The Greatest!!!

LeBron James has now scored more points than any other player in NBA history, surpassing the previous record set over three decades ago by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

You know what’s strange about this? I heard nothing about it until the record had fallen, and that’s not some obscure record like “Most homeruns hit as a pinch-hitter” or some such thing. All-time leading scorer in NBA history? That’s a big damn record, and I didn’t know it was on the verge of falling until James had broken it.

Now, a part of that is surely the nature of how sports news is disseminated and how I consume it. We haven’t had cable since 2000, so regular watching of SportsCenter isn’t something that’s remotely on my radar. But I heard nothing of James’s pursuit of Kareem’s record at all on social media; nor did I see anything about it on The Athletic, to which I subscribe. And a big part of that is that The Athletic, for all its good coverage, is a site and app that is also a service, so when you use it first, you set up your “interests”, which is nice because you get what you’re interested in…but only what you’re interested in. There used to be a “Front Page” that had articles on other subjects, but they got rid of that, which means that now I don’t see stories on anything other than what I’ve signed up for. And that’s annoying, because good sports writing is always wonderful, no matter what the topic.

Which brings me to this bit of good sports writing, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar himself. Apparently he’s got quite the writing career going, and I had no idea! I didn’t know this at all, but reading this installment of his newsletter, in which he breaks down how he feels about seeing his own record fall, was just fantastic.

An excerpt that I especially loved:

Whenever a sports record is broken—including mine—it’s a time for celebration. It means someone has pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible to a whole new level. And when one person climbs higher than the last person, we all feel like we are capable of being more.

Yes, I have already subscribed to Mr. Abdul-Jabbar’s newsletter.

And congratulations, LeBron James! By the way, this is my favorite James moment, and it doesn’t even happen during a game but during one of those contests where they bring a fan down and let them take one shot from half-court, and they win a bunch of money if they somehow hit this extremely low-percentage shot. Actual NBA players don’t hit half-court shots very often…but this guy did, and LeBron James, in his exuberant joy at this regular Joe winning, ran out and tackled the guy:

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Tone Poem Tuesday

It’s February and Black History Month, a time when I try to spotlight works by Black composers. We start this time with Hannah Kendall, a British composer born in 1984. From her website bio:

Known for her attentive arrangements and immersive world-building, Hannah Kendall’s music looks beyond the boundaries of composition. Her work bridges gaps between different musical cultures, both honouring and questioning the contemporary tradition while telling new stories through it. Contrasting fine detail with limitless abandon, she has become renowned both as a composer and a storyteller, confronting our collective history with narratively-driven pieces centred on bold mission statements.

Marked by striking and often polarising dynamics, her large-scale work simmers on the surface, and is upturned by the briefest moments of bombast. Ensemble pieces subvert audience expectations of ‘quiet and loud’, ‘still and moving’; scattering those musical opposites unexpectedly. The sounds are visceral, but their placement is complicated, disclosing the detail that exists beneath. While hinging on intense moments, Kendall’s music is also staggeringly intricate, manoeuvring tiny decisions that reveal themselves on further listens.

The piece here is Spark Catchers, which she describes thusly:

The Spark Catchers was commissioned and premiered at the Proms in 2017. The piece opened Chineke!’s debut concert at the festival. The group is majority minority ethnic players, and it was such a momentous occasion, and a privilege to have written the piece for the occasion.

It takes inspiration from Lemn Sissay’s poem with the same title, which he wrote for the 2012 London Olympics, and is permanently etched into one of the transformers at the stadium. It depicts the working lives of the women who worked in the Bryant and May match factory, which once stood on the edge of the Olympic Park, and how they had to keep a watchful eye, catching any stray sparks that might set the factory alight.

It’s an interesting piece, contrasting rhythmic passages that suggest industrialism with meditative passages that seem also vaguely industrial, like the floor of a factory at night when all the machines have been shut off and the shadows are slowly moving….

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Earthquake? Pshaw! Bring on the ICE SHARK!!!

Seen in the waters of Cazenovia Creek this afternoon.


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The Four-Legged State of Affairs

Recent adventures in Pet-land:

Carla and Remy, sleeping on The Wife’s lap. She was very warm this night.

When you discover that your new action figure has fully-articulating joints!

Rosa has taken to hanging out on the curly-Q thing at the bottom of the banister. No idea why. She’s weird.

Carla’s best friend who lives across the street. When they get together it is an absolute HOOT.


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He retired. Again.

Will this retirement stick?

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe He’s retiring so he can just wait until the first week of August, after training camps are half over, and then sign wherever He feels like signing to keep on keeping on.

Do I want Him to go? Sure. He’s been an annoying presence in the part of my brain that can’t quite give up on football (stupid part of my brain, I hate it so much) for twenty-three years. Put it another way: He has been an irritating presence for forty-five percent of my life. It’s long past time for that percentage to start going down.

Is He the “greatest of all time”? I suppose He is, for multiple ways of defining “great”. But remember, numbers aren’t the only measure of greatness, and I’m a storyteller at heart anyway. For me, all of This Guy’s stories were annoying stories, maddening stories, stories that shouldn’t have ended the way they did if not for the people opposing Him doing stupid shit at key moments.

He didn’t make the other head coach decide to only hand the ball off to his running back, who at the time was the best RB in the game, only 17 times against a defense that was bad against the run, thus playing into His own head coach’s defensive scheme.

He didn’t make the other team’s kicker boot the ball out of bounds immediately after the other team tied it up with a minute to go, thus giving Him only needing to move the ball about 25 yards in 60 seconds to set up a game-winning field goal.

He didn’t make the other head coach engage in very odd clock management in a close game, thus seriously damaging his team’s ability to overcome in the end. (That particular head coach is an interesting case, because he was once the poster-child for the “Can’t win the big game!” trope, but now, since he did win the big game a single time three years ago, he is currently viewed as one of the reigning super-geniuses of football.)

He didn’t make the other team decide to, in Gregg Easterbrook’s terminology, go “pass-wacky” with a big lead in the second half and thus manage to kill no time and wear out its defense so He could execute a 34-28 win after being down 28-3. (A reminder: as thrilling as it is when your team executes a big comeback, big comebacks are always at least partly due to the losing team getting dumb when it has the lead.)

He didn’t make the other team decide that throwing the ball from a goal-to-go situation when they had a RB who was, at the time, one of the very best RBs in football, was a good idea, and He further didn’t make the other team decide that the passing play to call was a low-success rate play that ended up getting picked off by His team.

He didn’t…well, you get the idea. And yes, anyway, those dumb errors are (for the most part) gifts of situations, and it was still up to Him to make the best of those situations. But it certainly felt that He got way, way, wayyyyy more than his fair share of flukey situations.

He didn’t somehow manage to make the other three teams in the division he played most of his career suddenly get very bad at drafting talent for the better part of two decades.

He was involved in multiple significant cheating scandals, resulting in His team getting a couple of wrist-slaps from the league. That first wrist-slap was particularly egregious, with the Commish destroying all the evidence without letting anybody else see it and then handing down a punishment designed to seem harsh but really amounted to, yes, a wrist-slap.

He also somehow managed to play 23 seasons (He missed one entire season with an injury sustained in Week One, and the next year He came back like he’d never missed a beat), but more than that, He played 47 playoff games as well, which means that He played almost 26 seasons worth of football over those 23 years, which is mind-boggling given the nature of this particular game. I’ve heard it said that “Everyone has a conspiracy theory that they actually believe,” and mine is that there’s no way His longevity is explained by good offensive lines, His getting the ball out quickly, His avoiding inflammatory foods, and His going to bed every night at 8pm. Maybe at some point Gisele lets something slip about weird medical procedures he had done every off-season in Buenos Aires or some such thing.

He also benefitted greatly from a gradually-shifting NFL rulebook that literally made beating him harder. The book on beating Him has always been pretty simple to state, if hard to do in practice: get physical pressure on Him, especially from up the middle. He hated getting hit, and in any game where He started getting hit more than usual, He would start getting jittery in the pocket and His accuracy would suffer and if the pressure kept coming He would eventually just start making bad decisions. The best example of this was Super Bowl 42, where He played under pressure all game, His NFL-best offense could only muster 14 points, and when He got the ball back with a minute to go and down by three, He couldn’t even get His team to field-goal range. (A similar scenario unfolded again just four years later, against that very same Giants team, and when he missed a key pass by throwing the ball behind his intended receiver, his wife came out after the game and criticized the receiver publicly!) If I had Aladdin’s lamp, I might well burn one of my three wishes to see Him start a full NFL game against, say, the ’85 Bears, the ’89 49ers, or the ’91 Redskins. I do not believe He would have flourished quite so well against a defense built to succeed under that NFL rulebook.

(An aside here about His most recent Super Bowl defeat, in Super Bowl 52: Is there any more flukey championship in recent sports history than that one? The Eagles rolled through the regular season behind a quarterback who was having a terrific year until he got hurt, and then the backup quarterback stepped in and kept right on rolling all the way to victory in that Super Bowl, despite the fact that He had probably the best single passing game in Super Bowl history that day, throwing for more than 500 yards, 3 touchdowns, and zero interceptions! He lost that game, and after that, both of the Eagles’ quarterbacks from that season regressed to the point where now they’re just journeymen guys knocking around the league and not really doing anything impressive at all. The one game He had where I have to admit His greatness was an unbelievably improbable loss.)

Oddly, He recently got some very odd flak on social media when He posted something about spending time with his kids. I guess even that was a bridge too far for the self-appointed alpha-males of the world. Even I have to admit that when He isn’t “alpha” enough, maybe we need to rework the concept a little.

So, assuming that He is actually ending his career now, He is moving on to a broadcasting gig at FOX. This means that I will rarely see him, since I watch almost zero football on teevee these days. (I don’t know what the nature of His broadcasting work is supposed to be–whether He is going to be a studio guy or one of the booth commentators on game day.) I’m sure He’ll be fine at that job, and I certainly don’t wish Him ill…but like many other fans, I certainly wish Him off the field for good, because He was just that annoying.

And yes, He was great. Sheesh.

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The deer next door

Our next-door neighbors have taken to feeding the local deer from the woods behind our neighborhood. It’s nice to see them over there in their yard, eating away. Our Carla, of course, thinks they are Big! Scary! Beasts! that need to be shooed away with much barking, but I think they’re getting used to her because where she used to be able to scare them all off, now only a few go when she goes running out there. (Our yard is fenced, so she can’t actually get at the deer.)

(The photo’s resolution isn’t great because I used the 10x zoom on my phone, as opposed to the optical zoom on my good camera.)

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Something for Thursday

Sheku Kanneh-Mason and siblings, playing “Redemption Song”. More info to come, but I really wanted to get this up here! I found this a delight.

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Pitter patter!

Part of the cast of LETTERKENNY.

If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, then why not? The latest issue went out the other day but you can still read it right here. This time out, I waxed poetic and lengthy about two teevee shows that I’ve come to love dearly in the last year, Letterkenny and its spinoff Shoresy.

Part of the cast of SHORESY. By the way, the guy standing front and center of both photos is the exact same actor!

All issues are available here. Subscribe! Please! You know you want to!



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From the Books: NO NAME IN THE STREET, James Baldwin

James Baldwin. Image credit: The New Yorker

I have just finished reading James Baldwin’s powerful essay-book No Name in the Street, in which Baldwin describes his early life and his encounters later with many figures, some seminal and some less-so, and how he relates all of this to his larger experience as a Black man in 20th century America. It does not come as a surprise to observe how many of his observations can be, and are being by others, advanced as true to this very day. For all that we, for certain definitions of “we”, like to pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come, it’s very much worth the effort to look at history from the vantage point of those who don’t think we’ve come very far at all. And that view is absolutely justified, which goes a long way toward explaining the vehement degree to which many in power now are working hard to make sure this view is as hard to hear as possible.

I could say more, but…no. Better to listen to the voices we’re shouting down, and to amplify them, if possible. Here are three excerpts from Baldwin. (Page numbers are from the Library of America edition of No Name in the Street, which appears in their volume, James Baldwin: Collected Essays. (A word about usage: Baldwin wrote fifty years ago, well before some aspects of terminology were settled or adopted, such as the recent standard of capitalizing Black. Opening capitalizations of these passages are added to differentiate one passage from the next.)

WHEN THE PAGAN and the slave spit on the cross and pick up the fun, it means that the halls of history are about to be invaded once again, destroying and dispersing the present occupants. These, then, can call only on their history to save them–that same history which, in the eyes, of the subjugated, has already condemned them. Therefore, Faulkner hoped that American blacks would have the generosity to “go slow”–would allow white people, that is, the time to save themselves, as though they had not had more than enough time already, and as thought heir victims still believed in white miracles–and Camus repeated the word “justice” as though it were a magical incantation to which all of Africa would immediately respond. American blacks could not “go slow” because they had made a rendezvous with history for the purpose of taking their children out of history’s hands. And Camus’ “justice” was a concept forged and betrayed in Europe, in exactly the same way the Christian church has betrayed and dishonored and blasphemed that Saviour in whose name they have slaughtered millions and millions and millions of people. And if this mighty objection seems trivial, it can only be because of the total hardening of the heart and the coarsening of the conscience among those people who believed that their power has given them the exclusive right to history. If the Christians do not believe in their Saviour (who has certainly, furthermore, failed to save them) why, then, wonder the unredeemed, should I abandon my gods for yours? For I know my gods are real: they have enabled me to withstand you. (p. 382-383)

THIS IS A FORMULA for a nation’s or a kingdom’s decline, for no kingdom can maintain itself by force alone. Force does not work the way its advocates seem to think it does. It does not, for example, reveal to the victim the strength of his adversary. On the contrary, it reveals the weakness, even the panic of his adversary, and this revelation invests the victim with patience. Furthermore, it is ultimately fatal to create too many victims. The victor can do nothing with these victims, for they do not belong to him, but–to the victims. They belong to the people he is fighting. The people know this, and as inexorably as the roll call–the honor roll–of victims expands, so does their will become inexorable: they resolve that these dead, their brethren, shall not have died in vain. When this point is reached, however long the battle may go on, the victor can never be the victor: on the contrary, all his energies, his entire life, are bound up in a terror he cannot articulate, a mystery he cannot read, a battle he cannot win–he has simply become the prisoner of the people he thought to cow, chain, or murder into submission. (p. 406-407)

THOSE WHO RULE this country now–as distinguished, it must be said, from governing it–are determined to smash the Panthers [the Black Panther Party] in order to hide the truth of the American black situation. They want to hide this truth from black people–by making it impossible for them to respond to it–and they would like to hide it from the world; and not, alas, because they area ashamed of it but because they have no intention of changing it. They cannot afford to change it. They would not know how to go about changing, it, even if their imaginations were capable of encompassing the concept of black freedom. But this concept lives in their imaginations, and in the popular imagination, only as a nightmare. Blacks have never been free in this country, never was it intended that they should be free, and the spectre of so dreadful a freedom–the idea of a license so bloody and abandoned–conjures up another, unimaginable country, a country in which no decent, God-fearing white man or woman can live. A civilized country is, by definition, a country dominated by whites, in which the blacks clearly know their place. This is really the way the generality of white Americans feel, and they consider–quite rightly, as far as any concern for their interest goes–that it is they who, now, at long last, are represented in Washington. (p. 462-463)

TO BE AN AFRO-AMERICAN, or an American black, is to be in the situation, intolerably exaggerated, of all those who have ever found themselves part of a civilization which they could in no wise honorably defend–which they were compelled, indeed, endlessly to attack and condemn–and who yet spoke out of the most passionate love, hoping to make the kingdom new, to make it honorable and worthy of life. Whoever is part of whatever civilization helplessly loves some aspects of it, and some of the people in it. A person does not lightly elect to oppose his society. One would much rather be at home among one’s compatriots than be mocked and detested by them. And there is a level on which the mockery of the people, even their hatred, is moving because it is blind: it is terrible to watch people cling to their captivity and insist on their own destruction. I think black people have always felt this about America, and Americans, and have always seen, spinning above the thoughtless American head, the shape of the wrath to come. (p. 474)

That last passage is one that haunts me especially, because I’m not sure that Baldwin’s “wrath to come” has unfolded yet.

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Tone Poem Tuesday

It’s not terribly surprising to learn that Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was one of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s early influences; after all, Rimsky-Korsakov was a gigantic name in Russian music in the late 19th century, second only to Tchaikovsky. Even in his maturity, when Rachmaninoff found his own sound in yearning melodies and backward-looking Romanticism, hints of Rimsky-Korsakov can be found, particularly in his orchestrations. Rimsky-Korsakov is one of the great orchestrators of all time, and his works would have been studied and their lessons learned by Rachmaninoff.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas are unfortunately neglected in the West, mainly because few singers want to learn Russian and it is simply out of vogue to perform operas in translation. Nevertheless, his operas are highly regarded by those who have been able to seek them out and hear them, and the operas have yielded a number of excerpts that have found life in the standard concert repertoire. This particular work is not one of those, though: it is a thorough rescoring for orchestra alone of the third act of his opera Mlada, which he then retitled Night on Mount Triglav.

This is the type of Russian Romanticism in which a young Sergei Rachmaninoff was steeped. It would leave its mark.

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