Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Last dance

Tonight marks the end of an era at the University of Illinois. Chief Illiniwek, the symbol of the U of I athletic program since 1926, will
retire after his halftime performance during tonight's basketball game against Michigan.

The decision to retire the Chief came about as a result of the NCAA's decision to bar the U of I from hosting postseason events as long as they used him as their mascot. As one would expect, the university's decision to retire Chief Illiniwek was met with much resistance from alumni and fans throughout the state. Many Illinoisians are understandably upset at the loss of one of the state university's most venerable symbols.

Yet this is one Native American sports symbol whose time has passed. Unlike the situation at Florida State, whose use of the Seminole has been approved by the Seminole Nation, Chief Illiniwek received no such sanction from the Illini tribe. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to find an Illini these days; white settlers chased the Illini across the Mississippi River in the years after the American Revolution. The Peoria Indians of northeastern Oklahoma, the closest descendants of the old Illini Nation, issued a statement in 2000 expressing their disapproval of the use of the Chief mascot:

The newly passed resolution states that "the image portrayed by Chief Illiniwek does not accurately represent or honor the
heritage of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma and is a degrading racial stereotype that reflects negatively on all
American Indian people." The Resolution further states that "the Peoria Tribe of Indians does not endorse or sanction the
characterization of Chief Illiniwek as mascot for the University of Illinois" and also, "requests the leadership of the University
of Illinois to recognize the demeaning nature of the characterization of Chief Illiniwek, and cease the use of this mascot."
In an interview with L. Brian Stauffer, Freelance writer and Photographer, Chief Ron Froman said, "I don't know what the
origination was, or what the reason was for the university to create Chief Illiniwek. I don't think it was to honor us, because,
hell, they ran our (butts) out of Illinois."

Neither the Peoria Indians nor the NCAA have any objection to the University of Illinois continuing to use the name Fighting Illini for their sports teams. The problem with Chief Illiniwek was, among other things, that he did not represent any of the traditions of the Illini tribe that he was supposed to symbolize. The Chief's dress and dance were derived from the Sioux, a tribe unrelated to the Illini, and allegedly came about in part out of research done by Cub Scouts. No Native American has ever portrayed Chief Illiniwek during his 81 year history.

Although I follow Illini sports, and will miss seeing the Chief as a part of the game festivities, it is past time for Chief Illiniwek to retire. Some traditions are worth preserving, and some are relics of a bygone time where whites were less considerate of those not like us. This is one of those traditions we need to let go of. Let the Chief dance off into the sunset.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Inspirational verse

I was driving up to the store this afternoon when I caught this piece of verse over the radio:

You know, just the other night
These cops pulled me over outside a bar.
They turned on their lights
And they ordered me out of my car.
Man, I was only kidding
When I called them a couple of dicks,
But still they made me do the stupid human tricks,
Now I'm stuck in this jail with a bunch of dumb hicks,
And I still don't know why.

The lyrics are from "Alright Guy", by Todd Snider. This is one of his early songs, going back to 1994. I'm sure I've heard it a few times - don't know how I missed those lyrics until now. YouTube has a nice seven-minute version of "Alright Guy" taken from an Austin City Limits performance.

Todd Snider is one of those artists that falls between the cracks. Not quite rock, not quite country, not quite folk, he's the sort of performer that Nashville attracts like moths are attracted to flame. That's the side of Nashville the tourists don't see. The first thing that comes to mind to most people when you mention Nashville is country music, but there are hundreds of talented musicians here who represent almost all musical styles, but often don't get their due because C&W is the 800-pound gorilla that obscures all else in this town.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Grammys

I'll probably end up watching some of the Grammy Awards on TV tonight if there's nothing else on. The Grammys have actually gotten kinda hip in recent years, unlike the stodgy affairs they had when I was a kid. Reflecting the market fragmentation of the last decade, they seem to have awards for just about everything now, instead of trying to shoehorn everybody into a few categories. Some of the scheduled entertainment may not be too promising, though - the Police reunite (yawn), and Justin Timberlake searches for his next girlfriend latest duet partner.

In Nashville, the Grammys mostly are another opportunity for the Music Row pros to gripe about being treated like second-class citizens by their brethren on the coasts. Their complaints are not altogether unjustified, as country provides the music industry its fair share of profits, and some years it has kept the whole business afloat. But Nashville has an inferiority complex when they get compared with New York and Los Angeles, and celebrates when one of their artists takes home a big award. Music Row will even take the Dixie Chicks back for this one night.

I don't keep up so much with the current stuff any more, but since I've been accused of being a music guru in some quarters, I'll do my best to give you some impressions of some of the folks going for the big prizes tonight. I hope Gnarls Barkley does well, and Mary J. Blige is also deserving this year. The Dixie Chicks' record was good, but not spectacular. I wonder if it got so many nominations because the Grammy people were trying to send a message (to Music Row, not the White House). The Red Hot Chili Peppers are past their prime. Carrie Underwood made a nice single, but I distrust all former American Idol contestants not named Kelly Clarkson. John Mayer puts me to sleep. And I can't for the life of me figure out how James Blunt became so popular.

The final word comes from Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan, explaining why he didn't show up to claim his Grammy:

I think the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry. They cater to a low intellect and they feed the masses. They don't honor the arts or the artist for what he created. It's the music business celebrating itself. That's basically what it's all about.

UPDATE: Dixie Chicks go five-for-five; perhaps they were trying to send a message to the White House after all.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Super Bowl party

Does anybody really think that the Super Bowl commercials are such a big deal, or are they just one more example of media hype? They had a "Greatest Super Bowl Commercials" special on TV last night; from the build-up, you'd think that the commercials were as important as the game itself. Although I'm glad to see that people still remember Mean Joe Greene and that kid with the Coke.

There are those out there, like some of the lefty activists I used to hang out with back in the day, who see the Super Bowl as nothing more than a mindless gladiatorial spectacle; bread and circuses for the unwashed masses. For most Americans, though, it is The Big Game, a crowning symbol of American culture and a good excuse to party besides. Robert Lipsyte's Nation article "The Church Of Football" has plenty of interest for True Believers and football agnostics alike. The NFL is a religion so big it can now tell God what to do: NFL tells churches Super Bowl parties violate copyright laws.

In the midst of all the hype and spectacle, they will play a football game tomorrow. The weather forecast for Miami is wet and windy; I'm looking for a sloppy game where defenses dominate. The weather and Bear defense will keep Peyton Manning from having a big day. The Bears would like to control the game on the ground, but they'll find that the Colts' defense has become a lot tougher during their playoff run. Rex Grossman will struggle tomorrow as well to get anything going through the air. This will be a game for the field goal kickers, and Adam Vinateri has a lot more postseason kicking experience than Robbie Gould does.

Colts 16, Bears 10.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Molly Ivins

The Hill notes with deep sadness the passing yesterday of Molly Ivins, one of America's greatest liberal columnists, at age 62. She had been battling breast cancer in recent years, and suffered a recurrence of the disease last November.

Molly Ivins was one of the wittiest political columnists ever to wield a pen. She cast her barbs at Democrats and Republicans alike, although as a self-confessed "bleeding-heart liberal", she took her best shots at the conservative side of the aisle. She took great delight in describing the foibles of Texas politics, and poked fun at the assortment of characters who run that amazing state. She tried to warn us about George W. Bush, whom she nicknamed "Shrub". Over the years, she also served up plenty of incisive analysis of everything from Capitol Hill corruption to the war in Iraq.

Ivins was a liberal who sincerely cared about average Americans. Her down-home style made her one of the few genuinely progressive political columnists to win a national following. Especially before the Internet era, Ivins was almost the only unabashedly left-wing voice heard by millions of small-town Americans who didn't subscribe to magazines like The Nation or In These Times.

Ivins was ultimately a defender of classic American values. This talented writer knew that there were some words she couldn't improve upon:

We Americans are heirs to the most magnificent political legacy any people has ever created. There are no new words better than the old words used to define that legacy at the beginning:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men - and women - are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty anfd the pursuit of happiness. We believe that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. We believe that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it."

Molly Ivins spent her adult life championing those rights and beliefs for average Americans. The last words of her Nothin' But Good Times Ahead provide a fitting epitaph:

So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.

Molly Ivins' friends at The Texas Observer have put together a tribute to her. Also, Jurassicpork at Welcome To Pottersville has assembled an impressive collection of Ivins links so that I don't have to go through the trouble of doing so.