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Scott Taylor

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“Physically loose, and mentally tight.”

This was Arthur Ashe’s motto and mantra, which I came across while reading Ryan Holiday’s The Ego is the Enemya book I’ve read three times in the last year. It’s currently my second favorite book—it’s also my second favorite Ryan Holiday book—The Obstacle is the Way being my favorite

I love many things about Ryan Holiday’s books (I’ll write more onHoliday in a column down the road), but the one thing I’d like to point out here is that I am never at a loss for things to read after reading one of his books. I always end up with several books I feel I have to read next.

Levels of the GameSo I went questing to find books on Arthur Ashe. His Days of Grace is in my queue. But I spotted Levels of the Game on Amazon. I had enjoyed John McPhee’s book on Bill Bradley’s basketball days at Princeton so much I decided to read that next.

Arthur Ashe was in many ways the Jackie Robinson of Tennis. Except, as McPhee points out, there were many many good players in the Negro leagues that would have performed well in Major League Baseball, all things being equal. Which, of course, they weren’t. Jackie Robinson was chosen by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers because he thought Robinson was mentally tough enough to endure everything that would be thrown at him—the angry crowds, the racism, the calls that would go against him, the physical cheap shots that players would take at him. But Arthur Ashe, as a black tennis player, was peerless.

So like the boxer, Joe Louis, who was a master at keeping his emotions in check in the ring, Ashe kept his opinions about the umpire’s calls to himself.  He channeled his energy into hustle and focus. Besides making him more fun to watch—not only are tirades not entertaining, they are are embarrassment to tennis, to sports, to all mankind—it kept his focus on what he could control, making him harder to rattle. He’s the opposite of bitchy players like Jimmy Conners or John McEnroe.

McPhee: “A person’s tennis game begins with his nature and background and comes out through his motor mechanisms into shot patterns and characteristics of play.”

Levels of the Game is structured around the 1968 U.S. Open semi-finals match between Ashe and Clark Greabner. The book follows the points of the match, adding in reflections by the players on a moment by moment basis, as well as biographical information about their upbringing, their families and the paths that brought them to this match. Graebner is the all-American boy type. Strong and hard-hitting, handsome, and well respected by people in tennis including Ashe, who was a friend and Davis Cup teammate. Graebner is given equal time by McPhee and seems likable and someone you might rout for—except maybe against Ashe.

McPhee: “A tight, close match unmarred by error and representative of each player’s game at its highest level will be primarily a psychological struggle, particularly when the players are so familiar with each other that there can be no technical surprises.”

It’s hard not to like Ashe. He’s an underdog, has obstacles to overcome, his play is described as fluid. His confidence fluctuates, and when things start going right for him, he begins taking chances with his shots. McPhee, writing about a turning point in the match: “Ashe is now obviously loose. Loose equals dangerous. When a player is loose, he serves and volleys at his best level. His general shotmaking ability is optimum. He will try anything.”

McPhee successfully interjects their memories next to his description of the game. He shows how a point here and a point there, how just a few inches, could have really tipped this match. But the main thing you get out of this book is how Ashe’s stoic attitude gives him his best shot to win the match, win the crowd, the respect of the judges, and even win the admiration of his opponents. He deals with details but he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He controls what he can control, lets go what he cannot. As the match unfolds and Ashe loosens up and his confidence grows—its an amazing thing to read. “Physically loose, and mentally tight” is totally how I’d love to live my life.

 

Sense of Where You AreAfter finishing Levels of the Game, I immediately reread A Sense of Where You Are, McPhee’s book about Bill Bradley’s senior basketball season at Princeton. First off, this is a really great basketball book. His descriptions of Bradley’s moves, the offense and defense of the game are precisely and eloquently done. He really zeros in on Bradley’s main strengths—discipline and concentration. McPhee describes how Bradley, not the most physically gifted athlete, deconstructs a move, his reverse pivot for example, breaks it into it’s component parts, then focuses on his footwork, then on the shooting motion, and finally putting it all together into a devastating, hard-to-defend package.

“His creed,” McPhee writes, “which he picked up from Ed Macauley, is ‘When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.’”

Here’s McPhee description of Bradley’s warm-up routine: “In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from 20 feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots-the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball-and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.”

Both books transcend a sports book categorization. The sport parts are precisely written and are informed by the biographical, psychological, philosophical aspects of the stories. These are books that a sports curmudgeon could enjoy. Finally, Arthur Ashe and of Bill Bradley are humans you can learn from. If you could work toward what they were really amazing at—discipline, focus, being fluid in the moment—you’d totally be a more effective, more completely realized human being. And your backhand or hook shot would be vastly improved.

The Liar’s Dictionary first appeared in Emergency Horse magazine 100 years ago!
With a tip of the hat to Ambrose Bierce.

 

Afterlife
Procrastination’s imaginary friend.

Allusion
Acknowledged plagiarism.

Alternative
Contradictory, contrary, opposite.
Archaic: a choice or possibility, as in reality or not.

American
One who pretends that excrement does not exist and then spends an entire evening watching it on television.

American Dream
Trivial pursuit.

Artist
One who talks about doing art.

Astrology
The belief that although weather patterns cannot be predicted a week ahead, emotional states of humans as influenced by the stars, can.

Baptism
A ceremonial washing of the brain.

Bible  A book that documents, in detail, our virtue and our enemy’s vice.

Bigly
An American horror film about a petulant toddler who is mysteriously granted a wish by an arcade fortune telling machine called Putin Speaks and wakes up in the body of a 70 year-old orange businessman.

Christianity
The name of a large religious cult composed mostly of the enemies of Christ, named so as to discredit him and cast his deeds into oblivion.

Christmas
The day on which the capitalists celebrate the birth of their savior, Santa Claus.

Citizen
A flag-hugger when he is at home watching television. A patriot with his mouth shut.

Classy
Gaudy and inarticulate but rich.

Compliment
Acknowledgement of another’s likeness to oneself.

Democracy
Government by the wealthy.

Dumb
One who cannot speak.  Also one who shouldn’t.

Eccentric
A nut who has money.

Fair
Getting more than your sibling got.

Feel good
A type of book or film that causes one to feel nauseated.

Folk Music
A type of music, often acoustic, which extolls the sensitivity of the singer.

Free
That which accompanies a purchased item.

God-fearing man
He who is afraid of what his neighbors will think.

God-given Talent
An ability which the creator of the universe has favored an athlete with so that he might buy swimming pool, drugs, and hookers.

Immaculate Conception
A conception without mess or pleasure, thus considered by Christians to be optimum.

Job
A character in the Old Testament whom Jehovah made miserable simply because he could.
The word now means source of employment with the employer taking on the role of Jehovah.

Lie
The truth told by democrats as reported by republicans (and vice verse).

Life-style
That which one affects in absence of having a life.

Lite
A term used on products to attract those who like to indulge and yet still be self-righteous.

Miracle
A “recorded” event in which the laws of the physical universe are repealed temporarily.

Most
Almost.

Musical
Opera for Americans.

Muzak
A collection of sounds used by business owners to express politely their contempt for mankind.

Nonsense
Any opinion differing from your own, reasonable or otherwise.

Orange
Black.

Overtime
Time spent working over that which was allotted, for which the government is paid.

Peace
The maintenance of the status quo.

Performance Art
Any performance in which the art has been removed indelicately.

Personalize
An activity similar to branding, differing only in that a brand is used to mark a valuable possession.

Pessimists
What idealists who call themselves optimists call realists.

Pussywhipped
Being overly susceptible to your cat’s atrocious needs.

Religion
Mythology with good propaganda.

Sex
To atheist heathens, one of the exemplar ways humans show love and affection for one another.
To the religious, how human reproduction is accomplished.

Sinner
He who is acting as you would act had you the gumption.

Small Talk
An activity that allows those who have nothing worth saying to say it.

Spanking
The sound of one hand clapping. See Zen.

Tourism
An activity that allows Americans to watch television in different parts of the world.

Travel
Tourism’s embarrassed father.

Valentine’s Day
The designated day for romance invented by florists and gift card manufacturers to relieve people of their money one day of the year and their responsibility of romance the other 364.

Vanity Plate
A metal automobile identification handcrafted by criminals for idiots.

White Supremacist
A caucasian who, having discovered in himself no redeemable qualities, makes one of his skin color.

Zen

 

 

Originally, I had a different plan for this blog. It was to be a collection of personal, literary, philosophical essays. Which will still likely happen—someday. It was taking me a while to get it off the ground. Mainly because I am out of writing-shape. There are other reasons, which I’ll get to as I continue to write this column. In the meantime, Trump is spazzing out.

Right now though, as I sit here in Milan, looking over my Facebook feed, I’m thinking, “Shit, everything’s fucking nuts over there.” But it is Facebook and of course my feed is fed by a bunch of liberal, outspoken, thoughtful, atheists—my favorite kind of humans. Looking over the Guardian, the New York Times, CNN, etc though, I’m not finding anything too very different.

Here’s my view from Italy:

1. Trump is the Real Deal

Generally, as long as I remember, the political system has used the same operating system. Sure there have been updates and the apps have changed, but the US political machine has largely traveled on the same track, with a Democrat or Republican pennant signaling the different administrations. This feels different though. This is a different OS. I feel like the Republicans have wanted to do this kind of shit for years. The large-scale immediate changes against women, against healthcare, against immigrants, against the environment, against science, against intellectuals—you know they wanted to do this but were worried about the backlash. Now they’re waiting to see what sticks to the wall and what is actually way too far. They are incredibly waffley about Trump. They want their agenda but don’t want responsibility for the repercussions. Now they’ve unleashed a force they can’t control. They will be unable to get the jinn back in the bottle (oh, wait, that mythology is likely to be banned soon).

The new scary shit: censoring the government scientists, threatening martial law, blocking immigrants, wanting to control the internet, wanting to shut journalists up—to quote one Mr. Byrne: “this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.”

2. Honey Badger Don’t Give a Shit

We saw this during the election, so it’s no a surprise he’s putting his foot on the gas now. Lies and Facts are the former paradigm. He knows what he wants to be true, so the plan is just to keep hammering at it.

“The honey badger doesn’t care! It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t give a shit. It’s just hungry. It doesn’t care about being stung by bees. Nothing can stop the honey badger when it’s hungry. What a crazy fuck! Look, it’s eating larvae, that’s disgusting.”
—Randall, from The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger

Fact-checking is busy work for liberals. We’re not going to change his behavior by pointing out his errors. His disregard for politics as usual is as informative as it is scary as shit.

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” ― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

3. Trump Could Totally Lose His Shit

So what happens then? Mike Pence is probably more controllable but he’s still a crazy, right-wing Christian motherfucker. He might be better than anarchy—sure, there are people that think anarchy would be a perfect shift-into-neutral mode for this country but I absolutely do not trust the most efficient power-grabbing group—see every dystopian novel ever.

4. His cabinet is terrifying.

And white. And unqualified.

5. Even Conservative, Opportunist, Warhawk Dick Cheney has Spoken Against Trump

“I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from,” Cheney said on a Monday appearance on the radio show. “A lot of people, my ancestors got here, because they were Puritans.” —Dick Cheney

6. Now is not the Time for the Democrats to Prance Around

It’s time to put on your pussy-hats people—actually, it’s time to put on your pussy-helmets, and sharpen those pussy ears—and get some work done. It’s time to be solid and strong and not be an unorganized bunch of wusses, over-beholden to corporate dollars. Who knows what new parties we’ll see emerge in the next couple years. The Democrats should not take anything for fucking granted. Trump won because he appealed to a white working class that had not been taken seriously for a long long time. Also, the amount of people who were not inspired enough to vote is a failure of the imagination of the Democrats.

7. Do Not Burn Out, Do Not Grow Numb

It’s only been a fucking week. Maybe he thinks we’ll burn our bulbs out after a couple months. It’s quite a pace to keep up but boy would it suck to tumble lazily into the River of Complacency. How do we keep this up until we get the job done?

8. World Citizenry

I don’t know about you but I have friends from all over the world. I have friends I have met from the University of Washington’s Human Center Design and Engineering Department, from my wife’s international work teams, from traveling, from friends of friends—from every continent. They are far more important to me than how well our governments play together. As E.M. Forster wrote: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” So far, Trump’s mainly signed a bunch of executive actions (although it looked like he was ordering dino-nuggets and fries from a kids’ menu) but the action going on at the airports—blocking immigrants from entering the country—is the simply first domino going over.

 

It’s not time to see what Trump will do. He’s doing it. We see it. It’s not time to compromise and work together. This is not a Bush or Reagan level threat (or if you’re conservative, it’s not an Obama or Clinton level threat). For those of us who have compared any of these people to Hitler, we were wrong about that. Hopefully, we aren’t the boy who cried “Hitler,” too many times. Because, this reads more like a coming-of-age boy-becomes-a-dictator story, than any of those previous ones.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, by all means, read your 1984, your Handmaid’s Tale, your Brave New World, your V for Vendetta, your Origins of Totalitarianism. But it’s time for us to stop filling our Facebook feeds up with See-What-He’s-Done-Now outage. I get it. I’ve done it. I did it earlier tonight.

What’s next though? We’ve tried out all sorts of forms of protest since the sixties. How do we protest in a way that gets shit done—that continues to get shit done? He has to be stopped without bringing the chaos. We are vulnerable. That’s going to get worse, probably a lot worse. It’s time to sharpen our wits people. We’re already in it deep.

 

 

 

 

 

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”  ― Alfred Hitchcock

Jim Gordon is new in Gotham, having transferred from Chicago. He finds a corrupt police force. He finds a corrupt city government. Simply doing the job he was hired to do seems like a game he can’t win.

Shortly after his arrival, reports of a vigilante start coming in. Gordon investigates. He talks to people saved by this vigilante. They describe him in fanciful, exaggerated ways. The news programs interview people on the street. Many believe he’s nothing but an urban legend. The papers start calling him “The Bat-man.”

It’s completely from Gordon’s point of view.

Think of it as James Gordon: Year One.

He continues to get closer to the corruption—despite obstacles placed in his way by disreputable officers and politicians. Gordon comes across tied-up criminals. He hears grunting. He sees crooks thrown out of the darkness of an alley.

Batman

Halfway through the movie, Gordon still has not seen this Bat-man. Think of the tension. What does his costume looks like? How will he interact with Gordon? It would go against the grain of every Batman—every super hero movie—ever made.

This movie is about Jim Gordon. A good actor could pull this off. The show Gotham is about Gordon as much as it is about young Bruce Wayne. Recently, in the comics, for a while, Gordon was Batman.

In our premise, Bruce Wayne shows up at charity events that Gordon attends. Does Gordon pay extra attention to him? No, of course not—why would he? Do we get any clues that he is the Batman? Does he slip up? Do we get a wink in our direction because we, unlike Gordon, know who this is?

Of course we don’t! He’s the Batman and he’s on message. He’s the most disciplined human on earth. He’s intense and consistent at maintaining his poise. He is a master of disguise. He gives no clues. He is in control. The Batman playing Bruce Wayne would be on point. The actor playing Batman playing Bruce Wayne would have to be on point. He would give exactly zero clues. None!

There would be no origin story taking up the first hour of the movie. No Zorro. No mugger. No guns. No pearl necklaces. No vows of vengeance. No “criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot.” No Batcaves. No Batarangs. No Boy Wonders.

What if he didn’t speak? What if the actor playing Batman had no lines? How cool would that be?

Better yet, what if we never even get to see the Bat-man? Maybe in this movie, he is only an urban legend. This would drive audiences so crazy it’d be absolutely delicious.

But then we’d have a movie with zero action-figure sales potential. No toys. No Halloween costumes. No graphic novel tie-ins. No caped crusader to base a movie poster montage around. DC, alas, is not making this movie.

 

 

Regarding the election:

1. I cannot wait to vote for Elizabeth Warren.

2. Any upcoming Supreme Court nomination is going to be very important.

3. I’m absolutely for breaking the glass ceiling for women so there’s a better chance of getting the right person in there no matter how their chromosomes are structured (see item number 1)—yes, I am aware that Hilary is a politician

4. No fucking Trump—I’m sorry but the last time we had this discussion—[whiny voice] there’s not a lot of difference between Gore and Bush blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah—it was a huge fucking disaster. Huge. Fucking. Disaster. (I really hate using periods like that but sometimes you have to fucking use periods like that. Because Internet (I’m also not a fan of using the word “because” and then forsaking all other parts of speech aside from a single noun, but I digress . . . ))(I am, however, totally a fan of over-nesting parentheses.)(Also, I’m totally a fan of over-digressing.)

5. I didn’t move to Italy because of a potential Trump election—if Trump is elected, no place on earth will be safe. . . . besides, Milan will be an awesome place to watch the end of the world as we know it, if it comes to that.