Returning with Some Random Thoughts
So I guess I should start out with an apology for not updating this blog over the last three or four months. Last semester got really crazy and pretty much stayed that way, and then the Christmas holiday travel and gift-shopping schedule took over, and then I had to prepare for this semester. In short, I’ve been swamped. I got very little done on my ongoing projects, including this blog. But I’m trying to start off this semester on a better note. I’ve been working on my young adult novel and have finished first drafts of two other projects. I continue to submit finished works to various places. And I’ve got a comic-book project percolating at the moment. As for this blog, I will do my best to update regularly, though when the grading crunch arrives, I’ll probably have to take some time off. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day.
As a way of reconnecting to all my faithful readers (all three of you), I thought I’d return to this blog with some random thoughts on things that have happened since the last update.
The Political Circus
In no particular order:
1) I support the Occupy movement. It’s good to see Americans returning to their roots as protestors, dissenters, and activists. Naturally, the mainstream media’s dismissal of the now-worldwide movement was both expected and disheartening, but it’s done very little to stem the tide of the movement. Keep on occupying, folks. When they try to dismiss you as if you don’t matter, you know you’ve at least gotten their attention.
2) I have stated before that many Republicans seem to have gone functionally insane in the post-9/11 world, but this latest round of–*ahem*–“candidates” should make any thinking Republican shudder with fear and contempt. As they all scramble to take ever more reactionary positions in order to appease the fringe nutjobs, they get more and more laughable yet dangerous. Is the moderate Republican (and no, I don’t count Romney in that bunch after some of the things he’s said) really extinct? I hope not.
3) Barack Obama should have this election sewn up since the right can’t find anybody even remotely appealing to run against him. I’ve got mixed feelings. As an Independent, I have no particular loyalties to the Democrats, though the ever-more-radically-conservative Republicans present no candidates I could stomach voting for. That pretty much leaves the Democrats, since this country has no viable party beyond those two. It’s a damn shame, because we should be able to choose the best candidate, not the less-crappy one. As for Obama himself, I like a lot of what he’s done—ending the Iraq war and DADT, passing some semblance of health care reform, and so forth. But I’m troubled by other things he’s done or failed to do. He hasn’t addressed true financial reform; you can’t do that and still leave the same guys that got us into this mess in charge. I didn’t like the compromises in the health care bill, especially the lack of a public option. Some sources claim we’re the only first-world country without universal health care. If that’s even remotely possible, we’re not whom we claim to be as a people. And we still need to address LGBT and women’s rights, especially given how they’ve come under fire from the Republican candidates. Those are just a few of the actions and positions that please or disturb me, but I hope they demonstrate my concerns with the country’s directions. We’re much more on track now than we were under that jackass Bush, but we’ve still got a long way to go, and too many people still want to live in 1830, not 2012. I hope the President and his party gets off the fence and start addressing more of those issues.
Mixed Martial Arts
1) I truly think that Shogun Rua vs. Dan Henderson was the best fight I’ve ever seen, but the end result was wrong. The fight should have been scored a draw, and I can’t believe that not even one judge saw it that way. Under the current scoring system, the winner of a round gets ten points, the loser nine or less. Judges are supposed to score rounds 10-8 or below only when one fighter truly dominates the round. Under that system, I would have given the first three rounds to Dan Henderson, all of them 10-9. Henderson’s camp has argued that you could have scored the round a 10-8 because Henderson dominated Shogun and almost finished him, but that only occurred over approximately one minute of a five-minute round. Later in the round, Shogun came back to stagger Henderson with several hard punches. That’s hardly a dominant round; it’s a dominant minute. But, demonstrating the kind of heart that both fighters have and that made the fight so special, Shogun came back and completely dominated Henderson throughout the fifth round. He stayed on top, much of the time in full mount, and bashed Henderson throughout the round. Henderson did nothing offensive and very little that could be called defense, other than rolling from side to side and covering up. If that wasn’t a 10-8 round at least, I don’t know what is. Thus, since the bout went to a decision, the final score should have been 47-47. This is especially true because, earlier in the night, these same judges gave Stephan Bonnar a couple of 10-8 rounds, even though he maintained less dominant positions (fighting in half-guard, for instance) for lesser periods of time. Inconsistent judging caused Shogun to take a loss, when both guys deserved equal status.
2) I’m glad Brock Lesnar is healthy again, but I’m not shedding any tears if he’s really retiring. I’ve never cared for the guy on a personal level, and it isn’t as if he needs the money. Go have a great life, Brock, and let the martial artists get that money now.
3) Jon Jones is hard to figure out, and I don’t mean his fighting style. One minute he seems like the most humble, respectful guy you’ll ever meet. The next, he has to be told to check on a downed opponent after a win. Weird.
4) So both Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida have knocked people out using what is essentially a Karate Kid-style crane kick, and now Edson Barboza has knocked out Terry Etim using a spinning-heel kick. I can’t believe either move worked in real life, but I watched it happen. What’s next? Shooting-star presses? Asai moonsaults? Crazy stuff, man.
The BCS Championship Game
The LSU Tigers had what may well be the greatest regular season ever. You’ve all heard the numbers—wins over eight ranked teams, a division title, a conference title, wins over two or three top-three teams, wins over two BCS-bowl-bound AQ conference champions. Certainly no team has accomplished so much in my lifetime, and only that one Notre Dame team from seventy or eighty years ago has come close. I’d say it’s much harder to accomplish today, too, given the methods of preparation and the state of today’s athletes.
But the team that played in the regular season was not the team that showed up in New Orleans. They looked flat, lifeless, uninterested—especially on offense. The regular season showed that they were the best team in the nation, but on that night, I’m not sure they would have beaten anybody. As an LSU graduate, I’m very proud of them for the year as a whole, though that final game leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In theirs too, I’m sure.
Most of LSU’s problems over the last four years can be traced back to two things—poor quarterback play, and Les Miles’ refusal to take Jordan Jefferson out of the game. I don’t like to pick on college players; they’re all very young. They are amateurs. They have their whole lives in front of them, and I don’t want to throw them under the bus. But four years of Jefferson’s lack of pocket presence, middling accuracy, and panic-mode bone-headed mistakes have tried my patience. I truly believe that LSU would have been near-unstoppable over the last four years if we had had a strong quarterback. What else have they lacked? The offensive line was porous for only one year. The running backs and receivers have all been awesome. The defense has been great. But at the most important position on the field, we’ve been lacking.
I don’t know what Jefferson has on Miles, but it must have been really damning. I can’t think of any other reason Miles would have stuck with Jefferson against all logic, common sense, and evidence. It took Jefferson’s arrest to get him out of the lineup, and even then, Miles seized on the first opportunity to yank Jarrett Lee out of the game—when he had two interceptions in a row against Alabama. Lee seldom saw the field after that, in spite of his excellent play in the first two-thirds of the season. And when did LSU’s offense start struggling? When did they suddenly find themselves trailing in games, needing the special teams to give them the spark they needed to come back? It all happened after Jefferson took over.
All of this was never more evident than in the title game. Jefferson was the only player on the field who looked terrified, overwhelmed not by Alabama (whom he has faced multiple times and beaten before) but by the stage he was playing on. He made bad decision after bad decision, looking completely lost. And yet Miles never pulled him. When asked why, Miles claimed that he thought about going with Lee, but that given the pass rush, he needed a quarterback that could run.
Yet Jefferson was not running effectively. More often than not, he folded like a cheap card table. At some point—trailing, in the last half of the last game, the national championship on the line, the crowd chanting for Lee—why not try something?
I still don’t get it. But at least now LSU goes into next season with new people at quarterback. We don’t know if they’ll be better yet, but we know they can’t be much worse. And on behalf of Tiger Nation, I’d like to wish Jarrett Lee a great life. You deserved better than you got.
Aftermath of the BCS Title Game
I’ve been really dismayed by the responses to the game I’ve seen, both from the national media and from people I know personally.
The AP ruined its credibility in my eyes when they failed to vote for a split championship. If ever a year screamed out for co-champions, this was it. Look, the Alabama Crimson Tide are my second-favorite college football team. I have worked at the University for six years. I don’t begrudge them their national title; they were certainly the better team on championship night.
But they weren’t the best team this season. Not even close. Like I said above, no one had a season like LSU’s—not this season, perhaps not ever. They won their division; Alabama didn’t. They, not Alabama, won the SEC. The Tide did not beat every SEC team they played, or Oregon, or West Virginia, and so forth. Going into the title game, everybody in the nation agreed that LSU should be there. The controversy revolved around Alabama, given that they didn’t win any championships to get there and lost to LSU during the regular season.
The voters have split the national championship several times before, for much worse reasons. LSU certainly did a hell of a lot more this year than USC did when they got to split the championship with LSU.
No, the refusal to split had nothing to do with credentials, or fairness, or a holistic view of the season. It was borne out of a backlash against the SEC.
In the wake of the all-SEC title game rematch, the BCS is considering changes to negate any such possibility in the future. Before the rematch was announced, fans and sportswriters from all over the country lamented the possibility and voiced their displeasure with the SEC’s dominance, as if the conference’s strength was somehow a bad thing for which it should apologize. Tons of people threatened to boycott the game, even though the only non-SEC team with any claim on the title game was Oklahoma State. I publicly claimed that Oklahoma State had an excellent argument for being in the title game; they had a better regular season than Alabama, even though I still felt that Alabama would beat them if they ever played. Eventually, Alabama got its rematch, leaving the rest of the country out of the sixth straight SEC national championship. And the whining, kvetching, and tantrums commenced.
None of that was LSU’s fault. It wasn’t Alabama’s fault. But LSU—the only team to truly dominate on a national scale—was the only team to pay the price. I truly believe that the AP was terrified of the backlash against their own writers and voting system if they let not one but TWO SEC teams take home a national title. So they acted like chickens and voted for the team that won, even though all logic, evidence, and precedent screamed for a split title. Shame on you, AP writers. As far as I’m concerned, you undermined your own integrity.
Some of my Alabama friends and acquaintances have also been a bit overenthusiastic about how things turned out, to say the least. When LSU beat Bama in the regular season, theoretically ending their national title hopes, I could have rubbed it in. I could have acted immaturely. But I knew that the game and the team were really important to my colleagues and students, so all I did was congratulate the Tide on a good game and a great season.
Unfortunately, in many cases, that courtesy was not returned. As soon as the game was over, I saw several Facebook posts whose contents might be summarized thusly: “Nan-neh nan-neh boo boo, my team won and your team sucks! Ha ha-ha-ha-ha!” The LSU jokes flew fast and furiously. In other words, even though many people knew that my team and that game were important to me, they did not congratulate my team on a great season. They took the opportunity to poop on something that I cared about. And these are highly-educated, really nice people that I like very much.
I even had one fifty-to-sixty-something acquaintance who got on Twitter and taunted Tyrann Mathieu. He’s like nineteen years old and can thus be excused for a certain amount of immaturity. I wonder what my acquaintance’s excuse was.
Then there’s the contradictions in attitudes that drive me crazy. Bring up the idea of a split title with some Alabama fans, and they’ll shake their heads firmly and say, “No way.” Uh-huh. Right. But I guarantee you that if the situations were reversed—if Bama had had the kind of season that LSU did, and beat LSU on Nov. 5th, and won the division and then the conference, but lost the title game—this entire state would be screaming bloody murder for a split title. (Well, probably not in Auburn, but you get my meaning.)
The advent of social media has taught me that there’s something about sports that make people act irrationally, even with mean spirits. You don’t have to like LSU’s football team to respect me and have some courtesy for my feelings. Why are your loyalty to your team and your investment in them more important or legitimate than mine?
I saw a lot of this earlier in the season from some of my Arkansas acquaintances. I grew up in Arkansas, so, according to some people, I’m legally and morally required to root for the Razorbacks. I reject that notion. I’ve got actual ties to LSU and Bama; I’m going to root for them over a team that happens to be located in a state I used to live in. But according to some folks, I’m not allowed to choose my own teams.
Moreover, there’s been a real double standard about who can say what. My Arkansas friends can apparently make all the LSU jokes they want, even when such “jokes” attack the character of the young men on the team or the intelligence of the schools’ personnel. I find nothing funny about those kinds of jokes. They’re just mean and have nothing to do with football. But these folks claim that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. If I say anything back, though, all bets are off. I made some football-related Arkansas jokes and got lambasted for being unfaithful to my home state (whatever that means) and for taking college football too seriously. I should also point out that when my team beat theirs, I didn’t rub it in. You can bet I wouldn’t have gotten the same consideration. I know, because I didn’t last year.
See how that works? When they do something, it’s fine, all in good fun, light-hearted. When I do the same thing, it’s overly sensitive, disloyal, grumpy. I didn’t think you could have it both ways.
Here’s grumpy: “Oooh, I see what you did there. I’m shocked the Nobel committee doesn’t know about you—your depth of thought, your awesome creativity, your sheer originality! You actually managed to rhyme the word ‘who’ with the letter ‘U!’ Wow! I bow to your awesome intellectual and comedic prowess!”
I didn’t say that. I have tried to be light-hearted and generous and kind in both victory and defeat. I’m not perfect, but I’ve sure tried. I wish everybody I knew would do the same.
Basically, social media is ruining sports for me, not because people root for different teams but because so many are hateful or hypocritical about it. We’re all mean and distant from each other for so many reasons already; do we really want to let sports divide us even further?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Kalene and I went to see it on our ten-year anniversary (yes, I know it’s hardly a romantic choice). We both liked it a little better than the original. Excellent film, but for God’s sake, don’t take the kids. Hoo boy.
More soon, I hope. And more focus next time.
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Catch-Up: Random Thoughts about Events and People in the News
So thanks to the end of the semester, I haven’t written anything here in nearly two weeks. In that time, lots of things have happened—some incredibly important, some less so. I cannot possibly comment on everything, so to get back into the swing of things, I decided to write about whatever struck my fancy at the moment. Here, for better or worse, are the results. Hopefully I’ll be back to more coherent and cohesive posts soon. I should also note that for the most part, I don’t spend a lot of my blog time on political commentary, but sometimes I feel the need. Feel free to skip over whatever section below doesn’t catch your fancy.
Much has been made of the dreaded “27 Club,” populated by such notables as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse joined that august group recently, not long after a terribly disjointed and ultimately abortive return to the stage in Europe. The tributes piled up immediately, as well they should; whenever anyone dies, he or she leaves a hole in the world, and when a talented artist leaves us, the hole is all the bigger for their having touched so many lives.
I was never a huge Winehouse fan. Her look frightened me; her music was not the kind I tend to seek out. But having heard her tracks and seen some of her televised performances, I was well aware of her talent. The music she released demonstrated her songwriting ability, the bravery she drew upon in laying her life bare in lyrics, and the smoky voice that distinguished her from so many other pop starlets. One can only wonder what kind of art she might have produced in the future.
Her death was hardly surprising, and yet I was stunned when I heard about it. I offer my heartfelt condolences to her family, her friends, and her fans. And I beg the young and the talented to stay out of that goddam club.
The National Football League Lockout
Since my last post, the NFL lockout ended, with concessions given on both sides. If only our politicians could take note on how real compromise works, they might learn that neither side is ever likely to get everything they want. To achieve compromise, each side has to gain something, and each side has to give something up. While I have not studied the complexities of the new collective bargaining agreement, I have heard enough to know that some progress was made along these lines.
Generally, in any strife between labor and management, I side with labor. History is crammed full of examples of corporate excesses enjoyed at the expense of workers; unions help avoid that and, by doing so, help stave off the kind of proletariat revolution that Marx predicted. You would think, then, that political conservatives and bourgeois managers would thank God for unions. But that doesn’t happen in America, at least not often.
Sure, sometimes unions indulge in excesses of their own, and sometimes labor leaders seem more intent on keeping their constituents happy than in enacting lasting, positive change. The film Waiting for “Superman” details problems in teachers’ unions, for instance; watch that movie and you may find yourself ready to hire union-busting thugs to work over your local math instructor. But the film glosses over why those unions are needed in the first place, the unstable and inequitable and unfair and underpaid conditions under which people labor when management goes unchecked. It would be nice if we could do away with unions and government regulations, but until corporations and administrations act responsibly, putting people’s lives and happiness above their own greed, we simply cannot do without unions. Read your history, or listen to your common sense instead of your lobby-funded representative, and you’ll see that.
When I heard that owners wanted a bigger slice of the revenue streams, more games in the season without any subsequent and equitable rise in health care and job security, and no new resources for retired, injured, and debilitated players, I sided with the players’ union, knowing as I did so that professional athletes tend to be spoiled, overprivileged, selfish prima donnas. Even when all of that is true about an individual player, you can’t paint everyone with the same brush, and you can’t abandon the broken players who gave their best years (and body parts) for you.
So I hope that the players really got enough concessions from the lockout. I hope they (and their barely-able-to-walk forbears) can live with the new CBA. I hope that the practice squad player and the guys who sign for the league minimum can live happy, productive lives. And I hope that our nation’s leaders—especially you, Republicans—learn that none of us win when somebody refuses to engage in reasonable negotiation.
Frankly, I don’t want to think about such weighty matters when somebody brings up football. I just want to see Peyton Manning throw a beautiful, crisp pass, or DeMarcus Ware pulverize a quarterback (preferably Michael Vick, Eli Manning, or whoever starts for the Redskins this year), or Andre Johnson pull down another touchdown pass that appeared just out of reach.
The Debt Ceiling Debate
Sigh. Ever since September 11th, 2001—when so many people in our country seem to have dropped the very pretense of moderation from their political beliefs—I have found innumerable political events, figures, and concepts that have stomped all over my very last nerve. The latest seems to be the debt ceiling debate, a fake issue brought about and writ large by an increasingly radical, out of touch Republican Party.
Time was that most Republicans seemed like basically good, reasonable people with whom I simply disagreed ideologically. Though I was, for instance, pro-choice and they were (and here’s a term I loathe, as if pro-choicers embrace death) pro-life, all but the most radical factions on both sides could discuss the issue with reason and respect. The same could be said of gun control, capital punishment, foreign policy, and just about anything else you could name. Sure, the right had its racist, xenophobic, homophobic, classist, religiously intolerant warhawks, and the left had its cuckoo birds who employed right-wing militia tactics in order to tout their allegedly left-wing ideologies. But most of us seemed to live somewhere between those extremes. Now, especially on the right, moderation seems to be as endangered as the animal species Republicans’ corporate masters seem intent on obliterating in the service of the great god Profit.
You can’t just blame the so-called Tea Party, another term I hate because it co-opts historic American dissent in favor of those who would perpetuate a dangerous stratification along racial, sexual, class, and religious barriers. The Tea-Baggers (now there’s a term I love) mostly seem like a gaggle of loonies who live in their own world, a place I wouldn’t even like to visit, but you also have to fault mainstream Republicans for giving in to their insanity, as well as Democrats who won’t stand up to them for fear of offending a voter. This voter is likely imaginary anyway; anybody who would vote Democrat is highly unlikely to vote for the Tea-Baggers under any circumstances, and nobody in the Tea Party’s going to cast a vote for a Democrat no matter how milquetoast the candidate appears. Frankly, the two-party system is strangling this country, and until we throw them all out and move past the either-or dilemma we’ve gotten ourselves into, nothing is likely to change.
What we need is a peaceful revolution in which we vote in people who are interested in service and in making this country better for every single person in it—white or black, rich or poor, legal or otherwise, gay or straight, Christian or otherwise.
Why? Because our politics have degenerated into a schoolyard tussle between rival gangs of spoiled brats. As numerous columnists have pointed out, the debt ceiling “crisis” was manufactured by Republicans who want to look economically tough in the eyes of what they see as an increasingly radicalized base. They don’t tell you that George W. Bush (who I still have trouble labeling as a “President” of anything, much less the nation) raised the debt ceiling several times. They gloss over the fact that the conservative demi-god Reagan raised it something like 18 times over eight years. Republicans don’t have a problem raising the debt ceiling; they only have a problem doing it when it might make some Democrat look competent.
They also blame Barack Obama and Democrats for the system that calls for raising the debt ceiling in order to pay for critical social and infrastructural programs, as if Obama invented that system. But the system has been in place for decades, and used by Republicans as much as Democrats, possibly more so. If you don’t like the system, then by all means, advocate for change, as long as you’ve got a solution in mind beyond eliminating all taxes, an unreasonable demand that ignores the facts of America’s economic structure. But don’t use the system when it benefits you and then hypocritically hold the country hostage so that you can metaphorically fellate a radical minority on your side of the aisle.
The most blatantly hypocritical part of this debate is that Republican policies and administrations (including the trickle-down lovers in the Bush and Reagan years) caused the crisis more than anyone else. Then they refused to work with Obama and the Democrats to fix the economy—unless, of course, the Democrats agreed to bypass the very nature of democracy and give the right every single thing it wanted. Then they blamed Obama for the problems and the lack of a solution. I’d admire the sheer chutzpah of the right if they weren’t taking us all into such dangerous waters.
We need the right to abandon its lunatic fringe and reach back across that aisle. In the absence of such a step, we need Democrats (notice I don’t call them “the left”) to find the guts to stand up for themselves and the rest of America, even if that means telling unpleasant truths about the opposition. We need the American people to stop taking what their politicians say at face value, to investigate things on their own using a variety of reputable and objective sources, to vote for everyone’s good instead of selfish reasons.
If we don’t, then one of these days we really will see the fall of the American empire, and it won’t be Barack Obama’s fault, or John McCain’s (how radically right do you have to be when McCain is too liberal for you??), or even Osama bin Laden’s. We’ll each have to look in the mirror and blame the person we see there.
I saw the movie. It wasn’t the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but it was far from the worst, especially for a super-hero flick. I’d give it a solid B on the sliding summer blockbuster scale.
In my summer II course, one of my students asked me what I thought about the film. I responded as I did above, while admitting that I haven’t read a comic since the mid-1990s, when the stories’ quality took a nosedive, and death became a cynical commercial vehicle, and no tale had stakes anymore because everybody came back from the dead. When the major companies copped out by replacing many of their heroes with new, poorer versions and little things like plot and characterization took a back seat to how cool the penciling looked.
My student then said, “Well, it’s not like they based the story on what’s happened in the last fifteen years.”
No, but in large part, they based it on the needs and desires of the last fifteen years’ audience. And I am not part of that audience. I don’t pretend to know the tone and flavor of today’s Captain America, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a film that catered to them and their sensibilities, not to mine.
For me, Captain America was always something of a conundrum. You couldn’t find a squarer character; the guy made Superman look grim and edgy. Steve Rogers was sincere, patriotic, faithful, honorable, ethical—all the things you wish your politicians were. He never seemed to represent a particular political viewpoint (well, except in those execrable 50s “Captain America—Commie Smasher” comics, and we’ve long known that the guy in those comics wasn’t Steve Rogers). He never threw his weight behind any particular administration. Instead, he truly seemed to represent the America where most of us lived—sometimes a bit conservative, sometimes a bit liberal, but mostly just human. He encouraged dissent, yet he believed in institutions.
I thought the film did a pretty good job of representing that Cap. As written in the film and played by Chris Evans, Steve Rogers is the guy who joins the army because it’s the right thing to do—because in those days, everyone believed that they knew who the enemy was and why we were fighting and what was at stake. We didn’t fight in the best possible ways; the poor were still overly represented, and women and non-whites weren’t treated well, but it was about as united as the nation has ever been, including, I think, during the Revolution. Rogers doesn’t go in as a mouthpiece for Roosevelt or the minority leader. He doesn’t champion a corporation or an ideology beyond a firm belief in America itself.
Truly, if Captain America were real, I’d probably write him in on the Presidential ballot. I came away from the film feeling like I had seen at least a version of the guy I knew from the comics. Perhaps that’s about as much as we can ask of our film adaptations. I won’t advise you to run to your nearest theater and catch it if you haven’t already, but give it a shot on DVD at least. You may find yourself wishing that Cap could swoop in and save us from the machine we’ve built to govern our lives, the same one that seems to be chewing us all up in the gears.
Fedor Emelianenko, Dana White, Chael Sonnen, and Rashad Evans
In the world of Mixed Martial Arts, everything seems to be in flux. Aging warhorses like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Matt Hughes, the Nogueira brothers, and Tito Ortiz, though only in their mid-30s, seem to be showing the effects of all their battles. Unable to take punches or dominate as they once did, they now face the roles of gate-keepers to the championships, rather than serious contenders. All these men are young enough to reach the top again, but like an NFL player of the same age, they can no longer be penciled in to dominate. It’s always a shame when age and the limitations of one’s body catch up with a great athlete, but it happens to everyone eventually. It happened suddenly to Chuck Liddell. It finally caught up to Randy Couture. Even the current exception to the rule, Dan Henderson, can’t go on forever.
UFC president Dana White has stuck behind most of the men on that list. He dropped Ortiz from the roster once, but that was due more to their personal conflicts and Ortiz’s desire for more money than eroding skills. As every MMA fan knows, he was about to cut Ortiz before a recent out-of-nowhere submission victory over young gun Ryan Bader. At that point, you could hardly blame White; he had given Ortiz every chance, and while Ortiz had not been dominated since his last loss to Liddell years ago, he had not won a fight since 2006. The victory over Bader saved Ortiz’s job, and his stepping up to face 205-pound title contender Rashad Evans on short notice only endeared him to White. But since Tito lost that fight, one wonders how many more chances he’ll get.
Matt Hughes has admitted that he only has so many fights left in him, but White keeps matching him with top competition. Cro Cop might not get another shot in the UFC if he loses his next fight, but he won’t be battling a no-name; he has to fight former IFL champ Roy Nelson, himself a veteran with a two-fight losing streak. White has stated his desire to “Liddell” Wanderlei Silva into retirement, referencing how White had to browbeat Liddell into stepping away from the sport for his own health’s sake; he has shown no desire to cut Silva or demote him to prelims. No one has stated that the Nogueiras’ jobs are in jeopardy—especially Big Nog, whose losses might have been attributable to the nagging injuries that have kept him out of action for over a year.
The point here is that Dana White has, to the best of his ability, stood beside each of these men whenever they’ve lost and/or contemplated retirement and/or asked for more shots to get back on the winning track. Of course, they all fight in the UFC, meaning that White has a vested interest in their careers and a sense of loyalty to them. He doesn’t stick by them strictly because he’s such a nice guy.
All of which brings me to the case of Fedor Emelianenko. Long considered the greatest heavyweight fighter ever to step into an MMA ring or cage, Fedor has struggled of late. He lost by submission to one of the world’s best jiu-jitsu artists, Fabricio Werdum. He lost by TKO (doctor’s stoppage) to a much larger opponent, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, when one of his eyes swelled shut between rounds. And then he lost by knockout to Henderson, one of the greatest fighters in history. No shame in any of those losses, but in the “what have you done for me lately?” world of MMA, three losses in a row bring out the haters. “Fedor should retire,” they said, even after his second loss. “He was never that good in the first place,” they said, ignoring how he went undefeated for ten years and won titles in several organizations, including PRIDE.
No one has been more vocally critical of Fedor’s losses than White, who seems to take personal satisfaction in another human being’s misfortune. Oh, he makes sure to say that he doesn’t hate Fedor, but it’s hard not to read malice into White’s venomous tirades. In one internet video, White runs through a list of Fedor’s past opponents, trying to punch holes in the myth of the man’s greatness. And the opponents he names in that list are certainly unimpressive. But he leaves out a lot of names, too: Semmy Schilt, Heath Herring, Big Nog (three times), Mark Coleman (twice), Cro Cop, Kevin Randleman, and even less decorated but respected veterans like Gary Goodridge and Kazuyuki Fujita.
You can’t say that Fedor fought only tomato cans when the list of people he beat includes three former UFC champions, one of the most feared strikers of all time, some strong wrestlers, and a bunch of plain old tough guys. And that’s ignoring his wins over both Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovsky, who have certainly fallen on hard times themselves but who are also former UFC champs.
White’s vendetta against Fedor seems to stem from the latter’s refusal to sign with the UFC, to put more money in White’s bank accounts. White is correct in saying that the UFC is the only place where the best fighters always fight the best competition and that Fedor (or his management team) has tarnished his legacy by avoiding the UFC. But White is dead wrong and just plain vindictive to ignore Fedor’s accomplishments, especially since most of them happened in what was, at the time, the best heavyweight division on the planet.
Whatever Fedor’s reasons for not signing with the UFC, the fact is that he didn’t. He seems at peace with himself and his career, even his recent setbacks. White should make peace with it too, because all his gloating only makes him seem like an ungracious bully.
I don’t have much to say about Chael Sonnen, who seems unable to grasp the fact that Anderson Silva beat him. Certainly Sonnen dominated the fight for well over twenty minutes, but Silva caught him in a triangle choke, and he tapped out. I saw the fight. I saw him give up. He can call himself the uncrowned Middleweight champion all he wants, but no one in their right mind believes that. He fought a good fight, but he lost. End of story.
Except that it’s not. Sonnen has always had such a big mouth that it’s impossible to take him seriously. You get the feeling that even he doesn’t believe most of what he says, but that doesn’t stop him from saying it. He blathers and brags, but he has yet to achieve the kinds of results that would to some extent justify his brashness. Where is Sonnen’s years-long win streak? Where is his UFC championship?
Lots of fans try to excuse his poor sportsmanship and the sad example he sets of how to be a decent human being, but you can promote a fight without being a completely unlikable jerk. Since returning from suspension for performance-enhancing drugs (a suspension compounded by his role in money-laundering), he’s been more vocal than ever, but his hijinks seem even more desperate than usual. He’s now insulted the entire country of Brazil and just about every other fighter in the UFC. Nice guy.
If you take him seriously, you’d have to point out that he’s never accomplished anything near what the objects of his bile have achieved. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has won championships in both PRIDE and the UFC, and is always a top contender. Wanderlei Silva destroyed all his competition for years and held the PRIDE middleweight title all that time. (And for all his talk about Wanderlei, one has to remember that Sonnen is talking from a distance. If you’re an MMA fan, you’ve probably seen the video of Wanderlei and Sonnen on a promotional trip together, sitting in the same vehicle as Wanderlei takes him to task for disrespecting the Nogueiras. “When you show respect, you keep your teeth,” Silva says, and literally all Sonnen does is nod and say thank you. Yet when Silva is nowhere nearby, Sonnen becomes a tough guy?). Jose Aldo is a UFC champ. Anderson Silva is a UFC champ. Lyoto Machida is a former UFC champ. Even non-Brazilians have felt the sting of Sonnen’s sharp tongue, but Quinton Jackson is also a former UFC champ, and Jon Fitch is every bit as accomplished as Sonnen. Perhaps moreso, since his unsuccessful title shot did not end in his submission.
But Sonnen keeps talking, even though his speeches are now largely considered a joke. Perhaps Brian Stann will knock some sense into him. If not, he’s probably going to meet Anderson Silva again, and then we’ll see if he can keep all his teeth. Perhaps Sonnen should join the WWE, where his utter lack of sportsmanship and decency would be welcome.
As for Rashad Evans, he wonders why people keep booing him when he’s really a nice guy. Allow me to take a page out of Dana White’s recent interviews, in which I look into the camera and speak directly to Rashad, WWE-style.
Rashad, I’ll tell you why people boo you. It’s not because some of your fights are dull. Most fighters have dull fights every now and then. It’s not because you brag on yourself. All fighters are confident. It’s because you showboat. You did it back on The Ultimate Fighter, and though your style has matured since then, your in-ring personality hasn’t. When Forrest Griffin was beating you for two and a half rounds, you weathered one flurry and then grabbed your cup and blew him a kiss. Really, Rashad? Are you that insecure? Are you that immature? You’re 31 years old now, man. Grow up.
Once you get over yourself, perhaps more people will back you. Maybe then they’ll recognize you for the nice guy you really are. Until then, keep on expecting those boos.
QUICK UPDATE: Matt “the Hammer” Hamill has retired from MMA. The sport has just lost one of its finest ambassadors and best human beings. Hamill, for those who don’t know, is deaf. Yet he was a D-III national wrestling champion and went 9-4 in the UFC, including victories over Tito Ortiz and Mark Munoz. He also beat Michael Bisping in the eyes of everyone but the ringside judges. Always humble and sweet of disposition, a classy person and a tough fighter, Matt Hamill will be missed.
Follow me on Twitter @brettwrites.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments Sections and the Death of Civilization
In my forty-plus years on Earth, I have witnessed many phenomena that someone, somewhere posited as the death-knell of the American Empire, western civilization, even the world—Feminism, Civil Rights, rock and roll, pornography, punk rock couture, secularization, country music, Republicans, goth fashion, communism, hip-hop, Democrats, rich people, poor people, gay marriage and/or adoption, nuclear proliferation, socialism, capitalism, Sarah Palin. My paternal grandparents, I was once told, firmly believed that the Beatles signaled the end of the world, and all those guys wanted to do most of the time was hold your hand or smoke a little pot. My parents stood aghast at posters of KISS, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, ad infinitum. Conservative white people everywhere freaked out (some still do) at gangsta rap, at Public Enemy, at Kanye West and Jay-Z. And those are just a few examples from music. Add in politics, movies, television, religion, and so forth, and we’ve seen many potential Ends of the World.
Me? I think the death knell of civilization as we conceive of it might just be websites’ comments sections.
I’ve said this before elsewhere, but I’m serious about it. If you ever want to feel better about your personality, your knowledge, your attitude, and your command of the English language, go read the comments section on a website. If you can make it past the pre-K spelling and punctuation, the scathing vituperation of even the most innocuous text, the name-calling, and the blatant disregard for other human beings, you’ll find that only one in twenty posts has anything approaching an original, critical, debatable, intriguing idea.
Website comments sections are where manners, good grammar, empathy, and healthy debate go to die.
I’ve often said that the best thing about the Internet is that it provides an instantaneous, democratic forum in which anyone with the ability to find a connected computer can speak out, use their voices, contribute to the national dialogue. And the worst thing about the Internet is that it provides an instantaneous, democratic forum in which anyone with the ability to find a connected computer can speak out, use their voices, and contribute to the national dialogue. I try my hardest to avoid the comments sections these days (except my own, which have yet to be overtaken by sub-literate trolls with an axe to grind), but sometimes I just can’t help myself. I’ll read an article and wonder what people think about it—the ideas, the implications, the different ways we might understand it, how it might help connect us to each other and to our culture.
But for every thoughtful, eloquent post, you’ll find fifteen or twenty that say nothing at all. And if you’ve never had the displeasure of slogging through such comments, believe me when I say that these “writers” say nothing at the tops of their lungs, and in language that would make Noam Chomsky weep, if not jump off the nearest bridge.
Let’s look at a few examples.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has a pay-per-view scheduled during the first week of August. It’s one of those shows that seem cursed; training injuries have caused several fights to be shuffled as opponents come in and drop out. The co-main event was cancelled altogether. But the main event itself attained a new level of intrigue when Phil Davis, and up-and-coming but currently limited fighter, had to drop out of his fight with former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. In Davis’ place, the UFC called on Tito Ortiz, another former light heavyweight champion and one of the sports’ pioneers. Ortiz recently won his first fight in five years, a shocking submission victory over young lion Ryan Bader. Ortiz suffered no damage in the fight, so he was healthy enough and suddenly hot enough to plug into a main event, even at short notice.
Here are some of the comments on the UFC article announcing the replacement. I have copied and pasted these without correcting anything.
An initial post: “need to bring lidell back for 1 more just to put tito back on the bottom where he belongs!”
A reply to that one: “fuck dat nigga chuck [note: Liddell is white.]. where is he at …getting drunk while the hated Tito Ortiz is trying pretty f*****g hard 2 prove everybody that he still has that drive n ppl still doubt him???cmon ppl grow up. look same situation wit rashad, although rashad talked shit 2 rampage n everybody hated him 4 that, …HE BACKED IT UP!!! n dont get me wrong I LUV RAMPAGE . HE IS PURE NATURAL BEAST . IDK BOUT U GUYS BUT I THINK U SHOULD JUDGE PPL BY THEIR PERFORMANCES N SAME GOES 4 CHAEL SONNEN, HE TALKED SHIT BUT HE WHOOPED THE LIVING FUCK OUT OF ANDERSON SILVA!!!! just sayin “
Another initial post: “tittoooooo is going to get knocked the fuck out.”
A reply: “Tito never been ko idiot!!!..”
Another: “Guess you don’t watch UFC. Chuck knocked him out.”
Another: “your right he just gets hit and puss’s out or plays possum.”
This is discourse? The paradigm seems to go like this: Person A makes a short comment in the most aggressive manner possible. Person B calls that person an idiot (or stupid, uninformed, retarded) for having an opinion different from his/her own. Persons C, D, and E take up the conversation in kind, burying any salient points in badly-spelled text message-speak, all-caps shouting, curse words that add nothing to the debate other than more unnecessary aggression. Even those who seemingly agree with you couch their posts in the language of back-handed compliments or out-and-out dismissal.
People talk at each other, not to each other. They turn into keyboard warriors, ready to get in someone’s face and denigrate that person’s intelligence, knowledge, personality, and reason to live, none of which they would be likely to do in person, even late at night in a sports bar. As a result, you can feel your own IQ lowering with each comment you read. And your own aggression might rise as you realize how many truly stupid, wasteful people exist in the world.
Ah, but this sort of thing isn’t limited to websites dedicated to sports where people beat the crap out of each other. Here are some comments on Entertainment Weekly’s recent review of the film Horrible Bosses, which critic Lisa Schwarzbaum (whom I admire) liked enough to give an A-.
“Funny this movie just dosen’t look that good to me. I’ll wait to rent it.” (Not a stupid comment or an offensively mean one, but doesn’t it miss the opportunity to start an interesting, helpful discussion? Why not tell us WHY the movie doesn’t look that good?)
“I was planning on seeing this movie anyways but now that Lisa has approved it, I will for sure be checking it out Friday night !” (Good for you—you said something positive! However, I’d still like to know WHY you trust Lisa so much. When has she been right in your opinion, and why? How often do you think she’s wrong? Why follow her recommendation without question? And if you have reasons for following, why not share them? You might enlighten at least one hater out there. Speaking of which…)
“There’s only one word this trash: Stupidity. And yet, you give it an A-? This is exactly why I don’t listen to critics.” (Why is it trash? Why is it stupid—because you say so? Who are you, and what are your qualifications? How is this one review somehow indicative of every critic’s entire oeuvre?)
“A- really??? For this crass, hopelessly broad unsubtle, uncleverly potty humor (literally) filled toilet of a film? Makes The Hangover 2 look like Dostoyevsky. That bad, despite the cast.” (This one at least intrigues me, but I’d still like to know what specifically strikes you as crass, or broad, or unsubtle, or unclever (is that a word?). Also, you assume that we didn’t like The Hangover 2 and that we do like Dostoyevsky. You’ve got my attention; now tell me more.)
Of course, EW.com readers have a hard character limit for their comments, so there’s only so much they can do. But can’t we do better than this? Here’s one that goes into more detail, but falls into the UFC commenters’ problems with unnecessary rudeness:
“I saw “Horrible Bosses” at a sneak preview and enjoyed it a lot, but an A- is goddamn generous to the point of pandering. There was a lot of room for improvement, and a lot a reasons it won’t hold up to the films of Mike Judge. BTW, let’s remember that you gave “Midnight in Paris,” a likely Best Picture nominee, a grade B. Recalling why, your main gripe/reason was that Paris was too pretty, and more glamourized than it actually is. Do you think in a comic fantasy that Paris should be ugly? Duh.”
See, why do we have to do these kinds of things to each other? I don’t have a problem with the foul language per se; I just don’t think it’s necessary to make the point and thus may turn readers away from your more salient criticisms. The “duh” at the end basically says that the critic is stupid. Why is that necessary? Why not just call attention to a potential flaw in her reasoning? Why do we have to use our keyboards like talons to rip at each other? This writer starts out by saying that he liked the film but spends the rest of the post attacking the critic. By the way—“likely Best Picture nominee” doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves more than a B, given the eclecticism of tastes and the expanded Best Picture field.
I could have added a “you dumbass” or a “as anybody who knows anything would tell you,” but that would just antagonize people unnecessarily. We can make a point without bashing others over the head with it. We can talk to other people, even on the Internet, as if they are human beings who should be respected, at least until they prove that they don’t deserve it. And disagreeing with us is not a sufficient reason for disrespect.
If the world ended today and, sometime later, an alien found only comments sections with which to judge the human race, he or she would likely characterize us as a savage, isolated people with little grasp of language, manners, or respect. And then he or she would probably not be surprised when discovering that we regularly blow each other up, join political parties more interested in beating each other about the heads and shoulders than in serving us, shoot each other over parking spaces and baseball games, and marginalize/oppress/kill those who are different from us.
Language matters. Courtesy matters. Rational thought and meaningful debate matter. The Internet has given us a cheap, easily-accessible forum for using these tools. And we’re squandering it.
Follow me on Twitter @brettwrites.
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