Washington Wizards: On the Rebound

After another year of incompetence, embarrassment, and shame from the Redskins, and a rough PR year for the NFL, my taste in football soured and I went searching for another team to become invested in. Since I am fiercely loyal toward DC teams and a big basketball fan it was natural to pivot towards the Wizards. After attending several games I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed watching the team as well as the atmosphere in the Verizon Center. After a few games there was no turning back: I was hooked on the Wizards.

The first Wizards game I went to was the Cleveland Cavaliers game and I am ashamed to admit it was more to see LeBron James play than the Wizards. I was then stunned to see that the Cavs actually looked meek and that the best player on the court wasn’t King James, but Washington’s John Wall. John Wall outplayed LeBron in every aspect of the game, dropping 28 points on them. Wall’s high played was greeted with chants of MVP ringing through the Verizon Center. The feeling in the arena was electric, and I thought to myself , “This is so much better then going to a Redskins game.”

I attended four Redskins games last year which ranged from passable to awful. The Redskins fans booed their own team in every game I went to, including the game in which the Redskins outsucked the hapless Titans. Every aspect of the Redskins experience is time-consuming; whether you drive or Metro, it’s going to take at least an hour and a half, and that’s if you’re lucky. The traffic getting into and out of the stadium is a nightmare (not to mention expensive–$20 for parking) and the closest Metro stop is a 20 minute walk away, at the very end of the silver and blue lines. The security to get in the stadium is horrendous. You can’t bring a purse bigger then a wallet (my buddy’s girlfriend emptied hers out and stuck it in her jacket), and it took us an hour and a half to get through the line, causing us to miss the entire first quarter. In fact, I missed the first quarter in all the games I went to, despite arriving almost two hours early to the games. I can’t leave out the drunk and aggressive fans, of both the Redskins and the visiting teams. After the Cowboys game I was harassed by smug drunk Cowboys fans (who probably couldn’t even find Dallas on a map) telling everyone that Romo was the MVP and that the Cowboys would win the Super Bowl, while Redskins fans cursed back at them. The shouting match almost turned into a brawl; I would never recommend taking any kids to a Redskins game.

Wizards games are a different story. The Verizon Center is located in Chinatown, easily accessible using the Gallery Place Metro stop (Red, Yellow, Green lines) or with a short walk to Metro Center (Orange, Blue, Red, Silver). The Verizon Center has openings all over the arena, making entering the arena an easy process. I can arrive five minutes before tipoff and still get through security, walk up the stairs, and make it to my seat before the game starts. Yes, you read that correctly–FIVE MINUTES. Fans at the Verizon Center like to have fun but show none of the aggression or drunkenness that Redskins fans do. The Verizon Center is a perfect place for any occasion a date, hanging with your boys, or bringing your family.

Over the course of the Wizard’s season I attended 26 games (including playoffs), and the Wizards won 16 of them, a win ratio of about 61%. Redskins, by contrast, lost three out of the four games I attended. In those 26 Wizard games I got to see some amazing plays, dazzling acrobatic layups from John Wall, thunderous dunks from Nene, and precision sniper threes from Bradley Beal. I got to witness the heart pounding buzzerbeater “I CALLED GAME!” shot by Paul Pierce, saving the Wizards (who had almost blown a 20 point lead) from an epic collapse. It was one of those sports moments that you never forget, and without a doubt the most clutch sports moment I have ever witnessed. Pierce infused the Wizards with blistering swagger and gave the most epic post game interview I have ever seen. These moments not only make the Wizards incredibly fun to watch but give me hope for future season playoff success. The feeling of the Redskins are completely different; not only are playoffs a laughable dream for them, but even an 8-8 finish seems hopeless.

Since going to my first Redskin game as a child I always wanted season tickets. After enduring the bad stadium experiences, horrendous management, and continued ineptitude of the Redskins, I have found a hidden treasure in the Washington Wizards. I signed up for Wiz season tickets at 1/3 of the price of Redskins tickets (with five times as many games), and I can’t wait for John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat and the rest of the Wizards to continue to make DC proud and achieve a seemingly insurmountable feat: bringing a championship to DC.

Thirteen Days in September

by Lawrence Wright

 

My dad gave me this one for Christmas. When I read it and wanted to talk to him about it, he said he wanted to borrow it. Funny how that happens right? But I’ve done the same thing, so I’m not really one to judge.

Israel had been at war with its Arab neighbors on and off since it first declared independence in 1948. While these wars generally went well for Israel, which was not destroyed and whose borders had been ever-expanding, the Arabs faced humiliation after humiliation. These defeats only strengthened Arab resolve, and the contest between Israel and the Arab nations, especially Egypt, grew into an never-ending cycle.

Meanwhile, the United States elected a southern entrepreneur and Navy veteran named Jimmy Carter as President in 1976. Carter, a devout, born-again Christian, wanted part of his legacy to be an end to the conflict in the Middle East. After Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visits Israel to express his desire for peace, Carter saw his opportunity and invited Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Camp David to hash out some sort of settlement.

Thirteen Days in SeptemberWright, the author of Going Clear (now a major motion picture!), focuses his book not only on the titular thirteen days of the conference, but on the histories of the men involved and even that of the Middle East itself. I was particularly impressed with the way that he wove these histories into his narrative, moving effortlessly from the conference, to historical anecdote, to the stories that he uses to illustrate who these men are. I couldn’t imagine how hard it must be to write a book like this; the research that Wright must’ve put in, and then to be able to tell an actual story while switching back and forth- it was pretty unbelievable.

I came away from this much more knowledgeable than I’d been going in. Perhaps that’s not super impressive, as I hadn’t really known much about Camp David beforehand, but it proved to be a very interesting topic. For one thing, Jimmy Carter is a very impressive man. I always get that impression from reading about him, and then immediately forget. It’s easy to lose sight of his accomplishments in the light of his public perception: the jokes and the constant refrain that he was a horrible president, which seems odd given that nobody seems to remember anything about those years. If you come in with an open mind, and no preconceived notion of Carter as a failure, you can’t look at Camp David and see anything but a significant accomplishment.

As fascinating a character as President Carter is, the leaders of Egypt and Israel are just as interesting. The reigning political class in each country had come of age during World War II and the years that followed, and both Sadat and Begin had cut their teeth fighting against British colonialism in their countries. Wright does not shy away from the historical fact that both men had engaged in terrorism as a response to the British occupation. It’s an incredibly inconvenient fact, especially for Israel, which often cloaks itself in anti-terrorist rhetoric, and yet might not exist today without the actions of groups like Irgun. As statesmen, however, Begin and Sadat have put those days behind them, making it merely a part of their shared history.

While there are similarities among the three men, the contradictions are often just as stark. Aside from the obvious difference in religion, nationality, and personal ideology, the traits that Wright identifies as most significant seem to tear the men apart and make the idea of lasting peace a near impossibility. While Israel and the United States are strongly allied, Jimmy Carter actually finds more common ground with Anwar Sadat of Egypt. For the two of them, peace is their mission; Sadat essentially staked his career on peace, even travelling to the Knesset in Israel to show his dedication to ending the conflict. Carter likewise views it as a part of his responsibility in office, his religion and his ideology even leading him to stake his presidency on the peace process.  Menachem Begin, meanwhile, thinks that the talks are a trap for Israel, and that peace without resolving some of the major issues between Israelis and Arabs would be hollow. He believes that Israel did not elect him to make peace with its neighbors, even as his advisers appear almost unanimous in their belief that that Camp David would be Israel’s best opportunity in the foreseeable future. Sadat’s advisers, on the other hand, don’t believe that peace can be achieved without  Egypt making unacceptable concessions. The whole situation proves to be a huge headache for Carter, who perhaps underestimated the stubbornness of the other leaders involved.

Of course, in the end, an agreement is signed. Through sheer force of will, a negotiation that was supposed to take three days is extended for thirteen days, even while it seems that no actual progress is being made. When an agreement is finally reached, one gets the sense that it’s more out of the leaders’ desire to go home than anything else, and indeed many issues are kicked down the road. As impressive an achievement as Camp David was, it turned out not to be the peace that anyone wanted. Each of the leaders pays a price for his involvement, and I wonder if they ever managed to convince themselves that it was all worth it in the end.

Thirteen Days in September looks at a moment in history that seems forgotten by those who didn’t live through it. I, for one, learned a lot, and came away with a new respect for the hard work of peacemakers, especially those who fall short.

Diamonds Are Forever

by Ian Fleming

 

I can’t sugarcoat it: Diamonds Are Forever isn’t the best Bond book. I don’t know if it’s the absolute worst, but it’s certainly the weakest of the four I’ve reviewed so far on B+L. Let me explain why.

First of all, the Bond villain is a gangster. Not a KGB agent, or a megalomaniac, or a dangerous assassin- a gangster. Not even a voodoo gangster. It’s just some American gangster in Las Vegas who’s been smuggling diamonds from Africa into the US, through London. Why London? Because why else would James Bond be involved, that’s why. Duh.

Second, the exotic locales that Bond goes to are New York and Nevada: Bond meets up with diamond smuggler Tiffany Case in London, follows her New York City where he finds his old American chum Felix Leiter, and then hits the racetracks of upstate New York. Diamonds Are ForeverFrom there, he flies again to Las Vegas, where his target runs a casino. He finds out about another property in the desert, then goes there, and handles his business. Except for the cruise back to Europe with the now-reformed Tiffany Case, that’s pretty much it. Take a trip to lovely New York and Nevada.

I also didn’t even realize the climax of the book was happening as I was reading it. Ian Fleming sometimes likes to mess with his readers’ expectations by going for the unorthodox ending, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work. Casino Royale works; Bond’s mission concludes about 2/3 of the way through, leaving the rest of the book to deal with the fallout. Diamonds Are Forever just finishes the mission, then wraps up some random threads that don’t have a whole lot to do with the rest of the book.

The annoying thing is that the last couple of chapters would actually be pretty awesome somewhere else. They’re like their own short stories added to the end, but they’re not a significant part of the plot. It just doesn’t make any sense why Fleming didn’t cut it or make it a bigger part of the story; the middle ground kind of sucks

The really frustrating thing is that diamond smuggling is inherently cool. Diamonds are cool and smuggling is cool, so diamond smuggling should be… the bomb diggity? (Or whatever the kids are saying these days.) But it doesn’t really make sense for an international man of mystery, such as our beloved 007, to handle a problem that should probably be left to the local constabulary. Admittedly, the Bond books generally feature slightly more mundane plots than the movies have accustomed us to, but really. “I want to smuggle diamonds out of Africa.” To what end? “To smuggle diamonds out of Africa.” How grandiose.

According to Wikipedia, Fleming decided to write Diamonds Are Forever after he did quite a bit of research for a non-fiction book about diamond smuggling. Diamonds Are Forever is pretty much a side project, and it shows.

Moonraker

by Ian Fleming

 

When I last read this book, in 8th grade, I tried to get credit from my teacher for reading a “classic.” Having seen the movie, in which Roger Moore’s Bond has sex in space, she didn’t buy it. The book, however, is much more grounded in reality, and Bond doesn’t have sex with anyone. I like to imagine him questioning why he even became a secret agent in the first place. Cue Bond’s midlife crisis.

"Maybe a new Aston Martin will make me feel better."

“Maybe a new Aston Martin will make me feel young again. That or killing a guy.”

Bond’s mission this time starts out when M gets mad about a card cheat at his club. Nothing makes British gentleman angrier than people who cheat at games that the working class doesn’t play, so he assigns Bond to take care of the problem, in a seemingly egregious abuse of his authority. The cheat, Hugo Drax, is a war hero and entrepreneur in charge of creating Britain’s latest nuclear deterrent, a ballistic missile called the Moonraker. Bond meets Drax and decides that he’s a boor and not a real gentleman, so he beats him at bridge. Everyone’s problems are solved. The end.

No, just kidding. I mean, Bond does humiliate Drax in history’s most exciting game of bridge, but there’s more. There have been strange goings-on at the Moonraker test site, and the first test launch is only a few days away. M sends Bond to figure out what’s going on. You know the drill.

Moonraker‘s an interesting early Bond book, in my opinion. MoonrakerIt leans heavily on a theme that pervades Fleming’s Bond series: Britain’s place in the world. Fleming alternates between freaking out that Britain is no longer a superpower, and reassuring his audience that yes, Britain is still the most important and civilized nation on Earth. He gets deep into ethnic and class politics; in addition to his idealization of the British gentleman in contrast with the common man, he’s generally pretty willing to write off entire nationalities or races. In Live and Let Die, it was African-Americans. In the case of Moonraker, it’s Germans. Fleming’s suspicion and distrust of Germans is important because at its heart, Moonraker is about an independent British nuclear deterrent being built by former Nazi German scientists. Fleming is aware of this contradiction, and seems to be saying that Britain doesn’t need to adapt or compromise its identity in order to maintain its dominance. Nonetheless, it’s clear he hasn’t quite arrived at a solution to the crisis of British identity in the post-war era.

Interestingly, while the book’s explicit message is that adaptation will be the death of Britain, Fleming himself isn’t afraid to shake things up. Moonraker is definitely a Bond book, but it does stray from the formula a little bit. For one thing, its pacing is totally different; in addition to the inverting the structure by introducing the villain before assigning Bond his mission, the book takes place over just a few days. This is partially because Bond’s assignment takes him not to the other side of the world, but just a few minutes down the road to the cliffs of Dover. The domestic setting and shortened time span intensify the story, making Bond’s mission seem that much more urgent.

The other outlier in Moonraker is its Bond girl, Gala Brand. For whatever reason, Fleming seems to have a specific type of female that he writes into Bond’s adventures. Bond girls are often trapped in a situation beyond her control, or scarred by some past trauma, or frequently both. (Think Vesper Lynd, Solitaire, Tiffany Case- the originators of the stereotype.) Gala’s different. She has secrets, sure, but she’s introduced to Bond as an undercover police officer, so that’s not really a big surprise. She needs an ally more than she needs a savior, and while Bond sure doesn’t fail to notice how hot she is, they spend the majority of their time together working, rather than romancing. I don’t want to give away what happens with them in the end, but it’s refreshing to see a Bond girl who’s not immediately and completely wrapped up in 007’s world.

All in all, Moonraker turned out pretty well. Fleming seems a little more self-aware than usual, as he works to flesh out the meaning of Bond while consciously rejecting his own tropes. It’s different, but definitely not in a bad way.

Live and Let Die

by Ian Fleming

 

Gotta get it out of the way right now: this one struck me as a little bit racist. It starts on the second page, in which Bond compares himself to a “negro whose shadow has been stolen by the witch-doctor.” Later on we get to the chapter called “Nigger Heaven” (referring to Harlem). Oh, and Bond’s mission involves taking down a nationwide organization of American Communists. That last one doesn’t seem so bad, right? Well, the organization in question consists of every black person in America. They toe the line out of malevolence, stupidity, or fear of Mr. Big’s voodoo powers. Fleming seems to have some, uh, old-fashioned views on race. Of course, if you’re reading any James Bond book, you’re probably at least aware of some of the more odious attitudes that can be found within. I mean, Bond isn’t exactly a feminist hero, either, so you can’t be surprised that he’s not at the vanguard of civil rights and tolerance.

That being said, Fleming writes a hell of a book. Live and Let DieAnd a refreshingly short one; I mentioned before how short Casino Royale was, and the rest of the Bond novels are no different. They’re quick and violent, and 007 rarely wastes time brooding. Sure, there’s always some exposition, and Fleming revels in the details of, for instance, a train ride from New York to Florida, which I doubt is actually as romantic as he seems to think. (I’ve ridden Amtrak.) But when action gets going, it goes hard and fast. The first action sequence of Live and Let die takes place beneath a Harlem nightclub following a burlesque act, and there’s something about the scene that just keeps you entranced.

This is also when 007’s nemeses started to become the “Bond villains” that we’re all familiar with. While Mr. Big is, like his predecessor Le Chiffre, a Soviet agent, he’s also an unusually large man with a skin condition whose appearance leads his cronies to believe that he’s also the zombie of Baron Samedi. (Black people are really into voodoo in in Fleming’s America.) In both appearance and status, Mr. Big is the first larger-than-life Bond villain, and he provides a good template that the books and movies return to again and again. (Kingsman jokes on this idea by giving Samuel L. Jackson’s villain a lisp. Actually, that whole movie is a great homage to and send-up of Bond and other spy movies. I highly recommend it.)

By the by, in addition to reading Live and Let Die the first time I read the Bond series in middle school, I started the book again a little over two years ago. I even started writing this very blog post. Unfortunately, I left a Dr Pepper on my bedside table next to the book, and apparently those Chipotle cups just aren’t meant to hold liquid for very long. I took the book off the table and left it somewhere to dry, then I went on to read something else. I ended up moving soon thereafter, packing up all my Bond books and letting them sit in a box for almost a year. I moved again, and again, until I finally ended up in a semi-permanent spot. Everything was unpacked, and I finally got around to finishing my soda-stained book as well as this blog post.

I just wanted to let you know how dedicated I am to the craft.

Live and Let Die might be the most politically incorrect Bond novel, at least to a 21st century reader, but the completist can’t just skip it, and its action makes it worth checking out anyway. Also, I wasn’t kidding about Kingsman. See that shit.