The Goat Speaks

A wise goat indeed!  Such great news in a season where that has grown rare.

Histories and Mysteries


Oh, you silly, silly humans. Why all the nail biting, my dears? Clearly, at the beginning of this World Series, I promised you I would lift the curse.  I signed the agreement with my hoof print, did I not?

Now, a goat such as myself may possess a good deal of deceptive qualities. But one thing I guarantee is my sincerity!  A promise is a promise and I, Murphy the Billy Goat, namesake of the Billy Goat Tavern and former pet of Mr. William Sianis, am as good as my word.

The question of the Cubs winning was never in doubt.

What’s that you say? The rain? Yes, of course I sent the rain! And with it I brought a seventeen minute game delay.


There was a method to this madness, for it allowed the players to contemplate their fate. They regained their bearings and therefore could more fully…

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Phil sees his shadow!

Photo by Eddie~S, CC BY 2.0

Photo by Eddie~S, CC BY 2.0

In the key news event of the day, I’m sad to report that it was sunny in Punxsutawney, PA, spooking the groundhog and plunging us into another 6 weeks of winter.

This has not been a winter anyone wants to linger.  A mini-ice age threatens the east, while 11 western states are morphing into Death Valley.  And to add insult to injury, here in northern California, where legions of disgruntled football fans are settling in to watch those other teams play – all the while muttering that at least spring training starts soon – spring may be on hold!

So as the blues settle in like the overcast on this chilly, cloudy, but rainless day, only three suggestions come to mind:  (1)  book a flight to Hawaii, (2) drink some more caffeine, (3) watch a funny movie.

It just so happens that I have an idea for number 3:

"Don't drive angry!"

“Don’t drive angry!”

PostScript: For readers outside our borders, who may not get all my topical references, here is a brief glossary:

  1. February 2 is “Groundhog Day.”  When the groundhog emerges (most famously, Punxsutawney Phil, in Pennsylvania), if he sees his shadow, it will spook him and he’ll return to his burrow for another 6 weeks of winter.
  2. Here in the western US, where we have no groundhogs, it’s sometimes called Prairie Dog Day, but that hasn’t gained much traction in the media yet.
  3. Local sports fans are disgruntled because our beloved 49’ers were knocked out of the playoffs by the devil-spawned Seattle Seahawks.  No real rancor, although we hates them forever, my precious.

Let me know if I can be of any further assistance explaining my rant.

Remembering Stan-the-Man

I was away all day, and when I got home this evening, I learned that baseball great, Stan Musial, died today at the age of 92.  Every time I think of him, I remember one of those glorious days of my childhood.

In the early summer of 1963, some of the dads took some of the kids to Candlestick Park to watch the San Francisco Giants play the Saint Louis Cardinals.  I had seen some of the greats of the day hit home runs – players like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, but I’ve never before or after seen a homer like the one Musial hit out of the park  – literally – that day.

He was a left hander with a funny looking stance, with his knees together, almost touching, but the ball he hit that day cleared the right-field bleachers, sailed way above them, out to the parking lot beyond.  People were shaking their heads like they couldn’t believe what they’d seen.  Though the Cards were the home team’s opponents that day, everyone rose to their feet to clap as Stan rounded the bases.

He retired at the end of the year with numerous major league records and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969 on the first ballot.

Stan Musial at the 2009 All-Star game

So what’s the big deal after all these years?   Just childhood nostalgia?  To some extent, maybe, but there is something more.  In one respect he reminds me of my father – both were born in 1920 and both served in the navy in WWII.  But more than that, it’s a “greatest generation” thing.  The day I saw Musial hit his home run, back in the era of my innocence, was also something like a time of national innocence.

It’s not that I think ball players were the saints that starry-eyed kids thought they were, but a player like Stan-the-man had no need of steroids.  It’s nice to pause and reflect on someone who personifies what we can become if we follow “the better angels of our nature.”

Here is the full story:

Stories, Dreams, Politics, and Baseball

Yesterday, I struck up a conversation with another San Francisco Giants fan about the possible conflict between the National League Championship Series and Monday’s Presidential Debate.  The Giants are down three games to two.  If they pull off a win tonight, the final game will be Monday.

Later, considering which program I want to watch vs. the one I should watch, I thought of how clear it’s become to me that this election is not about the candidates themselves, but about the visions, or perhaps more accurately, the stories about America they embody.  Most people seem less than thrilled by the candidates themselves, but everyone takes the stories seriously.

A high school history teacher planted the seeds of this understanding decades ago.  At the time of another presidential election, he suggested that most voters are swayed by an image of times past, a story of “the good old days,” which probably never existed.  He argued that the imagination of the conservatives of his day echoed the television show, Bonanza.

The Cartwrights (l-r), Adam, Little Joe, Ben, and Hoss. Public domain.

Ben Cartwright and his three sons carved a fine spread out of the wilderness – they did it on their own, by the sweat of their own brows, thank you very much.  The only hint of government was the Virginia City sheriff, and generally the Cartwrights told him what to do and not vice versa.

In a similar manner, liberals dream of Kennedy’s “Camelot” and its precursor, The New Deal.  For the generation that came of age during The Great Society and the War on Poverty, “less government” is a codeword for Charles Dickens’ London: “Are there no prisions?  Are there no workhouses?”

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want. Public domain.

And whenever you hear a politician of any persuasion invoke “family values,” you can bet their story embodies the world of Norman Rockwell.  Anyone grow up in a family like this?

Norman Rockwell mural. Public domain, courtesy Oregon Historical County Records Guide.

We’re dealing with powerful stuff here – nothing drives us more than our dreams, which means we need to be careful.  I liked Bonanza and still enjoy Norman Rockwell, but I try not to bring them into the voting booth.  Kids learn how to separate dreams from the world of make-believe:  they know that “I want to be a doctor” is different from “I want to fly like Super-man.”  What kids know, politicians seem to forget.

Tomorrow night, the presidential candidates are scheduled to discuss “foreign policy.”  Webster’s Dictionary defines policy as, “1.  wise, expedient, or prudent conduct or management.  2. a principle, plan, or course of action, as pursued by a government, organization, or individual, etc.

I expect to hear a story that goes like this:  “We are number one and if you want to keep it that way, vote for me.”  I’m not so sure we’ll hear much about policy, aka, “wise, expedient, or prudent conduct or management.”  For that we often have to look to outsiders.

I’ve done precisely that over the last few months, and was startled to find a clear and feasible foreign policy articulated with very similar features from both a liberal and a conservative point of view.  There’s a beautiful story in there too, one involving national renewal through shared effort and dedication.  A dream, to be sure, but it doesn’t require Superman.  This will be the topic of a post in the coming week.

Meanwhile, though I’ll be watching the debate, I’ll have my phone set to the instant scoreboard app.  “The Giants are number one,” is a dream that could happen, but if Superman is listening, we’re not above asking for help!

*** Update, Sunday Night ***

The Giants won, 6-1, so there will be a game 7!

Of Football and Family

I’m anything but a diehard sports fan, but I’ve noticed over the years that certain sporting events become unforgettable when they mark key moments in my life or our collective life.  Do you remember how moving the Super Bowl was in Feb., 2002?  Our nation was still hurting after the 9/11 attacks, but here was proof that we were not going to let anyone stop us from celebrating life.

I thought of my father yesterday.  Football was one of the ways he and I connected.  Thirty years ago, he and I talked on the phone with growing excitement as the season progressed, and this new quarterback, with the unusual name of Joe Montana, led the formerly hapless 49ers to their first ever Super Bowl victory.  The best game of the season, however, was the Division Championship game. Montana won it with an 89 yard drive after the two minute warning, and a justifiably famous touchdown pass to Dwight Clark with less than a minute to play.  This wasn’t just a persona moment; it set the entire region on fire after a difficult decade.

Montana to Clark, with 59 seconds in the game, Jan, 1982

My father moved up here to be with us in 1999, after he was diagnosed with a wasting illness. Mary and I spent most of our Sunday afternoons with him during football seasons. First lunch and then the afternoon game. My father died in 2007, and we haven’t watched much football since. Until this season. Until our “formerly hapless” 49ers took off so dramatically you couldn’t help but notice and want to follow along.

Yesterday it happened again, 30 years later, almost to the day. The niners won the Division Championship game with another spectacular drive and touchdown pass, this one with only seconds left. Another on-your-feet, unforgettable moment. Hopefully, something to rouse all of northern California after a difficult decade. My father would have loved this game.

Smith to Davis, with 9 seconds in the game, Jan, 2012

I don’t go in for sentiments like, “Maybe he was looking down from heaven.” Hopefully those in the afterlife have better things to do than peer over our poor shoulders. But I do believe – and I’ve heard various spiritual teachers hint at this – that the ancestors and those who are gone can pick up our prayers and love and kind thoughts. That’s a pretty good deal. And if football is the occasion, there is nothing wrong with that.

As the poet Lu Yu put it (quoted in The Tao of Pooh):

The clouds above us join and separate,
The breeze in the courtyard leaves and returns.
Life is like that, so why not relax?
Who can stop us from celebrating?