April 05, 2003

The last two years, I never motivated myself to go out to the ballpark until late-September. This year, I held out until game four of the season, attending last night's Angels-A's game in Oakland. To no one's surprise, Kevin Appier stunk; the A's (especially Miguel Tejada and new acquisition Erubiel Durazo) teed off on the weak s*** he was tossing, and ended up winning, 7-3. The highlight of the evening was convincing three-year old daughter of my host, Annamae Parsons, that the reason why the A's have an elephant as a mascot was because of the alcohol-induced halucinations of Jimmy Foxx.

April 04, 2003

CAL alums go crazy over this sort of article: an athletic team so successful that rival coaches bemoan it as being harmful to the sport. Of course, its rugby, a sport the Bears have dominated for 120 years. This year's team just beat Stanford, 98-0(!), usually have to insert the back-ups early in the game just to prevent the other side from suffering serious injuries, and appear headed for yet another national championship. Well, they used to say the same thing about the Wooden Era teams at UCLA. GO BEARS !!
Far right columnist Michael Kelly was killed in a humvee accident in Iraq this morning. My condolences to his family, and my thoughts to the soldiers and civilians who each day face the consequences of what he wrote. It is appropriate to remove the quotes from the blogroll link; he turns to have been all too real.

UPDATE: Over the course of the day, I've had an opportunity to read some of the reaction elsewhere to Mr. Kelly's untimely passing. As expected, conservatives have been devastated, while liberal reaction has ranged from expressing sympathy to his family and a grudging respect for him having the balls to put himself in harms way, to schadenfreude, noting in particular how common that reaction was among the wingnuts following the deaths of Paul Wellstone and Rachel Corrie. More than a few have taken the line expressed by Joshua Marshall, which was to call him on his hysterical pontificating in his columns, but granting him his props for his abilities as an editor (focused usually on his tenure with the Atlantic Monthly; his shameful tenure at the New Republic in the mid-90's, where he published just about every discredited rumor about the Clintons, and championed the career of Stephen Glass, is conveniently forgotten). I drafted a comment over at Daily Kos that I will re-publish here, as it best reflects how I feel about this tragedy:
It's possible to mourn the loss of someone, to give condolences to the family he left behind (as well as the unnamed soldier who died with him), and still remember that his columns were a principal factor in the decline in political civility over the past decade. I won't miss his nasty, unkind shots at each and every left-of-center public figure, but, as with the death of Barbara Olsen, I grieve for the loss. Maybe having seen the war up-close, he would have been less enthusiastic about sending others into harms way; he was one of the few chickenhawks who put his ass on the line in Iraq. For all we know, had he lived, he may have a mid-life conversion, in the same way David Brock did. Dying before his time means we'll never know.
Light blogging this weekend, as I am in the Bay Area, tending to matters personal and familial. FWIW, the English language site for Al Jazeera is back on-line.

April 03, 2003

The two Marines from SoCal who died in the first days of the war have been posthumously granted citizenship, including one who was probably in the country illegally. For those who support the troops, regardless of whether you believe this war to be legal or moral, it would be a positive progressive step to demand that any green card-holding member of the Armed Forces currently fighting in Iraq be immediately eligible for citizenship. One Vietnam vet quoted by the LA Times who only recently qualified for citizenship put it best: "You're part of an American team out there...[I]t's a big disappointment when you have to stand in line to get what you think you deserve."
P.S. And while you're at it, light up the phones everytime some jackass in the media refers to a certain rescued P.O.W. as "Jessica", rather than her name and rank ("Private Lynch"); considering what she's been through, she's earned the right not to be treated as if she were a swimsuit model or tennis star.
Today's reading assignments: Matt Welch, on Patriot Act II (like most sequels, even worse than the original), and the ailing Avedon Carol, on suggestions that U.S. soldiers "pray" for the President.
It's sad that this idiot is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and not Ron Santo, Gil Hodges, or Pete Rose.

April 02, 2003

The most recent Bush nominee to win confirmation, by a 58-41 vote, is Tim Tymkovich, to the 10th Circuit . I didn't have a strong opinion on that pick; the reason most often given to oppose was that he had argued before the Supreme Court in support of an anti-gay initiative that passed in Colorado. I guess it would be something else entirely if he had actually drafted the monstrosity, but making an argument on a case is what a lawyer does. But as a matter of principal, I hated to see him confirmed, so here are the Democrats who voted in favor: Bayh, Breaux, Conrad, Lincoln, Miller, Nelson, and Pryor (Lieberman was absent, Jeffords opposed, and every Republican voted in favor). [Link via TalkLeft]

April 01, 2003

Two bits of worthwhile morning reading: Paul Krugman's analysis of the political dimensions of "homeland security" spending by the Bush Administration, shaped by political expediency (a "red state" like Wyoming is getting 7x the money per capita than New York, even though no terrorist group has revealed any interest in blowing up Yellowstone); and Joshua Marshall showing what a serious writer thinks about the state of the Iraq War.

March 31, 2003

Those who remember history are also condemned to repeat it

Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Garry Wills’ splendid justification of his faith, Why I Am a Catholic. It helps to have had a background in theology or philosophy, neither of which I possess, to understand his religious reasoning, but his book is still readable for another reason: the detailed history of the papacy he provides. Part of his thesis is that since the Pope is not part of the original doctrines of Christianity, his emergence is in direct response to the institutional needs of the Church; Peter, far from being the "Bishop of Rome", never even visited the city, and the true center of the Church’s power, both politically and spiritually, for centuries thereafter was in Greece and North Africa, not Rome.

How the Bishop of Rome eventually became the powerful spiritual, and for a time, temporal, power is a fascinating story. Some of the early “popes”, lets just say, were a rather seedy lot. The papacy was little more than a pawn for various rulers, emperors and kings, and a progressive ruler, like Justinian, Charlemagne, and Otto (the first Holy Roman Emperor) could yield enormous influence over the spiritual tenets of the faith without ever being the pope. For the most part, unfortunately, the power behind the throne was not so beneficent, which leads me to the Theophylact family, and to a period in church history popularly known as the “pornocracy”.

In the first half of the 10th Century, the Theophylacts were the preeminent family in Roman society (Wills, pp.118-9). They did not use their power wisely or well. The patriarch of the family, Teofilatto, and his ambitious wife, Theodora, handpicked several popes, including Sergius III in 904. He was a real piece of work; he became more closely allied to the Theophylact family when he began a relationship with the eldest daughter, Marozia, when she was around thirteen, an arrangement the family seems to have encouraged. Marozia, by all accounts a stunningly beautiful young lady, was married off sometime after that, to Duke Alberic of Spoleto, and bore a son, John. It remains in dispute whether Pope Sergius III was the father. After Sergius went to his just reward, the family chose a loyal retainer who became Pope John X, who had the additional benefit of having been a former lover of Theodora.

By all accounts, Marozia had a bit of an edge to her. More accurately, she may have been the most evil, dissolute woman ever to hold anything close to absolute power anywhere in Christendom. Well, it's either her or Catherine de Medici. Normally, I would be hesitant to rely on the accounts of ancient or medieval historians concerning the lives of powerful women. I think it’s safe to say that Livia did not poison half the men in Rome when she was married to Augustus. The Empress Messalina probably did not compete with a prostitute to see who could sleep with the most men. Contrary to Livy’s account, Tullia (if she even existed) did not run over her old man with a chariot so that she and her husband could seize power. I will even go so far as to assert that the wife of the Emporer Justinian, Theodora the Great, probably held a better social position than her contemporaries claimed. Any strong, ambitious woman would run afoul of the misogynists who have written history over the years. If Tacitus were writing today, he no doubt would have accused Hillary Clinton of all sorts of nasty shenanigans in her ruthless pursuit of power and lust.

Marozia, though, was the real deal. In terms of wickedness, she was all that. I sort of imagine her as having the face and figure of Elizabeth Hurley and the mind and temperament of Ann Coulter. After her father died, she seized control of the family business, which included governing the Holy See, and held the official title, Senatrix. When Pope John X began to act independently of her family, she had his brother executed for treason, then had Pope John arrested, put out his eyes, and suffocated. She hand-picked the next two Popes, both of whom were chosen not for any spiritual insights or piety they might have possessed, but for their willingness to act as caretakers until her aforementioned son was old enough to become Pope. That son, John XI, combined a lack of education with a taste for debauchery, and generally lowered the prestige of the Church.

Finally, Marozia went too far. She allegedly murdered her second husband, then persuaded her son to consecrate her marriage to his brother, Hugh of Arles, the King of Italy, who also happened to be her brother-in-law, in 932. At that point, another son, Alberic II, perhaps concerned about appearances, and reportedly stinging from an insult he received at her wedding party, besieged his mother’s castle, and arrested her and the Pope (King Hugh escaped, apparently realizing that this was one family dispute he didn't need to be a part of). What happened thereafter to our heroin isn’t entirely clear. Most accounts have her dying soon afterwards, while she was in custody, at the age of 37. Another tale has her living well into her nineties, at which time the Church lifted her excommunication, "exorcised" her demons, and executed the former Senatrix of Rome. Better late than never, I suppose.

In the meantime, while Pope John XI lived as his virtual slave, her other son became the power behind the papacy, and for the next two decades handpicked five different popes, culminating with the election of his 16-year old son, John XII. His was not a happy papacy for the devout, as he had taken the licentious proclivities of his family up another notch. Disgruntled bishops organized a synod to remove him, claimed that he was in league with the Devil and accused him of
"... committing incest with two sisters, of playing dice and invoking the Devil to assist him to win, of creating boy bishops for money, of ravishing divers virgins, of converting the palace into a seraglio or stews, of lying with his father's harlot, with a certain Queen Dowager [his mother] and with a widow called Anna and his own niece, of putting out the eyes of his father confessor, of going hunting publicly, of going always armed, of setting houses on fire, of breaking windows in the night ..."
Allegations that he kidnapped and raped female pilgrims visiting the city of Rome were said to have been a drain on church coffers.

It gets better. After being forced to flee Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto in 962, John XII led a revolt two years later, and returned to the papacy. His attempts to resume the life that late he led were thwarted when, according to whichever source you want to believe, he was murdered the same year, either by an irate husband or by family members angered by his unwillingness to share the spoils of victory. Among historians, the consensus appears to be that whoever killed him hammered in his skull, although Wills states he suffered a stroke while having sex with his mistress (p.119). Depending on the source, he was either 25 or 27.

After that, the power of the Theophylact family began to diminish. The grandson of Marozia’s sister Theodora became Pope John XIII, who was by all accounts, a pious and decent man, and Marozia's great-grandson became Pope John XIX. Through marriage, the family gradually melted into the aristocracy of medieval Europe. Life went on.
I have not been able to access the English language site for Al Jazeera since late last week, and Salam Pax has been silent since last Monday. Neither is a good sign.
The best thing this blog has ever done to attract more readers was asking last week's trivia question. Not only did I get to pound a few back with a real-life philosopher (David Johnson), who won the contest, but my unique visitors doubled over the weekend, making last week the most successful in the history of Smythe's World. Thank you, Tanya Ballinger and Kitana Baker, and thanks to all of you who visited my site for the first, and probably last, time.

Tanya Ballinger (more)

March 30, 2003

Lord Haw-Haw is in fine form, blaming Peter Arnett for stating the obvious.

UPDATE: Score one for political correctness. TalkLeft is reporting that Mr. Arnett was fired by NBC, and will be leaving Baghdad. Those of us who want real journalism in the future are going to have to rely on Al Jazeera for the war.
I used to know this guy as "Detroit Jerry", a Red Wings/Lions/Wolverines fanatic who usually habituated Sports Harbour in Marina del Rey, but occasionally made forays to my home tavern, Joxer Daly's. He was a bit loud, and could get peevish if his team wasn't winning (which, in the case of the Detroit Lions, was all-too-frequent), but he seemed like a nice enough guy. He usually brought his girlfriend with him, and he always a smart take on the teams he followed. I had no idea that he and I were in the same profession.

Well, I also had no idea that Gerald Scotti was a) a legendary fixture among local defense attorneys; b) a former DEA agent, whose testimony helped exculpate John DeLorean; or c) so emotionally unstable that he would kill his best friend, then commit suicide, after he found out his friend was embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his lawfirm. According to the police, Mr. Scotti left a note indicating that his actions were pre-meditated; for whatever reason, the fact that a friend of his had stolen money from his business was enough to send over the deep end, into criminal activity. There has to be more to this story, right? Battling clinical depression over the course of my life, I have had periods where I genuinely wished I could feel nothing(which may explain my drinking), but I have never honestly hoped for my life to end. Yesterday I asked a friend to call me if she ever wanted to kill herself, and I would do the same to her. Anything beats a total rejection of life.
With the start of the baseball season only hours away, here's an oral history published by the LA Times this morning, on the best baseball game of the past decade, the Sixth Game of last year's World Series. The Times seems to be all over the Halos, a team that usually generated fodder for the inside of the sports section until last season. The notion that they have supplanted the Dodgers in the local zeitgeist is pure unadulterated bullshit, though; surely the Times can't be suggesting that the attendance or TV ratings for the Angels is going to be anywhere near the Dodgers, for this season and into the future. The Dodgers remain a cultural touchstone in the city, especially with the Latino community, and are second only to the Lakers in terms of popularity in the area. The Angels should attract more attention this year, but are usually on a level with the Kings and maybe Club America in terms of local following. Once the club returns to earth, the bandwagoners will depart forthwith.