Friday, February 6, 2009

Recruiting and inevitable ornithological backlash

In a happy convergence of Bears and Wildcat news, BYCTOM is happy to welcome Brett Basanez to Chicago. Baz signed a two-year contract with the Bears to compete with Caleb Hanie for the chance to back up Kyle Orton. The Panthers' decision to part with Basanez is somewhat curious; one would think that they would attempt to hold onto as many quarterbacks as possible after Jake Delhomme imploded in the playoffs and has weaved an unparalleled swath of destruction against shacks in the Southeast.

Unfortunately, the Baz signing is bittersweet as it officially ends the Rex Grossman era in Chicago. I will miss Rex Grossman's charming turn as the Clown Prince of Professional football as he turns to hitchhiking the desolate roads of the midwest, contemplating the devastation he has inadvertently caused through his errant passes, inopportune fumbles, and unintentional killing of pet rabbits.

Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest


Signing day has come and gone for football, and NU has apparently inked a promising class. I don't follow recruiting particularly closely because it has always seemed to me a process so potentially creepy and sleazy that Sydney Greenstreet is likely somehow involved.

Though Sydney Greenstreet's roles often involved him plotting, he occasionally was seen
plotting with a fez. Incidentally, Greenstreet was often shot from below in order to give him a
more sinister air that was best conveyed by his ability to flare out his jowls when threatened
by predators or Bogart

Every once in a while, however, the sleaze of recruiting comes through for our entertainment. For example, this article from the New York Times about the recruiting battle for tackle prospect Jamarkus Macfarland between Texas and Oklahoma is an excellent read featuring all of the double-dealing, incessant contact, slander, and salaciousness that one demands in a good recruiting story. The best part of the article contains excerpts from an essay that Macfarland wrote for an English class about a UT recruiting party at the Red River Rivalry:

“I will never forget the excitement amongst all participants,” McFarland wrote. “Alcohol was all you can drink, money was not an option. Girls were acting wild by taking off their tops, and pulling down their pants. Girls were also romancing each other. Some guys loved every minute of the freakiness some girls demonstrated. I have never attended a party of this magnitude.”

He continued: “The attitude of the people at the party was that everyone should drink or not come to the party. Drugs were prevalent with no price attached.”
This is how English papers are written in this, the best of all possible worlds.

For high-level recruits, signing day comes with a certain opportunity for theatricality. For example, Alabama recruit Dre Kirkpatrick teased the crowd with a Texas hat before tossing it aside for an Alabama hat, evidently because he could not find a burnt orange tank top to rip off in a show of contempt. I don't really have a problem with these antics; in fact, I look forward to the day when a school can gather its top recruits together to jump one by one off of a chain link fence while taunting rival schools (incidentally, the Los Locos poem from Short Circuit 2 will be one of the five last things to remain in my dementia addled consciousness in my advanced age along with the phone number for Empire Carpet).

In one final attempt to antagonize
Longhorn fans, here's a picture of Charles
Fourier, who sent legions of comically inept
socialist utopians to colonize Texas in the
1840s. Fourier's beliefs included a complex
numerology that somehow ended with a
utopia featuring oceans made of


Yesterday, ESPN had a fairly interesting article about Kevin Hart, an all-state lineman who held a press conference to announce he was going to Cal, despite never receiving an offer. The article, being an Outside The Lines piece, is naturally maudlin and discusses the negative effect of sham press conference on Hart's life and his attempt at redemption at a junior college. In my opinion, Hart did not aim high enough; he could take a cue from Col. Richard Meinertzhagen.

Meinertzhagen was a British intelligence officer who served in Africa during World War I and in Palestine during the Mandate period. His diaries are filled with tales of derring-d0: most famously, Meinertzhagen was known for the "Haversack Ruse," where he claimed to have planted false documents to throw off German troop positions, a famously bizarre relationship with his second wife who, by some accounts, perished in some sort of duel with him, his Zionist lobbying during the 1920s, a claim that he once met Adolph Hitler with a loaded revolver in his pocket but lost the nerve to kill him, and a million other accounts of secret agent intrigue and rampaging elephants named Archibald. His series of diaries maintain an eerie level of prescience about events he was involved in along with a constant criticism of incompetent generals and fellow officers. He was a close friend of Ian Fleming and a rumored inspiration for James Bond.

The reason why Meinertzhagen was so insightful is because he wrote his diaries after the fact, and made up virtually every famous story he was involved in.

This picture was probably a
backdrop in a NASA studio, and
I'm guessing the pipe is fake.

Meinerthagen's claims are fantastic, but the most amazing part of the story is how his sordid tale was unraveled. An avid ornithologist, Meinertzhagen contributed thousands of specimens to the British Museum. Museum workers, however, discovered that he had fraudulently labeled several skins and, in an amazing feat that can best be described as a reverse Indiana Jones, stole many of the specimens from the museum that he later gifted back. Enraged ornithologists now charge him with creating a serious amount of confusion in their community, and began publicly raging against his crimes in the 1990s, most notably with Alan Knox's article "Richard Meinertzhagen-- a case of fraud unraveled" in a 1994 edition of Ibis, which admirably demonstrates restraint in the title. Others would be less resistant to temptation, climaxing in titles such as "Ruffled Feathers: Uncovering the Biggest Scandal in the Bird World" from the New York Times in 2006 and New Scientist's unfathomable New York Post-style "Bird world in flap about species fraud."

That's when the attack comes; swish;
from the side; from the two ornithologists
you didn't even know were there

This story all comes from Brian Garfield's The Meinertzhagen Mystery: the life and legend of a colossal fraud, which painstakingly deconstructs Meinertzhagen's tallest tales with inspired historical detective work. The book, however, is a sort of odd read. Though Garfield occasionally captures the whimsical nature of an epic set of hoaxes undone by the righteous fury of the ornithological community, the tone of the book is more angry than anything else. Garfield is truly upset that Meinertzhagen's tales have badly distorted the historical record, as he's been a reliable primary source for many respectable historians. It seems that every page ought to end with a angrily-bolded "SHAME ON YOU," which is also the name of my proposed local newspaper column on Mondays and Wednesdays, alternating with Tuesday-Thursday columns entitled "THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW." Garfield even goes so far as to start each chapter with an inverted-color black and white photograph of Meinertzhagen, a technique which is traditionally used to demonstrate how municipal aldermen say they are for public works, but actually supported bills to drill more potholes using the elderly.

In other words, Hart may have made a classic signing day error, but at least he can go to an Audubon society meeting without being stoned with gizzard rocks.


Anonymous said...

I'm noticing a theme of feathers being ruffled around this blog.

I never knew Steve Smith could throw football, let along destroy buildings with one.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part is in Dre Kilpatrick's press conference. He has a black bag, containing a white bag, containing a red box, with a black bag inside of it, containing a different color Alabama hat.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

In your haste to retell the spurious deeds of Meinerthagen, you failed to mention an added ornithological wrinkle. It is indeed true that Meinerthagen and Ian Fleming were friends, but you did not mention the fact that Fleming got the name for his famous charachter from the book Birds of the West Indies written by renowned ornithologist James Bond. Could this be seen as an indirect jab from Meinerthagen through his pal Fleming directed at all the haters at the British Museum?

Kenesaw Mountbatten Louganis, KG, OM, CH, TD, FRS, OBGYN