Friday, July 22, 2016

#CollisionWithFame: Tony “Champagne” Lema, July 24 1966

On July 24, 1966, Pro Golfer Tony “Champagne” Lema’s Beechcraft H50 crashed into a pond on the seventh hole of the golf course in Munster, Indiana and Lansing, Illinois (the course straddled the state line).  The crash killed all four aboard including his wife Betty.  Lima,on a promotional tour for Buick,  was headed for Chicago when his aircraft ran out of fuel.  The veteran pilot of the Beechcraft had nearly 2,000 hours of flight time.  In a minor irony, Lema was supposed to play a one-day tournament on the course the next day.
            Among older hard-core golf fans, Lema’s early death at 32 is a recurring topic of “what could have been” conversations.  Raised in poor circumstances, he had enlisted in the Marines in 1951 and served in Korea.  He went to work as an assistant pro and earned his PGA tour card at age 23.  From 1962 to 1966, Lema won a dozen PGA tour events including the 1964 British Open at Saint Andrews and came within a stroke of  catching Jack Nicklaus at the 1963 Masters.  Lema played for two Ryder Cup teams and when he died ranked only behind Arnold Palmer in terms of fan popularity. Lema’s last tour victory was in May 1966, when he won the Oklahoma City Open.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Art of the Happy Meal: A Photo Op Discourse

Staged photo ops are common to campaign politics. Sometimes, the giveaway of the staging is subtle. Let's look at an example, from Donald Trump's Instagram account, on the day he clinched his critical delegates for nomination.

Sinclair Lewis On The Brain

Kim and I are abroad for the month.  So, we're missing the accompanying hoopla  and hyperbole that surrounds the quadrennial meeting of the simmering Kool Aid factories that are the party conventions.  But, I'm getting texts and emails from former students (mainly from the 1990s and early 2000s), bringing up one book I had them read in college: Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. 

It Can't Happen Here is science fiction, an alt-history novel written in the early 1930s by Sinclair Lewis. It is the story of Doremus Jessup, a small-town newspaper editor from Vermont with an outsized national voice (imagine HoddingCarter in Mississippi), and his observations and struggles in watching a Fascist takeover of the Democratic Party in advance of the 1936 election. FDR's New Deal has failed, the Republicans are still in disarray, and a spellbinding, plain-talking strongman, Buzz Windrip, takes the party, the election, and eventually the nation by storm. The result is a totalitarian state that seemed unimaginable at the time, but which in fact unfolded in Nazi Germany at the very same time. 

It's a fascinating read. The argument for strong-man government is made by the antagonist Windrip. It is a simple argument, long on benefits and restoring prestige to 'the forgotten man' in America -- America needs to be redeemed, taken back to a better time. It is an agenda deeply invested in xenophobia, covert racism, and restoring women to a formal, secondary status in society.   Sinclair shows how nicely a thin veneer of Americanism can be applied to a Fascist agenda -- because ultimately, Windrip's ascendancy is about profits for the corporate few. 

Is it a cautionary tale? Of course it is. Lewis's target at the time was leftist-populist Louisiana politician Huey P. Long. But, as is often the case in the United States, cautionary tales about the fragile nature of the Republic are set aside because of the resiliency of the American institutions. And, Lewis's "Corpos" are less Fascists, and more like shallow carnival-barking manipulators who lack any ideological depth.  It is not as good as Lewis's earlier works, but it still offers sound commentary on even our modern times. 

Lewis is mainly remembered for other works. Arrowsmith, the study of an idealistic doctor and his challenges as he rises in the scientific medical community, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1926  (Lewis refused the prize). A satirical treatment of American commercialism in Babbitt and his sendup of evangelical hucksterism in Elmer Gantry are more widely known. Babbitt in particular shaped Lewis's winning nomination for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1930. Elmer Gantry was vilified by many American religious leaders and banned in many communities -- but it later (1960) became an acclaimed motion picture starring Burt Lancaster. 

The book is still available for sale, and, in some countries such as Australia, it has fallen into the public domain. If you need something different, to show you that there's nothing new under the American sun, this might just be your read.