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Sports fantasy

“Alex Rodriguez, in signing a contract extension with the New York Yankees worth hundreds of millions of dollars, spoke of his desire to win a World Series — and noted that this was an achievement that he had not yet added to his ‘resume.’ Try to imagine Lou Gehrig or, closer to our own time, Pete Rose, talking that way.

“[Social critic Christopher] Lasch argued that what was really ailing sports wasn’t that they had become wrapped up in the world of commerce but that they had been, on the contrary, sectioned off from the rest of the culture, fetishized into a fantasy world of entertainment and spectacle, thereby severing the ties they once had to our common lives. ‘It is only when games and sports come to be valued purely as a form of escape,’ he wrote [in his 1979 book ‘The Culture of Narcissism’], ‘that they lose the capacity to provide this escape.’ “

Paul Beston, writing on “Steroids and the Culture of Narcissism,” Friday in the American Spectator Online at www.spectator.org

Culture at war

“There is quite a big cultural change going on [in the U.S. Army]. We used to say, that if you can do the ‘big stuff,’ the big combined arms, high-end, high intensity major combat operations and have a disciplined force, then you can do the so-called ‘little stuff,’ too. That turned out to be wrong. … We’re dealing with new doctrines, new concepts on all levels. …

“We brought a lot of experiences back from Iraq but also from Central America and to some degree from other places like Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo. There was a general awareness of the importance of understanding the huge impact of cultural, religious, and ethnic factors — that knowledge of the so-called ‘cultural terrain’ was as important in many cases as knowledge of the physical terrain in contemporary operations. We had to deal with these new challenges because it turns out they are key elements when you plan and conduct military operations.”

Gen. David H. Petraeus, interviewed by the Swiss weekly Weltwoche and the Frankfurter (Germany) Allgemeine Zeitung, published in English on Dec. 22 at WeeklyStandard.com

Heroic humor

“One thing you learn from history is that a hero who can make the public laugh as well as admire is likely to have a strong and lasting hold on its affections. … [Winston Churchill] made use laugh even in the darkest days of 1940, when in reply to the Nazi jibe that ‘England in three weeks will have her neck wrung like a chicken,’ he said, simply but forcefully: ‘Some chicken! Some neck!’

“As a teenager, when I had the chance to meet him in 1946, I was bold enough to ask: ‘Mr. Winston Churchill, sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?’ He replied, instantly: ‘Conservation of effort: never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.’ There was a delicious irony with which this supreme man of action put the case for the sedentary, even the supine.”

Paul Johnson, writing on “Heroes: What Great Statesmen Have to Teach Us,” in the December issue of Imprimis

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