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Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, June 2, 2018

I took Bolt Bus down to Eugene on Tuesday morning and enjoyed a delightful midweek sojourn with my old pal Williston and her people, Sylvia and Pete. That's Williston with me in the photo.

Eugene is home to the University of Oregon and its football team and a mecca for running and teen runaways. My friends explained that any town whose main focus is the football team is a town with the mentality of a 19-year-old male. That seems to be about right.

We had a grand time anyway, walking with Williston along the Willamette River, coffee and conversation at Allann Brothers Coffee (behind us in the photo), browsing at Smith Family Bookstore and Tsunami Books, strolling around the U of O campus, and a fine dinner at Party Downtown with some pretty fair fried chicken and Southern-style greens that to my surprise lived up to their billing.

Sylvia and I treated ourselves to a mini-film fest with four movies in somewhere around 26 hours. Tuesday afternoon at the Bijou we saw RBG, which shows Notorious RBG to be even more impressive than I realized. The film also pointed out Jimmy Carter's groundbreaking role in appointing women and African-Americans to the federal judiciary, RBG among them. I give this one the maximum number of thumbs up.

Tuesday evening we caught The Big Lebowski at the David Minor Theater. I saw Lebowski 20 years ago but had no memory of details. Sylvia had never seen it, and the David Minor serves food and beer with the movie, convenient for our schedule and something she wanted to check out. Let's just say Lebowski is not among my favorite Coen brothers films. It has something of a cult following that I don't get, but as you know there is much that I don't get. Nonetheless, it's a good movie to watch with a burger and a beer. There are scenes I recall with amusement. No regrets about seeing it again.

Speaking of seeing one again, we returned to the Bijou Wednesday afternoon for The Rider, which I saw at Portland International Film Festival in February. Knowing the ending, which one watches the first time with trepidation that something awful might happen, did not spoil it at all. To the contrary, foreknowledge made every scene more poignant. I liked it a lot when I saw it at the festival and even more this second time around.

We stayed at the Bijou to close out our film frenzy with The Guardians, the French film Les gardiennes, not the Russian action film. It's long, 138 minutes, beautifully shot, and for me compelling. I adored it. Another one that rates the maximum number of thumbs up.

Lebowski, like the Dude, abides. The other films are of a higher order. Each is worth making an effort to see.

Thursday morning I said goodbye Williston, Sylvia, and Pete and took the noon Bolt Bus back to my little life in Portland. Good times, good memories for memory bank, until next time.

LeBron James delivered a performance for the ages when he laid 51 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on Golden State in Game 1 of the NBA finals and very nearly led the underdog Cavs to an upset in a game won by the Warriors in overtime 124–114. Sports scribes and other ink-stained wretches of the journalistic trade fell all over themselves trying to ladle out superlatives commensurate with James's feats.

In Game 1 of the 1969 finals Jerry West led the LA Lakers to a 120–118 win over the Boston Celtics with 53 points, 3 rebounds, and 10 assists. Was James that much more spectacular than West? Boston took the series in 7 games. West averaged 37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 7.4 assists for those 7 games and is the only player from a losing team to be named finals MVP.

I don't bring this up to diminish the accomplishments of LeBron James, a great, great player and by all indications a truly decent human being, but rather to offer some historical context that is often missing when praise is lavished on contemporary sports figures. Comparisons of players from different eras can be problematic because the game has evolved. Rules, strategy, and physical attributes of the players, their size and athleticism, are different. I think the great players of West's era, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and others, had the intelligence and skills to adapt to today's game and more than hold their own. Some may disagree.

The NBA playoffs can bring out the best, and sometimes even a little more, in the game's greatest players. This year LeBron James is gracing us with a transcendent performance that stands with any in the history of the game. The fact that it does not stand alone but with others who came before him is part of what makes the game of basketball fun. I'll give the last word to another NBA great who treated us to more than a few transcendent moments:

In sports, a player develops his style, his skills, his sensibilities based on the time period he grew up in. The way basketball is played today is different to what it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Then along come game innovators – whether players or coaches – and the sport evolves. LeBron is one of the best players now and his intelligent combination of team leadership, brawny lay-ups, dominating rebounding, and surgical passing is elevating the game to its next level. Just as Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and others did. In fact, for those paying attention to the playoffs: Bill Russell went to eight NBA finals in a row, and his teams won all eight. —Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Is LeBron James a better player than me? Is Hawkeye better than Green Arrow?, The Guardian, May 31, 2018)

That Deep State. Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at National Review, wrote a nice column on the subject. Here's a taste:

We are told that the Deep State is yet another vast conspiracy lurking like a fifth column within the highest reaches of the government, dedicated to . . . something. Not to a foreign power. Not to some large cause. But to itself. The president insists the Deep State unleashed “spies” to infiltrate his campaign in order to . . . fill-in-the-blank. If the answer is to derail the Trump campaign, the Deep State failed abysmally, causing far more damage to the president’s opponent. (Like the McCarthy Era, but with No Communist Threat to Support It, National Review, June 1, 2018)

Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee. Two bees in a bonnet? Good grief. I am a pretty hardcore free speech guy. No right is absolute, not even speech, but speech is one that should be pushed to its limits. I think of the 20th-century battles against censorship waged on behalf of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, and others and cringe when people take it on themselves to dictate what others may think and say, even when I find their speech contemptible.

That said, the coarsening of speech within American culture that has been coming on for some time does not serve us well. I think a plausible argument can be made that there is a qualitative difference between Barr's racial insult and Bee's crude slur. However, it is not a terrible thing for them to be called on the carpet for their recourse to crass and not especially clever language. They could both be held to a higher standard for ingenuity and creativity. I'm not comfortable with the all too predictable demands that people be fired for objectionable speech, in this instance from my wing of the socio-political bird with Barr, from the right wing with Bee. We all know those decisions are made by networks on the basis of the bottom line anyway, nothing to do with right and wrong. And we might all imagine the uproar from certain quarters if Roseanne Barr called Hillary Clinton feckless.

A 21-year-old volunteer nurse named Razan Al-Najar was shot and killed in Gaza yesterday. A witness told Reuters that she was wearing a white uniform with her hands raised high in a clear way as she ran toward the border fence to help a wounded protester. (Israeli army kills Palestinian nurse in Gaza border protest, Reuters, June 2, 2018). What more remains to be said?

Keep the faith.

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