Thursday, July 9, 2020

What's in a Name? Don't Ask...

Brian J. Noggle muses about the possible upcoming name change of the Washington Redskins. He considers one of the suggestions, "Washington Warriors," but warns it will probably not work because "Warriors" is also one of the problematic team names associated with Native Americans.

Even though the organization says that no Native American images or icons will be associated with the new team name or logo, the word "Warriors" could itself be too problematic.

Although many of the Native-related nicknames have logos and images only lightly brushed by tribal imagery, others wade pretty deeply into stereotyped versions of Native people. While the drive to eliminate them all could go too far, I have to say that erasing "Redskins" doesn't seem out of line. Some of the other names and nicknames were chosen as ways of identifying with the strength or dignity of certain Native tribes or individuals. But the word "redskin" was pretty much always a slur, so it's next to impossible to defend.

But of course, sorting that out would take attention to detail, history and nuance, and there's precious little of those qualities in use in just about any debate in our nation at the moment.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Nice Work if You Can Get It

Brian Dowling is a pretty well-known entertainment photographer with some big names in his portfolio. He's also one of the best salesmen I've ever heard of, because he managed to get someone to fund a project where he did a little bit of traveling around the world for three summers and took pictures of beautiful red-headed women in 20 countries.

His Kickstarter campaign to produce a book of the project had a goal of $18,000. By the time it had finished, he'd raised more than $33,000. He printed a thousand and sold them all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Check Out This Swell Target I'm Wearing

My own mockery is, I'm sure, an unread drop in the bucket of those with wide audiences noting (again!) just how incompetent New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio is. A quick perusal of the mayor's Twitter feed finds no reference to what may have been one of NYC's deadliest non-9/11 weeks in decades. There is, however some bragging about bringing broadband internet to low-income neighborhoods and approval of charges filed against a woman who wildly overreacted to being asked to put her dog on a leash.

Mr. Mayor, if you want people to stop dunking on you, stop handing them the ball.

Waves of History

The crowded nature of Napoleonic-Wars era naval fiction leaves other eras as relatively open fields for authors to work in. Some choose to stick to the tales of wooden walls by predating the late 18th and early 19th century era most commonly featured. Other choose to explore the transition from sail to steam as technological advances created deadlier weapons and deadlier ships. The men who crew them, though, are as human as ever and the conflicts still hinge on them and the courage they display, as well as the costs they are (or are not) willing to bear.

Antoine Vanner takes a look at Her Majesty's Navy in the early 1880s through the lens of the young officer Nicholas Dawlish. Although Dawlish himself knows no Navy other than steam-powered, he's serving under officers who started their careers as boys aboard the ships of sail. The future of the navy will be in the hands of the younger men who can seize on the new technology and think in its world instead of trying to adapt themselves to it with one foot in each. Dawlish is ambitious for advancement, and the Royal Navy has not yet completely shed its devotion to advancement by influence rather than solely on merit.

In Britannia's Spartan, his bravery and the influence of a powerful admiral have landed him command of one of the RN's newest; the steel-hulled cruiser HMS Leonidas. As a part of that cruise, Leonidas will help with a diplomatic mission in the Far East, trying to secure allies among the Chinese and Korean people in the face of the modernizing and expansion-minded Empire of Japan. Though it should be a simple mission of ferrying diplomatic correspondence and the like, the underlying conflicts among the different factions will boil over and put Dawlish in the midst of the fight, in an area that still holds some frightful memories of his first bloody battles. Only the most precise handling will allow him to survive the diplomatic crisis at hand, and only bloody courage can get him through the enemies he faces on land and sea. Like the Spartan general for whom his ship is named, Dawlish knows that if he comes back with anything less than success, there's not much reason to come back at all.

Spartan is the fourth of the "Dawlish Chronicles" and the best to that point in the series. The initial volume was a grand adventure and had the advantage of fresh characters but the drawn-out chases, retreats and last stands grew a little repetitious. Spartan has the advantage of an actual sea battle, something the real-world history of the period furnishes few opportunities to record. Napoleonic-era writers can always tuck a frigate skirmish in here and there because of the worldwide nature of that conflict, but the British Empire was not in open conflict with many powers during the 1880s, at least not on the open sea. Vanner takes advantage of the near-complete unfamiliarity Dawlish and other officers have with the Korean and Japanese people they meet and their culture. He does well turning the narrative on some features of the widening division between expansionist and moderate groups in the Japanese military.

Through its first eight books the Dawlish Chronicles have been uneven, but Britannia's Spartan's tighter narrative focus, twisty diplomatic turns and more cohesive structure make it one of the series that shouldn't be overlooked.

Monday, July 6, 2020

He Done Told You Once

Charlie Daniels will probably forever be best known for his tale of a wager and music contest between a young man named Johnny and the Prince of Darkness. He may not have been the best fiddler in modern country, southern rock, gospel or bluegrass music, but it's hard to imagine anyone else who's in the top 10 in all four of those categories.

Here, performing at a church conference in Jerusalem in 2013, he opens by playing the Israeli national anthem, "Hatikvah" before segueing into a blistering performance of "I'll Fly Away." We thus have the spectacle of an audience singing along in Hebrew accompanied by one of America's proudest rednecks, proof that music bridges a lot more divisions than do politicians, activists, screaming in people's faces and pulling down statues because they can't fight back.

Daniels closes the Alfred Brumley classic with a little call-and-response testimony about how "one of these mornings" he's going to spread his wings and fly away. The little chuckle and grin this promise brings to his face makes this clip a highlight listen on YouTube today as the fast fiddle is stilled and the crown of an enormous hat breaks through the clouds at the Pearly Gates.

Daniels was 83.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Honoring the Unbowed

Major League Baseball has developed its plan for a shorter season in the midst of the pandemic that may yet get derailed by events. If it were any other year I'd almost be OK with no season, but this year is the 100th anniversary of the first meeting among potential owners that would create what we today call the Negro Leagues.

The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City has been having short videos posted that feature a "tip of the cap" from different people to those historic players, honoring their refusal to be sidelined from an important part of American culture by the limited vision of too many owners and players. Ex-big leaguers, former presidents, four generations of the family of integration pioneer Jackie Robinson and more offer a brief salute and a literal tip of the cap to these players and managers.

So in this year it seems as though, despite all of the problems we're having, baseball should play a season of some kind. Even if it's short, even if it's in empty stadiums, even if it's weird -- they played in spite of monumental opposition. Giving it a shot seems like the right thing to do.

Friday, July 3, 2020


The National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Players Association agreed on a list of phrases that reference different social causes important to players that they can wear on their jerseys when they return to play at the end of this month.

For the first four games, the players can wear a jersey with their preferred phrase in the place of their name. After that, they can go back to using their name, or they can continue to have their slogan on their jersey above their uniform number but their name will be printed below it. Or they can choose to just stick with their name from the beginning.

The story has a list of the names, apparently taken from an ESPN report. Some of them are head-scratchers and may not be seen on very many jerseys, such as "Group Economics." Some would be excellent suggestions, such as "Mentor." NBA stars are held in high honor by a lot of young people, especially young men, and they could create and support programs that paired some of those youngsters who are in, say, poverty situations or in families without fathers, with adult men who could help them develop as empowered, responsible and dignified members of their community.

But as expected the league remains far too craven to offend its Beijing cash drawers. So "Uigher Genocide" is not on the list, nor is "Freedom for Hong Kong," "Remember Tiananmen," "End Nike Sweatshops" or any similar slogan.

One player said that the jerseys would allow the players who had taken an interest in the social justice causes to keep the spotlight on those causes. The concern among some had been that, once games resumed, the focus would go to scores, game performance, playoff chances and so on. But now, "With these jerseys, it (social justice) doesn't go away."

As long as it doesn't endanger the revenue stream, anyway.