Et Cetera (November - December 2001)
December 5, 2001
Walt Disney and Strom Thurmond are two names that inspire weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in politically correct circles. The former is seen as the ultimate middle class vulgarian, the latter as a segregationist dinosaur whom "decent" people publicly hope will speedily die. Both were born today, Disney exactly a century ago, Strom one year after him.
The usually hard-edged Michael Ledeen devotes today's NRO column to sentimental recollections of the creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland. His family knew the Disneys, and young Michael was a frequent guest at Walt's home, which was "really a playhouse; there was a model train that ran from the kitchen out to the backyard, and on a good day the train would come puffing out with hamburgers and cokes". He notes in passing that none of Walt's alleged antisemitism never showed up in his relations with the Jewish Ledeen family.
The most important aspect of Disney Studios under its founding brothers - the lesser known Roy was essential to the business side - was craftsmanship. To modernist critics, it is a bad thing that the Disney versions of Snow White and Cinderella stripped out the violent, erotic undertones of the original fairy tales and implied that marriage is happily-ever-after rather than subjugation to patriarchy. They give no credit to the good things: meticulous, accurate drawing, beautiful composition, plotting that weaves comedy into into the fabric of drama without diminishing either, a fine ear for musical accompaniment. Those who do not find bourgeois values utterly repulsive can savor those delights and pity the ideologues' self-willed blindness and deafness to them.
One surprising historical datum - evidence, I think, that the Disneys had an active guardian angel - is that Disney World was originally planned for the outskirts of St. Louis. Walt, a Chicagoan by birth, saw the Midwest as the heart of the values embodied in his parks. The project went as far as a dinner meeting between the Disney brass and a gathering of top St. Louis civic leaders. After dinner came various inspirational and congratulatory speeches. One speaker was Augustus Busch, the brewery magnate, who, perhaps under the influence of his own product, declared, "Walt, this is a great idea, but any man who would build a place as wonderful as that and not serve beer in it is a damned fool." On the plane home, Walt told his aides: "Forget St. Louis. I want you to start looking at Florida." Meaning no disrespect for John Ashbrook's home state, Disney World Missouri just wouldn't be right - more like a stepsister than a Cinderella.
* * * *
The only time that I met Strom Thurmond in person, I was a college freshman and he was guest speaker at a meeting of the Yale Political Union. That was around his 63rd birthday, and he was bald and wrinkled even then. The meeting was preceded by a dinner, at which the luck of the draw had given me a slot. After much eating and (on the part of the undergraduates present) drinking, it was time to depart for the main event. Senator Thurmond asked directions to the lecture hall, then sprinted to it from Mory's, easily outrunning a dozen young men four decades his junior (one of them his now-fellow solon John Kerry). That he has reached the age of 99 - no longer sprinting but still alive and sound of mind - does not surprise me.
The Left would like us to remember Senator Thurmond as primarily and essentially a segregationist. Like every other Southern politician of his era, he did indeed support segregation, running as the Dixiecrat candidate for President in 1948 and conducting the longest individual filibuster on record against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That he integrated his staff and renounced the tenets of White Supremacy a quarter century ago makes no difference. Liberals will recognize post-communists but not post-segregationists.
Even during the States Rights Party campaign, however, Thurmond was recognizable as not just a segregationist. H. L. Mencken, who championed racial integration all his life, praised him, because he saw in Thurmond a man who favored federalism and liberty as political ends, not simply as a means of preserving white dominance in the South. As segregation lost its preeminence in Southern politics, he was one of the first major politicians in the region to leave the Democratic Party. It is noteworthy that other "right-wing" Democrats stayed in their traditional home. Except on racial issues, they had no quarrel with the party's increasingly leftist agenda. To this day Senator Thurmond's nearest Senate contemporary, one-time Ku Klux Klanner Robert Byrd of West Virginia, remains a big spending, high tax, high regulation, semi-socialist Democrat.
Liberal columnists who pride themselves on their "sensitivity" keep exhorting Strom Thurmond to hurry up and die. Here's hoping that he'll live another decade just to spite them.
November 30, 2001
Has it occurred to anyone but me that the use of "911" as the number for emergency services will someday be assumed to have been inspired by 9/11/01?
* * * *
Though I usually would not cross the street to see a sporting event, games based on sports can be fascinating. One of my favorites is Diamond Mind Baseball, a sports simulation with has no animated graphics, arcade-like controls or celebrity endorsements but much sense of what it is like to manage a major league team through a grueling season.
Creating a statistics-driven baseball game is not, as I naively assumed in my youth, just a matter of opening last season's record book and giving a .300 hitter a 30 percent chance of getting on base. Diamond Mind models players' abilities by using pitch-by-pitch data, adjusted to take into account such factors as the relative friendliness of particular ball parks to batters and pitchers. The goal is a game in which, when Batter A faces Pitcher B in Park C with Weather X, the probability of each possible outcome will be the same as if the identical match-up occurred in real life.
There is no way to know with certainty how near the Diamond Mind team has come to accurately projecting what would happen on the field, but evidence suggests that their right-wrong percentage is high. For the past several years, they have played through each season in advance (repeating the process 50 times to smooth random variations) and have achieved better results than most human forecasters.
One of the game's most intriguing features is its ability to reduce distortions when teams of different eras play one another. If a modern team is "transported" back to 1906, its home run production will drop dramatically, its fielders will commit more errors, and its pitchers will throw more complete games. The transformation of Barry Bonds into "Home Run" Baker rests on the premise that talent has remained constant over the century, so that statistical differences stem from external factors like the liveliness of balls, the weight of bats, the adequacy of gloves and the quality of groundskeeping. Whether that theory is completely true is doubtful, but it is credible enough to produce plausible "re-creations" of contests that never could have occurred.
In my first imaginary season, played a couple of years ago, I managed the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers (as a lad I cheered their World Series triumph over the hated Yankees) in a 12-team league consisting of great teams from a variety of eras, among them the infamous 1919 Chicago "Black Sox". My boys led their division for much of the season, but then Roy Campanella was injured and didn't play well after returning to the lineup (just a fluke of the randomizer, I know, but I felt like I was watching him play manfully through his pain and not quite reaching his peak), and the 1980 Phillies edged us in the stretch. They then went on to upset the Black Sox, who had thundered through their division, by four games to two in the playoff series.
Playing a full season in odd moments is feasible, because individual games take no longer than about 45 minutes. I completed much of my Dodgers' season while listening in on dull conference calls. Needless to say, Diamond Mind sells disks for lots of seasons, almost the entire 20th Century. Also available are a few ahistorical seasons, such as the one that I used, and some free, downloadable ones for Minor and Japanese Leagues. For those who want a more sociable pastime, two-player competition is possible, and there are numerous active leagues.
My next big DMB project, which will undoubtedly take much longer to finish than my last, is a venture in alternate history. What if the American and National Leagues had held stubbornly to eight teams each, meaning that they would include only 400 top players, not today's multitude. I've amalgamated the current teams (trying to achieve balance by joining the good with the bad (e. g., the Yankees with the Marlins) and trimmed their rosters to what seem to be the best players. With the leftovers, I've formed minor leagues. We'll see what happens.
November 22, 2001
Copyright 1996 Kevin Brockschmidt
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am firmly on the side of the turkey eaters. Still, one must try to see all points of view.
November 21, 2001
Today is not only my birthday but one of those Significant Birthdays. I wouldn't mention the occasion, except that a friend (with friends like this. . . .) thoughtfully sent me the following inspirational e-mail message:
THE SENILITY PRAYER
God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.
Now that I'm "older" (but refuse to grow up), here's what I've discovered:
ONE- I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it.
TWO- My wild oats have turned into All Bran.
THREE- I finally got my head together now my body is falling apart.
FOUR- Funny, I don't remember being absent minded.
FIVE- All reports are in, life is now officially unfair.
SIX- If all is not lost, where is it?
SEVEN- It is easier to get older than it is to get wiser.
EIGHT- Some days you're the dog, some days you're the hydrant.
NINE- I wish the buck stopped here, I sure could use a few. . . .
TEN- Kids in the back seat cause accidents.
ELEVEN- Accidents in the back seat cause...kids.
TWELVE- It's hard to make a comeback when you haven't been anywhere.
THIRTEEN- The only time the world beats a path to your door is when you're in the bathroom.
FOURTEEN- If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
FIFTEEN- When I'm finally holding all the cards, why does everyone decide to play chess?
SIXTEEN- It's not hard to meet expenses. . . they're everywhere.
SEVENTEEN- The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.
EIGHTEEN- These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter. . . . I go somewhere to get something and then wonder what I'm here after.
NINETEEN- I AM UNABLE TO REMEMBER IF I HAVE MAILED THIS TO YOU BEFORE OR NOT. . . .
November 17, 2001
Okay, I'll admit that my notion of an exciting Yale-Harvard game is one like 1973, when I saw the Elis win by a smashing 35-0. (As the saying goes, the game wasn't really as close as that.) A struggle full of interesting twists and turns is distinctly second best, especially when the wrong team wins. Nonetheless, today's contest had more than its share of memorable moments. From a purely disinterested point of view, I suppose that the most memorable was Harvard's third quarter fake punt, which couldn't have been better executed, took the ball from mid-field to the three-yard line and set up the decisive touchdown. If the play had been stopped, Harvard would have been leading only 28-23 during the final Yale drive, and I know in my heart that our guys would have scored under those circumstances.
More satisfying, odd though it was, was the ending to the first half. We were down 22-7, had possession with less than a minute left and really needed to get some points before the clock ran out. Unhappily, our progress stalled. Happily, our kicker hit on a long field goal. As the ball sailed through the uprights, a penalty flag was thrown: roughing the kicker against Harvard. Yale accepted the penalty, taking three points off the scoreboard in exchange for a chance at a touchdown. Then we failed to score and had to kick again. This time a Harvard defender got his hand on the ball and deflected it, but not quite enough, and Yale gained the hardest earned three points of the game.
It was also satisfying to see Yale outthink the opposition on a number of occasions (that fake punt excepted) and keep trying even at the end, when we needed (and naturally didn't get) two touchdowns in less than two minutes. If moral victories (which don't count even in horseshoes) mattered, Yale could claim one of those. Harvard's team was reputedly its best this century and is its first to go undefeated since 1913. Yale entered with a 3-6 record and only one victory in the Ivy League. Nevertheless, we could easily have won. Oh, well, wait till next year!
Addendum: Joseph Ditkoff has sent me some remarkable statistics about the game. Yale quarterback T. J. Hyland had total offense of 444 yards, 273 passing and 171 rushing. That was 93 percent of his team's total offense and 45 percent of all of the yards gained by both sides together! His average of 5.3 yards per carry was the highest of any player who got the ball more than once. We'll silently pass over the two drives that he ended with fumbles.