The Radical Middle

A (News) Show About Nothing

Tuesday, 03 February 2009 06:19 AM Written by

(yadda yadda yadda)

I was eating dinner at the Waterfront last week, sitting in the Damon’s Grill clubhouse and scarfing down a couple of sliders, when a giant graphic on the bottom of the CNN feed caught my attention. (Quick aside: I have never, in all the times I’ve eaten at Damon’s, seen one of the big screens tuned to CNN. It’s as if the Obama Administration has become a new spectator sport.) Beneath some B-roll of Caroline Kennedy walking on the streets of New York City, the text read: DOUBLE STANDARD?  

I, who should have known better, thought they were referring to the lack of in-depth reporting about the circumstances surrounding her in-and-out-and-all-about flirtation with, campaign for, and withdrawal from consideration for the open New York senate seat. Especially amid the kind of salacious rumors that arose in those final few hours — the kind that, for a male public figure, almost certainly would have meant some more probing and digging into his personal life.

But oh, no.

What our friends at CNN were asking — I couldn’t hear the report, but I could tell from the text and the graphic on-screen — was whether Caroline Kennedy, author, socialite, scion of a popular former president, whose most glowing qualifications for office were her fame and a near-dynastic, American-political-and-monarchical powerhouse of a surname, had been the victim of SEXISM. You know, because some people had opposed her appointment to the U.S. Senate. Because some people had, with all the indelicate utterance of the obvious they could muster, suggested that a woman with politics in her blood but not on her resume, someone who’d never been elected to public office, who’d never show much of an interest or inclination to be so, and who, since her recent conversion, had seemed oddly inarticulate and unconvincing in her attempts to explain it, might not be the best pick for that political seat.

Imagine, if you will, that Jerry Seinfeld had announced his interest in Hillary Clinton’s senate seat. Bright and personable guy. Social and cultural icon of roughly the same age. Likewise tremendously wealthy. Also written a couple of books. Supports many charities, does plenty of charity work of his own. Possessed of no prior political interest or experience whatsoever.  (And never mind that, unlike Ms. Kennedy, he did not have fame and fortune bequeathed to him, but had to work and scrape and scramble for years to attain it, and now never seems to freeze or stutter or stammer when put on the spot and asked soft questions by the media.)

Does anyone think his ambition, his rank and obvious presumption, his sudden eagerness to trade one form of privilege and access for another, would not have been met with protest? That his possible appointment, much less his backroom celebrity maneuvering to attain it, would not have produced some sort of opposition? A hue and (out)cry at least as vehement as — and likely much louder than — the voices who rose and spoke against Ms. Kennedy?

If so, would we have been asked to wonder whether Mr. Seinfeld had fallen victim to sexism? To reverse sexism? To anti-Semitism? To anti-sitcomism?

Probably not.  We would, I imagine, have secured ourselves in the knowledge that this man, this person, this popular but obviously unqualified celebrity had been judged, at least by some people, the wrong pick for the position.

Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that. 

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Ben Got Back

Monday, 02 February 2009 06:03 AM Written by

(and he deserves a whole lot more) 

Ben Roethlisberger has quarterbacked the Steelers to one-third of their Super Bowl victories. He was the youngest quarterback ever to win the Super Bowl. He’s the second youngest quarterback ever to win two Super Bowls. He’s one of only ten quarterbacks in NFL history to win two Super Bowls. He has, in just five seasons, already led the Steelers to nineteen — count ‘em, nineteen — come-from-behind fourth quarter victories. Six of those comebacks came this season. Three of those have come since December 7th.

The biggest one of those, and undoubtedly the biggest one of all, came last night. 8 plays, 78 yards, in 2 minutes, 2 seconds. Capped off by as perfect a pass, in as pressure-packed a situation, as you will ever see. A tight-spiraled, heat-seeking missile of a throw that left bullet tracers over the heads of three Cardinals’ defenders and delivered the kind of heart-stopping, city-shaking, laws-of-physics-mocking completion you thought could only be possible in a Matrix movie.

On his third progression. Under heavy pressure. With a game, a season, and the hopes of a whole blessed Nation hanging right there in the air along with it.

It was a moment of will. Of beauty. And of brilliance. At the end of a season that had its fair share of all three but that never, ever had anything better.

I’d like to think that this throw and this drive, this game, this season, and this staggering, ever-growing pedigree of pure clutch performances will buy young Mr. Roethlisberger at least a little lingering love and patience from the far corners of an often-fickle Steeler fandom. But I doubt it.

Sometime next season, he will, as all quarterbacks do, have a bad game. Maybe two. He’ll throw a couple of picks and take a couple of sacks and maybe miss an open receiver or two, and then, before he’s even left the locker room, the sports talk radio phone lines will alight with people demanding that Charlie Batch (he makes quicker decisions, and the offensive line protects him better) or Byron Leftwich (he’s got a strong arm, that one) or Brian St. Pierre (they never shoulda let him go!) or Pete Gonzalez (he won some big games at Pitt, and he’s not playing anywhere right now) should be starting instead.

It’ll happen. You know it will. And when it does, it will be, after yesterday's game — and the Ravens game, and the Cowboys game, and the Chargers game, and... — an even greater affront to fact and sense and reason than it was before.

That last drive, these two Super Bowls, and all five years of steadily mounting brilliance aren’t enough to earn Ben a free pass. They won’t, nor should they, forgive every mistake he makes next (or any) season. But they should at least be enough to buy some slack, some patience, and some please-shut-up-about-the-backup-quarterbacks appreciation for a guy who, when the clock is ticking and your heart is pounding, delivers time and time and glorious, game-winning time again.

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While I Was Away

Sunday, 01 February 2009 11:31 AM Written by

(the more things changed, the more we stayed the same.) 

There were times, over the last five months, when I was happy to have hung up my keyboard, content to sit and stew on the sidelines of the city, the county, the country, the culture, while news too dim and nights too dark and notions too depressing slouched their ways across my ever-darkening field of view. And then there were times like these...

Change came, as it so often does these days in America, from a fortuitous mix of restless hunger and relentless marketing savvy. One pitchman, with smile brighter and plan bolder than the rest, promised to give us almost everything we want. It remains to be seen whether he can give us anything we need.

Companies fell. Bailout figures rose. And the media-industrial complex, after four long months of proclaiming the financial sky was falling, began to wonder why so many of us were always looking down and covering our heads.

Less than six months after the nation's leading economists told us $5-a-gallon gas was inevitable, $1.75-a-gallon gas was plentiful. If their accuracy continues apace, this terrible recession, which they now forecast to linger for years, will end sometime in May.

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Stuck in the Middle With... Who?

Sunday, 01 February 2009 07:03 AM Written by

(clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here i am.)

Five months ago, I quit blogging.

Four months ago, in a full-blown Post-Gazette Next Page essay, I explained why.

Three months ago -- only a little more than an hour after I'd declared to a conference room full of PG writers and editors that blogs were dead -- I agreed to start again.

Because a few of those writers urged me to. Because one of those editors asked me to. Because that same editor assured me, as much as she possibly could, that many of the concerns and frustrations that drove me away from blogging would be, if not eliminated, at least contained and controlled on this site. But mostly because, despite those concerns and frustrations, despite the insults and death wishes and partisan hackery and intellectual dishonesty that so often oozed my way, I still wanted to believe in what I'd been doing. Or at least been trying to do.

So here I am again, rested and ready, settling into a new blog but making the same old promises both to myself and to you:

That I will do my best to fill The Radical Middle with everything -- critical thought, emotional and intellectual honesty, lively and lyrical prose -- good opinion writing should contain. That I will avoid (most) self-indulgences. That I will strive to make everything I post worthy of op-ed, major paper publication. (All the more important now, of course, since I’m actually posting under the masthead of one.) That I will make both my craft and my content as strong, as polished, as compelling as possible. That I will make every word, subject, and syllable count. And that, even as I tilt to the left or lean to the right or seem to stray occasionally from the center, I will always value ideas over ideology. Honesty over advocacy. And calling ‘em as I see ‘em over seeing ‘em as I’d like ‘em.

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