Shake . . . Or Not

October 8, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

It was on YouTube minutes after the debate ended, and liberal bloggers all over the Internet were linking to it. It appears that McCain refuses to shake hands with Obama. In the video, McCain taps Obama on the back, Obama turns and offers his hand, but McCain, rather than shaking hands, points to his wife, and Obama shakes hands with Cindy. Just at that moment Wolf Blitzer is saying, “It’s apparent that Senator McCain has some disdain . . . for Senator Obama.”

The clip is misleading. It’s taken out of context. The candidates had already shaken hands, and McCain was trying to get Obama to shake hands with Cindy as well, not instead of.

But the canard reminded me of another interracial failure to shake. This one was real, and it had consequences for winning and losing.

In the NIT basketball tournament in 1950 at Madison Square Garden, the University Kentucky Wildcats played the team from City College. Kentucky, under legendary coach Adolf Rupp, was the number three ranked team in the nation. It was also all white. In fact, Rupp had been quoted as saying that a black would never play on one of his teams.

The CCNY team was made up mostly of blacks and Jews. The coach, Nat Holman, was Jewish. As Marvin Kalb later characterized it, “It was not a basketball game. It was a cultural war.”

CCNY wasn’t given much of a chance to win. Kentucky had just taken the SEC championship, beating Tennessee 95 - 58. But after the warm-up, as the teams gathered at their benches, Coach Holman had an idea. He told his team that, you know, fellas, just for the sake of sportsmanship, why don’t you go over to the Kentucky bench and shake hands with their guys. Holman knew what was going to happen, but apparently his players didn’t. As Kalb tells it,
I watched as Floyd Lane put his hand out and this tall, blonde, gorgeous giant turned away from Floyd, which is exactly what Holman wanted...... to get Floyd very upset..... to get all of the other players upset. And Floyd hissed out at the guy, “You gonna be picking cotton in the morning, man!”
Nobody on the Kentucky team would shake hands with the black CCNY players.

Holman’s strategy worked. At halftime, CCNY led 45 - 20 and went on to win the game 89 - 50.

Hat tip: I myself was not at the Garden that night – I’m old, but not that old. This story was first told to me by my friend Dave Fleischner, a grandnephew of Nat Holman.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

October 6, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

In a thread over at Scatterplot, Jenn Lena said à propos of Sarah Palin in the televised debate, “I really loathe this ‘folksy’ thing. I wish someone would help me to understand what it means–specifically, why it is viewed as a desirable affect/quality by some voters.”

So I did my hair up Tina Fey style, put on my Kazuo Kawasaki glasses, and responded:
Doncha think that just havin’ a plain ol’ mom with good ol’-fashioned commonsense in office is the best way to run the government? We’re in this big economic mess right now, but if we can just get rid of the people who’ve been in Washington for so long, except for mavericks like John McCain, and get some more new people in there, well, gosh, I betcha those mavericks will fix up this economy in no time. ‘Cuz those mavericks, they’re not interested in politics or winnin’ elections the way politicans are, they’re just interested in what’s good for our country. Jeez, I don’t know why you guys can’t see that.
That was Friday. The next night, SNL led with a send-up of the debate. Fey/Palin’s opening lines are so similar to my comment that I suspect Scatterplot may have a lurking reader among the SNL writing staff.

Fey’s part begins at about two minutes into the clip.

Here's the transcript:
FEY AS PALIN: Well first of all, let me say how nice it is to meet Joe Biden. And may I say, up close your hair plugs don’t look nearly as bad as everyone says. You know, John McCain and I, we’re a couple of mavericks. And gosh darnit, we’re gonna take that maverick energy right to Washington and we’re gonna use it to fix this financial crisis and everything else that’s plaguin’ this great country of ours.

LATIFAH AS IFILL: How will you solve the financial crisis by being a maverick?

FEY AS PALIN: You know, we’re gonna take every aspect of the crisis and look at it and then we’re gonna ask ourselves, “what would a maverick do in this situation?” And then, you know, we’ll do that.” (SHEwinks.)

Incidentally, the show did very well in the ratings.

Who's Famous?

October 3, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

These two women embracing – you don’t recognize either of them, right?

Yet they are two of the this country’s greatest sopranos of the twentieth century (or the second half of that century), stars of the Met – Roberta Peters and Teresa Stratas.

They are both now retired – Stratas (the one wearing the cap) is 70, Peters 78 – but even in their prime they could have walked down the street together and nobody would have noticed them.

I was thinking about fame as I snapped photos of them.* Actors in film and television, a handful of rock performers, and a few athletes – those are the only people famous enough to be generally noticed. Some of them need bodyguards. But people who are “famous” in other fields go out in public wearing a cloak of anonymity.

That’s certainly true of people not in the performing arts (writers, sociologists), but it holds even for performers outside of those few favored fields. Someone might be the greatest stage actor in the world, but unless she’s starred in movies or TV, not too many people will recognize her.** Great musicians – classical, jazz, folk – have their fans, but the paparazzi will never bother them. (The photogs in the picture abover were all people who had been invited to the reception.)

Randy Newman tells this story. When he goes to restaurants, he likes to sit with his back to the room. One evening he went out to eat with his wife and three kids, and his fifteen-year-old daughter, first to the table, took the seat he would have taken. His wife quietly said to the girl, “You know, that’s the seat your father likes to sit in.” Newman’s daughter looked at him, paused, and said, “You’re not that famous.”

The hard truth is that the kid was probably right.

* I took this snapshot at a reception following a New York Opera Society tribute to Stratas. My presence had nothing to do with any involvement in opera (I have none). It was just one of those accidents of New York geography.

** Once in the local grocery store, I turned, and there was Broadway star Bernadette Peters (no relation to Roberta) standing two feet from me. Nobody else seemed to notice her, and it wasn
t just New Yorkers trying to be blasé. They didnt recognize her.

Women Demanding Answers

Oct. 1, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

A month ago, I commented that US journalists seem reluctant to press politicians for answers. They ask a question, the politician gives an evasive response, and on to the next question. Or they will allow the politician to speak in generalities rather than insist on specifics.

During the Obama-McCain debate, poor Jim Lehrer couldn’t get either candidate to say how he’d scale back his proposals given the straitened economic circumstances he was sure to inherit. Lehrer was too polite to say point blank, “Here’s the question. Are you going to answer it or not?”

For some reason, it seems to be mostly women who are willing to speak bluntly and demand answers. It took a stand-up comic on a chat show for women (Joy Behar on The View) to tell McCain to his face that some of his ads were lies. And it was Campbell Brown, questioning a McCain adviser, who demanded specific examples of Sarah Palin's commander-in-chief decisions.

Here’s Katie Couric trying to get Palin to say whether human activities are the cause of global warming.

Here’s a transcript in case the video doesn’t play:
Couric: What’s your position on global warming? Do you believe it’s man-made or not?
Palin: Well, we’re the only Arctic state, of course, Alaska. So we feel the impacts more than any other state, up there with the changes in climates. And certainly, it is apparent. We have erosion issues. And we have melting sea ice, of course. So, what I’ve done up there is form a sub-cabinet to focus solely on climate change. Understanding that it is real. And …
Couric: Is it man-made, though in your view?
Palin: You know there are - there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with now, these impacts. I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate. Because the world’s weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn’t matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it’s real; we need to do something about it.
At another point, Couric asks her which newspapers and magazines she reads. Palin is deliberately vague, but Couric asks twice for specifics.

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?
Palin: I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.
Couric: What, specifically?
Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.
Couric: Can you name a few?
Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where it’s kind of suggested, “Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?” Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.
Palin’s supporters have been claiming that the press is out to get her. If they are, asking her questions and letting her speak for herself may be the best strategy.