Southern football takes its stand
The coronavirus is breaking up college football.
After the Pac-12 and Big 10 decided to delay fall sports - the Pac-12 postponed all sports including basketball until the first of the year - the SEC, ACC and Big 12 vowed to play football this autumn, coronavirus be damned.
The split reveals that the NCAA doesn't control football, as AJC columnist Mark Bradley keeps pointing out. The power football programs rule the sport. Now, their greedy alliance for TV money and gridiron glory is falling apart.
Outside of the Big 10's Ohio St., the conferences going ahead with fall football have dominated the championship playoffs with perennial powers like Clemson, Oklahoma, Alabama, and last year's champion, LSU.
If the ACC, SEC and Big 12 manage to get through their seasons, perhaps they'll cobble together a playoffs among them. But the validity of that championship would be disputed, with the Big 10 and Pac 12 out. Perhaps we'll have a fall champion and a spring champion.
Nebraska, a once first-tier power in decline for years, was the most upset Big 10 member over the conference's decision to punt. The Cornhuskers said they might break away and play outside the conference. But with the ACC, SEC and Big 12 all deciding to cancel out-of-conference games, Nebraska would have no one to play. Maybe a semipro team in Omaha would schedule the Big Red.
ACC, SEC and Big 12 schools are also opening classrooms to students. Sportswriter Will Leitch, who lives in Athens, Ga., warned in his fine weekly newsletter that students are packing the college town's notorious bars, left open by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. The famous drinking schools around the South are holding frat parties, going on binges and hooking up.
Spectators won't be allowed into the mammoth stadiums that dominate Southern campuses, but the bars will be full on game day, and nothing will stop tailgating.
Covid-19 likely will spread even if the ACC, SEC and Big 12 decide to cancel football. But the games will be an extra incentive for students to party on, as the virus lurks.
HBO's "Perry Mason" finishes strong after bleak start
After a cumbersome beginning, I grew to like HBO's version of "Perry Mason."
HBO's Perry is not the suave, self-assured defense attorney memorably portrayed by Raymond Burr in the long-running CBS series. Rather, he's a sad-sack World War I veteran suffering from PTSD who begins the series as a deadbeat private investigator in Depression-era Los Angeles.
While acknowledging author Erle Stanley Gardner's creation of the character, the new Perry Mason is more like a damaged Philip Marlowe, or Jake Gittes.
Hearkening back to the CBS show's courtroom dramas in the final episodes, the HBO version overall is more of a crime procedural in which Mason investigates the kidnapping and murder of an infant. The child's mother is eventually accused of the crime, and Mason and associates prove her innocent and find the true murderer, a corrupt LA detective.
In a dual storyline that converges with the crime investigation, a fraudulent megachurch gains immense popularity through a messianic young evangelist's claims of performing miracles.
Despite the show's gorgeous period details, Matthew Rhys' glum performance as Mason and the dense script made viewing at the beginning an ordeal. I wondered where HBO had lost the humor that gave counterpoint to the the dark stories of "The Sopranos" and "The Wire."
As the series progresses, and Mason grows more like Burr's Perry, Rhys lightens the mood, and the excellent cast achieves dramatic symmetry in exploring characters' personalities and relationships.
The show depicts Mason advancing from private investigator to increasingly assured defense attorney. As Mason gains confidence, realizing that he's found his role in life, Rhys softens his performance, raising Mason's personal appeal.
In another shift from the TV show, Juliet Rylance portrays Della Street as an ambitious, savvy striver, adding new dimensions to Barbara Hale's performance as the character in the CBS serial.
When the accused young mother's aging attorney kills himself, Rylance's Street encourages Mason to study law under another familiar character, Hamilton Berger, and take the bar exam. Mason, as was possible in that era, is admitted to the bar, and takes over the woman's defense, with the assured assistance of Street.
The blossoming relationship of Mason and Street, delicately portrayed by Rhys and Rylance, is one of the show's highpoints. In another HBO twist, Street is a lesbian in a passionate affair with a younger woman flamboyantly portrayed by Molly Ephraim. But there's a smoldering sexual tension between Rhys and Rylance that drives the show, without ever igniting.
Gayle Rankin delivers the show's most mesmerizing performance as Emily Dotson, the mother accused of murdering her son. With her expressive eyes, Rankin registers a range of emotions. An adulterous relationship before the child's death is used to fan suspicions of her guilt, but Mason raises doubts about the prosecution's case, bringing a mistrial.
Rankin shows the anguish of a grieving mother, a woman's yearning for love leading to adultery, a gentle innocence, and the desperation of a woman fearing execution. As with other women on the show, her interactions with Rhys' Mason are an emotional force.
An excellent cast raises the show's narrative tenor from episode to episode. John Lithgow gives a melancholy portrayal as attorney E.B. Jonathan, Mason's mentor, who tragically kills himself when overwhelmed by financial problems and declining abilities. HBO everyman Shia Whigman plays a street-wise private investigator with his usual flair. HBO familiars Lili Taylor and Stephen Root also display the cable channel's pedigree.
Tatiana Maslany blends the charismatic evangelist's exuberance with an endearing underlying vulnerability. She also has a smoldering relationship with Mason, whose denouement provides a bittersweet ending.
Chris Chalk achieves a thrilling emergence as Mason's investigator Paul Drake. In another innovation from the old show, Drake's a black Los Angeles police officer whose investigative brilliance is crushed by the department's virulent racism. Chalk sensitively illustrates Drake's complexities. He's a family man whose wife is expecting a child. Paralleling Mason, Chalk's Drake also grows more assured during the series, ending up as Mason's investigator.
At first blush, I thought HBO's "Perry Mason" a gorgeous misfire. The show doesn't rank among "The Sopranos" and "The Wire," but is a worthy addition to the cable channel's canon. With elements of "True Detective" and "Boardwalk Empire," HBO's "Perry Mason" holds a similar place to those shows in the HBO oeuvre.
Antarctic ice shelves melting at alarming pace
Goodbye to the Antarctic ice shelves.
Antarctica has lost 4,000 megatons of ice in the last 25 years, according to a Wall Street Journal article Tuesday, based on a report in the journal Nature Geoscience.
That's enough water to fill the Grand Canyon, the British newspaper The Independent said. If the melting continues at the present rate, the Grand Canyon might really be filled with water some day.
Thousands of years old, the ice shelves are melting faster than they can be replenished. Floating on the ocean, the shelves form on the edges of the ice sheets that cover Antarctica and Greenland.
While the ice-shelf melting doesn't directly contribute to rising sea levels, the shelves are a buffer to underground ice moving out to sea, which increases sea levels. The shrinking ice shelves mean more of the subterranean ice is heading to the oceans.
Research has just begun into the effects of the Antarctic's loss of ice, according to the WSJ piece. The ice loss can change global weather patterns, the WSJ said.
Unlike Greenland, where the loss of ice is on the surface, the Antarctic melting comes from below, the article said.
If the entire Antarctic melts, sea levels could rise 200 feet, the Independent said, submerging coastal areas.
Dragonflies recall Gerard Manley Hopkins' "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"
This is the summer of dragonflies.
I've seen several of the luminous insects in my yard for the first time in years. Two hovered in midair as if observing me, then darted away like playful spirits.
The dragonflies recalled a poem from long ago, Gerard Manley Hopkins' "As Kingfishers Catch Fire." I looked up the poem, which begins "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;"
I've kept rereading Hopkins' sonnet, struggling with its difficult language. I felt that my dragonflies were like those that Hopkins wrote about in Victorian Britain more than 100 years ago.
The poem's message is that God's grace shines in nature and humans, and that each person uniquely reflects that divine essence.
I was never much of a Gerard Manley Hopkins fan, finding his poetry mannered with his forced rhythms and ornate language. But in this strange August, his poem boosted my faith.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
Pete Hamill's death brings sorrow for lost era of American literature
Pete Hamill, who died this week at age 85, was the last lion of a great age of American literature.
Hamill and other writers who emerged in the 1950s and 1960s were known for their "new journalism," in which novelistic techniques were employed in the reporting of actual events. But they also wrote novels, short stories and essays, following Gore Vidal's dictum that writing is writing, and a good writer should be proficient in every genre.
The era brought abuses; New Journalism stars were accused of inventing scenes and dialogue in presenting situations believed to be factual. But, overall, the era raised journalism to a high literary level, and energized the novel.
Hamill, and his sometimes competitor, sometimes colleague Jimmy Breslin, raised the literary quality of New York newspapers, especially the now struggling tabloids The New York Post, founded by Alexander Hamilton, and the Daily News. Before owned by Rupert Murdoch, who ousted Hamill as editor, the Post was a literary liberal daily, owned by Dorothy Schiff.
Before writing for New York tabloids, Breslin was a star of the old broadsheet Herald-Tribune, which despite its star writers succumbed to the New York City newspaper strike of the 1960s. That strike killed off a number of New York papers. For years a bastion of liberal Republicanism, the Herald-Tribune gave beneficial competition to The New York Times.
I was amazed at reading in Hamill's obituaries that he published short stories in The New York Post and Daily News, like Isaac Bashevis Singer contributing Yiddish stories to the Jewish Forward.
While the New York Times sometimes publishes fiction, it's hard to imagine a writer today finding a steady outlet for short stories in a newspaper.
Along with Hamill, like Breslin best known for his newspaper columns, the era gave us New Journalism pioneer and Herald Tribune stalwart Thomas Wolfe, novelist and ground-breaking journalist Norman Mailer, cultural critic Dwight MacDonald, jazz critic and free speech champion Nat Hentoff, political journalism chronicler Timothy Crouse, columnist Murray Kempton and the satirical gonzo malcontent, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
Along with courageous reporting on the Vietnam War, racial discrimination, economic inequities and American and international politics, a dazzling group of rock critics emerged: The Village Voice's Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs of Creem and Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone co-founder Ralph J. Gleason who shifted from jazz to rock, especially covering the San Francisco psychedelic scene.
Along with Thompson and Crouse, Rolling Stone developed writers like Joe Eszterhas, Cameron Crowe and P.J. O'Rourke, who evolved into a compelling conservative/libertarian critic.
The scene was hetero-male-dominated, but Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Mary McGrory, Eve Babitz, Vivian Gornick, Ellen Willis, Jill Johnston and others broke through the boys' club.
For those of us longing for literary glory in stifling Southern towns, magazines and newspapers from New York City were like oxygen tanks sent to those drowning beneath the sea.
Harold Hayes' Esquire, Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone, Willie Morris' Harper's, Clay Felker's New York magazine, Dan Wolf's Village Voice, I.F. Stone's Weekly and George Plimpton's Paris Review allowed us to claim membership in a hip, urban community.
While my conservative alma mater LSU swung to frat parties on football weekends and a general complacency, it offered outlets for European films, avant-garde music and literature beyond the bounds of our English course curricula. (My French teacher, a nice Southern lady, was shocked when I asked about Rimbaud.)
Vietnam Moratorium Day brought out a surprisingly large crowd, filling the Parade Grounds where compulsory ROTC cadets drilled in years past. Withstanding the taunts of flat-topped frat boys, many held small wooden crosses in support of anti-war speakers.
Even after the slaying of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the election of Richard Nixon, those writers gave us hope for a better America. My sadness at Hamill's death is intensified by the knowledge that those dreams crashed. But even in these dark days, the heroic life of Hamill inspires us to keep the flame alive.