Wednesday Required Reading

1. What if the Great American Novelist Doesn’t Write Novels? I need to see a lot more of Wiseman’s work, but the little bit I have seen makes me think that question is not at all hyperbolic.

“The fact that Wiseman’s half-century-long project is a series of cinéma-vérité documentaries about American institutions, their titles often reading like generic brand labels — ‘High School,’ ‘Hospital,’ ‘The Store,’ ‘Public Housing,’ ‘State Legislature’ — makes its achievement all the more remarkable but also easier to overlook. Beginning with ‘Titicut Follies’ (1967), a portrait of a Massachusetts asylum for the criminally insane that remains shocking to this day, Wiseman has directed nearly a picture a year, spending weeks, sometimes months, embedded in a strictly demarcated space — a welfare office in Lower Manhattan, a sleepy fishing village in Maine, the Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University, the flagship Neiman Marcus department store in Dallas, the New York Public Library, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Tampa, Fla., a Miami zoo — then editing the upward of a hundred hours of footage he brings home into an idiosyncratic record of what he witnessed. Taken as a whole, the films present an unrivaled survey of how systems operate in our country, with care paid to every line of the organizational chart. They also represent the work of an artist of extraordinary vision. The films are long, strange and uncompromising. They can be darkly comic, uncomfortably voyeuristic, as surreal as any David Lynch dream sequence. There are no voice-overs, explanatory intertitles or interviews with talking heads, and depending on the sequence and our own sensibility, we may picture the ever-silent Wiseman as a deeply empathetic listener or an icy Martian anthropologist.”

2. Why Are Great Athletes More Likely To Be Younger Siblings?

“The roots of the little sibling effect may lie in the way younger siblings strive to match their older siblings on the field. This was the case with Michael Jordan, the youngest of the three Jordan boys and the fourth of the five Jordan children. When the siblings were growing up, Larry — who was born 11 months before Michael — was considered a better basketball player and regularly bested Michael in one-on-one games.

‘I don’t think, from a competitive standpoint, I would be here without the confrontations with my brother,’ Michael recalled in the ESPN documentary’ The Last Dance.’ ‘When you come to blows with someone you absolutely love, that’s igniting every fire within you. And I always felt like I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention. …

‘I want that approval. I want that type of confidence. So my determination got even greater to be as good, if not better than, my brother.'”

Alas, did not apply in my family. Oldest Brother routinely whipped my ass on golf courses and tennis courts alike. And Older Brother was a much better swimmer and water polo player.*

3. Amanda Seyfried Finally Stakes Her Claim. How to be wonderfully grounded, against the odds. Buy a farm.

4. Why Andy Mukherjee is losing hope in India. Given it’s impact on the planet, anyone who is not East-Indian owes to themselves to learn a lot more about India. This is an excellent start.

*that’s why this athletic accomplishment was so gratifying

Why Obama Will Be Playing Even More Golf

I’m doing my best to block out Presidential politics, but you can’t expect me to remain completely silent.

My liberal friends roll their eyes at me when I predict this election is going to be really close and could very well go Romney’s way. They don’t appreciate the magnitude of conservatives’ dislike for President Obama (P.O.). As one of my right wing nutter friends puts it, “ABO—Anybody But Obama”.

W was a mountain biker. Obama is a golfer. My guess is he likes golf because it’s the exact opposite of Presidential politics in that you control your destiny. No person is an island. . . except for when they’re on the first tee. Roll in a 25 footer for birdie and bask in the glory. There’s no infielder you have to throw to for the relay at home, no catcher that has to hold onto the ball, no other oarsman or woman to keep rhythm with, no doubles partner to cover the alley, no teammates at all. Slice it out of bounds and accept the responsibility for the two stroke penalty. No projecting.

P.O.’s re-election hinges upon improving economics at home. And because our economy and Europe’s are increasingly interdependent, that will be determined in part by people named Angela, Francois, Mario and Wolfgang. And then there’s Congress. P.O. wants temporary tax cuts and spending initiatives to spark public sector job hiring, but Congressional Republicans have no incentive to help him.

And China is letting its currency devalue again, making its exports cheaper and those from the U.S. to China more costly. India’s economy is slowing and the phrase “financial contagion” is appearing with increasing frequency in business periodicals. Eurozone unemployment is at 11%, the highest since tracking began in 1995.

Then there’s the Supreme Court which sometime soon will decide whether P.O.’s controversial first term focus—expanded health care coverage based upon required participation—is constitutional or not.

And there’s this picture from my California cycling sojourn.

A suggestion, fill up before or after Lee Vining, CA.

Economists are quick to say a President doesn’t control the cost of gas or the nation’s growth rate, let alone the unemployment rate in Europe or at home, but perception is reality. Add up last week’s anemic job growth numbers, the tick up in unemployment, higher than average gas prices, the mess that is the Eurozone, stagnant wages, especially tough job prospects for college graduates, and any challenger would have a decent shot at defeating the incumbent.

If those variables don’t improve or get worse, an Obama loss will not surprise me. Either way, look for him to play more golf whether as a second term president or a former president because the golf course is the only place where he alone controls his destiny.

We’re all Tiger Woods Now

Remember how the 1992 “Dream Team” waltzed through the Olympic basketball competition on their way to their gold medal? Fast forward to 2004 when the US lost three times and settled for bronze. Fast forward some more to today. A Sports Illustrated mock NBA draft shows five of the first eight teams taking international players.

What about golf? There are four U.S. players among the top ten, and with Woods dropping fast, that will probably be three soon.

Tennis? The top U.S. player, Mardy Fish, is ranked #10, Roddick is #11, and then you have to scroll down to #26 before finding another American.

Soccer? FIFA has the U.S. ranked 22nd in the world.

The marathon? The first 14 are East African and 65 of the top 100 are Kenyan.

Long distance triathlon? Linsey Corbin, from Montana, is ranked 7th, the only American woman in the top 10. Timothy O’Donnell is tied for tenth among the men.

The most recent international test scores (NAEP) were recently published. In math and reading, U.S. students are in the middle of the pack among students from OECD countries. In science, back of the pack.

People suffering from acute “greatestcountryintheworldhysteria” will look hard to find different competitions we’re winning (personal debt, football by default since hardly anyone else plays it, health care inflation, gun ownership, fossil fuel usage, military spending). While their parochial heads are buried in the sand, more and more of the world supersedes us in classrooms and on athletic fields.

We’re all Tiger Woods now. The rest of the world isn’t the least bit intimidated. All young international students and athletes want is the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with us.

Andre Agassi

Thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed Agassi’s autobio on a lot of different levels. Here’s my blurb Double A didn’t ask for. “As riveting and provocative a parenting/psychology/media studies/sports studies case study as you’ll read for a long, long time.”

Got into one of those grooves where it was very hard to put down. I like tennis and could have been decent if I was quicker, had a better backhand, could get my first serve in, and had a second serve.

I followed it more closely when Agassi, Courier, Chang, and Sampras were kicking ass nearly every weekend. Now I get excited about Federer and Nadal a few times a year.

It was fascinating to “relive” the era from Agassi’s perspective and reflect on how easy it is to misinterpret things through media lenses. Agassi was greatly misunderstood by everyone outside his inner circle.

That realization was a reminder that people’s questionable actions often make sense when we truly understand the context of their lives. The media loved to rip Agassi for not always playing up to his potential and symbolizing style over substance, but his erratic play and behavior made sense in the context of his two decade long identity crisis. And his identity crisis made sense in the context of his dad’s and Nick Bollettieri’s oppressive parenting and coaching.

My daughter didn’t understand how he ended up being thoughtful and intelligent when he left school in the eighth grade which led to a nice talk about the difference between schooling and education.

People who are not tennis fans will still find it a worthwhile read, but they may end up skimming the 10% or so where Agassi does color commentary on his own most consequential matches.

In the end, Agassi was imminently likable which only added to the overall enjoyment. Here’s hoping Stefanie, his children and him live happily ever after.