Can’t beat Flushing Meadows for a great weekend of pro tennis.
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The men and women who led the country after 9/11 acted according to their understanding, and it was based on a simple law, oft-taught by the history of nations, including our own: weakness invites aggression. So does acceding to lawlessness. There was something of Henry in George W. Bush; but the play is well worth studying to gain insights, too, into those of Henry’s qualities the younger Bush lacks.
Henry V is not, specialists in the Bard inform us, one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, but it contains all the marks of his greatness, many passages that are, or should be, known by heart, and a profound theme upon which any one in public life, especially in war time, is well advised to meditate.
It contains also several moments of comic relief from the gravity of its narrative, including an aside involving tennis.
As just mentioned, the archbishop gives Henry a long (and detailed) rationale for war, based on the premise that by France’s own rules of succession, he, Henry, not the present king, is the rightful inheritor of the line established in days of yore. However, as he confers with his aides on strategy (how to protect their northern flank from the “weasel Scots” if they take an army to France?), Henry receives a sarcastic present in the mail from the French prince (called the Dauphin). The French ambassador explains that the Dauphin must reject Henry’s territorial claims, but urges him instead to accept a gift of tennis balls, proof the sport antedates car racing and also that French princes had considerable, if marginally vulgar, wit, compared to American ones who think DVD’s of their own speeches make good presents. Henry is of course insulted, but, already monarchial, he is too shrewd and intelligent to react like, say, Sonny Corleone when he loses his temper with his abusive (and treacherous) brother in law. Henry gets ready, not to strike out foolishly, but to wage a serious campaign.
When we have matched our rackets to these balls
We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard. (In contemporary tennis slang, “we’ll bagel him,” meaning keep him at zero games won, as Miss Williams did to Miss Hlavackova, but I am not sure you are supposed to say this, due to politically correct despotism, in New York City.)
No stinting, no cakewalks for this Henry, if his wrath is aroused:
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turned his balls to gun-stones, and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them [an anticipation of the American style of war?]; for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands,
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn.
Historians tell us the French suffered one of their great defeats at the battle of Agincourt, when superior English technology (the longbows) decimated the cream of French knighthood, The English side took light casualties, not that Henry forgives —
For, hearing this, I must perforce compound
With mistful eyes, or they will issue too.…
Then every soldier kill his prisoners;
Give the word through.
It is sobering, even worrisome, to realize we are at war but we are given a choice in November between men who never experienced the responsibilities of command on the battlefield — a rarity, by the way, in American presidential politics. But put that down to my foolish romantic notions of what it takes to lead the Great Republic; for the moment, you have to admit that it is one of the symptoms of the sentimentalism of democratic societies that martial metaphors are applied regularly to sports. It is scarcely original to remark that one function of sports is to give expression to brutal aggressive instincts no less than wholesome competitive ones. But that is only one function of sports; in them young people also express an instinct for play which is deeply rooted in human beings.
It may well be that we take sports too seriously, in every sense: invest far too much in turning them into big money-making businesses. The NBA, Major League Baseball, the USTA are run as corporations, the bottom line rules. They make huge amounts of money, with which they reward young athletes (and less young executives) with salaries and prizes that may seem unseemly. But my reaction to this sort of economic illiteracy is always the same: can you offer something better?
The USTA says the U.S. Open once again is breaking all records for attendance at a sports event this year; you can look it up, but I should suppose this means a single continuing sports event at a single venue, otherwise I do not think they out-attract the full seven games of a World Series even between (hypothetically) the Diamondbacks and the Marlins (with all due respect to the fine citizens of Arizona and Florida). No question, they are making tons of moolah. Tickets are not cheap. You might pay anywhere between $80 and $600, depending on what you want to see and where you want to sit. You pays your money and you gets your choice, and this range is ordinary by New York sports-and-entertainment standards. The impressive Arthur Ashe Stadium, capacity 23,771, sold out over three days this past weekend, as it already is for next weekend’s finals. The 10,103 capacity Louis Armstrong Stadium (America’s greatest musician lived nearby and the USTA always has been a booster of New York City and the borough of Queens and their famous sons and daughters, at least that is how I interpret the choice of name) and the relatively intimate, charming, 6,106 capacity Grandstand, which is directly adjacent to Armstrong were pretty well packed too. The outside courts range from 300 to 1500, and the new small stadium, Court 17, seats 2,800. You can also enjoy the grounds, watch practice sessions or matches on movie-sized outdoors screens.
The relation of play to business, indeed the earnestness of play, is something those involved in this industry, as athletes (in business terms, salesmen and products combined, somewhat like entertainers, or as executives engaged in marketing the product or making sure it functions well) must work out for themselves. It is their responsibility, as it is their teachers’, their parents’. Prince Hal grew into King Henry, remained playful when it was appropriate, but earnest in all things: consider the bantering, but totally serious courtship of the princess of France in the last act, a critical matter of public policy as well as of the heart.
It sometimes appears the players are playing with each other. I mean, for example, that when Roger Federer, playing at Ashe against the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, swats a crosscourt volley that seems utterly out of his reach as if he were tossing his hat on a rack, putting it, of course, out of Verdasco’s reach, now that is playful. It is also the perfect shot, guaranteed winner. For that matter, Novak Djokovic’s famous return of serve against the great Swiss champion in their semi-final match on this very same court last year, which turned the tide and led to the Serb’s victory in the final, was a playful shot. It just happened to be more effective as anything else he could have done. It not only won the point, it demoralized Federer, almost unthinkable to do against the coolest, steadiest, most steel-nerved contemporary player.
The great prince of American tennis is Andy Roddick, and since he announced his retirement last week he has been playing more like a king than a prince. He played a superb match at Ashe against a tough fast, agile Luigi Fognini, whose fate seems to be to never quite get to the last rounds of a tournament. Fognini made many excellent passing shots, as the popular Roddick — the last American man to win a Grand Slam, right here at Ashe in 2003 — played a brilliant serve-and-volley game, the kind that his fans have been missing in recent years, as he seemed to choke (also suffer injuries) under the pressures of being perennially America’s only contender for the top.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?