Saturday, September 1, 2018


Some questions may be hard to answer, yet they must be asked. And answering is not enough: they must , when answered, also be acted upon. They are like potholes on the roads, so numerous that it would take a lot of effort to correct them, but we must at least try. This may be quixotic, but then isn’t Don Quixote a lovable figure? Isn’t his maladroit meliorism as touching as it is misguided?

So here are some of my urgent questions—urgent seeming at least to me--yet highly unlikely to be acted upon, given the effort that would require. But let it not be said of me that I never asked.

How many more intolerables are we to tolerate from Donald Trump before we take some kind of punitive action? As my friend Kevin Filipski remarked, just one of them from Obama would have landed him in serious trouble; from Trump, they may not go unimpugned, but they clearly remain unacted upon. Why?

The answer is: because the Republicans, even when they disapprove--rarely enough—have nobody better to put forward as a surefire replacement. There are some perfectly good Republicans, but they lack the kind of following to surely beat the Democrats with. (Please note the split infinitive, which, like the sentence-ending preposition, is perfectly all right, yet constantly put forward as pedantry by ignorant foes unaware of what linguists are really about.) In this case, too, as in so many others, it is the ignoramuses who prevail in society,

What could make an intellectual candidate succeed? Better education, i.e., better schools.
But how are we going to get those? It would require more respect and better salaries for teachers on all levels. Teachers, even most professors, are unlikely beneficiaries. Why is that?

There are several reasons. There is, first of all envy: because teachers get longer vacations than most, teaching is assumed to be a cushy job, being its own reward. Teaching the numerous dunderheads, however, is no easy job; rather one demanding indefatigable effort and the patience of saints. Qualifiers for all that may well have a preference for easier, better paid and more prestigious jobs, such as writing potboilers for television or hugging microphones as singers or rappers.
Which is not to say that most pop singers and rappers are really slumming talents.

To be sure, there are sufficient millionaires and billionaires who could spend some of their munificence on education, but, as far as I can tell, that is not a favorite endowment, though, granted, not quite the least favored either. But the problem is that, let us say, if this or that college or university gets a grant, it is more likely to be put to uses other than better teaching. And, sure enough, money for cancer research or victorious football teams, even with pedophile coaches, have to be prioritized.

This said, it must be reckoned with that the United States is a country in which intellectuals are less respected than in many others. Minorities may be favored, as are radicals. Just think who gets to be a MacArthur fellow. In the arts, anyway, it is radicals first. Now I have nothing against women, blacks or lesbians, especially all three together, getting their fair share, but need they be so obviously preferred? George Soros may be more evenhanded, but of how many others can this be even suspected?
                                                                                                                                                             Now, however, to a different, major question. Why are here so few female tennis champions? Actually, more than one, Serena Williams? In male singles, there are a major four—just as there used to be in Chinese politics, a very different field.

In male singles, it was a possible for Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, and somewhat less even Andy Murray, to be steadily, unswervingly at the top of the game. You could count on one of them to win and be for a good while number one in the world. The others might not even bother to compete—they might as well not be there, although very occasionally an anomalous Cilic, Wawrinka, Kyrgios, or Del Potro could horn in.

You may ask what’s so good about that, why shouldn’t some others get a fair chance? The Zwerews, Thiems, Dimitrovs, or Fogninis? Well, because for us spectators it was very comforting to be rooting for a winner, to have our boy be a champion. There was enough variety among those four, and a relaxing sense that even if one of them lost, there was a good chance he might recoup the next time. Only on clay was there a monotony of Rafa Nadal winning over and over again, a real surfeit. If none of them won, one was at a loss about whom to vote for, even if a Raonic or Goffin might be a temporary winner. The Americans especially were a disappointing lot.

But now look at the women: almost every other month there was a different number one. That is when Serena chose to be a devoted mother to a newborn, and perhaps not even then. There was no getting around the fact that Serena could beat them all without being especially likable. Likable? What does that have to do with it? Quite a bit. Without wishing to take away from his glory, a Federer owes at least some of his successes to his charm, to the love of his numerous international supporters. All the more remarkable that the egregiously charmless Nadal should still so consistently excel. To be sure, he too has the most devoted fans in Hispanics, of whom there seems to be no end whenever and wherever he is playing. Let us look at him for a moment.

Nadal seems to be the only crazy champion. Whenever he serves and almost equally when he receives, he exhibits traits that are at best extremely eccentric, if not totally non compos menti. He performs a serving and also receiving ritual that consists  of touching—or tweaking—one ear, then the nose, then the other ear and back again and sometimes even, unsavorily, the back of his pants, which elicits curious interpretations from his ill wishers, of whom there are not a few. Even the containers of the liquids he consumes have to be lined up in a certain order, and he is inclined to take more time than allowed between points. He also has an unappealingly cutthroat look when playing, as if he liked nothing better than cut his opponents’ throats. On the other hand, he seems to be reasonably normal the rest of the time, and is said to be quite charming. Indeed he has a nice smile and a bald patch on the back of his head that humanize him.

Federer, Djokovic and Murray come across perfectly normal, and even at what is in tennis an advanced age, steadily at or near the top. There are, however, newcomers who occasionally win out. But with women players, it is otherwise: there is a new number one every few months, and with the exception of Serena Williams, no steady champion. In a typical match, the temporary favorite will win one set rather easily, then lose the next set just as easily. The third set then becomes the real battle, and can sometimes be very long. This is what makes women’s tennis so frustrating: you really don’t know whom to root for, and even Serena Williams, the only longtime number one, can be dramatically off her game. Her powerful serve can sometimes be missing, which is how a lesser player can—rarely—beat her.

I myself like women players whom I find both talented and attractive, like Julia Goerges  and Garbine Muguruza, and dislike the unsightly ones, like Svetlana Kuznetsova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and a few others in both categories. Many women players have an innate elegance that makes watching them a kind of balletic experience. Among the men, only Federer has that quality, though Djokovic dazzles us with the ability to retrieve seemingly unanswerable shots, turning defense into offence. Also his sense of humor.

I spend many hours watching tennis on TV. My question is will I ever get bored with it? I hope not, even if among the upcoming players there seems to be no one as interesting as the elite four. Along with reading and classical music, it is one of my chief pleasures. I only wish I could share it with my good wife, who, however, does not care for sports.

P.S.: I realize full well that matches are not won on looks, but that does not prevent a fan from watching with greater pleasure a point won by the appealing Camila Giorgi than by the unappealing Madison Keys. However, if I were an umpire or referee (whatever the difference is), I would not allow myself to be swayed by looks.