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PopPolitics.com http://www.poppolitics.com Commentary on Popular and Political Cultures Tue, 22 Nov 2011 04:06:05 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.5.1 en Update on PopPolitics http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2011/11/update-on-poppolitics http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2011/11/update-on-poppolitics#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2011 04:03:51 +0000 Bernie http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4234 Several people have contacted us about the wonkiness of the site. It was hacked, but we have regained control. We have lost some of the previous functionality, but all of our content is still available.

We are hoping to have a new, revamped PopPolitics for your reading pleasure in the upcoming year. In any case, be assured that we are committed to maintaining access to our archive of past articles and posts.

Thanks for your patience!

Mix 2010: The Best Moments in Music from the Past Year http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/12/mix-2010-the-best-moments-in-music-from-the-past-year http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/12/mix-2010-the-best-moments-in-music-from-the-past-year#comments Sun, 19 Dec 2010 07:01:22 +0000 Bernie http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4208 Okay, the best moments according to my inevitably limited exposure and my fairly narrow (read Indie Rock tossed with a bit of World and R&B) tastes.

This isn’t a Top anything list. It’s a mix for the year. The order is determined by what flows, not by ranking or chronology.


1. “I’m Gonna Start” - The Netherfriends - Barry and Sherry
A hometown (Chicago) band that crafts gorgeous songs that narrate a late teen/early 20-something urban life that is both mundane and complex. This song never fails to set the mood.


2 & 3. “We Used to Wait”/”Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” - Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Arcade Fire’s relative popularity and unabashedly anthemic sound scares critics from liking them too much.  At least that’s my attempt to explain why The Suburbs isn’t at the very top of every year-end list. It is both the most rousing and the most literary of this year’s albums. To capture the literary aspect, you need to listen to the album from start to finish – the consistency of theme (a commentary on the personal and political consequences of the postmodern condition, growing up in an image-driven, hyperreal world), point-of-view (Arcade Fire apparently is getting older, but no one captures a kids’ perspective  — or the perspective of an adult looking back on being a kid — better, with the perfect combination of anxiety and wonder), and the musical and lyrical motifs that intertwine it all. For the mix, of course, I just picked the two most rousing pieces of the puzzle.

4 & 5. “Dance or Die” and “57821″ - Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
I can’t say I get the whole album yet — the profound allegory of oppression and emancipation that my most trusted critics assure me is there. Until then, while I certainly appreciate the ambition and the sheer variety, some of the songs just don’t do it for me. Having said that, the songs I do like have a power and energy like nothing else — as well as some of the most pointed politics.  From “Dance or Die”:

Ghettos keep a crying out to streets full of zombies
Kids are killing kids and then the kids join the army
Rising and a waking, yes sir here comes the sun
March into the war and with the kick of the drum
The wiser simians have got the bombs and the guns
So you might as well keep dancing if you’re not gonna run

I include “57821″ because it’s a beautiful contrast in sound that shows Monae’s jaw-dropping range.

6 & 7. “White Sky”/”Cousins” - Vampire Weekend - Contra
I thought of making some hard-and-fast rules for this mix — like only one song per artist — but I clearly break them too easily. One rule I really wanted to keep was to exclude any artist that sold a song for purely commercial purposes. And if you’ve had a TV on the past month, you’ve heard Vampire Weekend doing it twice, as “Holiday” is shilling for both Tommy Hilfiger and Honda. On a related note, I’ve also tried to convince myself that I must be sick of the slick world-pop sound that Vampire Weekend puts out seemingly effortlessly. Yeah, I’m a weak, weak man (who also thinks the conventional wisdom that portrays Vampire Weekend as vapid and shallow preppies or purely ironic jokers misses a fairly consistent social and, yes, political engagement in their lyrics — which admittedly can be a bit obtuse).

8. “Dance Yrself Clean” - LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
I saw LCD live this year at Pitchfork — and it was a transcendent experience. But I have a really tough time enjoying the songs out of a concert — or club (if I went to clubs) — context, even though I dig the musical (and intellectual) smarts of James Murphy. My one exception is a big one, though — as “Dance Yrself Clean” is a multi-leveled musical journey that liberates me from chains I didn’t know I had.

9. “Fembot” - Robyn - Body Talk, Pt. I
This is vintage Robyn — fun, feminist, and irresistible.



10. “Get Some” - Lykke Li - (single)
This is dark, with questionable gender politics … and irresistible.



11. “I Walked” - Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
I’m going to spend the rest of my cultural life waiting for the sequel to Sufjan’s 2005 Illinois, which might be the most beautiful thing ever created.  So, yeah, it’s a bit hard for most of the stuff on the new EP and album to live up to expectations … other than this song, which pretty much recaptures all the magic.

12. “I’m a Pilot” - Fanfarlo - Reservoir
Technically, I think this was released at the end of 2009 — and the band’s been around for a few years — but SXSW this year seems to have been their real coming out. Anyway, I’m claiming it.  It’s an anthem that counter-intuitively invites you to kick back and chill … pretty cool.

13. “Swim Until You Can’t Meet Land” - Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
They were a disappointment live — not because they didn’t bring the energy or because their Scottish anthemic folk-rock didn’t translate well — but because their fans were a bunch of drunk-ass jerks.  It’s a testimony to the escapist power of a song like “Swim” — that by the middle of it I’ve forgotten that experience and am drifting on the emotional extremes where most of their music exists.

14. “King of Spain” - The Tallest Man on Earth - Wild Hunt
This shouldn’t work. A Swedish Bob Dylan?  But watch his Take-Away Show at La Blogotheque and tell me you don’t just want to take him home. He also knows his way around a guitar and a melody.

15. “O.N.E.” - Yeasayer - Odd Blood
Yeasayer makes me feel the sheer joy of musical possibility — the blending of American Pop and a World rhythm and sensibility. “O.N.E.” is the best of a strong bunch.


16 & 17. “Tell ‘Em”/”Rill Rill” - Sleigh Bells - Treats
Okay, I’ve tried, but I can’t really listen to any other songs on this album, and there’s a good chance their sound will not endure. But I can’t stop listening to this pair of songs from opposite ends of the album. They both do the pop-industrial thing really well — while, as a counterpoint, capturing a youthful, feminine vulnerability that is undeniably genuine.

18. “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” - The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
It was going to be hard for them to recapture the authentic, old-fashioned rock passion of The ‘59 Sound — and most of this album is a slightly inferior but still worthwhile listen. But “The Queen” brings it all back, while its slightly more restrained jangling might hint at something new.

19. “Stay Close” - Delorean - Subiza
The best background music of the year — and I mean that is the most complimentary way possible. It’s simple but thoroughly enjoyable.


20. “Zebra” - Beach House - Teen Dream
Somewhat disappointed when I saw them live — their soft sound didn’t really transfer — but if it’s quiet and you want to lose yourself in harmonic ecstasy, this one was made for the headphones.


21. “Terrible Love” - The National - High Violet
I couldn’t decide what to pick off this album — so I just grabbed the first track, which never fails to grab me in its slow-building web. Somehow, The National constructed an album that didn’t stray much from their formula but that contains a set of utterly distinct and substantial songs.

22. “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” - The New Pornographers - Together
I’m a late arrival to The New Pornographers party, coming through the Neko Case back door.  But, especially when Neko lends her voice, I’m – what shall we say – hooked?


23. “World Sick” - Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Most of Broken Social Scene’s songs are quirky and resist a coherency that would provide a type of pop satisfaction (and I’m sure they like it that way). This is not to say that “World Sick” is a pop song — it’s too weary and wandering for that — but it holds together in a way that give the listener faith that while the world might suck, a good song can carve out a few minutes of respite.

24 & 25. “A More Perfect Union”/”The Battle of Hampton Roads” - Titus Andronicus - Monitor
The best (recorded) musical moment of the year might be the last 5 minutes of “Hampton Roads,” as the horns turn into bagpipes which turn into raging yet stunningly melodic guitar ecstasy. But that’s just a third of the song! The 10-minute build-up is pretty kick-ass as well, but if you’re looking for a tighter, yet still sprawling history-lesson-as-personal-allegory, “Union” might be the most urgent song of the year.
New Article: Ralph, Frank and George: The Persisting Cultural Logic of American Individualism http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/new-article-ralph-frank-and-george-the-persisting-cultural-logic-of-american-individualism http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/new-article-ralph-frank-and-george-the-persisting-cultural-logic-of-american-individualism#comments Sun, 31 Jan 2010 14:36:37 +0000 Bernie http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4207

In , Jim Curtis reassesses George W. Bush’s presidency — and life — as an extreme form of American individualism.  Taking the worst (or best?) from such varied icons as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frank Sinatra, Bush lives in a very comfortable, very American, bubble:

Now that George W. Bush’s career in politics is over, the time has come to figure out how he created the persona that mesmerized so many people for such a long time, and how he can remain in denial about the effects of his disastrous years in office.

Although he was a self-made man, he lacked serious professional or business credentials. He wasn’t talented enough to create a persona for himself, as Cary Grant did, and he wasn’t smart to do what Bill Clinton did - tweak the persona he grew up with. So, how did he do it?

He borrowed a persona that was readily available to him, one that met with the approval of the men at the country clubs and private compounds where he grew up. Bush modeled his public persona on that of Frank Sinatra.

Taking on this persona solved some crucial problems for Bush, both in relation to his father and to the rest of the world. More than anything else, Bush was the product of the marriage of politics and show business.

“When I get out of here, I’m getting off the stage,” Bush said at his . “I believe there ought to be one person in the klieg lights at a time, and I’ve had my time in the klieg lights.”

He thought of himself first and foremost, not as a politician, but as a performer. And not just any performer, but as a star — like Sinatra.

Continue reading “.”

Ralph, Frank and George: The Persisting Cultural Logic of American Individualism http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/ralph-frank-and-george-the-persisting-cultural-logic-of-american-individualism http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/ralph-frank-and-george-the-persisting-cultural-logic-of-american-individualism#comments Sun, 31 Jan 2010 14:31:21 +0000 Bernie http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4205 Now that George W. Bush’s career in politics is over, the time has come to figure out how he created the persona that mesmerized so many people for such a long time, and how he can remain in denial about the effects of his disastrous years in office.

Although he was a self-made man, he lacked serious professional or business credentials. He wasn’t talented enough to create a persona for himself, as Cary Grant did, and he wasn’t smart to do what Bill Clinton did: tweak the persona he grew up with. So, how did he do it?

He borrowed a persona that was readily available to him, one that met with the approval of the men at the country clubs and private compounds where he grew up. Bush modeled his public persona on that of Frank Sinatra.

Taking on this persona solved some crucial problems for Bush, both in relation to his father and to the rest of the world. More than anything else, Bush was the product of the marriage of politics and show business.

“When I get out of here, I’m getting off the stage,” Bush said at his . “I believe there ought to be one person in the klieg lights at a time, and I’ve had my time in the klieg lights.”

He thought of himself first and foremost, not as a politician, but as a performer. And not just any performer, but as a star — like Sinatra.

To understand how this happened, we have to agree that major stars have a significance that transcends their personalities, and, as in Sinatra’s case, even their extraordinary talent. We have to agree that we adore stars because they represent individualism writ large; they live lives that we find gratifying because we’re glad that somebody lives like that, even if we can’t.

Bush’s “” persona had great appeal because it was rooted in the American grain. Since he did not think of himself as a politician, he was no more a conservative than he was a liberal, in any rigorous sense of those terms. He was, however, a narcissistic individualist. (See his remark above about serving as president as a matter of one person being under the klieg lights, a show business term few would know or use spontaneously.)

The intense centralization of decision-making in the White House, and the intense secrecy that surrounded the decision-making process, are hallmarks of an individualist who deeply, sincerely and passionately believed that he was empowered to do whatever he wanted to do.

* * * * *

If you listen to Bush talk, you wouldn’t think that he had ever heard, or heard of, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. In the cosseted world of the very rich, the music and the turmoil of the 60s passed him by. The formative period of Bush’s life, the years when he was at Andover and Yale (he graduated in the apocalyptic year of 1968), was the heyday of rock and roll; less obviously, it was also Sinatra’s finest hour.

In 1965, the year of Bob Dylan’s epoch-making “Like a Rolling Stone,” Sinatra’s “September of My Years” went to #5 on the album charts and won a Grammy for Album of the Year; in 1967 his “A Man and His Music” won another Grammy. His singles did well, too. In 1966, “Strangers in the Night” went to #1, and Sinatra won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In 1969, he recorded Paul Anka’s “My Way,” the ultimate Emersonian song, which became the theme song of the last phase of his astonishing career, and one of the great American standards.

Although Sinatra raised mainstream singing, what the French call the music of “juste milieu,” to great art, his fans had similar singers to admire. People listened to rock and roll on radio stations, and on albums. The singers of the “juste milieu,” mostly Italian-Americans, appeared on television. Sinatra’s fellow Italian-Americans on television at the time included Perry Como, whose “Kraft Music Hall” ran from 1959 to 1967. And Sinatra himself appeared from time to time on “The Dean Martin Show,” which ran from 1965 to 1974.

As Maureen Dowd once put it, the Bush White House seemed a lot like the Rat Pack redux, and during Bush’s last days in the White House  noted the relevance of “My Way,” as in: “Regrets - I’ve had a few.”

But there’s more to the Bush-Sinatra connection than this. During his years at Yale, Bush felt overshadowed by his highly visible father, but that had been the case for a long time. At Yale he encountered a new problem: He found himself surrounded by over-achievers who were smarter and more disciplined than he was. Sinatra offered an alternative, and even more visible, version of success in America.

Despite Sinatra’s consummate professionalism, Bush likely saw the singer as a guy who was having a ring-ding-ding good time, getting laid, and making lots of money. And Sinatra’s music offered a non-threatening alternative to the weird rock and roll that his brilliant classmates were grooving to.

It’s an uncanny experience to listen to Sinatra’s 11-minute monologue in the middle of , a Las Vegas concert date with Count Basie’s Orchestra recorded in early 1966, because it foreshadows characteristic features that Bush would display as president, including telling jokes about friends and assigning affectionate (if somewhat awkward) nicknames.

As the urbane host, Sinatra greets the guests and apologizes for the ongoing repairs. Wanting to make people laugh, Sinatra tells aggressive jokes about his father and stories about his friends.

Mike Wallace once asked Sinatra how he wanted to be remembered, and Sinatra answered, “I want to be remembered as a man who had friends.” When asked who he turned to for advice, Bush said, “I listen to my friends.”

Bush — like Sinatra — divided the world into friends and enemies. Enemies were to be vilified and friends were to be defended at all costs. Bush paid a huge political price for keeping on Donald Rumsfeld as long as he did — as furious Republicans told him after the elections in 2006.

Like the Rat Pack, Bush’s inner circle was mostly made up, of course, of white males. Some applauded Sinatra for inviting Sammy Davis Jr. into his inner circle and bringing Sammy onstage with him in Las Vegas. (In 1968, Davis wrote a song that expresses the Emersonian imperative of the self: “I Gotta Be Me.” It was a big hit.) Bush’s equivalent was Alberto Gonzales. For all his misogyny, Sinatra did admit women such as Shirley McLaine as honorary members of the Rat Pack, just as Bush admitted Condoleezza Rice, Harriet Myers and Karen Hughes into his inner circle.

Sinatra’s aggression that comes across in his monologue was only the tip of the iceberg. His greatness as a singer co-existed with his willingness to use his Mafia connections to get what he wanted (most famously, to get the part of Angelo Maggio in the 1953 film “”).

At the time when Sinatra recorded his monologue, the biggest issue in Bush’s life was whether fraternity pledges should be branded. Later, Bush’s own aggression would manifest in willful acceptance of false justifications for war and tacit approval of torture.

* * * * *

While Sinatra is interesting to consider as the paradigm for Bush, to understand the 43rd president in the long-term evolution of American society, we can look to the father of American individualism, . We have about a century and a half of American individualism encapsulated in three unoriginal names: Ralph, Frank and George.

While Emerson’s essays comprise some of the key documents of our intellectual history, their meaning changes as we read them in light of current events. Emerson is a seminal figure in American life precisely because he articulated some of the fundamental principles of our society — principles that long ago were absorbed into our national consciousness. Many Americans can be considered Emersonian individualists, even though they might deny — as Bush probably would — ever reading the essays.

Here’s one of Emerson’s most famous passages, from “Nature”:

Standing on the bare ground — and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball — I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me — I am part or particle of God — In the wilderness, I have something more connate and dear than in the streets or villages.

When Emerson walks through the woods alone, he absorbs the universe. In this godlike state, he has no friends or family, and hence no relationships; he is far from society, and there are no laws that affect him. How could they? He is Everything. No one else is there, so no one else matters.

Emerson believed so passionately in individualism that he could never understand or deal with society or with social institutions. Consider Emerson’s views on organizations: “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” Emerson died in 1882, during the rise of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, robber barons who would have heartily endorsed this principle. They wanted to have the total freedom that Emerson’s ideal man in the woods has, except that they wanted to exercise this freedom in the context of a giant corporation, where they would have absolute authority over the people who worked under them.

What about laws and regulations? Emerson says in “Nature”: “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.” Or, more trenchantly, in “Politics,” Emerson says, “The law is only a memorandum.” The natural man lives apart from society, and is therefore above something as petty as society’s laws-and not just when he’s walking in the woods. Rockefeller and Carnegie acted as though they were above the law; so did Henry Ford in the 30s, when he organized gangs of thugs who broke up the unions that threatened his autonomy.

With these quotations in mind, we can understand Bush for what he was: the purest Emersonian individualist in the history of American public life. Like Emerson, he believed that any law was “only a memorandum” - and he acted on that belief. Like Emerson, he believed that an institution — such as the federal government — is the lengthened shadow of one man, so that he could say, “I’m the decider.” Emerson, paraphrasing Louis XIV (”L’etat c’est moi.”), had said, “The wise man is the state.” Bush believed this so thoroughly and unconsciously that he had little respect for the expertise of scientists and lawyers.

Emerson said, in a much-anthologized quote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Although that’s the famous part, the very relevant second half of the sentence goes like this: “[It is] adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Was Bush clueless about the world around him? He never left the United States before he became president. Emerson would not have cared: “The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays home.”

When teachers explain Emerson’s Great Man theory of history to students, they usually leave out the historical context. It is after all so much easier just to analyze the words on the page than to relate them to historical events. What teachers and commentators don’t say when they praise Emerson as the father of American individualism is that he advocated something like corporate kingship. For Emerson, the CEO served as a replacement for the hereditary king that his grandfather’s generation had overthrown in the revolution.

This is why Emerson provides a coherent way to make sense of Bush’s often incoherent statements. Whatever he was as a politician, Bush was a believer. He believed, devoutly, in a later development of what Emerson believed in: the divine right of corporate kings. He believed in the entitlement of men like himself — CEOs, hedge fund managers, oil barons and the like — to get richer.

To put it in theological terms, Bush believed in a form of Calvinistic predestination: Given that these guys have gotten rich, that’s a clear sign that it is God’s will for them to be rich, and the only righteous action for a true believer is to do everything possible to make them richer. A true believer will then reduce taxes on the rich and remove regulations that they can enjoy the kind of autonomy that Henry Ford so violently defended. When understood in this way, Bush’s policies have a consistent internal logic — as do Republican politics.

Ronald Reagan’s famous statement “Government is not the solution; government is the problem,” sounds very much like a paraphrase of Emerson’s principle in “Politics”: “The less government we have the better -the fewer laws, and the less conflicted power.”

In the same essay, Emerson goes so far as to say, “Every actual State is corrupt.” If every actual state is corrupt, then the proper thing to do is to reduce corruption by reducing the state as much as possible. As a practical matter for Reagan and for Bush, this meant reducing restrictions on the actions of the man in charge, and if this means ignoring the doctrine of the separation of powers in order to make a CEO as much like a king as possible, so be it.

Born to great, unearned wealth, Bush’s ambition, fueled by the ever-present, gnawing need to outdo his father, was the political equivalent of greed. He let nothing stand in the way of his ambition, and he wanted nothing in the form of regulations or laws to stand in the way of the rich men’s rapaciousness.

* * * * *

Interpreting Republican politics and principles as applied Emersonian individualism, and thus as a denial of community, gives us a way of connecting politics and show business. Republican action heroes - from John Wayne and Charlton Heston to Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris and actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - have all been proponents of the unshakeable American belief in the primacy of the Self over laws. That belief leads to dramatic action, in which one man triumphs over evil, and makes for exciting movies.

The American belief in the primacy of Self also makes for exciting reading. The very title of Mickey Spillane’s classic 1947 novel “,” shows how the functions of judge, jury, and executioner are combined in the unified sensibility of the individualist, in this case, Mike Hammer, Spillane’s tough detective. Probably no single work so clearly shows the underlying rationale for Bush’s attitude toward laws and regulations.

The Republican action heroes who came after Mike Hammer gained fame and fortune by acting out the principle that the Strong Man (Emerson says the “Wise Man”) embodies the law, and therefore whatever he does is justified. Eastwood, for example, was never more Emersonian than in his signature role of Dirty Harry. In the Republican fantasy series “24,” Kiefer Sutherland played Jack Bauer, a version of Dirty Harry who happens to work for a counter-terrorism unit. In the show, the government is always corrupt or incompetent, so Jack has handy justification for operating outside it.

Such individualists must resort to violence in order to maintain autonomy; they’re taken from the isolation of the forest and plunged into the thick of society, which hampers them at every turn and restricts their freedom of choice.

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in “” states another principle of Emersonian individualism when he says, “Everything is personal.” If everything is personal, then America as a society disappears. There are no laws, and certainly no regulations; there are only relationships. When applied to politics, this principle means that there are no substantive social or political issues — there is only biography and narrative. How easy it then becomes for amoral marketing geniuses like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove to win elections by creating vicious attack ads and inventing wedge issues.

Bush bears responsibility for his failed presidency, although he will continue to deny it for the rest of his life. His failure is also the failure of untrammeled Emersonian individualism in the age of the global village. It also shows up in the blurring of show business and politics. We find it hard to distinguish between performers and politicians. Bush certainly couldn’t.

Super Bowl History: "Our National Exaggeration" Through the Years http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/super-bowl-history-our-national-exaggeration-through-the-years http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/super-bowl-history-our-national-exaggeration-through-the-years#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2010 23:25:40 +0000 Richard C. Crepeau http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4203 From its modest beginnings at the AFL-NFL Championship Game in Los Angeles in 1967, through to this year’s , Super Sunday has grown exponentially and, in the process, has become a bloated monster. Over the past quarter century or so, Super Sunday has illustrated the ability of a sporting event to offer a distorted and exaggerated version of social reality and social values in America, and it has done so on a grand, glorious and obscene scale.

It is difficult to say precisely when the Super Bowl reached larger-than-life proportions, but certainly by the end of the 1970s it was there. At Super Bowl XV in 1981, a claimed that 70,000 fans made “New Orleans Throb with Super Bowl Mania.” Gerald Eskenazi’s account described a “gridlock” of people in the French Quarter and an influx of “tens of millions” of dollars into the New Orleans economy.

The extravagances of the fans and everyone associated with the game had reached extraordinary proportions. Only the vocabulary created by , the Norwegian-American economist who tracked the habits of the rich in the late 19th century, was capable of fully capturing the scene with such brilliant phrases as “conspicuous consumption,” “conspicuous leisure” and “conspicuous waste.”

The fact that all of this takes place around a football game would have delighted Veblen, who once observed that football is to education as bullfighting is to agriculture. Indeed, Veblen’s use of the phrases “predatory barbarism,” “pecuniary emulation” and “vicarious consumption” also seem particularly well suited to any description of our distinctive national holiday.

One of the most common measures of excess has been the . At the first Super Bowl, a 30-second commercial sold for $42,500 on CBS and $37,500 on NBC (both networks broadcast the game). By the early 80’s, the price for 30 seconds reached $400,000, and by the end of the decade it was a whopping $800,000. Thirty seconds of advertising reached the $1 million mark in 1995 and climbed to $2.1 million in 2000. In 2007, the price tag was $2.6 million, and estimates for this year range from $2.6 to $3 million.

The first claims of a positive economic impact on the host city were made for Miami at the second Super Bowl. Hotels sold out for the first time in mid-January, normally a quiet season following the holidays. Eastern Airlines reported brisk business as it took part in package tours. The best restaurants had waiting lists, while the vendors at the game expected record sales from the sellout crowd.

Super Bowl V in Miami was the first game officially designated by Roman numerals (the numerals also appeared on the tickets), although Roman numerals were used on the official logo for Super Bowl II. In the press, the term “Super Bowl” was used from the beginning.

The commissioner’s party in the Imperial Age of became one of the biggest and most opulent events, as well as the most sought after party invitations of the festival. After a modest beginning, it quickly outgrew the capacity of any mere hotel ballroom. This led to some magnificent event venues. At Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles, the commissioner played host aboard the Queen Mary. At Super Bowl VIII in Houston, the party occupied the expanse of the Astrodome and included a giant barbecue, with pigs roasting on spits. Commissioner’s parties in Miami were held at Hialeah Racetrack and at Miami Airport’s International Terminal, just prior to its opening. For that venue, the NFL hired 600 musicians from 14 Caribbean nations.

The cost of the 1978 NFL party was $75,000, a figure that drew some critical comment. Pete Rozelle responded to critics — and unintentionally proved their point — by noting that it may be fashionable to knock money and the Super Bowl, but “you think about money all the time with the Super Bowl, more than any other sports event. That’s because it’s a one-shot event.”

An Oakland Raider executive was closer to the mark: “The measurement of what it means is this: It’s the victory. It’s the cult of Number Oneism.”

The number and size of the parties have grown over the years, and in some circles the commissioner’s bash has been eclipsed by the ESPN Party, the Playboy Party and the Maxim Party.

Super Bowl VII in L.A. in 1973 offered the first major signs of the merging of business and the Super Bowl. Salesmen were there as rewards for their prowess, in what The New York Times called “the perfect marriage of sports and commerce that the National Football League’s Championship game has become.” Product tie-ins became commonplace; Sears sold sweaters and pajamas, bed spreads, pennants and posters.

At the public level, excess has always been a part of the scene. For Super Bowl XXII in San Diego, a Super Salad was tossed in Tijuana. It was a 14-foot long, 8-foot wide, and 18-inch deep Caesar salad made from 840 heads of romaine lettuce, 1,400 ounces of garlic oil, 175 lemons, 350 cups of croutons, 980 ounces of parmesan cheese and 840 eggs.

Arriving in Minneapolis for Super Bowl XXVI, visitors to the Twin Cities were greeted at the airport by pianists playing four grand pianos. In downtown Minneapolis, 25 tons of heated sand were dumped in the International Market Square to accommodate 500 people for a beach party. Veblen would have savored this example of the reversal of nature. A sister party was hosted by former Washington Redskin running back John Riggins in Cancun, Mexico.

Corporate America followed suit with its parties and tents. In 1985, at Super Bowl XIX in Palo Alto, Calif., 26 of the nation’s largest corporations set up tents for pre- and post-game parties costing from $250 to $350 per person.

Some 200 corporations took part in the Super Bowl XXX celebration. Large corporations flew in hundreds of employees and spent up to $5 million. Smaller companies wined and dined clients at five-figure costs. There were 35 corporate tents set up in Miami near the stadium for Super Bowl XXX. When this practice began in 1984 there were 12 tents in Tampa. Bigger is better, and better will never be big enough.

By 2001, if you didn’t arrive by private jet for the Super Bowl, why come at all? It is estimated that more than 1,000 private jets landed at the several airports in the Tampa Bay area starting on Super Thursday. This was double the number of private and corporate jets that arrived for College Basketball’s Final Four in 1999.

If private planes and helicopters seemed too plebeian, then “Silent Wings II” offered an alternative. This modest 104-foot yacht featured a staff of four, including a gourmet chef, and “his” and “her” bathrooms in the largest of the suites. Included in the deal were six luxury suite tickets to the big game and a chauffeured Rolls-Royce. The cost? A modest $100,000. The Super Bowl was consistently the priciest event in Sportsworld, and of course worth every tax-deductible dollar.

A former prostitute once told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Pimps see the Super Bowl as a moneymaking opportunity delivered by God.” From special service in the private suites to the halftime quickie, the demand side of the economic equation is highly active. Successful executives on corporate expense accounts display their macho and their cash to grateful clients. New Orleans may be the best Super Bowl city in this respect, but places like Scottsdale, Ariz., advertised 25 escort services, and in Minneapolis, escort services offered a 10 percent discount for the Super Bowl. South Beach will certainly not be found lacking in this respect.

By the 1970s, social analysts were examining Super Bowl rituals. Warren Farrell, author of “The Liberated Man,” a study of masculinity in America published in 1974, found men would watch, analyze and critique the game and be ready on Monday to display their expertise in the office. Farrell pointed to a linkage within “a closed circuit effect” which ties “televised professional football, masculinity, anxiety, sexism, patriotism, religion and war,” and to question any element in the circuit is to risk having your masculinity questioned. A “mini-all-male club” has been created where women serve as water-boys bringing in the beer and chips.

In times of national crisis, patriotism is put on excessive display. There is nothing else quite like a super-sized American flag covering the entire football field while jet fighters or stealth bombers buzz the stadium at the conclusion of the national anthem.

The halftime show is one of the few areas where the Super Bowl has come up short, as it usually features a musical group whose popularity has . This makes some sense, however, since it provides musical nostalgia for the current generation of successful business executives who populate the Super Bowl scene.

To me, the greatest pre-game and halftime combination occurred in 1993 in Pasadena, when O.J. Simpson handled the coin toss, and Michael Jackson performed at halftime. Who knew then what a marvelous and historic daily double this would be? And of course Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake will live forever in Super Bowl lore for introducing “” into everyday American speech.

If sponsored by Focus on the Family has you wondering about the mixing of religious views with the Super Bowl, it should be pointed out that the only thing new is that it will now appear on the sacred stage of Super Bowl commercials.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale famously said at Super Bowl X: “If Jesus were alive today, he would be at the Super Bowl.” Sites such as sell Super Bowl outreach kits so you can have a Christian Super Bowl party in your own home. This year’s 20-minute DVD (ideal for the halftime show) features Chad Pennington and Carson Palmer.

There used to be a Reggie White Christian Super Bowl website that offered pre-game, halftime, and post-game prayer service suggestions. One of his videos was credited with “saving” 30 young people in Melbourne, while a reported 4,200 Reggie White Super Bowl parties led to 2,500 decisions for Christ.

Religious involvement seems to be one of the largest growth areas of the Super Bowl extravaganza. Tim Tebow joins the parade with his “anti-abortion” or “pro-life” message, depending on which side of the issue you find yourself, while CBS strikes a simultaneous blow for free speech and hypocrisy. Tebow is now part of a Super Bowl tradition, and if Reggie White produced all those conversions, the mind boggles at what the Messiah of Gator Nation will beget.

In the end, of course, when all is said and done, much more is said than done, and that is as it should be at the Super Bowl.

In 1925, sportswriter called Babe Ruth “Our National Exaggeration.” A better descriptive phrase for the Super Bowl would be hard to find.

A December to Remember: The Wide World of Sports Turns Wackiest Before the Dawn http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/a-december-to-remember-the-wide-world-of-sports-turns-wackiest-before-the-dawn http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2010/01/a-december-to-remember-the-wide-world-of-sports-turns-wackiest-before-the-dawn#comments Sat, 02 Jan 2010 18:00:55 +0000 Richard C. Crepeau http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4200 December closed with a remarkable flurry of headline sports stories. It was not only one for the memory bank, but it may have been the most fitting way to end the decade known as the Naughty Aughties. What seemed like an awkward tag at the beginning of the new century has become a most appropriate signature phrase.

The first shock was the fall from grace of the poster boy for clean living and family values. Tiger Woods instantly went from the slickest brand in the American pantheon of commerce to the butt of jokes and ridicule.

IMG, the International Management Group, had persuaded nearly all major sport corporate sponsors that Woods was their man: the perfect golfer with the perfect image, the quintessential sportsman. Everybody loved Tiger, admired Tiger, wanted to be like Tiger.

We all got on board, even though we should have known better. America still wants its sports heroes cut from the Frank Merriwell at Yale mode, and Tiger Woods of Stanford looked like one of them.

Instead, Tiger is the perfect hollow man, lacking a center and lost without a compass — except for the one on his yacht that has become his shelter from the firestorm.

Typical in cases like this, the media that touted the Tiger Brand as the genuine article turned with fury and self-righteousness on its former model of perfection. Even more amusing is how quickly the corporate world cut its ties to the feline philanderer.

Accenture, one of the major corporations that identified its brand with his brand, quickly began removing all images of Woods from company advertisements. Tag Hauer, the Swiss luxury watchmaker, announced it would scale down its association with Woods. Procter and Gamble lowered their Tiger profile by withdrawing its Gillette ads featuring Woods. Then on its Woods connection.

Only Nike has remained completely faithful, with Phil Knight saying that this whole thing was but a minor blip. There have been no TV commercials featuring Woods on television since late November. Tiger Woods has vanished from public view and from the branded world in which we live. It is doubtful, however, that sex has disappeared from the PGA tour or other sporting venues.

Sex and sport are inextricably linked. Faux sex surrounds all our sporting events, where young women called “cheerleaders” and “dancers” decorate the landscape with wiggles, jiggles and giggles passing as a cross between glamorous role models and purveyors of sexual titillation. Then there’s the real sex, as women make themselves available to athletes, and star athletes take it as a perk of the position.

The is an adjunct to the Tiger Woods affair. Sending young women from the University of Tennessee out to a high school football game on a recruiting trip is about as bad as it gets. The stories of attractive young women traveling hundreds of miles to see and be seen with naïve high school athletes who are targets on the football recruiting board point to issues of sexual access and the insane pressures surrounding intercollegiate athletics.

Such insanity was on display in Florida recently as Urban Meyer, head football coach and minor deity, from coaching, citing his health. An outpouring of grief and angst flowed throughout Gatorland. Then Meyer reversed his decision. He will now take a leave of absence until he gets control of his world. This is comparable to most of us giving up breathing until we could live without having to do it constantly.

Meyer invoked health, family and a sign from God in his decision to retire. In one of the best lines on the whole matter, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel described the reversal as Meyer calling . The toll intercollegiate football takes on coaches is well beyond that of only a decade ago, when there was still a sliver of sanity on some campuses. Today, everyone must win now, and win every year, and not just have a winning record but win a national championship. And preferably more than one.

Intercollegiate madness of a slightly different sort played out in Lubbock, Texas, where as head football coach at Texas Tech after 10 winning seasons. Leach’s problem was not unlike that of Urban Meyer, only Leach took out the pressures on one of his players rather than on himself. As events unfolded, it appeared that Leach had seen too many prison films: He locked up one of his players in isolation because the player couldn’t perform on the field due to a concussion. Or so the story goes.

Leach denies all charges and gave a rambling interview with ESPN that resembled Bogart discussing the key to the strawberries. He also charges Craig James, ESPN analyst and father of the player Leach put in lockdown, with being a meddling father who bothered the head coach about playing time for his son. James has been silent on the matter, but the whole show has the feel of twisted truth on all sides with a dash of madness.

Not to be outdone, Leach’s Texas Tech supporters showed up in a courtroom — where Leach was about to sue to end his suspension — wearing pirate gear. It was in tribute to Leach, who has an interesting fetish for pirates, presumably of a non-Somali variety. The courtroom scene failed to play out when Leach’s status was abruptly changed from suspended to fired. No doubt the pirates will get their day in court at a later date.

Returning to Florida, just in time to air the Gator Sugar Bowl. But before the 11th-hour deal was struck, a local law firm that advertises itself on TV as “Morgan and Morgan, For the People,” had moved to sue on behalf of two Bright House customers. The filing claimed that the two men could “never be made whole” if they missed the game and described News Corp. “as immoral, unethical, oppressive, and unscrupulous.” Perhaps Bright House customers can be made whole by touching the hem of Tim Tebow’s jersey.

By the end of the month it looked as though sports was over-populated by people unable to function sensibly, and most of them, so far as we know, were not suffering the after-effects of a blow to the head.

Then, as if to say wait until you see next

How to Play the Super Bowl: Bruce Springsteen Is Ready to Exploit the Largest of Stages http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/how-to-play-the-super-bowl-bruce-springsteen-is-ready-to-exploit-the-largest-of-stages http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/how-to-play-the-super-bowl-bruce-springsteen-is-ready-to-exploit-the-largest-of-stages#comments Sun, 31 May 2009 16:11:45 +0000 Bernie http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4147 After the latest entry in Richard Crepeau’s annually devastating catalog of the that is the Super Bowl, I am still amazed that Bruuuuce Springsteen has finally agreed to play the halftime show.

But he’s not.  Speaking in an with Jon Pareles of the New York Times, he argues that it is an inevitable extension of the creative process and part of his “big tent” strategy for letting his songbook have a life of its own:

It’s not just my creation at this point, and it hasn’t been really for a long time …. I wanted it to be our creation. Once you set that in motion, it’s a large community of people gathered around a core set of values. Within that there’s a wide range of beliefs, but still you do gather in one tent at a particular moment to have some common experience, and that’s why I go there too.

Before you start thinking this is one big rationalization for selling out, realize that he has never sold his songbook for commercial purposes, and he is someone who still berates himself for little things like an association with Wal-Mart during the marketing of a recent “Greatest Hits” collection:

We were in the middle of doing a lot of things, it kind of came down and, really, we didn’t vet it the way we usually do. We just dropped the ball on it.  Given its labor history, it was something that if we’d thought about it a little longer, we’d have done something different. It was a mistake. Our batting average is usually very good, but we missed that one. Fans will call you on that stuff, as it should be.

In the context of this sense of integrity, it’s beautiful to hear Bruce talk about how the inauguration of Barack Obama has transformed that iconic songbook:

A lot of the core of our songs is the American idea: What is it? What does it mean? ‘Promised Land,’ ‘Badlands,’ I’ve seen people singing those songs back to me all over the world. I’d seen that country on a grass-roots level through the ’80s, since I was a teenager. And I met people who were always working toward the country being that kind of place. But on a national level it always seemed very far away.

And so on election night it showed its face, for maybe, probably, one of the first times in my adult life. I sat there on the couch, and my jaw dropped, and I went, ‘Oh my God, it exists.’ Not just dreaming it. It exists, it’s there, and if this much of it is there, the rest of it’s there. Let’s go get that. Let’s go get it. Just that is enough to keep you going for the rest of your life. All the songs you wrote are a little truer today than they were a month or two ago.

Only Bruce, it seems, can ride the capitalist beast, shake the dirt off and come out feeling cleaner and purer — and “truer” — than ever before.

The Economics of Super Bowl XLIII http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/the-economics-of-super-bowl-xliii http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/the-economics-of-super-bowl-xliii#comments Sat, 30 May 2009 23:19:25 +0000 Richard C. Crepeau http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4146 It is time once again to enter the days of the Roman numerals when excess becomes the norm, hyperbole is accepted as standard English, and the rich demonstrate in no uncertain terms that they are, and you are not. It is also when the middle class, those 85 percent of Americans who identify themselves as such, do their best to wallow in excess.

There is speculation that this Super Bowl may not measure up to the standards of decadence and waste cultivated over the years by the National Football League and those who worship at its shrines. With the economy reeling, Americans are spending less, because they have less, and some think this will slow the madness in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII.

It is difficult to anticipate how the current economy might mute the holiday celebrations, but a cursory survey of the landscape in the run up to Super Bowl XLIII offers only minor signs of a slowdown. Two of the more notable parties have been cancelled, the most prominent being The Playboy Party. With the Playboy Empire already under some duress, the economic downturn no doubt put severe stress on their bottom line (no pun intended). The other cancellation of note, although certainly not in the same league as the Bunny Hutch, is the Sports Illustrated party. But then we know that print media is another sector where economic problems are not new.

It seems that the number of private and corporate jets coming to the Tampa Bay area for the festivities is down. Last year Jets.com booked 55 jet packages for Phoenix; as of Thursday, there were only 18 bookings. More than 500 corporate jets landed at Super Bowl XLII. That number is not expected to be reached this year, although it is not clear if this is a function of corporate belt-tightening or image maintenance prompted by recent criticism of corporate executive excesses and the GM executive fly-in to D.C.

With or without corporate jets, it still holds, as Norman Vincent Peale once said, “If Jesus were alive today, he would be at the Super Bowl.”

It may be that excess is on the wane in Tampa Bay for this edition of our National Excess Holiday, although a quick look at web sites, press reports and ads indicates there will be plenty of opportunity for the practitioners of “conspicuous consumption” and “conspicuous waste.” In fact, there is every reason to believe that Super Bowl XLIII will add to the call to rename Super Sunday as “Thorstein Veblen Day.”

Starting with television, the envelope is being pushed quite hard as the $3 million commercial arrives on you TV screen. Yes, for the first time, a 30-second spot will cost $3 million. Those who are paying this rate — and there is no shortage of advertisers — insist that this is a bargain given the numbers of people in the prime demographic they will reach and the boost in product sales that will result. Not only have rates increased, but the production cost of the commercials themselves continues to rise, as does the sophistication of the technology and resulting product.

DreamWorks is running a 90-second spot in 3-D, promoting its new film, “Monsters v. Aliens.” The 3-D glasses are being distributed by Pepsi, another mega-player, at its store displays. Cost of production for the 3-D ad is not known, but the average cost of standard 30-second commercials is estimated at $5 million.

Among the big ticket events are the Gridiron Greats Dinner of Champions, $1,000 per ticket; the Inside the Huddle Party at Shula’s Steak House, $7,000, with one Super Bowl Ticket included; and the Giving Back Fund’s Big Game VIP Event hosted at a private residence by Ashton Kutcher at $1,000 a pop. All of these will have an overload of sports figures and celebrities in attendance.

The invitation-only events include the Maxim Party, which should more than fill the gap left by the Playboy Party; ESPN the Magazine’s NEXT VIP Gala; and of course the granddaddy of them all, The Commissioner’s Party. Appropriately, an agent will also offer a party. This year the annual Leigh Steinberg Party* at the Lowry Park Zoo on Saturday afternoon will place an emphasis on the more serious side with video uplinks between the troops in Iraq and entertainment and sports figures in what is billed as the first annual (note the American optimism) Stars For Stripes Global Connection.

The party will also celebrate the formation of The Sporting Green Alliance (SGA), the sporting world’s first and only environmental activism organization focused on “greening-up sports,” endorsed by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, eager advocate of off-shore drilling including along the Florida coast.

At the more mundane — though not necessarily less expensive — level, the Tampa Bay area will have an ample supply of prostitutes because, as a former prostitute once said, “Pimps see the Super Bowl as a moneymaking opportunity sent by God.”

Tampa, or at least some in Tampa, claims that the city is the capital of the lap dance. The Mons Venus Strip Club expects to repeat the land office business it enjoyed in 2001 when Tampa hosted Super Bowl XXXV. Mons veteran Bernie Notte, who will come out of retirement during the Super Bowl festivities, earned $6,000 in four days and danced so much her feet bled. Customers paid $100 for a $25 lap dance.

The Italian Club will offer four nights of themed parties at a cost of $50 to $200 each. The opener on Thursday, “The Art of Sexy VIP Party,” is a Red Carpet affair with suggested attire: “Simple Sexy.” The Sunday night affair is “I Am Legend Retired Players VIP Party, The Official After Game Old School Jam.” Suggested attire is “Just Bring it.” This party will be spread over three floors, have six DJ’s, five bars, NFL players, and live entertainment.

Indications are that the number of parties being offered and the levels of expenditure involved are not any different than what is normal for the Super Bowl. It is also likely that the number of Super Bowl parties across the country will match those of the past, be they formal or informal gatherings.

How big a factor the economic downturn is will only be known when all the numbers are crunched over the next few weeks. When it is all over, the figures of Super Bowl XXXV — during which Americans consumed 8 million pounds of guacamole; 14,500 tons of chips; and antacid sales registered a 20-percent increase, will likely be surpassed.

After all, records are meant to be broken.

Correction: This story originally stated that the Leigh Steinberg Super Bowl party would feature a massage cabana and oxygen bar. Those were highlights from last year.

The Politics of Crazy http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/the-politics-of-crazy http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/the-politics-of-crazy#comments Fri, 29 May 2009 21:24:19 +0000 Bernie http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4145 One of the most fascinating angles to the Rod Blagojevich saga is the reaction of mental health professionals to everyone calling him “crazy” or “cuckoo.” As the Chicago Tribune reports:

The language offends many and blames mental illness for alleged criminal behavior, they say.

Ann Raney, CEO for Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center in Skokie, said the center’s board members were so disturbed about the name-calling that they devoted much of a meeting last week to talking about it.

“We need to be clear that unethical or confusing or bad behavior should never be construed as mental illness,” Raney said.

On the contrary, statistics show that people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than they are to be perpetrators, said Fran McClain, program director for the Josselyn Center for Mental Health in Northfield.

of Springfield, IL, want to make it clear that Blagojevich might very well have a “narcissistic personality disorder,” but that does not make him crazy.

While Blagojevich’s outrageousness might be funny to some — it’s clearly the greatest thing to hit the cable news networks since the election — the reaction gives me pause. 

Although the articles don’t explicity note it, it seems obvious that these mental health professionals are trying to fight stereotypes and misconceptions of mental illness that pervade our media.  Television dramas and films rarely treat the full complexities of mental illness, choosing to focus the most extreme and sensational cases rather than the disorders that many “regular” people live with everyday. 

That means — more than anything else – a focus on violence and aggressive, criminal behavior of people with mental illness.  It’s the basis, after all, of more than one horror movie franchise.

I have Tivo’d “Wonderland” — a show about the daily workings of a psychiatric ward, which DirecTV is reviving after an aborted run on ABC a few years back.  I’ll report back if I find anything ground-breaking, but DirecTV’s heavy promotional campaign, which has inundated subscribers for months, does little to change any minds.  The chairs are flying, the patients are screaming … and I imagine real doctors and mental health advocates sighing yet again.

]]> http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/the-politics-of-crazy/feed Judge Sotomayor's Grand Slam http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/judge-sotomayors-grand-slam http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2009/05/judge-sotomayors-grand-slam#comments Wed, 27 May 2009 20:43:33 +0000 Richard C. Crepeau http://www.poppolitics.com/?p=4180 , President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, attracted my attention in the spring of 1995 when she that that prevented a World Series in 1994 and threatened to destroy the 1995 baseball season.

Not only is Judge Sotomayor an excellent choice for the Supreme Court, but she also belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame as the . What follows is a radio commentary I wrote for WUCF-FM in Orlando on April 5, 1995.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After nearly eight months, some 232 days after it began, the strike by major league baseball players ended not at the bargaining table, but as the result of a judicial ruling by the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York.

At age 40, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is the first Puerto Rican appointed to the bench in this predominantly Puerto Rican district. A Yale Law Graduate, who grew up in South Bronx just a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, she was appointed to the bench by former Yale first-baseman George Bush on the recommendation of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Richard Nixon’s designated hitter.

In her ruling, Judge Sotomayor clearly upheld the decision of the NLRB which found the owners in violation of labor law by imposing new conditions of employment on the players after unilaterally declaring an impasse in negotiations. She ordered the owners to restore the previous rules including salary arbitration, competitive bidding for free agents, and the anti-collusion provisions of the free agent rules.

The judge said that collective bargaining process was being threatened, and that she was re-enforcing the NLRB’s protection of the “spirit and the letter of federal labor law….” She also told owners they must return to her courtroom before they can declare an impasse in negotiations in the future.

The legal experts seem to agree that it was a very strong decision, and the owner’s lawyers thought it so strong that a lockout could put the owners in a position where they would be liable for players’ salaries, to the tune of $5 million a day.

The owners had clearly lost as they were told they were in violation of federal law and must rescind their actions. This does not mean that the players won. All it means is that we are back to square one. The players are back at work, there is no contract agreement, the parties remain far apart on the issues, and little or nothing has been resolved as a result of the eight month strike.

What has happened is that the players and owners have managed to anger the public and one another, and perhaps have done permanent damage to the major league baseball goose, which has been laying golden eggs for the past several years. What the coming season will bring remains a major question.

What it will not bring, or is not likely to bring, is a lockout or strike before the end of the World Series. The trauma of the past few months should have had a sobering enough impact on players, owners, and negotiators to keep anyone from reopening the wound.

Whether there will be a settlement is equally doubtful, although the pressures to settle have been intensified. The owners know that before they can declare an impasse again they must reappear before Judge Sotomayor, before whom they remain hitless. The players know that if they would walk again the public would never forgive them, and it is likely that many players would not walk a second time.

As to the state of the negotiations, there has been one major change. The player’s position on a luxury tax moved from total opposition to an acceptance of the principle of a tax. The owners position has not changed at all. What the players want is a tax that will be low enough that it will not inhibit free agency, while the owners want a tax that will effectively be a salary cap limiting free agency. The gulf between these two positions is enormous, but at least the two parties are talking about the same issue in the same vocabulary.

Meanwhile the structure is in chaos. Over 100 free agents are on the market, and more are likely to join them when those eligible for arbitration are released. There have been no significant revenues coming into the game in the past eight months, and the projected revenues for the coming year, especially from television, will be way down.

We do not know where all these free agents will end up playing, but we do know that market forces will dictate considerably lower salaries for everyone but the superstars. Bill Veeck’s old complaint that it was the .220 hitter who was overpaid is about to be addressed.

The other great unknown is how the fans will react. There will of course be the predictable booing on opening day. The early reception will be hostile, but over the months that will diminish. More significant will be such longer term indicators as game attendance trends, television ratings, corporate sponsorships, player endorsement contracts, and the all important sale of official team merchandise.

And most significant of all, will the two parties in this dispute finally return to the bargaining table and reach agreement? If they do not, nothing else will matter.