The AI Not Named Allen Iverson

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It was appropriate to finish the new memoir by Andre Iguodala over a cup of “Dunkin” this afternoon.   It’s a very curious book, with a marvelous writing style attributed to Carvell Wallace.  Describing his largely segregated upbringing in Springfield, Illinois, Iguodala relates the story of a booster at the University of Arizona who asked him where he was from:

“Oh, um. Springfield, Illinois.”

“Springfield!  Birthplace of Lincoln!”

Birthplace of Lincoln.  Every time someone asked me where I was from, they would respond, “Birthplace of Lincoln!” as though that had something to do with him.  What in the hell was I supposed to say to that?  Yes, I was born in the same place as a guy who became president when I would have been a slave.  Amazing coincidence, right?  That’s something I thought about a lot actually: Why was it that white people always mentioned that I was born in the same city as Lincoln?  I could never remember a black person bringing up a president who had been dead for almost 150 years right after asking me that question.  Black people ask me different things … Questions that have to do with my actual life.  Not some random factoid about a state.

You may get the impression from reading this that Andre Iguodala is edgy about racial matters, and that would be understandable.  When interviewed by a reporter after a tough loss to Minnesota as a Golden State Warrior, Iguodala was asked if he was worried.  Thinking about it for a moment, though admittedly perhaps not long enough, he replied: “What would a dumb nigga say?”  A black reporter then asked him if he was okay if coach Steve Kerr rested him for the game the next night to which Iquodala responded: “I do what Master say”.

Iguodala’s remarks prompted this scathing criticism the following morning from commentator Shannon Sharpe:

I distinctly recall Iguodala’s time in Philadelphia after he was drafted in the first round by the 76ers.  It might be fair to say that if Philly fans had a love-hate relationship with Iguodala, there was more hate than love.  As the scheduling gods would have it, after being traded to Denver in 2012, the Nuggets opened their season in Philadelphia and the fans booed Iguodala heavily on his return.  It might also be fair to say that Dre will not ingratiate himself to sports fans of Philadelphia when they read his take on the matter of Curt Flood refusing to report to the Phillies after being traded by the Cardinals.  It’s not just that Iquodala gets the date wrong (the book has the trade in 1963 but it occurred in 1969), but writes that Flood refused to go to the Phillies primarily because:  “a) the team sucked and b) the fans were racist.”  Suffice it to say that there was alot more to the story than that, which you can read about here.

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Iguodala is a bibliophile who prides himself on scholastic accomplishments in high school and college as much as he values his athletic prowess.  Perhaps it was his lack of flashy stats that caused Sixers fans to under-appreciate him, but he’s garnered a significant degree of respect – some would say Hall of Fame status – for his ability to elevate the play of his teammates.

But … on the heels of an Achilles injury to his teammate Kevin Durant that ended not only this but next season for him, and a dispute about the nature of his own injury, Iggy went on the Breakfast Club and served a healthy portion of controversy during his book tour for The Sixth Man.

This engendered a lively discussion on ESPN’s First Take, featuring Stephen Anthony Smith, who noted that no one has ever questioned Iggy’s integrity – but that the Warriors have a situation on their hand regarding how to address Iguodala’s claims.  As Stephen A. proclaimed, “Somebody’s lying here!”

The Warriors apparently dealt with this controversy not by addressing Iggy’s claims of injury misrepresentation, but by trading him to the Grizzlies ostensibly because of salary cap issues.  Rather than resolving Andre’s serious claims, Golden State has announced that they will retire his uniform.  Iguodala emphasizes in the book that he is always determined to be the best there is in any venture that he undertakes.  Might it be that he is merely following the script in promoting the type of marketing buzz that authors dream about on book tours?  I admire Iguodala on many levels, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about him through the book and its aftermath.  It does make one wonder, however, about the definition of success.

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Dusting off Skeletons

Cleaning out a closet a few weeks ago, I came across a box with my high school yearbook (more on that another day), expecting that my college yearbook would be close by.  There was no copy of Masmid, the yearbook of Yeshiva University, for my graduation year 1973.  But curiously there was a copy of the Masmid 1971, and as I started to leaf through it the controversy slowly came back to me.

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Masmid 1971 was a two volume paperback set that looked different from any previous version of Yeshiva University’s yearbook.  It looked different because, as its Editors-in-Chief David Leibtag and Howard Dorfman explain at the outset, they were determined to break with the stereotyped yearbook that was “a ragtag collection of group shots and glittering generalities about college life”.

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The entirety of the two volume set is digitized online, and you can access it here.  Volume I is a cross-section of student opinions and experiences.  Consider the contrast between two of the authors, Abraham Leizerowski – who subsequently became an attorney in Jenkintown, PA, and Heshie Billet who became Rabbi of Young Israel Woodmere.  Leizerowski writes:

“Whether it be a sleeping place in the Catskills. a meeting place in Brussels, or an eating place in Tel-Aviv, the question that one of approaching manhood is most often confronted with is “What college do you attend?”  There are approximately 3,000 possible American answers, 3,001 if one includes the near-impossibility today that one does not attend an institution of higher learning.  Of all these responses, not one gets nearly the reaction observed as the quiet, reticent, and almost silently lost response of “Yeshiva University”.  It immediately becomes quite clear that for some unknown reason, far beyond human comprehension, the Yeshiva student is a unique and wonderful phenomenon …

Yes, one can truly say that life at a Jewish religious school is unique, but the question is how so?  The problems which confront all the students of the seventies and those which confronted those students of the sixties are also very real ones at Yeshiva College. The religious questions, the drug problems, sexual conflicts, over-abundance of nonsensical requirements, quality and quantity of education, relevancy of education to future enterprises, states of national violence and pessimism, Vietnam and the draft, and the alienation between generations are also part of one’s Yeshiva experience. Yes, contrary to the myths, propaganda, and beliefs of all older Jews, these questions are not only their’s
— the rest of the world’s problems — but ours as well.”

Billet writes:

“I am a dreamer, a member of a nation of dreamers. For the past four years I have dreamt that I attended a unique kind of Yeshiva, I have dreamt that Torah was the ideal of this institution which at the same time was not afraid to confront the powerful forces of modern secular society and conquer them …

Today, I fear for my dream. Stormy doubts disturb its tranquility. Has my dream been a
fantasy? Does profane reality desecrate the Yeshiva of my dream? Has it placed the secular idol of Mada on a pedestal making but a poor attempt to maintain the facade of a Torah Institution? Is the Yeshiva I attended nothing more than a large theater filled with many actors? If so, who and where are the producers of this colossal production? Are the Botei Medrash and classrooms merely stages where professional and amateur actors lethargically go through the motions of a tedious daily script whose content never changes?  Are those who are committed to Torah being used without their knowing it? Are the bookcases filled with the same ancient, dusty, torn, dead books that Bialik saw when he returned to his Bais Hamedrash? Is the character of the Bais Hamedrash at night that of a Bais Hakevoros? Is it possible that the Yeshiva I have attended is not a link in the tradition of great Yeshivos?  I am a dreamer. I fear for my dream. Has it been a fantasy? Has RIETS been a fantasy?”

As if the student opinions didn’t engender enough controversy, Volume II offers a cross-section of faculty opinion that is eye-popping to say the least.  Take for example this excerpt from an interview with second year instructor of psychology, Harvey Bernstein:

Masmid:  Do you find that there is anything happening at Yeshiva that is pressing that you would like to talk about?
Bernstein:  Yes. One is that there are a number of lies that are perpetrated by the administration which I resent. For example, when Dr. Bacon, whom I don’t really know at all, but with whom my limited interaction has been all right, espouses the view that
the kids here get as good an education as the kids at Harvard, it is a big lie, a put-on. It is not happening within my department, for example, and to say that it is, is untrue. Kids are not able to take courses which they would be able to take at other universities. They
are not able to get the degree of exposure to different ideas which having different people on a faculty would present.

As challenging and thought-provoking as Bernstein’s entire interview is, the most intriguing interview may be one that you will never read.  In the Table of Contents you will note that there is a black line through the entry that begins on page 34.

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In my print copy, with the light at a certain angle, I can make out “An Interview with David Berger”.  In the Jewish Studies section, Dr. David Berger is listed as a Visiting Lecturer in History.  One can only imagine how sensitive his remarks must have been because the University took the unprecedented step of issuing the yearbook with the center page of his interview cut out, its remaining pages lined out in haste, and the remnant glued together.  Now, years later, the glue has lost its adhesive and exposes the extent of the cover up.

IMG_3384I am not alone in my intrigue about the infamous 1971 partially censored Masmid.  The On the Main Line Blog has an entry on August 18, 2010 titled “Aspects of 20th century Orthodox Judaism through the pages of Yeshiva University’s Masmid (now online)”.  In the comments following the post, Menachem Butler remarks:  The 1971 Masmid is one for the ages. I wonder if  an uncensored version will find its way online…”

To that, a commenter Nachum writes: “Yes, Menachem, even 71, which seems pretty much unedited. There is a blacked out line at one point which seems to be a typo. A lot of what we’d consider “objectionable” certainly made it in. It *was* 1971.”  To which Joel Rich adds:  “I have an uncensored copy-I really have no idea how I got it (I was ’73) … There was an interview with Harav David Berger that for some reason was found objectionable. Believe me, if you were there then, you’d laugh at what was in the article vs. what was going on on campus and in the world.”

The 1971 Masmid was a literary masterpiece, its centerpiece perhaps the homage to the Wrestling Team penned by Sheldon (Shelly) Miller as an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

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I’ll freely admit that as a member of the wrestling team I grappled with Miller’s piece at the time and only years later, in revisiting the original Jabberwocky, grasped the brilliance of what he wrote.  (We lost Rabbi Sheldon Miller too soon, felled by a heart attack in Teaneck at the age of fifty-five.)

At the bottom of the page was the team’s individual record …

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… followed by commentary which noted: “It was the year of the injury for the 1970-71 Wrestling Team … Despite the crippling injuries, the Ellmen were able to give a decent account of themselves.  The record may not show it, but these guys gave their heart and soul to every match.  Coach Ellman often had to substitute an inexperienced underclassman for an injured experienced veteran.  However the 3-9 record will probably be the last of the losing seasons for Yeshiva’s most exciting team, as the subs of this year have picked up valuable experience.”

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I came to be one of those inexperienced underclassman, influenced by my dorm acquaintance Gabor (Gabe) Klein to take wrestling as a gym the second half of my freshman year, progressing rapidly to being rooted on as a sophomore varsity member by avid supporters (mat level – teammate Gary Rubin, Coach Neil Ellman; scorer’s table left-to-right Dave Present, Ira Bauman, Gabe Klein, E.J. Shapiro, and Manager/Announcer Danny Kurtzer.  Masmid 1971 correctly predicted the future, as our team excelled for the next two years and beyond.  In my junior year I became co-captain with senior Noah Nunberg and in my senior year shared the honors with Reuben Koolyk.

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A clipping from the 1971 school newspaper citing Coach Ellman’s “rating” that I had stashed along with that year’s Masmid caught my attention.  Time was a precious commodity at Y.U., particularly when one was in the RIETS program.  From Talmudic studies with Rabbis in the morning, to Bible professors (such as Dr. Reguer) in the early afternoon, and on to secular studies and science labs into early evening, I had to find the time for conditioning before it was de riguer to be in the gym.

For a period of time after graduation I would bump into alumni from Y.U. days, and get the question as to whether I had kept up with wrestling.  My standard answer became that the only wrestling I did since graduation was wrestling with my conscience.  I suspect that David Leibtag and Howard Dorfman may have shared that same sentiment along the way.

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Good Energy at FirstEnergy Park

Scenes from FirstEnergy Park last night, as the Lakewood Blue Claws defeated the Delmarva Shorebirds 2-0 on the strength of stellar pitching, complemented by post-game pre-July 4 Fireworks.

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A Rose by His Own Name

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Pete Rose is certainly not without his share of controversy owing to a lifetime ban from baseball due to betting on games in which he was involved as player/manager for the Cincinnati Reds.  The name of the next-to-last chapter in his new book is “I Blew It, I Know That”.  The book is a marvelous read for fans of baseball in particular, and for students of the triumphs and frailties of life in general.

At the 5:00 minute mark of his retirement speech this weekend, Chase Utley remarked how Phillies fans, over the past two years, have repeatedly thanked him for the 2008 World Series victory.  And he remarks that he is thankful to the fans, who helped elevate him toward his lofty goals.  Chase was a hard-nosed player in the mold of Pete Rose.

Pete idolized his father, who was an accomplished amateur athlete.  He cites several of the fathers in his neighborhood who were role models for their sons.  One of those sons was Eddie Brinkman, known as The Babe Ruth of Cincinnati, who would go on to be the star player on Pete’s baseball team in high school (the same team that produced the Phillies’ Art Mahaffey a few years earlier).  It was Brinkman who attracted the scouts’ attention as a potential superstar, not Pete Rose.

Rose describes his father as loving but stern.  “So if I went 4-for-6 in a game and on the way home he ignored the four hits and wanted to talk about what I’d done the other two times, I might not have liked it, but I understood.”  One thing Pete’s dad didn’t tolerate was mental errors.  He knew that Pete would have to work harder than most of his peers due to being undersized. While that was something beyond his control, being focused at all times for game preparation and during the games was well within his control.  That awareness, intensity, and what some might call baseball IQ became Rose’s signature.

Another adult that Pete idolized was his mother’s brother, Uncle Buddy Bloebaum.   Rose considers him to have been the best baseball player in the family, but just as his uncle was about to embark on a career the Great Depression hit.  Uncle Buddy was a switch hitter, which Rose emulated, and it was Bloebaum – a scout for the Reds – who signed Pete to his first contract with the ballclub.

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As a young player, Pete largely got the cold shoulder from veterans on the major league club, who considered him to be a brash hot dog as he slid head first into bases and ran out walks to first base (isn’t running out a walk an oxymoron?).  But two of the team’s stars in the early ’60s, Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, respected Pete’s grit and took him under their wing.  One of the more revealing passages in the book is that Pete was actually called into the Reds’ front office and told that he was hanging around with black players too much.  In no uncertain terms, Pete ignored the advice.

Cleaning out my closet earlier this week in preparation for a move, I came across some Phillies memorabilia.  One of the items was a monograph on Phillies baseball in the 29th century.

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Rose of course had an illustrious career in Cincinnati, but as the monograph notes the contract that he signed in 1978 with the Phillies would have a major impact on that club’s future.

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Rose writes: “When I joined the Phillies for the ’79 season, Mike Schmidt was the best player in the game three or four days a week.  He could be more than that, and when he watched me play over the course of a season, Mike became the best player in the game seven days a week  I spurred him on.  I made him understand that there are other ways to win than home runs.  You can lead with your defense   You can lead with your base-running.  You can lead with your leadership … I’d promised the organization if they signed me, we would make that last step and go to the World Series, and I delivered.”

Pete’s role in that Series is celebrated in a special supplement of the Philadelphia Inquirer that I kept, highlighting our version of the immaculate reception.

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In his book Rose adds: “For all the talent we had on that team, for all the great chemistry and competitiveness you felt every time you walked in that clubhouse, I still feel to this day that the reason we won it all was because our manager, Dallas Green, was the perfect fit for our club … He was vocal and no nonsense; he had rules and he wanted you to abide by the rules.  If you didn’t, he penalized you.”

Many baseball lifers have referred to “playing the game the right way”, but as in many other avenues of life the right way is a product of the cultural milieu.  Rose recognizes that expectations of players playing the right way is reflected in fans’ attitudes as well.  “If  you were on their side, all that extra stuff you did helped their team win, then they loved you.  If you were on the other team, they probably loved to boo you.  Before I went to Philadelphia, the fans hated me.  Oh, did they love to boo me in my years with the Cincinnati Reds!  But they never once booed me when I was there playing for the Phillies.”

I’ll leave you with a story Pete shared about his manager in Cincy, Dave Bristol.   “The job of a manager is above all to understand each and every one of his players and to know how to reach them.  My manager later on, the great Sparky Anderson, liked to talk about how there are three – and only three – ways to reach a guy: You kick him in the ass, you leave him alone, or you give him a pat on the back.  The trick was knowing which kind of guy a given player was.  That same month, July 1967, we were in a funk at the plate as a team, and Dave decided it was time to impose a fine on anyone who came up with a runner on third base and no outs or one out, and did not bring the runner home.  Guess who earned the first fine from the new rule?  Yours truly, that’s who.  I had four hits, including three extra-base hits, and we cruised to a 6-2 win over the Pirates, but in the seventh I came up with runners on the corners and one out, and bounced out.  After the game I walked right in to see Dave in his office and handed him twenty-five bucks in cash and a trading stamp catalog I’d won for being on a radio show.  Dave said he wanted the full fifty bucks and wouldn’t accept the catalog.  ‘Maybe he needs it for his wardrobe,’ I told reporters that night.  But I made clear that I thought it was a good rule, and I was happy to pay the fine.”

During his long and storied career, Pete Rose played in 1,972 games in which his team won.  As he notes, that, by a long shot, is the most ever by any player.  At the current moment, with our beloved Phillies in freefall (from 3.5 games in 1st place on May 29 to 6.5 games back in less than a month), Rose’s book is a delightful reminder of what it takes to win.

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Sy Berger’s Baseball Cards – Part 2

In Part 1 I noted the origin of baseball cards and, in continuing with packing up the apartment in Fair Lawn, I came across a collectible reprint of the first issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.

IMG_3157The centerpiece of the magazine is a trifold pullout with an article by Jerome Weidman that brought back vivid memories.  Not of the August 16, 1954 issue, as I surely wasn’t able to read then.  But of a strategy that baseball card tycoons used to hook kids into buying more cards.  You can read all about it in the Sports Illustrated vault.

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Of course I hadn’t realized at the time why it was so difficult to get certain cards, which I now appreciate was a calculated supply and demand through selective withholding that made a specific card rare.  Other than simply purchasing the stale gum laden little wax packages, the game of flipping cards against a wall was one way to acquire more.   But there was no reason to flip cards of value.  It was in trading cards that you had a chance to bundle a package for something rare, converting young card aficionados into junior general managers.

Nostalgia is never in short supply …

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The School of Life

I know nothing of The School of Life other than the back jacket wrapping notes on a delightful book published by them that I picked up a few year ago, but put aside to read on a humid day.  It states: “The School of Life is dedicated to developing emotional intelligence – believing that our most persistent problems are created by a lack of understating, compassion and communication.  We operate from ten physical campuses around he world, including London, Amsterdam, Seoul and Melbourne.  We produce films, run classes, offer therapy and make a range of psychological products.  The School of Life Press (no relation) publishes books on the most important issues of emotional life.  Our titles are designed to entertain, educate, console and transform”.

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Rather ambitious, until you open Small Pleasures and realize how well the book lives up to its billing.  Consider the piece, Driving on the Motorway at Night, which is identified as driving therapy:  “For thinking, surprisingly, complete stillness is not always the best environment for coaxing the mind towards its best efforts.  Often a more helpful set-up is quiet plus motion plus something else not too taxing to be done.  Driving provides multiple minor routines: checking the rear mirror, micro adjustments on the accelerator, the automatic scanning of the speedometer and the constant interplay of the hands on the wheel and the road ahead … New ways of seeing things come into view.  And they do precisely because we’re not trying too hard .”

Or this, from Sunday Mornings:  “The other side of the traditional Sabbath was a contrastive set of expectations around the things you positively engaged with in this specially designed period of 24 hours – motivated by the thought that a day is long, but not infinite … Ceremonies were evolved to turn people’s minds to questions that matter but typically get marginalized: what am I doing with my life; how are my relationships going; what do I really value and why?  … States of higher consciousness are, of course, desperately short-lived.  We shouldn’t in any case aspire to make them permanent, because they don’t sit so well with the many important practical tasks we all need to attend to.  But we should make the most of them when they arise, and harvest their insights for the time we require them the most.”

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Consider A Favourite Old Jumper:  “With the jumper we rehearse something key.  It is a transitional object that helps us along the path not from childhood to adulthood but towards old age.  The jumper words in opposition to a tendency – otherwise quite evident in lives – to fall out of love with things as they lose their original merits.  It reverses the cold trajectory of growing disappointment: instead, love quietly accumulates round it.  Without quite stating it plaint to ourselves, we hope that we too will be appreciated as this jumper is; that someone will feel about you this way and not only forgive us for our frayed, misshapen bodies and characters – but will come to love us precisely for these things.

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What about Daisies?  “We don’t give each other bunches of daisies to mark special occasions.  We  don’t go for special trips to look at famous daisy gardens.  Couples don’t purchase a single daisy as a token of their love.  This isn’t really evidence of any failure on the part of this particular flower.  Rather, it’s an oversight on our part.  We disdain the daisy for an unfortunate reason: it is abundant.  It’s a victim of the unfortunate idea that to be special something has to be rare.”

 

 

 

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You’ll Never Walk Alone

In 1945, the year my parents were married, and during which my mother turned twenty, Rodgers and Hammerstein came out with their acclaimed musical Carousel.  One of its songs, You’ll Never Walk Alone, has acquired nearly iconic status, and has been recorded by an incredible litany of performers.

But my favorite recording was the one that my mother made in a studio sometime in the 1950s.  I can still hear her beautiful voice singing what could have well been her mantra at times, as she navigated a shall-we-say less than easy life.  Both she and the recording are long gone (thirty-two years, to be exact), and recently I came across the version recorded by Celtic Woman, which comes as close to the sound, cadence and rhythm with which my mother sang it.

When you walk through the storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark.
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone.
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