baltimore win, but there's no feeling of destiny to it. The Orioles start Jeremy Guthrie, a nice guy and solid, back-of-the-rotation starter that they got serious about trading two years too late.

The Sox start Kyle Weiland. Francona gambles here; the cupboard's a bit bare of major league-ready pitching since graduating Lester, trading Justin Masterson last year for the now-departed Victor Martinez and dealing Casey Kelly to the San Diego Padres as part of the package for Gonzalez. After injuries, they're left with Weiland. He might one day be a solid number-four starter, but this will likely be his last start of the year, even before he takes the mound. Once he leaves it, it's all but certain.

Weiland lasts 4 and 2/3 innings and gives up six runs, five earned. Looking back, there are rumblings on the horizon. In this marginally safer and more innocent time for Red Sox Nation, very few Boston fans have any real conception of who or what a Robert Andino is.

Seven Games in September, Part III

Continued from Part II, "The Chase."

III. Birds in Fall
On September 26, the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox reconvene at Fenway South, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, to send this season screaming back to Hell. Tommy Hunter starts for the Orioles; Josh Beckett, again, for the Sox. Each man allows two runs through five innings pitched; then Hunter pulls his groin. He makes it through the fifth but is pulled for former Houston Astro Troy Patton. Both Patton and Sox reliever Matt Albers came to Baltimore in the trade that sent Miguel Tejada to Houston; Albers was allowed to leave in free agency after the previous season. Patton was an intriguing starting prospect for the Orioles, until he tore his labrum twice. Now he's the most middling of middling relievers. Nevertheless, he gets out of the top of the sixth without allowing a run. He has, in fact, looked almost impressive over the past few weeks.

Beckett takes the mound in the bottom of the sixth and the game spirals delightfully out of control. Guerrero takes the first pitch up the middle for, yes, another seeing-eye single, with which he passes Julio Franco on the all-time hits list for Dominican-born players. With a strong second half, he's been an important contributor in the Orioles' resurgent September. As transitory as such success is, the Orioles can always use something to be happy about.

On the very next pitch, Wieters actually tries to bunt for a base hit as the Sox put on the shift. It barely goes foul. Jim Palmer shakes his head—you can almost hear him doing it—as the Sox stand pat and don't adjust their defensive formation. Wieters drills a ball to center; Ellsbury is there.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

George Carlin Isn't Helping

As Occupy Wall Street looms larger in the national discourse, more people you know on Facebook will probably try to explain its significance to you in increasingly counterproductive ways.

Cartoon panels of rewritten David Caruso CSI: Miami one-liners are only a week away, while today we can rest easy knowing that people who watch South Park have looked at the extreme claims of Wall Street and the moderate claims of the protestors and are ready to call this one straight down the middle. These people might be your friends, or they might be David Brooks or any of the Washington Post's editorial staff.

One person who will probably crop up on your Facebook wall ad nauseam to explain things is George Carlin, who's been dead for over three years, but he just called it, man. What Carlin saw was that rich people frequently have more in common with other rich people than with poor people who share similar social or religious values. He also saw that our government has been captured by monied interests. Far out, dude — that's where he saw this coming. Don't take my word for it, click this: