Category Archives: Jackie Robinson

Truth, or a Variation on the Same

This is one of those breakfast blogs Dan VanRiper said I write.

The New York Times recently ran a story about how Rosa Parks WASN’T =the first black person to protest treatment on the bus. How did these others get ignored by history? Because history is arbitrary and not generally 100% accurate. And as a friend of mine put it, “Food for thought about figureheads…Teenagers don’t get respect!”

Jackie Robinson was not the first black to play major league baseball, only the first one in several decades, which does not at all diminish his breakthrough. Meanwhile, the black players who reintegrated the NFL, friends of Robinson, BTW, are all but forgotten, or were until this recent Sports Illustrated story. Even if you’re not a sports fan, read it, if you haven’t. One writer has suggested these players ought to be in the football hall of fame.

My wife, who teaches English as a Second Language, tells me that sometimes only the primary teacher in a classroom is considered the “real” teacher by some students, whereas the specialists (ESL, speech) are though of more like teachers’ aides. This is particularly true when the primary teacher is a male and the specialist is a female, and all of the specialty teachers in her schools are women. Stereotypical gender roles, even in our “enlightened” 21st century, come creeping back.

I’ve mentioned that when I was my daughter’s age and in the hospital for an uncontrollable bloody nose, I was slackjawed to discover a male nurse and a female doctor; even at five and a half, I could be surprised that the world wasn’t as I expected it to be.

I was listening to the podcast KunstlerCast #90: The Demise of Happy Motoring this week. The host, Duncan Crary, didn’t know that “Happy Motoring” was a catchphrase of Esso gasoline (later Exxon). Duncan told Jim Kunsler said he’d Google the phrase, and I ended up doing the same. Apparently, Esso tried to be culturally diverse in its ads. Here are the Esso logo morphing into folks from the British Isles, and, showing some real stereotypes, these American folks.

Here’s 18-and a half minutes of sharp political commentary. Eighteen-and-a-half minutes? Shades of Rose Mary Woods!

There seems to be no clear consensus on the meaning of Boxing Day.

Let's Talk About Race. Again?

A few things I’ve seen have brought me back to the topic of race, not the least of which is Greg Burgas’ declaration that he is not racist. A bold statement, that. Certainly, I don’t recall anything he’s written – I only “know” him electronically – that would suggest that he is. I wouldn’t be bold enough, though, to say that I am without prejudice. I WOULD say that I work very hard to know what my biases are in order to counteract them.

I think the problem with race and racism generally is that we get caught up in these simplistic myths. Though the Civil War supposedly ended slavery in 1865 – as I noted in the talk I plugged here – there were vestiges of neo-slavery in the US that lasted up until World War II.

Or the notion that South was terribly racist, which it was, but that the North was just the epitome of racial tolerance. I’m thinking of Phil Ochs’ songs such as Here’s to the State of Mississippi or Neil Young’s Alabama or Southern Man. By pointing out the sins of the South, it seems to have given the rest of the country a self-congratulatory free pass. Yet, it is the South, which has had to face its racism more directly, that now has more black mayors, black city council members than the rest of the country.

And the source of that attention to the South was not limited to the US. Mark Evanier posted this episode of Great Britain’s That Was The Week That Was, a satirical review that ran in the early sixties, hosted by David Frost. Check out the piece starting about five-and-a-half minutes in that runs for three minutes or so; a warning – liberal use of blackface and the N-word.

The conclusion that a threshold has been met really never comes when the first person gets there. When Obama was elected, people – lots of people – seem to think that “We HAVE Overcome.” It’s NEVER that simple.

Jackie Robinson is the classic example; when he joined the Dodgers in 1947, did racism disappear from baseball? Of course not. It took a decade before every team had at least one player; if memory serves, the Yankees and the Red Sox were the last, a full decade after Jackie had broken the barrier, and indeed after Jackie had retired.

There are a lot of folks including Howard Stern, in his occasionally salty language, that believe that racism is what’s at the bottom of the rampant hatred for President Obama. Probably, but I’m thinking about how prejudice has tread in the past eight years. After 9/11, there were lots of bigotry and even attacks on Arabs and Muslims, and people who some yahoos THOUGHT were Arabs or Muslims. Some black comedian said, in a widely-understood comment, “Now black people AREN’T the most hated people in America!”

Then we have Obama who is black, but it would be politically incorrect to attack him on that. So they can attack him on being Muslim! They’re still fair game, aren’t they? Throw in that he’s a socialist, communist AND a Nazi – he REALLY needs to hone in on one philosophy and stick with it – and all vestiges that it’s his race that is the problem are washed away. Except that, when you strip away all of the lies, the only truth left is his race.

I’m going to revisit this soon in the context of a book review.


Yet another conversation about politics

I was commenting on Anthony’s thoughtful, as usual, essay, Are Americans Suspicious of Intellectuals?. My answer was a resounding “Yes.” The conversation went back and forth, somewhat heated at times, and I chimed in: “Ultimately, my primary reason NOT to vote for Palin/McCain can be summed up by the frenzy of hate they and their supporters have stirred up. My favorite example. Seems somehow antithetical to what the country needs right now.”

Someone named Kevin Benson responded: “Roger – Wow! Do you really feel that there is less hate on the left than on the right? If so, you have been doing some very selective listening. Unfortunately, ignorance, hatred, and prejudice are too prevalent across the political spectrum. If you are going to vote based on the ‘frenzy of hate’, you really should not vote for anyone.”

Anthony jumps in, and says, in part: “Kevin – I agree with you that there is equal disinformation and hateful rhetoric on both sides of the political divide, but I have seen more appeals to ‘not one of us’ rhetoric coming from the McCain/Palin camp during this election season. What I mean is that Palin particularly, and some of those at the McCain/Palin rallies have directly and indirectly presented Obama as ‘not a genuine American,’ a man who has other than American interests at heart. And, maybe it is just me, but among all the negative campaigning on both sides, this particularly gets to me.”

I respond: “Kevin – What Anthony said. Sure there have been attacks on McCain as old, out of touch, plus some legitimate health concerns. Even HE jokes about his ill temper. Palin is portrayed as not very with it, though not until her conversations with Gibson and Couric suggested that. Biden is a loose cannon who doesn’t always know when to shut up, he might acknowledge.
“But Obama’s been called a traitor, doesn’t love his country, an Arab (not that there’s anything wrong with that except it was used to evoke post 9/11 feelings and it’s not true), a Muslim (ditto), etc. I mean, what does “Who is Barack Obama REALLY?” supposed to suggest? Not Repudiated: Hate Talk Express-McCain/Palin Hate Every Day!“.

Apropos of that, the picture Colin Powell alluded to on Meet the Press during his endorsement of Barack Obama :

Painfully, some of the smearing works. A Democratic committeeperson in Albany County asked me just yesterday, “But what about Obama being sworn in on a Koran?” I could have screamed, but gently, rationally noted that the information was NOT true and that she ought to go to Snopes.

Oh, I hear LOTS of frenzied stuff on both sides, to frankly a tiresome degree. But some independent entity determined that while virtually all of McCain’s ads during a recent period were attack ads, only 1/3 of Obama’s were. And I dare say, most of those were responses to the McCain ads, such as one noting that the McCain ads were “not true”, lest he be swiftboated.

No, Kevin, I totally disagree that the “frenzy of hate” is caused equally by both sides. The “otherness” attack which may be code for race-baiting, and race is still the subtext, is hardly the equivalent to suggestions that Palin could be an extra in the movie “Fargo”. And heck, the abandonment by folks from the political right of the spectrum is certainly fueled at least in part by the realization that the McCain-Palin rhetoric is fundamentally flawed.

And while I’m noting things from other blogs, Nik wrote: “Obama has proven to be pretty masterful at projecting a cool, collected vibe, even if it sometimes is a bit stiff. But McCain has been all over the bloody show at all three debates, by turns hyperactive, frazzled, arrogant and insecure.” To which I wrote: “I’m convinced the “stiff”-ness you perceive (probably correctly) in Obama is his self-training in not being the ‘angry black man’.”

Amazingly, it was only then that the obvious parallel came to mind: Jackie Robinson. Jackie was a proud (and occasionally angry) black black man, who Branch Rickey told to suck it up, take the insults, and break baseball’s color line. I think that Barack may have learned to be preternaturally calm because he’s had to learn to straddle the color line virtually all his life.

The person sent me the picture above wrote, “What must it feel like? To carry the hopes and dreams of an entire race of people on your shoulders?” And I suppose that’s become true. Though less than a year ago, it was Hillary, not Barack , who was the choice of most black Americans. And most blacks would probably have voted for whatever candidate the Democrats put up, though I think Obama’s candidacy will spur a greater turnout.

Finally, Arthur and Jason had their post-debate podcast, and there was a discussion about polling. It’s my contention that polling will be “off” significantly, not just because the pollsters miss all of those mostly younger voters without landline phones, but also because many states allow for early voting without cause. (In New York, I would have to be out of town or in the hospital. Oooh, I’m not feeling so well. May I vote now? PLEASE?)
How Muslims become racialized
Ballotpedia wiki provides information concerning ballot initiatives in each state.
Ted Nugent (yes, that Ted Nugent) on McCain-Palin “closing the deal”.


Don and Jackie

The thing I got out of the Sunday morning talk shows was that many in Big Media were enablers of Don Imus. On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanoplolous admitted to appearing on the show. On NBC’s Meet the Press, host Tim Russert and David Brooks of the New York Times noted their appearances on the show. One of them mentioned that high-profile media and politicians were happy to get that demographic of mostly young people who don’t watch the traditional news or attend political rallies. Apparently, the conversation within NBC over the “correct response” to Imus’ comments was rather intense; next week’s TV Guide suggests that Al Roker’s “it could have been my daughter” speech held the day. Brooks was self-admittedly being disingenuous when he claimed that he didn’t know what was on the Imus show, except for his own segment. Given that both Time and Newsweek had cover stories on in the late 1990s, this perhaps seems not credible.

But as the conversations inevitably headed in the “Who can say what?” territory, I did find a bit of possible, albeit lame evidence. Some folks noted that politicians have embraced rappers who have used the same kind of language. It is true for me that I don’t listen to a lot of rap, specifically because of the lyric content that denigrates women, lifts up thuggery and dismisses education; I hear it, and I turn it off. I’d be hard pressed to identify any rapper to a specific song since the early 1990s, save for a few that were so popular or so controversial that I couldn’t help but to know. And yes, I know that other music can be misogynistic and that not all rap is.

This, it has occurred to me that with a three-year old, I’m going to have to start listening to more music and radio that I don’t particularly enjoy, if only to be in touch with the messages she may be subjected to. That’s what PBS’ Gwen Ifill does for her seven-year-old goddaughter, she noted on Meet the Press. Eh. I haven’t listened to Imus since he was a local DJ in the 1970s, though I certainly knew his rep.

I also got specifically annoyed with George Will on ABC, who though one of the Rutgers players as harmed for life as disingenuous. I don’t think he understands the context: denigrated initially, then denigrated again for, in the minds of some, getting Imus fired, receiving hate mail and threats. A 20-year old feeling threatened is not the advancement of the “victim market.”

Sunday, of course, was also the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first major league appearance. Some 200 players, managers and coaches were wearing Robinson’s number 42, which had been retired a decade earlier. (Unfortunately, a goodly number of east coast games, which were free on cable just for the weekend, were postponed because of the rain, but I did enjoy seeing the commercials on FSN South and especially FSN Bay area – what is that store logo that looks like SpongeBob SquarePants?) I found the tributes, especially the pregame before the Dodgers-Padres matchup on ESPN, when Jackie’s widow Rachel was given an award by the baseball commisioner, to be surprisingly moving.

My wife asked if anyone had made a link between Don Imus and Jackie Robinson. Actually, ABC News did, as it named Jackie Robinson its Person of the Week, noting that much had been accomplished, but with much more to be done. Oh, and I discovered that Rachel Robinson’s birthday is July 19, 1922 – looking very spry – while Don Imus’ is July 23, 1940.

Oh, BTW, GayProf, guess which one of the 16 baseball teams of the 1940s and 1950s was the last to integrate? (Answer is within the labels to this post.)
My prayers to the Virginia Tech community, and to us all.


My Dinner with Hembecks

I’m pretty sure it started with a March 2 e-mail from Fred Hembeck to me and to our mutual friend Rocco, who also lives in Albany: “Lynn (Moss, Fred’s wife) just informed me that Sean Lennon is going to be performing at the Egg on Tuesday, April 10th–tickets are currently being offered to Egg members only (only fair that Egg men have the advantage when it comes to a Lennon, I suppose…), but the general public get their chance starting on March 12th. Seeing as how tickets are going for only $24–and that Sean’s new album has gotten mostly positive reviews (I haven’t gotten a copy yet, tho when I saw him on Conan about a month or so back, I was pretty impressed by his performance–and I WILL be getting a copy soon, given the new set of circumstances), we’re thinking about driving up to see the concert. Hey, it’s either this, or Zak Starkey and his band, and Who tickets are way more expensive! As you fellows–and your lady friends–actually live in Albany, I thought I’d check in with you and see if either of you have any potential interest in joining us?”

We mulled it over. Rocco evidently decided against, and my wife was likewise disinclined, as she hadn’t heard any of his music. Well, I hadn’t heard any of his music either, except for It’s Alright, when he appeared on an album of cover versions of his mother’s songs called Every Man Has a Woman.

But if Fred, Lynn, and their daughter Julie were going to drive a couple hours to Albany to see Sean, how could I say no? (Fred and I discussed this later: the fact that THEY initiated the activity made it easier to go without Carol. I wouldn’t have considered inviting them up, for logistical reasons having to do with the child, but since they were coming up anyway…)

So, they ordered the tickets, and then Fred sent me copies of both of Sean’s albums. I discovered that I liked them both quite a bit, though some of the lyrics were a bit of a downer, I thought.

So, now I’m psyched, Fred and Lynn are psyched, Julie’s psyched.

Next order of business was to figure out the logistics. They would pick me up from work (faster than the irregular bus service from Corporate Woods), and we would go out to dinner. The initial request was for a place with a decent vegetarian menu, but was later modified to a vegan place, for Julie’s gone vegan.

On the day of the show, Fred writes: We’ll leave here at 3:15.
We’ll call you on Julie’s cell phone when we arrive!
We’ll eat!!
We’ll go to the concert!!!

I get picked up, and I hear the dulcet tones of Rod Stewart, Julie’s current obsession. At least it was Rod back he was good. We eat at Mamoun’s Falafel, which was satisfying to all. We drive to the Egg. (The Albanian forgets the fastest approach to the underground parking, and we go on a mild excursion.)

We get to the concert. Our seats are in the fourth row, not too from the center aisle. This is a very intimate setting to see a show. The great thing about the Egg is that there aren’t many really bad seats. But we had an excellent location, about 30 feet from at least one performer in every set.

First up is Kamila Thompson, daughter of the legendary Richard and Linda Thompson. She’s wearing this attractively funky outfit, a fairly short blue dress with some sort of red print, a black sweater, black Capri pants and light colored high heels (Pink? Peach? Hard to tell with the lighting). There were so many power chords all over the floor that I thought she might trip over something.

She had a quite lovely voice, though not all of her songs, mostly about love and loss, were all that compelling. They seemed a bit pedestrian. A few riffs on her pink guitar, which she did not, she assures us, get from Hello Kitty, were rather tasty. She wanted people to go to her MySpace page; one of her MySpace friends, BTW, is Sean Lennon, I later discovered.

After as short break, Women & Children came out. There was but one woman, Cheryl, who sounded as though she had a cold and/or allergies (I sympathize). Her voice, for some reason, reminded me a little of Marianne Faithfull, circa Broken English. She did one song with her at the keyboards, then a guy comes out to play bass on the next song; he eventually plays guitar. The first drummer ends up on bass, and a second drummer eventually appears. A reviewer described them as being like Velvet Underground, and I guess that’s accurate. The real problem is that no one wanted to hear them. One opening act was OK; two strained the patience of this largely middle-aged audience; it IS a work night. No fewer than three people I knew and saw during the second, fairly lengthy intermission said that W&C “sucked”; so did the Metroland reviewer. I didn’t think so, but the vocals were thin, and the 40-minute set seemed interminable.

Finally, there’s Sean and his band, all in suits, except for the woman on the keyboards, his musical director. I think that familiarity with his music helped my appreciation of the tunes. But as Sean acknowledged onstage, he knew that most of the people in that room had no idea what his music sounded like; while he never used the B word, he knew there were people there just because he was a “son of a Beatle”. I got the sense that he’s made peace with that. He introduced one song, and one woman near the front clapped; he dedicated the song to her.

Most of the songs he played early on sounded not unlike the albums, but as the show progressed, I heard some pleasant variations on the theme. He played at least one new song. Sean was very good, the band was tight, and it was an enjoyable experience.

Well, except for the one loudmouth somewhere near the back. Three or four times he shouted out stuff, and except for the first one, “Listen to What The Man Said!” (a McCartney tune! har, har!), it was incomprehensible to Sean and to me. Eventually, security people invited him to leave . Also, there were flash pictures being taken during Kamila’s set, after which a guy from the Egg asked that no more be shot, not just for legal reasons, but because at least one person in the audience was having a bad physical reaction to the strobelight effect of the flashes. I noticed none during W&C, but plenty during Sean’s set.

I’m sure Fred, when he gives his Rashomon version of the event for his Quick Step column next week, will describe a post-concert purchase.

They dropped me off, then headed off on their two-hour ride home. I’m tempted to say, “A splendid time was had by all,” but I’ll pass. Thanks to Fred, Lynn and Julie for the invitation.
Jackie Robinson played with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time 60 years ago today.