Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hoops Interlude

Northwestern is winning Big Ten basketball games, ending the dependable tradition of having postseason dreams in the same state as President Lincoln on his birthday each year. January was a grinding ordeal for Northwestern, but showed the nonconference success was not a fluke with victories over Michigan, Illinois, Purdue, and the fearsome Broncs of UT Pan-American who confuse non-conference opponents by forcing them to spend the first half wondering why there is no second O on their uniforms because even though their team name is apparently a correct variation on the wild horse, it sounds more like an onomatopoeic clown sound effect.

For the first time, Wildcat fans find themselves clinging to the NCAA tournament bubble, that slippery hope of convincing a faceless selection committee that can cement this year as the greatest in modern Northwestern basketball history or consign the squad to the dustbin of the NIT. It is a wonderful feeling to watch Northwestern games with a tournament appearance on the line in every game, instead of the traditional rooting interest of hoping to ruin things for Michigan. At the same time, it may be difficult to cope with new feelings of dread and trepidation at the end of close games.

The NCAA Bubble Experience

January also saw the emergence of Drew Crawford as a bona fide basketball star for Northwestern, who is not only hitting threes, but also capable of slamming in a dunk. As fans not used to dunking, Wikipedia helpfully reminds us that other terms for slam dunk include "jam," "yam,", "flambledamble", "slamalamadingdong", "boom," "bang," "punch," "stuff," "flush," "cram," "spike," "yoke," "thrust," "wizzle-wozzle," "poke," or "throw down."

Dunking legend William Jefferson Clinton demonstrating a
"wizzle-wozzle" on a hapless Mark Jackson. Sentences like those
make me excited for the upcoming day when "According to
Wikipedia" permanently replaces "Webster's Dictionary Defines"
as the standard opening to stilted junior high school debates or f
ive paragraph theme essays


Spring training is edging closer, which means that it is nearly time for Cubs pitchers and catchers to report to Arizona for their pre-failure holding pattern. The Cubs nearly moved to Florida, but managed to extort $84 million from the good people of East Mesa mainly because the new ownership will never move the Cubs from Chicago but felt like pulling off the classic sleazy threat to move unless they get nicer facilities just because they can, much like a feudal landlord exercising his seignorial hunting rights. I like the Cubs staying in Arizona because it keeps the Cactus League rivalry with the White Sox' spring training invite detritus and reinforces Arizona as specifically the territory of the Chicagoland elderly. Unfortunately, the new facilities include a new park which means that there is a chance that the Cubs will no longer play in Hohokam Stadium, an unfathomable loss of a spectacular stadium name.

The movement towards Spring Training also means that is time for more bleating about steroids, set off by Mark McGwire's tepid apology for using performance enhancers and the race for crusty baseball columnists to scour the quarries and call in their corvée labor in order to build the biggest high horse possible, one that can allow them to ride in scraping the very heavens themselves to cast their aspersions at the mortals below cowering in the shadows of their moral certitude. Of course, not all responses are this over-the-top. You can always count on Doug Glanville to put the steroids debacle in terms that BYCTOM readers can understand:

My brother was and is a supporter of the unreal — a huge fan of science fiction’s Godzilla. Thanks to him, when I was growing up I would catch an occasional episode of the TV show where Godzilla would take on Rodan (or some other nemesis) and they would end up in these knock-down, drag-out fights, reaping collateral damage all along the way. Once Godzilla went on his rampage, our eyes fixed on the TV, waiting to see which landmark would end up a pile of rubble. We loved it. And when the May 1998 release date of a remake of “Godzilla” approached, even with the baseball season in high gear I anticipated seeing it in a Philadelphia theater as soon as I could find some down time in between games.

The 1998 Godzilla is best represented by this pastiche of startled


Shifting into unrelated ground, the Chicago News Cooperative (a news organization that is supplying information for the New York Times's expanded Chicago coverage in an apparent attempt to take advantage of the two local newspapers' drift into grotesque parodies of newspapers that David Simon would reject as a bit over the top; I think Hawkman is now a columnist for the Sun-Times) has an interesting article about about Wal-Mart's attempts to expand in the city. The article is mainly notable for the classic Daley snapshot:

Mr. Daley replied with a curt profanity and walked away, according to a source who witnessed the exchange but did not want to be identified for fear of angering the mayor.

Daley is from the Ming the Merciless style of municipal management,
although I'm not sure if Ming would have the gumption to send space
bulldozers to destroy a space port sitting on a prime piece of space-front
property in space

Daley's fear striking manner is not entirely removed from the behavior of Chinese Emperor Yongzheng in the early eighteenth century as described by Jonathan Spence in Treason by the Book. Spence describes the fallout from a treasonous letter to the Governor of Shaanxi-Sichuan urging him to rise up against the Emperor in rebellion, a letter which struck the Governor by surprise as his position depended to a large extent on maintaining the Emperor's favor. To say that Yongzheng's officials cast a wide net in their investigations is a gross understatement; not only did they arrest the family of every suspect, but Yongzheng also went after a scholar who thought he could escape his iron fist by dying well before Yongzheng became Emperor. Instead, Yongzheng had to settle for desecrating his grave, punishing his elderly descendants, and denouncing his scholarly works.

Probably the most remarkable part of the whole case was the flimsiness of the plot. The entire letter was the work of a single man, Zeng Jing, who appeared to be a cranky old man without the benefit of access to the local editorial pages to vent his frustration with the government, so he took the next logical step of sending a letter to the military governor of a far-off province imploring him to lead a revolt. Zeng Jing, in fact, was such a minimal threat to the Government that the Emperor himself defended him against the rest of the court and scholars, corresponding with him in a series of letters in which Zeng Jing learns the error of his ways. Yet the government, in a remarkable demonstration of efficiency, sought to track down every person Zeng Jing encountered who may have grumbled about the Emperor, implicating butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers who were as likely to participate in rebellions as an Illinois gubernatorial candidate is to declare him or herself a close associate of Governor Blagojevic or any other number of corrupt former Illinois governors.

Treason by the book shows the investigative process as remarkably efficient, as government agents covered vast swaths of China and hunted down individuals based on the flimsiest descriptions. At the same time, it reveals a fairly paranoid Emperor, not only hell-bent on investigating the harmlessly disgruntled, but attempting to fend off insult poems from long-dead scholars whose interpretations of Confucius may have posed some tortuously-constructed slight to Qing authority.

Emperor Yongzheng was sometimes depicted by court painter as a
French aristocrat and sometimes as a French aristocrat who has
clearly had enough bullshit from that smug-looking tiger


The Wildcats can ill afford losses against this part of their Big Ten schedule. Though they got off to a good start with the win over Michigan, they'll have to flambledamble their way through Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota in order to keep the dream alive. And with the basketball team poised to join the football team in the postseason, it is a clear sign that Northwestern can put sporting success as a feather in the cap for Northwestern alumni who before were forced to tout the university's astounding record in turning out failed presidential candidates.

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