Monday, January 25, 2016

Point Guards

Basketball has been part of my life for a long time. Sometimes my attention has waned, especially when I didn't have a dog in the fight, but we certainly have a dog in the fight now with the Golden State Warriors, né Philadelphia Warriors. The Warriors are a revelation, led by a basketball genius, Steph Curry, perhaps the best shooter there has ever been. No, not perhaps, the best ever, plus the rest of what he does. He is also the the best ball-handler I've ever seen. He is a genius.
The team, too, is a work of genius. Their passing is A+, they play a switching defense I love, and as we know, they shoot. Curry's three point shooting is so good that the paradigm of how to win games has changed. The Warriors can rely on the three-pointer. It's not all they do, so much of what they do is superb, but relying on the three pointer and not just including it, is different.
I've always loved to think, who are the best five of all time, who are the best ten? And now, the emergence of Dell Curry's son has prompted once again the debate, who was the best point guard of all time? As soon as Bruce Jenkins wrote his column on that subject on Saturday, January 16, my friend Bob emailed me. Bob has never forgotten the 1960 paper I wrote as a Harvard freshman for General Education AhF (whatever that stood for), or Freshman Writing. Title: “Mr. Basketball.” Subtitle: “Or Why I Hate Bob Cousy.”
So, today, we have email. It took me a while to find Bruce Jenkins' email address – the Chron's website is one of the worst in the world – but I finally found it, incongruously at the end of each article in the paper edition, although as I say you can't find it on the blasted website. So I took the occasion, encouraged by Bob, to email Bruce Jenkins, and to attach the original paper.
Here's the letter I wrote:
Hi, Bruce:
I caught your point guard article of last Saturday. I'm a long time basketball fan, and since I grew up in Philadelphia -- I remember being at my back alley hoop in the late 1940's (!) shooting and yelling "Joe Fulks!" -- I had to notice the inclusion of Bob Cousy in the list.  As a Philadelphian, I grew hating Bob Cousy and the Boston acolytes, our Warriors' rivals.  As a matter of fact, when I was a freshman at Harvard and was assigned a free topic paper for English composition, I wrote the now immortal paper, "Mr. Basketball, or, Why I Hate Bob Cousy."  For your possible interest and amusement, I'm attaching it.  Time flies.
When I was in high school I would finish my homework in time to go down to our pine-paneled den and watch Channel 12 from Wilmington, Delaware, which televised the Big  5.  There I watched Guy Rogers as a freshman on the terrific Temple team and fell in love with him.  If only he could have elevated his flat jump shot, he would have been more than honorable mention on your list!  His passing and speed were so, so good; the plays he ran look like the current Warriors.  I made a case then that he was better than Cousy, but the Celtics team was better than the Warriors, and that was the difference.
And just for the record, I think Oscar was the best guard ever, maybe the best player ever.  It's harder to rate position players in basketball than in baseball, say, because a first baseman is a first baseman, but positions in basketball are more fluid and team-based, so it's harder to compare.  The point-forward, for instance.  Basketball is to sports as jazz is to music.
Finally, quiz question -- when the NBA started, they had to get their teams from somewhere.  Do you know where the first Warriors team came from, what their name was?  If you reply to this email, you get to know the fascinating answer.
Very appreciative of your wonderful sports writing through the years, and I would definitely vote for a lifetime achievement award.
Best regards,

Budd Shenkin

Bruce Jenkins responded:

Budd: In studying the Warriors historically, I did know that they were originally the Philadelphia Warriors, beginning in 1946-47 as a member of the Basketball Association of America (BAA). But don't let that stop you from writing! I greatly enjoy recollections from past years. I vividly remember scoring an excellent seat for a Lakers-Royals game at the L.A. Sports Arena in the 1960s. Between them, Oscar, Jerry Lucas, West and Baylor must have score 150 points. I must confess, though, that I wasn't a Laker fan, rather devoted to the Russell-Cousy Celtics. Just because I was so moved by their sense of teamwork. Best -- Bruce J.

I'm now preparing to post the 1960 Mr. Basketball paper. Watch for it, and with any encouragement whatsoever, further basketball commentary.

Budd Shenkin

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Between Elizabeth and Hillary

I think it's great that a Jew from Brooklyn who moved to Vermont and calls himself a democratic socialist is seriously being considered for President. It's great, seriously. I like and admire Bernie. I think the only problem is that a Jew from Brooklyn who moved to Vermont and who calls himself a democratic socialist can never be elected President. Ain't gonna happen. Hillary might get elected, but Bernie won't.

Hillary has some strengths, but there is a conflict when it comes to the banks. To my mind, Bernie's attacks on the big banks are entirely merited. No need to rehash the issues, but a very entertaining way to see what the banks are like is to see The Big Short, which I really liked. Den of evil, really. I liked the way Jamie Diamond's picture was flashed at the end with no mention of who or what, just the scent of evil.

Bernie gets this. But Hillary, to all intents and purposes, it seems, does not. He says the banks need to be broken up, she says no, it's more important to go after AIG and other bank-like institutions, hiding and showing off her sophistication in an obfuscation. She is really very lukewarm about it all, and we know that she and Bill have always been cozy with the big banks. Robert Rubin was Bill's pal, the awful Robert Rubin.

So, do I just hold my nose and vote for Hillary (in the general; in the primary, I could still go for Bernie)? Or, do I hope and rationalize?

I have made a decision. I'm going to bravely hope and rationalize. Here's what I'm thinking.

The greatest modern liberator, the greatest effector of civil rights, was Lyndon Baines Johnson, a man of the South. His friends were the Southerners in Congress, Richard Russell most of all, but Harry Byrd also. His sponsors were Jim Crow people through and through. But LBJ had been poor and discriminated against, embarrassed and reviled in his little town in Texas when his father failed in business. He identified with the poor minorities who were discriminated against. Then, when LBJ ascended, he used his power and acumen to do what that little boy had wanted to do, he righted the wrongs, as no one could have predicted he would. LBJ rose with the Southerners and then turned on them, to his everlasting credit.

Now, I want to imagine, what went on in December of 2014 when Hillary met secretly with Elizabeth Warren? People were talking about Warren for President then, although she obviously was wise enough not to want to do it. Still, Hillary wanted to tidily nail down another corner of her tent, so she met with Warren. What went down?

Here's where my rationalization comes in. I think she addressed Warren's viewpoint, which when it comes to the banks is pretty much the same as Bernie's. I think Hillary said that she thoroughly understood Warren's concerns, and she shared them. They were really on the same side. But, said Hillary, it's not so simple. I don't know what all the complications are, but there are many and they are severe, and a lot of them involve money and power that the banks have in abundance. It's not just a question of “Let's reinstitute Glass-Steagall,” I bet. There is a lot that has to be done, a lot of maneuvering, just as when Johnson got the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Right Act passed. And, in addition, before you do anything, you have to get elected.

So, I'm dreaming that Hillary said, “Elizabeth, I know exactly what you're saying, and I'm in your corner. But first I have to get elected, and to get elected I can't show all my cards. And then when I am elected, even then I can't show all my cards. I have to maneuver. But I want you to know, what you want is what I want.

“You can do what you want between now and then. I know you can't be totally and overtly supportive, and actually I don't want you to be. That would probably hurt me. You can support me subtly, until the end when we might need to pull out all the stops. But I want you to know that when and if I get in, I intend to pull an LBJ. It's only right; it would be the best thing to do for the country.”

So, given the state of the Republican Party, I'm going to support Hillary no matter what happens. But meanwhile, I'm rationalizing enough to feel really good about it.

Budd Shenkin

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Trump's Points Aren't All Wrong

I guess the Donald Trump phenomenom is complicated, but to me, some of it is that some of what he says is true. Far from all of it, and more pointing to problems that coming up with solutions – in fact, Trump is virtually a solution-free zone beyond “trust me, if I can't handle it personally we'll look into it closely and I'll get the best possible to handle it.”

Another part of it is style. While he is crass, his directness is refreshing to many. He has the aura of someone who calls a spade a spade. His entertaining and preposterously grandiose style might be at odds with the more circumspect and stately persona we look for in a President, and in the end will surely defeat him, but having a mix of entertaining style and apparent truth-telling has been potent.

When you think of it, actually, it is amazing how poor so many politicians are in public, when communicating to the public is one of their most important functions. Anyone who has taken acting 101 can see that so many of them just blow it. What is your “action,” to be technical about it? Is it to convince, to proclaim, to charm, to dazzle, to intimidate, to find out, what? All these are possible. Even Obama, for all his eloquence, and he is very eloquent, is professorial and declaiming. Bill Clinton convinces pretty well by 'splaining, that's in his wheelhouse. Hillary yells and is combative, and that's not being sexist, she yells at you. Others speechify. Others try to be charming by saying aw, shucks. George Bush was one of the worst; he talked to someone else beside you who were listening, seemed to me. But I digress.

Trump makes his points in an oppositional, the-king-has-no-clothes style (“they're stupid, am I right?”) that is designed to pull you in as a likeminded viewer who understands that the pezzonovente have been pulling fast ones all along. But some of them are right. When he describs a problem with outrage, there have to be people out there saying, “Yeah!”

So I was just thinking, what would I do with the surprising strength of his candidacy if I were on the questioners panel at a debate – Republican or Democratic? I think I'd use some of his points that I think are right to steer the debate. So, here is what I might do. It might be a fun game for you, as you follow his progress, to think how you might add to the list.

Recommended questions for questioners of presidential candidates

My intro: “While Mr. Trump has been derided as a grandstanding agent of chaos without real policy prescriptions, nonetheless, many of his pronouncement seem to resonate with many Americans. Without getting into personalities, could you please respond to some of the issues he has raised?”

#1. Mr. Trump has stated that our system of financing elections makes for a broken political system. He has stated that politicians without great personal wealth are dependent on donations from persons and corporations who expect a great deal in return.

Do you agree with this view? Do you think the election financing system is broken? Are candidates compromised by the need for large contributions? What changes are needed and would you support?

#1a. Mr. Trump has indicated that much of government is virtually owned by the rich. Do you agree?

#2. Mr. Trump has stated that the United States has been repeatedly out-negotiated in trade and other agreements. He has stated that our negotiators, both elected and appointed officials, are not of the top rank, are soft, and indeed are often “stupid.” He has stated that he would find “the best” personnel in the private sector and drive agreements that were more in the interest of the United States. Do you agree with his assessment? What would you do about it?

#2a. Do you think our governmental personnel are of the first rank, or do you think our first rate people are predominantly in the private sector? Also, would you please answer this question directly in terms of technology? And what would you do about it if you agree that this is a problem?

#3. Mr. Trump has decried an unfair tax system that extracts too much money from everyone. But one important point he has not been alone in making is that it is a scandal that certain investment institutions have been able to benefit unfairly from “carried interest.” Do you agree that carried interest is an unfair tax rule? If so, would you do anything about it?

#4. Mr. Trump has stated that the Iraq war was a terrible mistake, and would much rather have invested the trillions invested in Iraq in domestic priorities of infrastructure, especially roads, bridges, and airports. He has stated that the United States should cast a much less substantial shadow in foreign affairs, and induce other countries to shoulder more of the burden. Do you believe the war was a mistake? If so, do you believe it was avoidable? Do you believe that the United States should stay home more?

#5. Mr. Trump has said that our openness to immigration, both legal and illegal, has sold out our working class to the interests of the wealthy. Do you agree, or do you thin the Trans Pacific Partnership is a good idea?

In sum, Trump does have some challenging ideas, seems to me, despite lots of the vile things he has said, and his terrible low class demeanor. If I were a questioner, I might capitalize on it.

Budd Shenkin