Archive for October, 2017

Raised Middle Finger Often in Middle of Controversy

October 29, 2017

A football player from the University of Tennessee raised a pair of middle fingers to the University of Alabama student section a week ago Saturday. A Michigan player offered the same twin salute to the Penn State crowd on the same night.

Their double-digit discourtesies were sophomoric in tone but historic in nature: The middle finger predates the Middle Ages. Diogenes raised his to Demosthenes in ancient Greece. The Romans had a name for the obscene insult: digitus impudicus — impudent finger.

So the finger form for F-you goes back two millennia and more. Ah, but the first known photograph of someone flipping the bird comes from American sports. That means Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden and Michigan’s Lavert Hill are the latest exemplars of an uncivil sporting tradition begun at least as far back as 1886 by workhorse pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn.

On opening day at New York’s Polo Grounds that year, Radbourn’s Boston Beaneaters met their National League rival New York Giants. Take a careful look at the joint team photo taken that day. There’s Radbourn in the back row, far left, with his middle finger slyly extended. It’s hard to notice at first — and then there it is. Once seen, it can’t be unseen: Old Hoss giving the ol’ middle finger to the Giants, or maybe the world, a timeless insult frozen in time.

“If Old Hoss can appear in a photograph from the 19th century,” Robert Thompson tells USA TODAY Sports, “that’s enough tradition for me to say that the middle finger is a part of the great American pastime.”

Thompson is founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University — and one of the great moments of sports TV history intersects with one of the great moments of middle finger history.

The Oakland Raiders were pummeling the Houston Oilers 34-0 at the Astrodome on Monday Night Football in 1972 when cameras panning the crowd found an unhappy Oilers fan who offered a middle-fingered hello. Color analyst Don Meredith delivered a colorful riposte: He thinks his team “is No. 1.”

“That belongs in the middle finger Hall of Fame,” Thompson says. “And we know what the trophy will look like.”

Old Hoss is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He won a record 59 games for the Providence Grays in 1884, a couple of seasons before his hide-in-plain-sight middle finger photo. Lest you think the placement of his digit could have been some sort of benign accident, Radbourn went rogue again in 1887, when he appeared on a baseball card with hand on hip, middle finger extended.

Radbourn biographer Edward Achorn chose that image for the cover of his book Fifty-Nine in ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had. “He’s got this innocent expression on his face, and then he’s doing that on the side,” he says. “They airbrushed out the finger from some of the cards that were released, but the image survived.”

Achorn, editorial page editor of The Providence Journal, says Radbourn was known for a sense of humor and a taste for drink: “One of his relatives claimed he drank up to a quart of whiskey a day at the height of his career.” Now Old Hoss is sometimes better known for a single finger on his left hand than for winning 59 games in a single season with his right.

NIGHT OF SO MANY FINGERS On the same night that the Tennessee and Michigan players delivered double-barreled salutes, Kevin Durant flashed a single finger at the Memphis crowd in the closing seconds of Golden State’s loss to the Grizzlies. At first, observers saw it as a middle finger but — upon further review — it turned out he’d actually extended his ring finger, apparently as a way of saying he and his Warriors have NBA championship rings and the Grizzlies don’t.

“It’s not the middle finger,” Thompson says, “but it’s middle-finger adjacent.”

Also on the same Saturday — the night of so many fingers — Josh Jackson of the Phoenix Suns got into trouble by responding to a Los Angeles Clippers fan who’d been heckling him. Jackson appeared to aim an imaginary weapon — not a handgun, but a hand gun — at the heckler. His explanation is a classic. He hadn’t meant to simulate a gun at all.

“I kind of wanted to put up the middle finger to him,” he said, “but I didn’t do that because I felt like I was really being watched so I kind of halfway did it.”

Jackson got fined $35,000 for making “a menacing gesture” and for “inappropriate language,” since he’d also mouthed a profanity, the one so often associated with the middle finger.

The gesture, like the profanity, is obscene. Still, these days the gesture is common enough to have lost much of its original meaning. Thompson says when a middle schooler sneaks a middle finger into a photo (shades of Old Hoss) it’s meant as trickster stunt — naughtier than G-rated bunny ears but not necessarily X-rated in intent.

MIDDLE FINGER TODAY,

APOLOGY TOMORROW

Old Hoss Radbourn, top left, flips the bird in a pregame photo from 1886. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, CORBIS/VCG, VIA GETTY IMAGES

Diogenes is the Greek philosopher — and middle finger flipper — who, according to legend, carried a lamp in daylight as he searched in vain for an honest man. He wouldn’t need his lamp to find fellow flippers in the world of sports. The Internet is awash with them.

Award extra points to those who flip off their own fans. New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka did it at a game in 1999. New York Yankees pitcher Jack McDowell did it at a game in 1995 — and the tabloids dubbed him “The Yankee Flipper.”

Rex Ryan gave a one-finger salute to Miami Dolphins fans at a mixed martial arts event in South Florida in 2010. The New York Post gleefully ran the photo on its front page under the headline: REX-RATED.

Dolphins running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in August 1972. Csonka is seated on his helmet under a goal post with a middle finger extended on his sock above the ankle. (Old Hoss would have approved.) Bad karma did not follow: That year the Dolphins went on to the only undefeated season in NFL history.

Players are by no means the only transgressors. Fans have been known to flip off opposing players, and each other. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Raiders fans.)

Double birds bedevil the Buffalo Bills. Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox unleashed a pair before a 1993 game in Buffalo; he got fined $10,000, apparently establishing a price of $5,000 per finger. The late Bud Adams, then owner of the Tennessee Titans, aimed a pair at the Bills sideline during a 2009 game in Nashville; he got fined $250,000, or $125,000 per digit, which is a fair amount of inflation.

You might think Adams should have known better. He owned the Oilers when Dandy Dan got off his “No. 1” one-liner on Monday Night Football. Adams apologized, said he’d gotten carried away. That’s often the arc of these things: Middle finger today, apology tomorrow.

Sure enough, last week the Tennessee and Michigan college football players offered apologies for flipping off opposing crowds in anger. That raises a question: Which emotion — anger or apology — is the honest one?

We’ll leave that to Diogenes.

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Succotash

October 19, 2017

Being a child of the North, I never ate succotash. My introduction to the word came via the exasperated utterances of Sylvester the Cat, who would sputter “Suffering succotash!” when things were not going his way.

A staple of the South, succotash fed people through hardship and depression, as it did the Native Americans who invented it. The indigenous root of the name relates variously to cracked corn, boiled corn or other preparations of corn. As Native American cultures are known to have understood, when beans are added to corn, complete protein happens. “Seaboard Algonquin” specifically, says food historian Michael Twitty, author of “The Cooking Gene,” fielding my succotash questions via Twitter. Twitty also admitted to not liking succotash very much, at least the traditional version made with lima beans. I have to admit, I haven’t found a way to really like it myself when it’s made with lima beans, or black beans , or kidney beans, or any number of other shelling beans. Combined with the corn kernels, the dish becomes too seedy, and I much prefer making it with string beans. The protein isn’t as high, but that deficit can be erased with bacon and mayonnaise (one of my favorite healthy cooking tricks).

Twitty steered me toward a southern Louisiana version of succotash, macque choux, that does not contain shelled beans but does allow the likes of tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, garlic and celery. And bacon, of course. And shrimp, unsurprisingly. It’s a model roughly in keeping with my own protocols, minus the shrimp. Without the shell beans, a pan of succotash becomes like a pan of fried rice. Along with string beans and the above ingredients, one can use other veggies like collard greens, zucchini and hot, sweet and roasted peppers.

Allen Broach, who comes from an old Southern family and has fond memories of his grandma’s succotash, has given me some of my best recipes. He’s fine with people using string beans in succotash, although the closest they ever came growing up was to use “shellies,” the beans inside overgrown string beans. Here is his family recipe, which is lima bean-based.

Grannie Smith’s succotash

• Equal amounts of baby lima beans and corn cut from the cob. You should also “milk” the cob once the corn is cut off by scraping the cob with a knife to get all the juice from it.

• Use bacon drippings and saute the limas for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper then add water to cover and cook until they are nearly done.

• Add a small onion, diced, and the corn. Cook until the corn is done. Most of the liquid should be cooked out. Just a few minutes.

That was it. Broach confessed to having modified grandma’s recipe by adding any number of the following to the average batch of succotash.

• 4 tablespoons butter

• Garlic (minced)

• 1 cup whole grain hominy

• 1 pound cooked beef brisket or country ham, chopped

• 2 oz. salt pork in one piece

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• 1 boiling potato (about 112 pound) such as Yukon gold, boiled and diced

• 1 small turnip, boiled and diced

• 1/4 cup or so chopped red or green bell pepper (or a combination)

Among other parts of this recipe, I was intrigued by his country ham idea , so I picked one up at the farmers market, brought it home and diced it up. Into the pan it went, and as the greasy cubes sizzled pleasantl y, I proceeded to prep the veggies, adding them in layers, in the order of how much cooking they need. After the meat, which sometimes includes deer meat as well as the ham/bacon, I will add the onions, then the beans, then peppers, diced zucchini, butter and olive oil as necessary, and finally the corn on top. I let it cook like this undisturbed for a while, allowing the meat at the bottom to cook in the accumulating juices. When it’s finally time to stir, somewhere between when the veggies give up all of their moisture and when the bottom starts to burn, I add minced or grated garlic and dried thyme, and stir it up. I’ll stir again once or twice until it’s ready, and serve with cheese, parsley, salsa, roasted peppers and whatever else. Succotash, like the kitchen sink, can absorb practically anything you can throw at it.

Time for a little döstädning

October 15, 2017

It’s time for me to get rid of some stuff!!

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From an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 10/15/17 by Philip Martin

Last night the wife said,

“Oh boy, when you’re dead

You don’t take nothing with you

but your soul.”

Think!

— John Lennon,

“The Ballad of John & Yoko”

Some things only seem hard.

I am divesting myself of stuff—donating and selling and giving to friends the great bulk of my music collection and my books. Almost all of the CDs are gone now; several thousand of them went to a fine academic institution. Others went to or are earmarked for friends. I’m down to a couple of file boxes worth of material now, and I expect that to dwindle further over the next few weeks.

It’s not like I’ve really given anything away. I still have the music—nearly 15,000 albums archived on a hard drive about the size of a brick and (mostly) backed up in the proverbial cloud. The overwhelming majority of these files are in Apple Lossless, AIFF or WAV formats, which vinyl purists and high-resolution audio fans may sniff at but sound pretty good to me.

Besides, like most people I know, we mostly stream music these days. (I know how bad a deal that is for artists—you can stream my music on most of the services. Digitalization is a bad genie who won’t be restoppered.)

My music was organized alphabetically, by artist and chronologically by release date, with soundtracks and various artists’ compilations sorted separately. Our classical collection—only a couple of hundred of CDs—was arranged alphabetically by composer. A few oversize box sets were stored in my office, but most of them were stripped of their packaging and slipped into thinline jewel cases or sleeves and filed with the others. The attendant booklets and the boxes were packed away in the attic.

I might have some hoarding tendencies, but at least I’m a very organized hoarder. I could find a given CD within seconds.

But in an era when almost every sound ever recorded is findable with a few computer keystrokes, maybe I’m lucky I found a place that would take the media.

Now I’m working on the books. Central Arkansas Library System will end up with most of them—I’ve already dropped a couple hundred off for its River Market Books and Gifts shop—but I need to decide exactly what I want to keep.

I had two copies of Jack Butler’s Jujitsu For Christ, an inscribed first edition and one published by the University of Missippi Press a couple of years ago that features a contexturizing foreword by Butler and an insightful afterword by LSU literature professor Brannon Costello. Obviously I’m keeping the book Jack signed to me and suspect that at some point in the future I’ll miss the newer edition. But—too bad.

Similarly I’d love to keep all the Updike, all the Philip Roth, but it feels unlikely that I’ll dive back into those novels, and if I need to they’re all easily obtainable. (I’m keeping the Library of America editions of Roth’s works, so I’ll still have all that.) I’ll keep the first edition of In Cold Blood because it’s one of a couple of books my uncle handed down to me. I guess that’s the criterion—keeping books for which I can identify a clear reason to keep.

So long Willa Cather. Adios Cormac McCarthy. I’m bequeathing Dan Jenkins to my lawyer.

Next come the clothes. And then the golf clubs; I’ve got four or five extra bags’ worth of clubs I need to take down to the First Tee. (Maybe I can find a home for the 100 or so Scotty Cameron head-covers I’ve collected.) There’s camera equipment I don’t use anymore. I’ll probably keep all the guitars.

For now.

We have pragmatic reasons for clearing out this stuff, but mostly it’s an act of self-liberation. A week or so after our project started (Karen is getting rid of stuff too, more ruthlessly than I am though she has a lot less to part with) I became aware that one of the new lifestyle trends out of Scandinavia—the part of the world that gave us hygge and lagom—is something called döstädning, which cheerily translates to “death cleaning.”

It’s been popularized by Swedish author and artist Margareta Magnusson, whose book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is making the book club rounds. The idea is that people over 50 ought to consider that their relatives are going to have to sort through all their junk after they die and streamline their lives by holding on to only those possessions that directly contribute to happiness.

I don’t care about how my death might inconvenience my relatives. (Some of them have never seemed too concerned about how the conduct of their lives has inconvenienced me.) But there has long been a tiny bit of tension in our house between my materialistic acquisitiveness and Karen’s zen aesthetic.

Her instinct is to get rid of things. She’s always been the type to give a book away after she’s read it, while walls of bookshelves tight with books have always given me comfort.

We’ve done it my way for nearly 25 years. I suppose it’s about time to give her a turn.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

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Bryce Molder Retires (From the Log Cabin Democrat 10/1/17)

October 2, 2017

Walking many miles over many years watching Bryce Molder

Time marched on and slapped me in the face last week.

Only a fraction of my 35 years at the Log Cabin Democrat has golfer Bryce Molder not been either a significant part or a popular element to our coverage.

Retire at age 38? Say, it isn’t so, Bryce.

I tried to figure how many miles I’ve walked or how many of Molder’s individual rounds I’ve recorded. The math eludes me.

I still had some splotches of black hair when I would receive short news releases from Barry Molder, Bryce’s father, about this young local golfer (he began playing at age 5) who was winning all kinds of tournaments in Arkansas and later nationally. I watched how he rose to become one of the top-ranked junior golfers in America. I chronicled how he became one of the few NCAA four-time, first-team, All-Americans while at Georgia Tech.

His inspiring story drew national attention because he had Poland Syndrome (born without a left pectoral muscle). He had two surgeries for webbed hands before age 5.

But he never used physical limitations as an excuse.

After Molder was carried off the 18th green by his teammates after helping clinch the Palmer Cup for America on the historic Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Mike Hengel (the LCD publisher the time) instructed that we never surrender the high ground on coverage of Molder.

Consequently, we’ve literally followed Molder from coast to coast. I’ve covered every round Molder played at NCAA tournaments at Hazeltine in Minnesota, Opelika (Auburn), Alabama and at the Duke Golf Course in Durham, N.C. I’ve recorded every round at U.S. Amateur tournaments at marquee courses at Pebble Beach in California and Baltusrol in New Jersey.

Colleagues were amazed that while they were covering hundreds of golfers at at tournament, I was primarily assigned to one.

Molder twice won the Jack Nicklaus Award as Collegiate Player of the Year (1998 and 2001). He also fired a 60 when playing with President Bill Clinton at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, just missing a chip shot for a 59.

When he turned pro in 2001, my primary association was covering many FedEx St. Jude Classics in Memphis. In some years, he would draw galleries of friends and supporters (rivaling that of John Daly) that stretched halfway down a par-4 fairway. One of his best efforts as a pro was when he finished in a tie for second with David Toms in 2009.

I’ve seen Molder make an assortment of fantastic shots (mostly chips and putts). I’ve observed the tremendous highs and wrenching lows. All the while, he displayed the same character, humility and honesty. He’s always had a wonderful ability to analyze a shot or a round with captivating insight and wit that went well beneath the surface. I’ve often thought he could be a great golf TV commentator if eventually he chose that direction.

And then Thursday during his induction into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame, Molder announced his retirement at age 38 because of the challenge of playing as a job vs. his role as a family man. He was running out of gas as far as fulfillment and fun on the sport he loves.

Molder doesn’t go into anything without a lot of thought.

Two of many scenes and stories about Bryce that capsulize him come to mind today.

When Molder filled out some form after he turned pro, the routine question came up of average weekly earnings. He wrote, (truthfully) “between zero and $1 million dollars.”

When Molder walked up the 18th fairway at Duke Golf Club at the NCAA tourney for his last round as a collegian, one of his playing partners was Ryan Hyble of the University of Georgia and an arch-rival. As he approached the green, Hyble’s father began a loud clap that was immediately joined by the gallery and crescendoed about the green. It was a heartwarming and spontaneous salute to a great career.

“I tried not to think that 18 was Bryce’s last hole until he putted,” said Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler, his voice breaking, his hand wiping away tears. “I didn’t want to think that this was it for the best player in the history of college golf.”

As a collegian and as a pro — by fans, golf commentators, reporters, officials and fellow competitors— Molder was considered one of the good guys.

You can’t describe him without using some form of the world “class.”

He was that way in high school, in college and he’s that way as he leaves the game as a pro.

Thanks, Bryce, for giving me a bunch of thrills and and some of the greatest highlights of my career in watching you grow, develop and now move smoothly to another stage of your career.

Class indeed.