Tagged: History

Magnaficent

I witnessed the Magna Carta this morning, alongside the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, and Virginia Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the United States Bill of Rights. Lying there beneath their carefully guarded glass cases, they look innocuous enough. Yet it strikes you that these documents brought to heel monarchs, set off revolutions, and freed men. These are words that changed history.

The overwhelming impression left by the exhibit it that the pen truly is mightier than the sword.

Today words are not scrawls of ink on vellum, but bits and bytes on a magnetic disk and pixels on an electric display. They will never look aged in the same way the Magna Carta, an 800 year old document, does. Yet the awful power of words is undiminished; for ultimately words are written not on paper or chip, but on the human heart.

What a marvelous obsession we bloggers have!

Magna Carta & Four Foundations of Freedom is on exhibit at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia through June 18th.

Jamestown Discovery

If you are reading this, you are probably a blogger, so you can appreciate the thrill when the first customers come through the door, that moment when you begin to see readers show up in your access logs.  So I hope you’ll relive your moment of exhilaration with me as the first visitors have landed on the shores of my latest endeavor, The Jamestown Site.

It is ironic that it was a sensation not unlike what the natives must have experienced when they glimpsed the foreign ships off the coast of their ancient land.  At first I rubbed my eyes and surmised I was dreaming: there were seven visits reported to a page.  I’ve been working on the site awhile, and was busy with the chores of preparing the site for its official launch on the 400th anniversary of the First Landing of the Jamestown expedition, April 26th.  My recent adversities meant that it wasn’t going to be quite what I’d hoped.  I had even considered abandoning the project.  But I have two years invested.  More significantly, the Jamestown story is simply too compelling, too infinitely interesting, for me to abandon.

Indeed, the story of Jamestown is one of abandonment.  It is odd that Jamestown’s reputed significance is as the first permanent English settlement, considering the unsuitable swamp was within a century or so plowed under as the new Virginians sought higher ground at Williamsburg.  The nation’s founding myth itself was relinquished to the Pilgrims at Plymouth who arrived thirteen years later as part of historical revisionism after the Civil War.  Jamestown, where slaves first arrived in America, was simply erased from the national consciousness.

If it hadn’t been for a fabled love story between a white man and an Indian princess–and a Disney movie that made Pocahontas and John Smith names learned in childhood–Jamestown might have remained buried for another century.

As I said, there is much of interest.  If you are so inclined, visit The Jamestown Site. You will be one of the first. Just remember that, like the original site, it is in the throes of nativity.

— Michael Norton

Primitive Interpretations

One of the primitive interpretations of sports, or life in general, for that matter, is as a form of morality play. When bad things happen, it must be a form of divine justice; bad karma, if you will. Contests-even if they are forms of entertainment–become evidence of approval of the gods.

Nowhere is this more evident in baseball than in Boston, which perceives New York not just as a rival, but as “evil”. This is natural, I suppose, since Red Sox fans proudly proclaim that in Boston baseball is a religion. Of course in Boston everything is a religion. Education. Liberal politics. Even patriotism was a religion in New England, at least in the eighteenth century. That turned out alright, I suppose, although the Salem Witch Trials got a bit ugly. That happens when religion becomes a religion.

We are talking about Massachusetts Bay, after all, where the Puritans escaped when their endless preaching made them insufferable in England. The Boston team itself was variously dubbed the “Puritans”, “Plymouth Rocks” or “Pilgrims”. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that some Bostonians consider themselves the true high priests of baseball (and everything else, for that matter) bearing a responsibility to enlighten the rest of us before we reap the awful wrath of the Almighty. As Daniel Boorstin in The Americans: The Colonial Experience observes:

The New England meeting-house, like the synagogue on which it was modeled, was primarily a place of instruction. Here men found their separate paths to conversion, so they could better build their Zion in the wilderness, a City upon a Hill to which other men might in their turn look for instruction.

Of course winning a World Series once in a lifetime would hardly seem to qualify one for baseball almightiness; quite the opposite. But then that is, as I have noted, a rather primitive interpretation.

— Michael Norton

Thanksgiving Turkey

As children we were taught that at the first Thanksgiving, the first Americans, the Pilgrims, sat down in peace with the real first Americans, the Indians, broke bread and gave thanks.

None of that was true, of course.The Indians weren’t from India, the Pilgrims were not even the first Englishmen in America, much less the first Americans, a distinction owed to the Indians, er, Native Americans. Nor was it the first fall feast. A feast celebrating the end of harvest time seems rather natural, and, in fact, has been widely celebrated across cultures for as long as men have been reaping the soil.

The origins of baseball have been similarly miscast. Of course everybody knows Alexander Doubleday didn’t do it. Neither did Cartwright. Something resembling baseball has probably been around since the Stone Age. Fending off rocks with a stick was a martial art for primitive man. Throwing up objects and hitting them with sticks seems almost instinctual in boys. I’ve observed that even the smallest of children grasp the sport in running to a place where they are safe. Baseball, like Thanksgiving, springs not from American soil, but from man’s inner most being. Thank God for baseball.

And thank God my son returned home safe and sound from his tour of duty this week. Made for a truly wonderful holiday.

Last Day of an Era Gone By

There was a day in the not too distant past when New York trailed Seattle by 17 ½ games. On September 10, 2001, the Mariners had compiled a 104-40 record while the Yankees, who had upended the surprising Mariners for the pennant the previous year en route to their third straight World Championship, were the second best team in the American League with an 86-57 record.

On September 10th, the Mariners were the jewel of the 2001 baseball season. A city which had agonizingly been a baseball loser, not only of games, but of teams, had been in a short span transformed into the winningest team–ever. Despite having lost a player widely regarded as the best shortstop of all time, Alex Rodriguez, to division rival Texas, as they had lost Randy Johnson the year before. The Mariners had never even been to a World Series, much less won one. And 2001 did not look to be their year. According to one prognostication, “pitching will keep Seattle in the hunt for a wild-card berth”.

The Mariners opened the season against the team that was favored to win the division, Oakland and surprisingly took two out of three. Then came a widely anticipated matchup against the Rangers and their new shortstop. The great fear was Rodriguez would humiliate his former team. Instead, the Mariners took another two of three. Then they got hot. By the end of April the Mariners were 20-5 (.800), and never played less than .667 ball in any month the rest of the season. They won 15 of 20 against the Rangers, who finished in the cellar, 43 games back.

Bret Boone, Mike Cameron, Freddy Garcia, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Jeff Nelson, a rookie named Ichiro all made the All-Star team. Suzuki went on to win both the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, not to mention a batting title with a .350 average. As if that weren’t enough, Ichiro and team mate Mike Cameron picked up Gold Gloves.

Seattle led the league in hitting, pitching, fielding-and attendance. Over 3 ½ million fans went crazy in Safeco that summer. Seattle, not particularly known as a sports town, was in love with their Mariners. There was electricity in the air. Banners flew downtown. Newspapers and television seemingly talked of little else, as did Cabbies and co-workers.

I was there in Seattle the day time stood still. Seattle was a virtual suburb of Silicon Valley. The Internet Revolution had made Seattle a very wealthy city. BMWs were being raffled to raise money for youth sports teams! The jewel of the Northwest, the Emerald City, had become a shining symbol of the prosperity of the end of the century. The success of the Mariners was part of that.

On September 10, 2001, I was returning to my hotel from one of my “authentic cuisine excursions”, a nice little Ethiopian restaurant, ruminating on a news report that a resolution declaring Israel a terrorist state was being rammed through the U.N. I remember thinking of the tragedy of the U.N., how the Arabs had twisted that once beacon of hope into a ridiculous implement for flogging their favorite whipping boys, in no small part because both were impotent.

The Mariners played the Angels in Anaheim that evening. They wouldn’t play again until the 18th of September, a week when baseball seemed suddenly, utterly unimportant, and a week in which we learned who we are as a people, and, correspondingly, just how important baseball really is.

— Michael Norton

Note: After posting this, I discovered a nice piece on the subject written by MLBlogs own Mark Newman, Baseball to Mark Solemn Anniversary. Check it out!

The Picasso of Baseball

There is a certain amount of grief we all feel when the past begins to dissolve, when its monuments begin to crumble.  It is inevitable, it is right, proper even.  But it is painful, forcing us to not only face our own mortality but the stark reality that all human accomplishments are all too temporal.  Even the mighty Ruth is but Ozymandias.

Like all great men, Ruth created his own world.  Ruth made us love homeruns.  Would Bonds approach to 714 matter if the homerun weren’t such a hit with the fans?  Before Ruth, homeruns were an aberration—a mistake.  Hitting the ball in the air was against any respectable hitting doctrine.  The inevitable strikeouts that result from swinging for the fences were akin to sin:  the objective was to put the ball in play.

Ruth forced baseball to rethink its principles.  He was the Pablo Picasso of baseball.  And now, like a Picasso painting, we feel disjointed as the testaments Ruth erected begin to disintegrate before our eyes.

Bonds *712

I would like to think that I misunderstood, but did Bonds just compare himself to Ali on “Bonds on Bonds”?  He quoted Ali’s famous comment on refusing to serve in the Vietnam War:  "no Vietcong ever called me ******."  Bonds also seemed to imply he was the victim of injustice “in his own country”.

Ali himself, beloved now, beat Ernie Terrell senseless in 1967, refusing to finish the fight and shouting “What’s my name, Uncle Tom, what’s my name?”  (Terrell had the temerity to call him Cassius Clay rather than Muhammed Ali).  At the end of the show Bonds glowed about how Ali whipped everyone’s ***, and that’s what he, Bonds, would be doing, whipping everyone’s ***.

Then again, maybe Bonds isn’t so far off in his comparison of himself with Ali.

Will we also embrace Bonds in the years to come?  Ali won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Ruth wasn’t particularly popular at the end of his career, either.  Those who complain Bonds is laughing at us tend to forget that Bonds has a better sense of history than he lets on.  — Michael Norton