Saturday, October 31, 2015

Week 9: Welcome to The National Juried Bowl Show

It's been two long years, but the Northwestern Wildcats are going bowling again.  They have six wins, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them from appearing in the Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants Bowl located in an illegal industrial meet freezer accessible only by a six step handshake and the password "McGarigle."  As a wise football proverb once said "yow yow yow yow yow; yow."
These wholesome Wildcat cheerleaders from 1953 have no idea they are about to be torn 
asunder by what they thought was Willie but was actually a failed thesis project conjured 
by the Department of Unholy Incantation

There is no better way to get back into the Northwestern spirit as we head into a bye week than by checking out this Evolution of Willie article from Northwestern Magazine.  It comes with a link to one of the great websites in the history of the internet called Faces of Willie, allowing us to take at how the Northwestern mascot Willie the Wildcat spent most of its time as resembling a terrifying deity of death and destruction that has come back to the Earth to devour the souls of football fans and haughty professors who spend most of the semester arrogantly denying the existence of vengeful deities until they find out too late that pointers and compasses are no defense for vengeful, ancient mascot gods.

The Northwestern band plays the Song of 
Suppiluliumas in order to appease its
terrible claws

Northwestern managed to fend off Nebraska.  The defense spent most of the game on the field, repeatedly blunting Nebraska's running game and frustrating Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong.  Dean Lowry terrorized Nebraska's offensive line.  Nick VanHoose scored when an errant Armstrong pass entered VanHoose's Land and was immediately spirited away to the Nebraska endzone.  The offense continued to stall in the first half, except on two occasions when Clayton Thorson got loose scrambling.  Thorson herky-jerked his way to 126 yards, and his running set up two crucial Northwestern scores as 90,000 Nebraska fans looked on incredulously.  Thorson came to Northwestern as a running quarterback, but his ungainly scampers still take opposing teams by surprise, in the same way that Mike Kafka took Minnesota by surprise with his record-setting jaunts in the Metrodome, where he underwent a metamorphosis into something that cannot be described via clumsy literary references.  In the second half, Thorson connected on passes, including a touchdown to Superback Dan Vitale.  Yet, it wouldn't be a Northwestern-Nebraska game if either team easily waltzed through.  Nebraska managed to come back to within two late in the fourth quarter, but their rally fell short when Marcus McShepard knocked down the pass on the conversion and the Wildcat offense ran out the clock.  

For Northwestern, the win served as a tonic to the miserable bludgeonings the team had suffered in two consecutive weeks.  It secured another bowl game after two miserable 5-7 seasons.  For Nebraska, on the other hand, the close loss continued an astounding trend of last-second losses.  New coach Mike Riley has faced criticism as the once-proud team now has a tough path toward bowl eligibility.  On the other hand, it is difficult to attack a first-year coach for a string of unfortunate Rube Goldberg losses.  Once a team loses via Hail Mary and series of impossible fourth-quarter collapses, it is time to start looking for a fan with a Monkey's Paw that had wished for the Huskers not to be blown out in any game this season.


From time to time, the United States Congress creates a special committee to dig into issues pressing the nation.  Wikipedia's helpful list of defunct committees chronicles hundred of committees from French Spoliation to Space Travel to everyone's favorite Mileage (this is a committee of Senators screaming "MILEAGE" before sucking on opium or betting on congressional cobra fights).  Many of these are eventually folded into larger committees. Others run their course.  And one involved an investigation of congressional library books, threatening to bring the weight of the United States Congress to bear on scofflaws.

In February of 1861, a New York Times report alleged that Representatives from seceding states had no only left the Union, but had also made off with hundreds of dollars of books from the Congressional library to add to their treasonous Confederate library:

(click to expand)

Perfidy!  Secessmanship!  Webster's Dictionary Defines As! The United States Congress was not going to stand for a library looting and commissioned a thorough investigation using a series of nineteenth-century epithets.  Here, for example, is the initial author of the New York Times article, hauled before the committee and forced to explain to them and to the American People how he knew of librarous larceny.  And, when called to testify, H.H. Pangborn came through:

An enormity had been perpetrated upon our volumes.  The Committee on Alleged Abstraction of Books was determined to get to the bottom of it.  I imagine that nineteenth-century editors had this handy chart: abstraction for ill-gotten books, abscond with ill-gotten persons, and abscond upon a slow-moving train, the number one choice in absconding from 1870-1945. The committee's voluminous report is available here.

The Committee dug into the alleged theft.  They questioned Pangborn on the extent to which his depiction of  the theft library books as an act of low-level treason was his own creation.  Pangborn mentioned that he sent his stories back to New York on the telegraph, where they were transcribed and rewritten, more or less, by a night editor.  He writes quickly, he said, and could not remember all the details.  Congress listened, skeptical and disapproving.  They hauled in the editor and the night editor and the telegraph transcriber.  The committee questioned Col. Daniel De Jarnette, the freshman Congressman from Virginia accused by the New York Times of ordering hundreds of volumes to be secreted away in preparation for secession (the hearings took place in February 1861; Virginia did not secede until April, and De Jarnette would serve in the Confederate Congress).  They did not question Milledge Bonham, the South Carolina Representative accused of stealing dozens of volumes because he no longer considered himself part of the United States.
Daniel De Jarnette (l) and Milledge Bonham, the two alleged abstracters. 
Both came under scrutiny for looking as Confederate as humanly possible

After days of testimony, it became increasingly clear that the special committee had become a search to blame whomever had insinuated to the New York Times that Confederate Congress had developed an arch plan to clean out the Congressional library's valuable volumes of Jefferson speeches.  They finally find their man: Frederick Soulé.  Soulé worked for the Post Office and tracked down missing books from the Congressional Library.  He had been told of the missing books and told Pangborn of the Confederate plot.  Everyone else agreed that the alleged theft came solely from Soulé's imagination.  Here is some intense questioning on D.A. McElhone, the assistant librarian from whom Soulé claims to have heard about the missing volumes.
QUESTION: Did you say anything to Mr. Soulé that occasion to warrant the impression on his part that these gentlemen had fraudulently carried away these books?
ANSWER: I did not say one word about that.
And here's a more pertinent question that preceded it:
QUESTION: Does Mr. Soulé drive a wagon around?
ANSWER: I have seen him in one; I do not know whether that is his business.
It was Soulé, the rumor-mongering postal worker who might or might not have a wagon. The rest of the case fell apart.  De Jarnette showed that he never took delivery of the books he had ordered.  The hundreds of dollars of missing books supposedly packed and sent to the Confederacy by Bonham were revealed to be a clerical error.  The report, which summoned 13 witnesses, commissioned a list of every book checked out by a Congressman from a Southern state, and covered a solid week of testimony, ultimately blamed the media:

The alleged abstraction of books remained alleged.  Two months later, Beauregard's Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter.


For this year's preview of the 2015-16 NBA season, reached out to literary superstar Karl Ove Knausgaard.  In between a busy schedule of international literary festivals, appearances on Norwegian radio programs about him, and rustic shed-brooding, Knausagaard has agreed to turn his unique observations about his life and European ennui to slam dunks and bounce passes.

Karl Ove Knausgaard
Special Basketball Correspondent

I don't know why I agreed to do this.  I have no interest in basketball.  I logged onto the web and found an e-mail from my American agent.  He told me that highbrow American publications love it when foreigners go and try to understand American phenomena.  Every time I protested, he just said "that's why it will be great!"  It was like wrestling with a boa constrictor.  Eventually I said yes because it was too exhausting to keep replying to e-mails.  I still did not know anything about basketball.

They are tall.  Everyone knows that.  How am I going to write for an American audience that basketball players are tall?  That is the one thing people know about basketball.  Fucking bullshit.  Fuck.  I was in Edinburgh at the literary festival.  I had spent the afternoon in their largest auditorium, reading, answering questions from bearded men with canvas satchels.  People lined up for hours for me sign their books.  It was hell on Earth.  The next morning, I had to kill some time before I left.  I found a cafe across the bridge, in a residential area where I didn't think anyone would recognize me and ask me questions about my books.  No one did.  There were no bearded men with canvas satchels in there.  I opened my notebook and looked inside.  "Basketball players are tall," I had written.  Shit.

I decided to call Gunnar.  Gunnar lived in New York for a few years in his 20s as an editor and there is a chance he may have seen a basketball game.  "Karl Ove, good to hear from you," the voice said.  Damn it.  I had clumsily dialed the wrong Gunnar.  This Gunnar had a daughter in my daughter's class in Stockholm several years ago and I must have forgotten to delete him.  Years ago, before mobile phones, I could have mumbled about a wrong number.  Now, everyone knows who has called.  There is no room for error in dialing.  I thought about saying I found a phone and had randomly selected a number, but my voice already gave it away.  "Gunnar, how is Emma?" I said because I could not bring myself to tell him I had no intention of talking to him today or ever again and I had always avoided him at children's birthday parties.  We agreed to have a beer next time I was in the city.  I know too many Gunnars.

After a month of e-mails that I had not returned, the American agent started calling.  "How is it coming?" he said casually although both he and I knew there was nothing casual about it.  He suggested that I purchase something called "NBA League Pass International" that would allow me to watch every basketball game on my computer.  I put in my credit card information.  It did not work.  "Password not found."  I tried again.  "Not found."  I lit a cigarette.  I clicked on a button that said "Forget Password?"  I hadn't forgotten it; it was a Norwegian curse word that a friend had scored into a teacher's car.  He always kept a pen knife on him that he had found somewhere that summer.  His favorite use was petty vandalism, but he was secretly waiting to brandish it in a fight.  We all saw him scratch the car, but none of us would talk, not even when they threatened to call our houses, not even when I cried.  We were eleven years old, and we had dared him to.  The janitor saw us and we ran into the forest.  It was a cold, rainy afternoon and the forest was damp with pits of mud.  It didn't take long for him to stop pursuing us, but we kept going for at least a kilometer and managed to hide in a tree.  The damp bark pressed through my too-thin jacket.  It seemed like hours.  We eventually climbed down and then we had to find a way to clean our shoes and our pants.  It wouldn't take long for our parents to connect our muddy clothes to the car knife incident.  That was my password, the word Isak had carved into the car: FUCK FAC.  He did not have time to finish the e.  The new password, a mishmash of letters and numbers, did not work either.  I called tech support.  "I am trying to watch basketball for a blog post," I said.  

Eventually, I saw basketball, mostly in clips on the web.  I typed basketball into the search engine and I saw tall men leaping in the air and jamming the ball into baskets.  I saw others stop this from happening.  Sometimes, at seemingly-random intervals, they would take penalty shots, although not as often as the players seemed to want.  Every so often, the game paused for the stars to convince people to buy cars or insurance.  It is a slick, modern sports product.  The game was not recognizable to me, but the sponsors' logos, the inane television commentary, the players dramatically hurling themselves to the ground in order to get a penalty, these I understood.  There was nothing meaningful I could say about it.  Sport as spectacle that meant nothing unless you were young enough for it to mean something.  I e-mailed that to my editor.  

[Editor's Note: Karl Ove thinks the Cavs will beat the Warriors in seven]


Northwestern can neither heroically win nor ignominiously lose this week.  Regardless of what happens, Northwestern will go to a bowl.  As the website puts it, "the bowl has been made for thousands of years." 

The Big Ten West has almost certainly passed from their grasp, and the rest of the games are for bowl positioning.  And on November  28, at Chicago's Big Ten In-State Rivalry Neutral Site, the battle to seize The Hat begins.  It is time to set the clocks back.  It is time for Hat Reclamation Month.

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