Sports & Entertainment

Sports & Entertainment

'Mad Men' and the Second Age of Jimmy Carter

The definitive detail might be the scene in "Charade" where Audrey Hepburn snaps the filter off her cigarette in disgust. Only the weak or inauthentic smoked filters. That day has made a comeback with “Mad Men.” Everyone smokes, but real men smoke Luckys. Some have reported that it is the best TV show ever, at a time when TV writing — "The Sopranos," "House," "Lost" — transcends movies in skill and imagination.

I made the point in the first essay I had published, an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer back in 1977, when the anti-smoking crusade had taken on all of the umbrage of a Gandhi hunger strike, that smoking was bad for you but quitting was worse, as it formed self-righteousness and pretension and the sense that you were doing something when you weren’t doing anything. That may be why there is such freshness to a story about the hardworking and hard-playing in the days when drinking started at 4 in the afternoon. Earlier for top executives. Soon after it passed they — Jimmy Carter — would tax the lunchtime martinis.


The Windy City

To honor the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America, Chicago held the Columbian Exposition, better known at the World’s Fair of 1893. It was a blockbuster event, planned by the noted architects Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted. Historians widely credit the Columbian Exposition as the first symbol of American exceptionalism, a sign that America was soon to become the dominant force in the world.

Since that time, Chicago has seen its fair share of ups and downs. It is still a remarkable city, filled with great people, wonderful architecture, a beautiful lakefront, great restaurants and great opera, a thriving blues scene and rich cultural tradition that rivals any city in the world.


Patriotism dead among GOP

“USA! USA! USA!” With my family, I remember proudly cheering our American athletes at the Los Angeles Olympics.

It felt great to be an American. And it’s too bad patriotism is dead today — at least among some Republicans.

Let’s get this straight. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael “Foot-in-Mouth” Steele thinks it’s wrong of President Barack Obama to go to Copenhagen, Denmark, to try to win the 2016 Summer Games for the United States? As White House press secretary Robert Gibbs snapped, “Who’s he rooting for?” Would Steele really prefer that the Games go to Tokyo? Rio? Madrid?


Serena Williams, Jack Kramer and me

A couple of weeks ago was the week of outrageous outbursts, from an unknown South Carolina congressman’s rude interruption of the president’s speech to Congress on healthcare to tennis star Serena Williams’ crude meltdown at the U.S. Open. It also is the week when tennis star Jack Kramer died at 88. There is a connection between these seemingly disparate tennis events, and it makes an interesting story.


Woodstock and the Other Mother: A Brief History of the New Age

When the wave of Woodstock nostalgia awakens this week with the 40th anniversary of that spontaneous celebration of peace, love and dope that so deeply marked a generation and impressed the media so thoroughly that we still listen to these people, youth will want to know: Is that Granny and Grandfather dancing naked in the mud? Is that Great Auntie Eleanor firing up a jumbo? To find the answers to these questions, youth might ask: Is Great Auntie a lawyer or a journalist? Then probably yes, because virtually everyone who was at Woodstock then is either a lawyer or a journalist today.

There are several unmarked or unnoticed elements of the storied Woodstock festival. First, the music sucked. Most of the performers — Country Joe, Sha-Na-Na, Quill, Mountain — were never heard from again. But Janis was there, and so was her elegant shadow, Grace Slick with the Jefferson Airplane. Nothing free and awakening like that which they had at Haight-Ashbury in California just a year or so before, but well enough for a bunch of fledgling lawyers on acid. Woodstock would be Haight-Ashbury for lawyers.

Tom Watson

When I was growing up, Tom Watson was one of my heroes. I loved his compact swing, his calm demeanor, his regally American bearing, and his intense competitiveness. I also liked the fact that he couldn’t putt, because I can’t putt either.

To that point, I once saw the famous broadcaster Jim McKay at a Baltimore Orioles game in the early ’90s a couple weeks before the British Open and I asked him who he thought would win the tournament. He said Norman. I said, “What about my hero, Tom Watson?” He shook his head and said simply, “He can’t putt anymore.”

To the Moon and Back

By returning and rest we shall be saved ...
— The Book of Common Prayer

One giant step to the moon 40 years ago today changed things. Possibly it changed everything for all the future and for everyone. Shortly thereafter, in 1977, film critic Stanley Kauffman went to the movies and saw a film that he called an epiphany, “an event in the history of faith.” It was Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” This movie could not have been appreciated before July 20, 1969, when we landed on the moon, for prior to that we were afraid of the moon. We were afraid of space.

Sam’s Army & the Green Party

Over this past weekend, while watching the U.S. soccer team lose a gut-wrenching Confederations Cup final to the Samba Boys of Brazil, I had a strange insight: that being a U.S. Soccer fan is a lot like being a member of a third political party. I can only claim knowledge of what it’s like to be a U.S. Soccer fan, but the similarities seem striking.

Consider that in both cases, casual acquaintances think you’re a bit strange — it’s not that they consider your choice a fatal character flaw, but it’s obvious that you possess a very different worldview. I’ll admit that I’ve tried to work soccer into more discussions than normal conversational etiquette would recommend and I’ve observed the same thing about members of a third party (ever get caught in a three-hour conversation about the elimination of the income tax?). U.S. Soccer is always looking for a savior to lead it out of irrelevance, a player on the shortlist for best in the world. In short, it is looking for someone like Abraham Lincoln, someone who can displace one of the “big four” American sports, like Honest Abe vanquished the Whigs.

The Palins Should Sue Letterman: A Hero’s Medal for Bristol Palin

It was good of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has a daughter of his own, to come out in support of his running mate, Sarah Palin, after her daughter — or daughters — were slandered by late-night comedian David Letterman.

The Palins have shown remarkable grace and restraint in this. Other commentators have disgracefully attacked their children in the past, some working for the highest newspapers. If it was my daughter, I’m not sure that I could be so restrained.

‘Lost’ and the Millennial Task

Just when we leave town for a few days for Son No. 1’s college graduation in Tennessee, key events occur; not in the Punjab, Iraq or Washington, D.C., but closer to the mythical core of our American being — on the strange and timeless island of J.J. Abrams’s long-running TV show “Lost.”

This is important to us because, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, set in the background of an ancient European tribal and ethnic conflict with religious overtones that expands to every corner of the world, the “Lost” hero is given a task that much be successfully completed before the endless conflict and confusion can stop and the world can begin again. Frodo must kill the Golem in the Tolkien series. In “Lost,” John Locke. Man of the Enlightenment, must kill Jacob, the spirit voice of the island’s ancient temple, before the new millennium, identified in the mythology as the first Aquarian millennium, can awaken. In this week’s episode, Locke goes to kill Jacob.