The Village Peephole

The Village Peephole

 

September 13, 2018

Soccer is the world’s sport. It’s called “football” just about everywhere but here and it’s the dream of almost every youngster to become a world class player. The ultimate goal is to make your national team and qualify for the World Cup which is held every four years. The 2018 World Cup took place this summer in Russia with France taking home the trophy.

International soccer is run by FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) and it is probably the most powerful sports organization in the world. It may also be the most corrupt. Bribery is literally a way of life for FIFA. The cheating and payoffs that go on are so pervasive that it’s difficult to find a person involved in the administration of the sport who isn’t crooked.
There is a new book out that deals with this whole issue. It’s called “Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World’s Biggest Sports Scandal” and was written by an intrepid reporter named Ken Bensinger. It was not an easy book to research because under every scandalous rock was another rock that contained an even bigger scandal. Everyone in a position of power acted as if they were holier than thou and pretended to run the sport cleanly. But these “Puritans” have been fighting for a piece of the action for decades.

Once the powers-that-be discovered that televising and marketing soccer were a potential gold mine corruption soon followed. Individual power players decided to demand money on the side from communication companies bidding for rights to broadcast elite events. In addition to the World Cup, there’s the European Cup, the Copa Americana, and the Gold Cup just to name a few. For communication companies to gain access to these events they had to play ball with the power players.

Apparently it wasn’t enough for these chieftains of football to live a glorious life of six or seven figure salaries, travel first-class and stay in five-star hotels. They wanted a huge slice of the money pie that suddenly descended on the sport. Instead of being honest brokers and filtering the wealth down to the masses learning and developing the game, the “crooks” from the alphabet soup of FIFA regional organizations (CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA, AFC, CAF, OFC) only wanted to enrich themselves.

Probably the most obvious example of egregious behavior was when Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup. Why in the world would FIFA give the sport’s most prestigious event to a country that had no soccer tradition and is unbearably hot during the summer? Could it be because it’s an oil-rich nation that’s capable of bribing its way to hosting the event? There were already questions simmering about how Russia managed to wrestle the 2018 World Cup from favored England. Something didn’t smell right.

How the U.S. became the “guardian” of the sport is due to the perseverance of an IRS agent named Steve Berryman who happened to be a huge international soccer fan. His specialty was looking at banking records and wire transfers and he found enough suspicious deposits and money transfers to sound an alarm in his head. Encouraged by stories written by British reporter Andrew Jennings on the scandals within the sport, Berryman contacted an FBI official he knew and together they convinced the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue the case. Many of the wire transfers went through banks in the United States so they were within American jurisdiction.

There were many soccer administrators targeted in the scandal but the key player in the Justice Department’s investigation was American Chuck Blazer, the General Secretary of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) from 1990-2011. Blazer was originally targeted because he went years without filing a federal tax return. He willingly became a government witness due to his guilty conscience, to cut a deal, or both. The state of affairs in soccer had gotten so bad that when a clearly corrupt regional president was forced from office, his supposedly squeaky clean replacement turned out to be a bigger crook than he was.

The corruption in the soccer world is widespread and will continue to be. The U.S. investigation uncovered a lot but barely scratched the surface. That’s because they could only go after suspects that used American banks for wire transfers. FIFA has a new president and the organization promises a new direction but bribery is so endemic that it’s hard to believe it will ever change. We can only hope that in the long run “Red Card” will force an overhaul to how the sport is run.

Short Takes:

“Lies” by T.M. Hogan presents a psychological thriller of a man named Joe Lynch whose entire life and marriage are blown up when he sees his wife at a hotel with her best friend’s husband. After confronting the man, Joe is suspected of assault and finds he can no longer trust his wife. It leads to twists and turns where Joe doesn’t know what to expect or where to turn next. One reader described the novel as “simply brilliant.”

“Every Day Is Extra” by John Kerry encompasses the life story of the former Vietnam War veteran, senator, and secretary of state. Kerry was involved in many of the events and policy-making decisions that have affected our country over the last 50 years. Here is an insider’s look at how government and military service formed one man’s view of the world.

“Crash: The Great Depression and the Fall and Rise of America” by Marc Favreau offers a comprehensive look at the Great Depression, its causes, and its aftermath. Meticulously researched, it provides many photos to go along with the narrative. Although it’s classified as a children’s book it will appeal to people of all ages.

 

 

August 27, 2018

Theodore Roosevelt is one of our most iconic presidents. He left his mark with energetic policies in both domestic and international affairs. We probably all remember learning in high school that he was a “trust buster,” loved the outdoors and expanded our country’s influence in the Caribbean and Far East. TR was so highly regarded at the time he was added to Mount Rushmore along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. Was he really that brilliant and beloved?

There is a new book out about Roosevelt that delves into that question but really leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind about his legacy. It’s called “TR’s Last War: Theodore Roosevelt, The Great War, and a Journey of Triumph and Tragedy” and was written by David Pietrusza. It’s an in-depth look at the last few years of TR’s life and provides nuance to a man who was as complicated as he was physically active.

Most people remember Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. It cemented the idea that he was a man of courage and toughness. He ascended to the presidency in 1901 at the “tender” age of 42 after William McKinley was assassinated. His “Square Deal” was so popular that he was easily re-elected in 1904 and would have been again in 1908 if he hadn’t kept his promise not to run again.

His anointed successor, William Taft, disappointed him so much that TR ran as a 3rd party “Bull Moose” progressive candidate in 1912. He was the most successful 3rd party candidate ever but he basically allowed Woodrow Wilson to win in an electoral landslide. Roosevelt despised Wilson and was extremely upset at the lack of U.S. preparedness for World War I after hostilities broke out in Europe in 1914. It kept him fully engaged in politics and public affairs the rest of his life.

One of the basic tenets of the book is that as much as Roosevelt was involved in the 1916 presidential race he was reluctant to be totally committed as a candidate. He kept leaving the door open to both the Republican and Progressive (“Bull Moose”) nominations but only kept dropping hints about his interest instead of simply jumping in. It was as if he wanted the GOP to beg him to run and hand him the nomination on a silver platter. But it was not to be.

Once the U.S. did prepare militarily and enter the war, Roosevelt wanted to be a part of it. Whether it was his age or simply spite by Wilson, it wasn’t going to happen. As a consolation, his four sons all served and they paid a severe price. Two of them were wounded and TR’s youngest, Quentin, was shot down over Germany and died instantly. It’s likely Roosevelt never got over that loss.

Pietrusza opens up a Pandora’s Box of possible reasons that Roosevelt was such a public figure in his twilight years without actually committing to running for office. He may have simply enjoyed being an elder statesman but his passion for running the country his way seemed at odds with that attitude. He might have had too many physical ailments (he was shot in Wisconsin, suffered broken ribs after being thrown from a horse, and caught a tropical disease on a trip to the Amazon). He also might have suffered from depression. Whatever the case, he died at the relatively young age of 60.

What is not in question is that Roosevelt was an influential historical figure and a fascinating character study. Pietrusza provides a taste of his life and personality in his biography. “TR’s Last War” is an insightful read into what political and social life was like in our country a century ago. It’s well worth the trip.

As an added bonus, David Pietrusza will be appearing at the Village Library as part of our “Nights at the Round Table” series at 7pm on Tuesday, September 18. The nationally known author appeared here three years ago to discuss his book “1932: The Rise of Hitler and Roosevelt.” Pietrusza knows his subjects well and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about Teddy Roosevelt and a substantive era in American history. Please join us for what is sure to be an enlightening experience.

 

August 17, 2018

I’m finally getting to the debut of our new blog, “The Village Peephole,” formerly known as “Dave’s Blog.” The transition took longer than I anticipated because I inadvertently became an acrobat on my road bike. I don’t recommend that practice to anybody. It literally hurts! But that’s beside the point. I hope you find our new blog as entertaining and informative as “From the Librarian.”  Any feedback is appreciated.

Not a lot of movies reach “cult” status where they remain popular for generations. It’s never easy to predict when it will happen. It just does. In fact, if you ever hear a movie is “destined to be a classic” it usually ends up the dust bin of film history. “Classics” are movies that for whatever reason provide something memorable that stay with us forever.
Back in 1980 the movie “Caddyshack” debuted and wasn’t an instant hit. It certainly had some well-known comedians, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, but it came across as shtick instead of a solidly-based storyline. At the time I heard enough good things that I took a chance on it. And I certainly didn’t regret it.
Despite the lack of a central theme, the two things that stayed with me were how funny Dangerfield was on the big screen and Bill Murray’s demented character trying to outfox the golf course gopher. There was also the “classic” scene of Murray swatting mums (flowers) to smithereens and narrating the “Cinderella story” of him winning the Masters. There was definitely something special about the movie even if it wasn’t an instant box office success.
“Caddyshack” may not have had a dedicated story line or been an instant hit but it somehow had staying power. Nearly 40 years later it is still popular. What happened?
There is a new book out that explains the whole story from how the movie was conceived, how the script ended up piecemeal, and how it eventually took on a life of its own. “Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story” by Chris Nashawaty describes the major players, the development of the film, and the aftermath of what practically everyone involved in the production originally thought was a complete bomb.
The back story begins in the 1960s when a new wave of comic geniuses were coming to the forefront. These were Ivy Leaguers who worked on the Harvard Lampoon and eventually founded the National Lampoon. Concurrently, there were Second City improv actors from Chicago who were headed to fame and fortune on NBC’s Saturday Night Live which debuted in 1975. Many of these characters came together to work on “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” a 1978 movie about a wild fraternity in the early 1960s, which was the mega-hit and classic they all hoped it would be.
The fact that these creators of “Animal House” were so successful gave them the opportunity to get funding for their next “big” project, i.e., “Candyshack.” The film was inspired by the backgrounds of several of these “comic geniuses” who had caddied as youths at exclusive Midwest country clubs. Harold Ramis, the comedic writer and actor from such films as “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters,” was allowed to make his directorial debut. Being a veteran of improv he had no qualms about allowing ad-libbing and completely going off script.
Filming “Caddyshack” in Florida became like a jigsaw puzzle. Scenes were constantly reworked on the fly if they suddenly sounded better. The producers discovered how naturally funny Dangerfield was so they kept adding scenes for him in the movie. Then there was the comic genius of Murray and his ability to make incredible scenes ad-libbing the whole way. When the filming ended it was left to Ramis and his associates to put together a film that bared little relation to the original script.
Adding to the confusion was the production was like one big party (except to Ted Knight) with drugs and alcohol flowing every night. They also had to fit a tight schedule with stars Bill Murray and Chevy Chase only available for a short time apiece. It’s no wonder that the result was total chaos and a film littered with potholes.
Ramis and company eventually came up with a finished product and the only question was whether it would succeed. One of the creators, Doug Kenney, was so demoralized at the opening press conference that he arrived drunk and embarrassed everyone with his negativity. Nobody was feeling good but in due time they could all take a bow. Despite its pitfalls, “Caddyshack” attained “cult” status.
Nashawaty’s book is a frolicking ride through a period of American cultural history that will bring back a lot of fond memories for those of us who lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s. It will be a great history lesson for those that didn’t. The best complement for the book is that it makes the reader want to experience “Caddyshack” again (or for the first time). The book and movie are both that good and are available at the Village Library.

Short Takes:

“Clock Dance” by Anne Tyler describes the transformative life of a woman as she adjusts to several upheavals in her life. As she grows older, Willa Drake sets off on an adventure of self-discovery and “finds solace and fulfillment in unexpected places.” Tyler is known for exquisite character development and this novel is no exception.

“Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley” by Adam Fisher provides an oral history by the “hackers, founders, and freaks who made it boom.” Learn first-hand how Silicon Valley went from a valley of orchards to becoming the economic equivalent of Eden and the tech hub of the world.