Lancelot Links postsWednesday April 17, 2013
- Writers from “The Simpsons”—Conan O'Brien, Al Jean, Jeff Martin, Jay Kogen, and Mike Reiss—sit around a table and talk about the early years of the show. We get anecdotes about James L. Brooks, Johnny Carson, Michael Jackson. They talk about the awful place they worked, how Conan came on board, who their favorite characters were. It's 80 minutes and I watched the whole damn thing. Most revealing? These guys are funny but hardly Mel Brooks.
- My friend Jerry Grillo has a nice piece on “42,” Jackie Robinson and the secrets of the universe.
- Flavorwire lists the 10 best books by filmmakers. I've read the Lumet, Truffaut, Mamet; want the Bogdonavich and Friedkin. But Robert Rodriguez? Really?
- A look at the new documentary, “Which Way Is the Frontline From Here: The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington,” by Hetherington's “Restrepo” co-director Sebastian Junger. The doc airs on April 18. Tomorrow? Tomorrow.
- Alan Zweibel (“North”) with a charming story about receiving tough criticism from Roger Ebert.
- How about Ebert & Scorsese At The Movies? The famed director sat opposite Roger after Gene Siskel's death to talk about the best movies of the 1990s. Love Scorsese's #2 pick.
- You ready? The crime isn't mistreating animals on factory farms; it's taping the mistreatment of animals on factory farms in order to try to stop it. Richard Oppel Jr. reports on this mistreatment of our government by right-wing lobbyists.
- Speaking of mistreatment: Apparently we can use the word “torture” now.
- My friend Stephen Manes' biography of Bill Gates, published in 1993, is now available on the Kindle. Gates and Bezos? Wouldn't that cause technology whiplash? Or would it be World's Finest #1?
- The guy who bought the domain name BostonMarathonConspiracy.com and why. It has a happy ending.
- Here's Stephen Colbert's take on Boston. Just the right touch.
- The Saudi national, who was a suspect, then a person of interest, and then maybe a double victim? Amy Davidson has the story on the New Yorker site. It's not pretty.
- Finally, Dennis Lehane on Boston, the city where he grew up, and the city where he lives, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. It's amazing what you get when you give a real writer a forum.
My favorite Boston moment.
- David Waldman of The American Prospect argues, FOX-News whining aside, why gay people are second-class citizens and Christians in this country will never be.
- Famous authors writing fan letters to other famous authors. Sometimes the letter writer is already famous (Norman Mailer to William Styron in 1953), sometimes they're not (George R.R. Martin to Stan Lee in 1964; James Joyce to Henrik Ibsen in 1901). Anyone out there write a fan letter to a writer? Don't think I have, although I did do the George R.R. Martin thing and sent a letter to Marvel Comics in 1973 about Spider-Man #128. It was never published. And so it began.
- More and more sites are using that sweeping technology to compare photos of the same place but in different times. Here's Paris in 1914 and today.
- A photo essay by Tom McNamara: In Newark They Read Philip Roth.
- I might write more about Jim Carrey's “Cold Dead Hand” video later, but for now just check it out. It's a dead-on parody of both “Hee Haw” and a kind of early '60s country music. It's also a major attack on Charlton Heston and the NRA. Encore?
- I've referenced this elsewhere, and might again in the future, but it's worth reading Scott Raab's profile of Robert Redford. The stuff about Pauline Kael alone is fascinating.
- My Friend John Rosengren has published a new biography called HANK GREENBERG: HERO OF HEROES. Mike Bauman at MLB.com is most impressed.
- Apparently there's a transcript online of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan in 1977 spitballing the ideas that became “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I haven't read all that. I've just read Patrick Radden Keefe writing about that.
- There are three versions of the word “controversy” to describe Dan Savage in this El Paso Times piece, which is otherwise a good piece. Don't quite agree with his “slut” answer, btw, since it depends, doesn' t it, on how many other women the dude's teammates have slept with. If they've only slept with her (unlikely, I know) how are they all sluts? But in general he's right about the epithet's double-standard. What's more interesting is why it's a double standard. (Answer: Because all men are assumed to be sluts.)
- Fun fact: The payroll for the 2013 Houston Astros? $25 million. The salary for Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez, who will be on the DL half the season? $29 million.
- Why i09 thinks the death of Google's RSS Reader means the death of blogs like this one. I know. And it's hardly been born.
- This was on Facebook the other day. I like it. It's a particularly good message in Seattle, where people tend to put the passive in passive-aggressive.
- How Groucho Marx's son Andy helped save “You Bet Your Life” from death.
- Going Fonzie: Imgur imagines guns in famous movie scenes replaced by a thumbs up. I think my favorite might be from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
- Nine of the 10 “saddest” states in the U.S. vote Republican. Coincidence?
- Nathaniel Rogers has a series, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” in which he and other critics choose their favorite still shot from the same film. Then he puts them in narrative order. Here are the results for “The Wizard of Oz.” More recently, everyone took screen shots of “Barbarella.” Kind of points up the superiority of “Wizard of Oz,” doesn't it?
- Richard Sandomir with a piece in The New York Times about the fall and fall of the New York Yankees in 1965 and '66. Glory days. Will they return?
- Remember Barbara Hershey in “The Natural”? The woman she was based on, Ruth Steinhagen, who shot former Cubs first baseman Eddie Waittkus in her motel room in 1949, died recently in Chicago. Key line: “When he went to the Phillies, that's when she decided to kill him.”
- Alex Pareene eviscerates the Sunday morning political shows. They should all be running for cover but they have no shame. They are teflon.
- Webmaster and slinger Tim Harrison's comic strip “Cloud Five” has recently focused on clinical depression. You know how hard it is to do that and be true and funny? Tim pulls it off.
- A.O. Scott on “Philip Roth: Unmasked.” I am so there. Which is apparently in front of my TV set, tuned to PBS, on March 29.
- Adam Gopnik celebrates Roth's 80th birthday with words. But no one mentions Roth's best, “The Ghost Writer”? Are they all mad? Am I? Is Zuckerman? Am I Zuckerman? I was once, you know.
- I'm 50 years old, not a bad writer and editor, but only one man has ever hired me full-time for those talents: Steve Kaplan, a true mensch. Kevin Featherly captures the man, the mensch, the Minnesota Law & Politics legend.
“I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around.” — E.I. Lonoff
- The Chuck Hagel confirmation was a while back but I never saw this post on the 538 site until a few days ago. Generally, Defense Secretaries get 90 or more votes in their confirmation; Hagel got 58. Put it this way: the most amount of “Nay” votes for a confirmed Defense Secretary (John Tower didn't make the cut) was for Casper Weinberger back in 1981. Just two. Hagel got 41. All Republicans. It's a partisan vote but the naysayers are from Hagel's own party.
- My friend Ben had his head operated on in late January to relieve a facial convulsion. There were complications. Now he's blogging about it. Please read.
- Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times assumes the U.S. Supreme Court will rule a major provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. “Years from now,” she writes, “when the Supreme Court has come to its senses, justices then sitting will look back on the spring of 2013 in bewilderment. On what basis, they will wonder, did five conservative justices, professed believers in judicial restraint, reach out to grab the authority that the framers of the post-Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments had vested in Congress ...” (Emphasis mine.) She also takes to task Justices Scalia (for his sarcasm) and Roberts (for his suspect statistics).
- This is pretty damn funny: The comic strip “Unshelved.”
- One of my favorite actors is joining the cast of one of my favorite shows. So nice when that happens.
- That Chris Stark interview of Mila Kunis that everyone loves? Most love Kunis. The New Yorker applauds Stark.
- I've ragged on Jeff Wells in the past—he has a tendency to prejudge movies, then sticks to his guns to sometimes-absurd lengths—but he's right about “The Searchers.” It's not that great.
- Wells also directed me to this Economist article on the economic state of the movie industry. It's not all “Avengers.” I'm particularly intrigued by the graph showing rentals and sales in home entertainment switching positions since 1998: sales dominated the market back then; now it's rentals. We're not an ownership society anymore. This has its advantages. Less stuff to take to the dump, for one.
- Did you know there's a tumblr site that displays screenshots before the special effects were added? It's called BeforeFX (appropriately) and it's got some cool ones, such as Harvey Dent acting Two-Face but with a full face. Mostly, though, it's got a lot of green: the green screen that leads to green. P.S. Shouldn't they juxtapose the BeforeFX shot with the AfterFX shot? Or is that a different Tumblr site?
- In the interest of full disclosure: that screen crush post from earlier in the week? I realized I left out two recent crushes: Carey Mulligan and Mia Wasikowska. Here they are (third from left, fourth from right) on that annual “hot actresses” Vanity Fair cover, this one from 2010:
Third from left, fourth from right.
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing? Say it's so. Make it so. The problem with i09's article? They contrast the role with Cumberbatch's turn as Sherlock Holmes when they should compare it to the work he did on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” That's the role where the movie's producers probably went, “Hey, why not him?”
- The website Scouting New York goes back to all the locations in Woody Allen's “Annie Hall.” Which reminds me: I need some eggs.
- There were a lot of dudes when I was growing up but Joe Namath was the dudeiest of the dudes: professional athlete, B-movie star (not that we differentiated), sex symbol, fumanchu-moustache wearer. Plus he got to hang with Farrah. For the Wall Street Journal, of all papers, Namath recalls his 1960s Manhattan bachelor pad.
- Ed Koch, movie critic.
- We've found our Sharon Carter for the next Captain America movie: Emily VanCamp. Nice belt, darling. Now don't fuck this up, everybody. The story is in the time lost. And it's not 18 years (1945-63) as it was in the comics. It's nearly 60 years. You've got a superpowered 20-year-old virgin, born in 1925 but living in 2013. Don't forget any aspect of this.
- I actually applied for this job but it's nice that it went to a great writer and critic.
- The Florida doc PED scandal continues. With Jesus Montero? Man, if that's how he hits with PEDs, I cringe to think how he does without them.
- The New Yorker's John Cassidy on how what we're doing with the fiscal crisis (austerity; cutting the budget; raising payroll taxes) is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. To quote Joe Henry in the song “Dirty Magazine”: “Just tell me everything I've heard before. Like it was news. Like it was news.”
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing? Make it so.
- I vaguely remember this song, “I Love Onions,” from when I was a kid. It was a popular kitschy, mid-60s song. Was it riding the wave of “When I'm 64” or was Paul riding its wave? The startling info here is that the singer is Jacki Weaver, who plays Bradley Cooper's mom, and Robert De Niro's wife, in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Originally Australian. She's cute. That's the point. A few years ago, she got an Oscar nonination for “Animal Kingdom”? I don't remember that. Also nom'ed for “SLP,” of course. She and everyone. Shame.
- Rick Perlstein reports on a libertarian who comes in from the cold. What turned him? Working at a bookstore, of course. In my mind, everyone should work a year of customer service. I think it would eliminate a lot of dickish behavior in our society. I don't think libertarians are dickish, necessarily; I just think most of them are hopelessly naive about corporate life and human nature.
- In a recent column, Thomas Friedman told us that the world wasn't just connected but “hyper-connected.” He said it as if it was news. Gawker then gave us 14 examples of Friedman using “hyper-connected” in a similar context during the last two years, before following with, “We get it.”
- Chris Nolan is forgiven: He likes “The Thin Red Line.”
- I really wish the Danish version of “The Killing” was available on Netflix, Netflix.
- Eighteen days until the Blu-Ray release of Michael Mann's “The Insider,” one of the best movies of the last 20 years. I'm so there. I might even have to update this paltry review.
- The main Talk of the Town piece a few weeks ago was by Jeffrey Toobin and about voting rights and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and what the Roberts court might do to it. Toobin calls it “the most effective law of its kind in the history of the United States” but knows John, Antonin, Clarence and Samuel aren't fans of Section Five. Necessary reading.
- NY Times headline: 'That Cuddy Kitty of Yours is a Killer.' Not to get all first grade about this, but no duh. Sure, the number of kills is impressive (Yearly: 2.4 billion birds, 12.3 billion mammals) but the headline itself won't be news, and is in fact insulting, to anyone who owns a cat. We named ours Jellybean, which is a cute name, and Jellybean is a cute cat. She's an indoors cat, too. We live on a busy thoroughfare, second floor. She prowls the hallway and hangs out on the overhang about the front doorway. But we're not fooled. Birds show up in the trees outside the living room and her mouth trembles and quivers. She can taste blood.
- And I thought I wrote long reviews. And I thought I disliked the Clint Eastwood movie “Trouble with the Curve,” which was No. 1 on my Five Worst Movies of the Year list. Then I read Joe Posnanski's takedown. Ouch.
- I was always a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show.” I thought it was generally underrated when talking about good, early sitcoms. So I was tickled when I saw this on Facebook the other day. It also happens to be true. I followed the name along the side, Mojopo, and I'm now following her on Twitter.
- Interesting juxtapositon of baseball articles in the Sunday New York Times the other day. On page 8, there was a short memoir piece by Joseph Burgess on finding, and then losing, the Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. It's all about a love of Junior.
- On page 7, meanwhile, an investigative piece by Michael S. Schmidt and David Waldstein suggests Junior's old teammate, Alex Rodriguez, who passed Junior in career homeruns last year for fifth place, is seeing a doctor in Florida who may be associated with administering human growth hormone. Are the Yankees trying to cut A-Rod loose? Is A-Rod just clumsy? Is the article a misunderstanding? He's had injuries, sure. But wouldn't steroid use and HGH make A-Rod less likely to be injured, rather than more? Either way, we've come a long way since A-Rod and Junior, both so young, hit 2nd and 3rd in the M's lineup. A-Rod's tarnished and still suspect; Junior, beloved, is a baseball card.
- In that same day's New York Times Book Review, a great Q&A with author Alain de Botton. Quote: “It’s a mistaken prejudice of our times to think that the only way to cheer someone up is to tell them something cheerful. Exaggerated tragic pronouncements work far better.”
- Here are the 2013 Cesar nominees. Let's go “De Rouille et d'os”! 19 fevrier a Paris.
- Here's a fun memoir piece from Ken Levine on laughing too hard as a newbie writer on “The Tony Randall Show,” the one where he played a Philadelphia judge. I think that was my heyday of TV watching. Double lesson: fear is a great motivation; and never laugh when you find something really funny.
- Wow, that was quick. Two days after the Times story, David Schoenfield suggests A-Rod's career is over.
His last at-bat?
- OK, this is fun: Paul Giamatti reenacts romantic scenes from “Magic Mike, ”Twilight,“ and ”You've Got Mail“ with Julie Klausner. I would've liked to have seen the entire scene from Channing, Robert and Tom, just to compare, but it's still great fun. Oddly, P.G. may be best at ”Magic Mike,“ when he's at least PG-13.
- Joe Reid gives the Razzies a Razzie in ”13 Really Good Movies Nominated for a Razzie.“ And save him the aisle seat.
- Then there's Joe Posnanski on Stan ”the Man“ Musial: on how he got called ”the Man“; on how he was signed in the middle of the Depression; on how he hurt his shoulder and became a hitter instead of a pitcher; on the stats, the lovely stats; and on what lovely man he was.
- From last month: a profile of Adam Posen, only the second American economist to serve on the Monetary Policy Committee, the custodian of the British pound. He's spent several years encouraging stimulus rather than austerity. To no avail. Do Keynesians need to focus on the reaction rather than the action? ”Creating economic demand“ through stimulus feels smart and grounded. ”Inspiring confidence“ through austerity sounds like so much voodoo. It's the kind of feel-good narrative the right usually mocks.
- This made a quote of the day but it bears repeating. Musician Mike Doughty on how he knows Beyonce was actually singing ”The Star-Spangled Banner“ live during the inauguration. He explains it so well even a music doofus like me can understand.
- BTW, make sure you check out Doughty's music, particulary ”American Car.“ I have more Doughty in my collection than Beyonce: 24-2.
- Apparently they've made a documentary on Tim Hetherington, co-creator of ”Restrepo,“ the best American movie of 2010, who died in Libya in April 2011. Called ”Which Way is the Front From Here.“ I'm already there. ”There“ being Sundance, which I'm not. So I guess ”there“ will have to be HBO on April 18, when the doc will premiere for the rest of us.
- Damn, this is sad. Peter Robbins, 56, the first voice-actor to play Charlie Brown in memorable TV specials such as ”A Boy Named Charlie Brown,“ ”A Charlie Brown Christmas, and “It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” has been arrested on 12 felony counts, including stalking and making criminal threats. Apparently no little red-haired girl was involved. I know, I know. Too sad to joke about. Rats.
- This is sadder. Beek's Pizza on 53rd and Lyndale in South Minneapolis, one of my favorite spots as a kid, was ravaged by fire late Thursday. I mentioned the joint in this piece, “A Walk Through the Old Neighborhood in South Minneapolis.” It's the last line: Beek's lives.
- Have you seen Philippe Dubost's resume? Maybe “Fight Club” was wrong. Maybe clever works sometime. One hopes anyway.
- Finally, Bill Maher recently suggested that birther Donald Trump is close cousin to the orangutans, since, he says, their hair color only naturally appears on either of them. This led to a column by Frank Cerebino of The Palm Beach Post, which begins, beautifully, “Somebody needs to speak up for the orangutans.” And this has led to Trump wishing the newspaper dead, which, in this age of dying newspapers, is like wishing death at an assisted living facility. Now if we can only get Paul Giamatti to reenact it all.
“We all disappointed someone from time to time,” the Hall of Famer Robin Roberts said when we talked about kids and autographs. “Well, all of us but one.” “Who was that?” I asked. “Musial,” he said in a voice that indicated I should have already known. — Joe Posnanski
- My friend Sean Axmaker interviews writer-director David Ayer about what I consider the most underrated movie of the year.
- My friend Adam Wahlberg has a new digital book venture, Think Piece Publishing, which presents “singular voices on social issues.” MinnPost did a nice write-up here.
- This new venture made me think of the demise of Minnesota Law & Politics three years ago. Please read the comments section for an indication of how much Steve, Bill and Adam meant to the community.
- Hailing frequencies open! Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talks with Nichelle Nichols. Nice work if you can get it.
- Le meilleur hôtel de France? TripAdvisor recommends three: one in Paris, one in Strasbourg, and one in Colroy-la-Roche.
- On YouTube, British film critic Mark Kermode runs down the 10 worst movies of 2012. Yeah, he's got “John Carter” on the list and shouldn't. It's also a list bookended by Brit films that have never and will never make it across the pond. Comedians worse than Adam Sandler in “That's My Boy” and “Jack and Jill”? Intriguing, actually.
- Why Bill Kristol sucks.
- Finally, I wrote about Earl Weaver a few days ago but here's the real deal: Roger Angell on everyone's favorite short, pugnacious, naked manager.
Hailing freakin' a.
- Here's a travelogue to Minneapolis in the 1930s. The downtown skyline is completely different but Lake of the Isles looks exactly the same.
- Douglas McCollam writes in the Columbia Journalism Review about how Truman Capote got access to Marlon Brando in Japan in 1957 and turned it into the greatest celebrity profile ever written.
- Two modern media giants who don't get paid enough, David Carr and Andrew Sullivan, sit down and talk about Sullivan's decision to go it alone.
- And, hey, I told Sully two years ago he wasn't right for the Beast.
- The greatest tweets ever? Chris Hadfield, currently living in the International Space Station, which is to say outer space, sends tweets back to Earth. William Shatner replied to one and Hadfield replied back, “Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we're detecting signs of life on the surface.” And that was just the beginning. Maybe there's a reason for Twitter after all.
- Sweden made a movie about Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki? Why did I not know about this? Apparently, and unfortunately, they made two versions: Norweigian and English. If you see the movie, make sure you see the former.
- R.I.P., Richard Ben Cramer. “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” opened my eyes. I'll have to read “ I'll have to read ”What It Takes“ now.
- Joe Posnanski crunches the numbers on, of all things, the Topps baseball card numbering system and comes up with the most revered player in Topps baseball card history.
- A history of Seattle moviegoing at the Museum of History and Industry? I am so there. Seattle Times piece written by my friend Michael Upchurch.
- Joel Lovell's New York Times piece on George Saunders, whom he calls the greatest writer of our time. I'm embarrassed I've never heard of him. Either him.
- Tom the Dancing Bug imagines a world in which the NRA is to the first amendment as this one is the second. It's still not pretty.
- Joe Posnanski crunches the numbers on, of all things, how well great pitchers have fared against pitchers. Who has benefitted the most from facing the weakest batters? Who the least? It's one of those stats where you think, ”Yeah, how come no one has done this before?"
Minneapolis in the 1930s was called the city of the future. It was for me anyway.
Lancelot Links (Merry Christmas Edition!)
We're home for the holidays this year, with presents still under the tree, stockings still stuffed, a roast beast waiting in the fridge. In the meantime, some links. Have a great day, everyone:
- Danny Gallagher's “10 Things You Probably Didn't Know about ”A Charlie Brown Christmas.“ And I didn't. I particularly love 3, 5, 6 and 7. I don't know if they were doing market research back then, but it's another example of this. If you want to make something that lasts, listen to the artists, not the business people. The business people will only try to replicate what's been done and will give you nothing that will stick; the artists will try to create something new and original.
- Speaking of: I love the ”Peanuts“ strip for the day, which a FB friend alerted me to. It has great resonance for today. But I miss the history of it. When was this strip created? What year? Moneymen want to remove chronology so the thing can be used again and again as if it were new. Historians know there's a this, then, this, then this. They want to know how the story goes.
- Ghosts of Christmas Past I: What's a good update for ”humbug“?
- Kim Morgan loves herself some Nat 'King' Cole, and while ”Christmas Song“ is good for the time of year, her favorite is Nat's version of the Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish classic ”Stardust.“
- Ghosts of Christmas Past II: Kids say the darndest things, circa 2008.
- Empire magazine lists its 30 Greatest Christmas Movies, but no need to look. They're striving for contrarianism: ”Die Hard“ is No. 1, ”Elf“ No. 2, ”It's a Wonderful Life“ No. 3. ”Scrooged,“ the awful Bill Murray comedy, is at No. 5. As for ”A Christmas Story“? No. 11. Whatev, as the kids say.
- I did time on those lists, too: In 2004, for MSN, the top 10 Christmas scenes. No need to look at that, either. It's slow-to-load, for one. It looks awful, for another. Plus the original accompanying videos are gone. But it went:
- 10) Bing singing ”White Christmas“ in ”Holiday Inn“
- 9) Emma Thompson realizing her husband is cheating on her in ”Love, Actually“
- 8) the intro of Santa's sister in ”Bad Santa“
- 7) Kevin's church scene in ”Home Alone“
- 6) Judy Garland singing ”Have Yourself a Merry Little Chrismtas“ in ”Meet Me in St. Louis.“ Saddest Christmas song ever.
- 5) Alistar Sim as the early Scrooge telling us that man is an island, entire of itself—a message that sadly never goes out of style
- 4) Buddy the Elf confronting a Santa faker who smells of beef and cheese
- 3) Edmund Gwenn's Santa in ”Miracle of 34th Street“ talking Dutch to the poor little orphan girl and making Natalie Wood wonder
- 2) Harry Bailey, 1911-1919
- 1) Santa saying ”You'll shoot yer eye out, kid. Ho ho ho.“
- Ghosts of Christmas Past III: Nook-smart but Saul-Bellow-stupid at Barnes & Noble.
- I'd recommend my favorite Christmas song, ”O Holy Night,“ but YouTube ain't helping in this regard. I like the Irish Tenors' version but it's not to be found. Instead, we get a host of singers who make it more about them than the song. Reminds me of writers who make it more about them than the subject. Bad form. But the Irish Tenors' version is available on iTunes. I'm listening to it right now. Merry Christmas.
”All it needs is a little love, Charlie Brown." — Linus Van Pelt, philosopher
- One of my favorite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, is in line to play the lead in a story about everyone's favorite band, the Beatles. So who will he be? John? Paul? George? Surely, not Ringo! Nope. Manager Brian Epstein. I'm there.
- First it was Megan Fox, who, with admittedly little historical perspective, compared director Michael Bay to Napoleon and Hitler. Then it was star Shia Lebeouf, who compared the director unfavorably to better directors such as Terrence Malick. (No shit, Sherlock.) Now it's Hugo Weaving (voice of Megatron) who is making off-hand cracks about the hugely successful “Transformers” movies. So if the people within it don't like it, why the fuck do you keep going?
- Via Roger Ebert's recommendation, a very nice piece by Stephen Galloway on Denzel Washington. A lesson in how you write about someone who won't open up. Be straightforward. Tell the truth.
- Rob Neyer isn't much of a believer in the notion of momentum in sports, but after the 2012 World Series, which the Giants won in four straight games over the Tigers, he did his due dilgience to see if momentum mattered in October. Apparently it does. In the 33 best-of-seven series that have started with one team winning the first three games, that team has won the fourth game 27 times. They're 27-6. The results in the World Series are even more lopsided, 21-3, with no team taking it to Game 6. Neyer wonders why. I think the answer lies in familiarity. In the World Series, the other team is more of an unknown. And you're more likely to be mesmerized, and give undue credit to, the unknown. But a team you've played 15-20 times that year? They're just fuckers. And you're thinking, “These fuckers aren't going to sweep us.” Or you're thinking, as per Kevin Millar in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, “Don't let the Sox win this game!”
- Andrew Beaujon of Pointer on why political-insider journalists are attacking Nate Silver. It's the difference between politics as entertainment and politics as math.
- I suppose I should also link to Nate Silver's 538 blog on the New York Times site. Only fair. I've been checking it every day for the past month.
- Jonathan Chait and I may not agree on Hollywood but we agree this: “The Case for Obama: Why He is a Great President. Yes, Great.”
- Andrew Sullivan reacts to Chait.
- Longtime reader Andrew Reed on why he's voting for Obama ... and what's wrong with the other side.
- Two of the Argo Six live in Anacortes, Wash. Erik Lacitis reports for The Seattle Times.
- My friend Kristin is mentioned in this Minneapolis Star-Tribune column on the right-wing attempt to add an amendment to the Minnesota constitution banning same-sex marriage. Even though it's not legal in the state yet. Kristin has a VOTE NO sign in her front yard and received a nice note from a same-sex couple in the neighborhood.
- Winner of the NOT AN ONION HEADLINE award: Former FEMA Director “Heckuva Job” Brownie Criticizes Obama for Acting Too Swiftly on Sandy.
- Mitt Romney's response to Sandy? You don't want to know.
- Finally, a nice photo of New York City after Hurricane Sandy. “And God gave Noah the rainbow sign...”
A different kind of rainbow sign, in Minneapolis this fall. GOTV.
- Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi has a kick-ass piece on the VEEP debates, “Joe Biden was Right to Laugh.” Money quote:
Mitt Romney is running for president – for president! – promising an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without offering any details about how that's going to be paid for. Forget being battered by the press, he and his little sidekick Ryan should both be tossed off the playing field for even trying something like that. This race for the White House, this isn't some frat prank. This is serious. This is for grownups, for God's sake. If you're going to offer an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without explaining how it's getting paid for, hell, why stop there? Why not just offer everyone over 18 a 1965 Mustang?
- Taibbi also zeroes in on one of Paul Ryan's worst debate lies, one which caused me to yell at my TV screen from about two inches away: the notion that Pres. Obama isn't bipartisan and that he, and Mitt Romney, are. The GOP does this all the time. It accuses its enemies of its own crimes. Salon.com's take here.
- Why can't movie audiences be bothered with a fun, smart film like Ben Affleck's “Argo”? Because, Jeff Wells, says, “young American audiences are, for the most part, obstinate, under-educated, slow-to-catch-on infants who want their pacifier.” Ha! I love it when Wells goes off like this. And couldn't agree more.
- After A-Rod's benching in the ALDS, ESPN.com's David Schoenfield asks “Is Alex Rodriguez a playoff choker?” and comes to the conclusion: No. He even compares his postseason numbers favorably to Derek Jeter's postseason numbers. I'm surprised someone hasn't done that before. Oh, right, I did. Two years ago.
- Joe Posnanski has a smart piece on what the Yanks should do with A-Rod. Bench him? Nah. He may not be A-Rod anymore, says, Joe P., but he's at least Scott Brosius. So bat him down in the order.
- Before the Nats were knocked out the other day in brutal, one-strike-away fashion, Joe P. posted a masterfully nonchalant profile of the masterfully nonchalant Nats' manager Davey Johnson. Posnanski keeps doing this. There's no one better at it.
- My friend Tim, webmaster and comic-strip master, has had a good week on “Cloud Five” with Benny, his comic Yankees fan, and Benny's various complaints. My favorite of the bunch.
- Finally, I came of age with Soul Asylum, the Minneapolis band that couldn't (break through before Nirvana), so the news that Dan Murphy is leaving the band is slightly sad but old news before it happened. I'll let the boys take you out with “Sometime to Return” from 1988. Three years later, everyone would call this grunge:
- My friend Craig Wright has a play on Broadway, “Grace,” starring Michael Shannon, Paul Rudd and Ed Asner. I think it originally debuted in 2006 in Chicago but it's playing now in New York. Are you near there? Go. Craig writes about what matters.
- Chris Orr at The Atlantic on what makes “The Avengers” good. Short, sharp piece.
- Really, baseball fans? Derek Jeter leads jersey sales for the third straight year? Have you no imaginations? Have you no sense of decency? At long last? Unmentioned is the fact that Ichiro's Yankees jersey placed third in less than half a season.
- Meanwhile, David Schoenfield (which I believe is a ballpark in New York upstate) imagines the 10 least popular jerseys. No. 1 on the hate parade? Playing for the Seattle Mariners, number 9...
- I don't know if I'll write about the first presidential debate or not. I missed it (as did, apparently, Pres. Obama), but from what I've read I agree with everything Paul Krugman says here. Mitt Romney is the car salesman who promises everything at no extra cost and no money down. Then you drive it out of the lot and the wheels come off. And the bill arrives.
- In the wake of positive unemployment numbers, Krugman also tells the GOP they can't handle the truth.
- My friend Ben almost gets into it with an anti-Obamaite at Costco. Fun!
- How Louis CK is turning TV into a Raymond Carver short story directed by (and starring) David Lynch.
- Why save PBS? These reasons, asshole.
- Finally, a little Sam Cooke to send you out. According to iTunes, I've listened to this song 158 times. It's No. 8 on my iTunes Hit Parade:
- From The Telegraph, 50 Years of James Bond posters! Cool. Until I realized it wasn't really 50 years. It's 10 posters: seven from the 1960s, one from the 1970s (“For Your Eyes Only”), one from the '90s (“Tomorrow Never Dies”), and one from the 2000s (“Quantum of Solace”). That's skipping a lot of Bond. On the other hand the objectification of the Bond girls from the early 1960s (“From Russian with Love” and “Thunderball” in particular) is rather startling. I would've thought that would've been more of a '70s thing.
- I'll have a review of Daniel Anker's “Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust” (2004) up soon. But this is his next doc: “Sidney Lumet: A Moral Vision.” I'm there.
- Nathaniel Stein of The New Yorker talks up Bill Clinton's conversation with the teleprompter: How he remade his much-talked-about speech at the DNC on the spot.
- Also from the DNC: Andrew Sullivan on Obama's acceptance speech: “Obama knows how to build a speech: 'Yes, our path is harder but it leads to a better place.' The Christianity of the man shines through at moments like this. He isn't promising heaven and earth (and he didn't last time, either); he's promising persistence in defending the middle class in a globalizing world economy and increasing social and economic inequality.”
- Philip Roth tried to get Wikipedia to change its entry on his novel “The Human Stain” but he was told he wasn't a credible source on Philip Roth. The younger Roth would've lobbed a hilarious bon mot at the site or written an article-length parody. The elder Roth just goes on and on.
- Rightwing nutjobs on the wrong side of history in Minnesota are trying to constitutionally restrict marriage to unions between one man and one woman. But some older folks are on the right side of history.
- Do you shut down 24-year-old phenom Stephen Strasburg when his team, the Nationals, has a chance to bring a pennant to our nation's capitol for the first time since 1933? Joe Posnanski weighs in.
- The Angels' Mike Trout began Saturday's game with a homerun and ended it robbing Prince Fielder of a homerun. Trouth giveth, taketh.
- Why we need more government jobs. Per Krugman.
- Finally, another Marion Cotillard moment. Her latest, “Rust & Bone” (ou “De rouille et d'os”), is getting raves but with warnings. Not for the faint of heart, etc. Bonus: It's directed by Jacques Audiard, whose most recent film, “Un Prophete,” was my favorite film of 2010. Here's the trailer:
- My old high school classmate Marcellus Hall has illustrated a children's book: “Because You are My Teacher.” Looks great. And timely.
- Nathaniel of Film Experience has a funny take on watching “The Avengers” on an airplane.
- Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells gives us the Telluride buzz. Up: “Argo,” “No,” “The Gatekeeper.” Down: “Hyde Park on Hudson.” Not surprised by this last.
- The Obamanator sits down to dinner and urges you to contribute to the Obama campaign. As do I. I'm down $1,000 now to Obama, which is a lot of money for the middle class, but the horror of the GOP, its lies and greed, are unmaking my country. They're making it into oligarchy. Someone cue Joe Henry's “Our Song.”
- The Obamanator also provides this link to Obama's top 50 accomplishments. On the list? Health care reform, stimulus, Wall Street reform. The end of the war in Iraq, the end of Osama bin Laden, the end of Gadaffi. Repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” and coming out in favor of gay marriage. An auto industry bailout that works. (Wasn't Clint in favor of that at Super Bowl time?) Unmentioned but at the top of my list? An intelligent, articulate man behind the presidential seal. I just like hearing him talk.
- A doc on Milos Forman, “What Doesn't Kill You,” played at SIFF last week but I missed it. Didn't even hear about it. Would've gone if I had. In my search to find it online, I came across its IMDb.com page, where, according to IMDb's algorithms, people who liked the doc also liked “Just Go With It,” starring Adam Sandler. Right. Thanks. Trailer's here.
- Dinesh D'Souza, creator of that Obama doc, on Bill Maher's show. Maher hands him his ass.
- Finally, here's this shot from Jeff Wells of Marion Cotillard at the Telluride Film Festival: natural lighting, hair up, little make-up. You know those STARS WITHOUT MAKEUP shots the tabloids like to run? That's basically Marion here ... and she looks more beautiful than ever. Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg, next to her, has a right to be smiling that big, shit-eating grin of his.
Marion Cotillard and... why is someone else even in this picture?
- Interesting Salon.com piece by Mitzi Trumbo, daughter of Dalton, one of the Hollywood 10, on why Kirk Douglas should not get credit for “breaking the blacklist” simply because her father's name appeared as a screen credit on “Spartacus.”
- From a few weeks back: Malcolm Gladwell on Alberto Salazar and the slack between “what is possible, under conditions of absolute effort, and actual performance.” How do men like Salazar keep pushing until they are almost dead? How do they come to like it?
- Whither the Oak Creek shootings? Why so little attention paid to such a slaughter? Naunihal Singh on the New Yorker site: “...it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers.”
- Speaking of Muslims, Sikhs and the Oak Creek shootings: My post on same, plus Spike Lee's “Inside Man” made the Daily Dish site. Last month, Andrew Sullivan's site linked to my post on Louis CK and Proust, and in one day I got as many hits as I normally get in a month. My Sikh/“Inside Man” post? As many hits as I normally get in... three days. Sikh schmeek, apparently.
- Scrabble anyone? The Word Cup Scrabble competition took place in St. Paul, Minn., this year, and, of course, the old man, my father, Bob Lundegaard, showed up. He's quoted at the end of the article. Give him seven letters, he'll give you a bingo.
- Nathaniel Rogers, noted actressexual and host of The Film Experience, posted the image below on his Facebook page and I had to laugh, particularly since Heath Ledger looks like he's totally joking around while JMG looks properly staid and orderly and “Holy class clown, Batman!” Me being me, I had to bring up the battle of the Gwen Stacys in 1960s Mississippi...
- Finally, this “What If?” ad, created by fans of the Cleveland Indians to attack their home team's front office, will make sense to any fan of the Seattle Mariners, who, let's face it, have had it worse. The Indians, remember, were a couple of games from the World Series in 2007. The M's haven't seen the postseason since 2001. They've never seen the inside of a World Series. Plus they got Omar from us:
- Do you have a subscription to The New Yorker yet? Don't you think it's about time? Case in point: David Remnick on Bruce Springsteen at 62, which I recommended last time, too. I could've done a whole post on the memories it dredged up. I could've written a book on this article.
- If you subscribed to The New Yorker, for example, you could read Mark Singer's great piece on Kip Litton, a Michigan dentist who turned to marathons in his late thirties and began recording sub 3-hour races. He began winning races in his own age group. Or did he? Instead, you have to be satisfied with this abstract.
- They also have their online only stuff, such as New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan, a successful writer (“Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under,” “Girls,”) on why he wrote the “Seinfeld” episode about the inscrutable New Yorker cartoon.
- And here's Richardy Brody's take on Sight & Sound's 10 greatest (or 50 greatest) films. I like the commentary, and the personal mea culpas; but, as much as I disagree with the S&S list, I like it more than Brody's. “Marnie,” Brody?
- Elsewhere, The Onion does it again: Olympics gymnastics this time.
- Meanwhile, Mitt Romney keeps sticking his foot in it: Here's the NY Times Op-Ed blowback from Jared Diamond, author of “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which Romney quoted in defending his comments in Israel. Diamond writes that Romney's interpretation of his book is so wrong “that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it.”
- That kind of thing, which is becoming a daily occurrence, didn't keep Clint Eastwood from endorsing Romney; but then Eastwood's characters have always had a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. For all the critical success of his later films, Eastwood has always been a simple-minded absolutist. That's what people want. That's what Hollywood and the Republican party give them.
- Good news! An Ohio family cleaning out its grandfather's attic discovered 700 baseball cards from more than 100 years ago—rare Ty Cobbs and Honus Wagners in mint condition—which fetched more than $500K at an auction.
- Funnier news! Apparently the Facebook pages of various MLB teams was hacked the other day. Deadspin has the results. My favorite, of course, is from the New York Yankees FB page: “We regret to inform our fans that Derek Jeter will miss the rest of the season with sexual reassignment surgery. He promises to come back stronger than ever in 2013 as Minnie Mantlez.
- Did you see Jimmy Fallon doing Jim Morrison doing ”Reading Rainbow“? Nice. Suddenly, there's Oscar-hosting talk. Poor bastard.
- Need more Gore Vidal? PBS.org is streaming an ”American Masters“ portrait of the author, ”The Education of Gore Vidal," until midnight, August 9.
- Finally, a little Usain on the membrane: The New York Times gives us a video/infographic on every 100 meter sprinter from 1896 to 2012. How much faster are we now? Three seconds faster. But in the Olympics, three seconds is the world.
Bob Allison on Camera Day, Met Stadium, 1962. This is a shot from a friend of a friend, someone I don't even know, but it reminds me of my childhood. The bleachers behind Allison? That's the left-field side. Cheap seats. $1.50. Our primary digs on game days. I could write a whole post on this photo.
- Andrew Sullivan on Bayard Rustin, American hero: “Rustin's shoulders are higher and broader. You can see the future from them.”
- The plotlines that were apparently cut at the 11th hour from the movie “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Nice companion piece to my review.
- Tyler Kepner welcomes Ichiro to New York and tells us, among other things, that the M's icon has visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown four times. “Ever since I’ve been here, which is 18 years, that’s more than any other current player,” said Jeff Idelson, the president of the Hall of Fame.
- The New Yorker's Jill Lepore, post-Aurora, on when Batman used a gun, when he stopped, and when the NRA supported federal gun-control legislation. “'No guns,' Batman says to Catwoman, in 'The Dark Knight Rises,'“ Lepore writes, adding, ”That’s more than will likely be said on the floor of Congress.“
- And if you haven't read Ms. Lepore's great piece from earlier this year on the history of the NRA and the Second Amendment, ”Battleground America: One nation, under the gun,“ what the hell's keeping you?
- My friend Tim's Cloud Five comic strip on Aurora, Col.
- David Remnick's glorious profile: ”We Are Alive: Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two.“
- I love this New York Times Correction: ”An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of the Seattle pitcher who hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch. He is Felix Hernandez, not Rodriguez.“ I'm not sure if that's a greater insult to Latinos, whose surnames are apparently interchangeable, or King Felix, Cy Young Award winner, but who, you know, plays for one of those teams out there.
- Alex Pareene on the latest conservative lie—the private sector invented the Internet—and why it won't go away.
- From Bloomberg News: More than 4 out of 5 economists surveyed recommend Democratic policies for their patients who give a shit about the future of their country. Money-where-your-mouth-is quote: ”How about the oft-cited Republican claim that tax cuts will boost the economy so much that they will pay for themselves? It’s an idea born as a sketch on a restaurant napkin by conservative economist Art Laffer. Perhaps when the top tax rate was 91 percent, the idea was plausible. Today, it’s a fantasy. The Booth poll couldn’t find a single economist who believed that cutting taxes today will lead to higher government revenue — even if we lower only the top tax rate.“
- Finally, here's nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis on Mitt Romney's charmless offensive in the UK. Romney, who wanted to prove his diplomatic credentials to the U.S. voting public, went to London a few days ago and: 1) forgot the name of the opposition party leader, calling him ”Mr. Leader"; 2) referenced meeting with the head of MI6, which is something you never do; and 3) dissed London's readiness for the Olympic games. For this last, Lewis went 4x4 relay on his ass: “Every Olympics is ready. I don’t care whatever [Mitt Romney] said. I swear, sometimes I think some Americans shouldn’t leave the country. Are you kidding me? Stay home if you don’t know what to say.” That Anglo-Saxon enough for you?
Lancelot Links: Oscar Edition
- The most interesting piece I've read this Oscar season is the least-surprising. Three reporters at The LA Times, John Horn, Nicole Sperling and Doug Smith, finally break the cloak on anonymity that has always surrounded the Academy and give us exact numbers ... and it's pretty much as we always suspected: Oscar is old, white and male. Specifically, he's 94% white, 77% male, and with an average age of 62. I once compared the Academy to Gordon Jump on “WKRP in Cincinnati” and it's not far off. The surprise? I always assumed the Academy was made up of past nominees and winners but 64% of its members, including TV stars Erik Estrada and Gavin McLeod, have never been nominated. So how did they get in? We don't really get that from the Times. We don't get a sense of who gets invited and why. Apparently women and non-whites are still vast minorities in terms of even new membership. At the same time, I don't think this kind of rash action is doing anyone any good:
“People of color are always peripheral,” said veteran African American character actor Bernie Casey (“Under Siege”), who said he recently quit the academy because he was disenchanted with its racial makeup.
- The audio of my recent turn talking Oscars on “Karl Show! (Starring Jason)” is up. Love the “Citizen Kane” gif they gave me. What am I trying to get the masses to applaud for there? “Young Adult”? “Tree of Life”? CRITIC LUNDEGAARD FOUND IN LOVE NEST WITH “FILM.”
- “Kids Re-enact the Oscar Nominees” is a cheap laugh but I laughed out loud for the “Moneyball” version.
- More kids: Guyism.com's Ryan Jones interviews kids on the upcoming Oscar ceremonies. LOL line: “What's the favorite movie you've seen over the last year?” “'Dolphin Tale.'” “'Dolphin Tale'? How does that compare with 'The Tree of Life'?”
- Nathaniel Rogers temporarily leaves his Film Experience site to pen an interesting piece, over at Slate, in which he breaks down who and what gets thanked, and when, during Oscar acceptance speeches. Basics: God beats Oprah but loses to Meryl Streep.
- Slate also has a piece, by Elbert Ventura, about how sneakily profound “The Descendants” is, but he doesn't say anything I didn't in my review last November. Oh, except that the movie is as existential and profound as “The Tree of Life.” Because it's not.
- Via the eagle-eyed Uncle Vinny: Dave Weigel breaks down “The Iron Lady.” Cleavage and all.
- A Harvard freshman, Ben Zauzmer, has created a mathematical formula for predicting the Oscars, although—caveat!—he says it's not foolproof. His method would've predicted correctly 19 of 20 in 2009 but only 16 of 20 in 2010. Still, he offers his 2011 predictions. Let's hope he's wrong about Meryl. (So odd to be rooting against Meryl.)
- Meanwhile, FilmJerk.com's numbers cruncher makes his own predictions. And yes, Virginia, there are differences. Jerk goes Clooney over DuJardin, Davis over Streep, Bejo over Davis. Oddly, among his formulations, “hotness” isn't a factor. Which, with the average Academy member, it totally is. I'd stick with the Harvard kid.
- The Seattle Times' Moria Macdonald makes her predictions (and lets her wishes be known) in the eight major categories. For what it's worth, she agrees with young Ben on everything but, well, Meryl.
- Via Le Monde, Césars 2012: le triomphe de “The Artist.” Peut-etre a Hollywood aussi? Question: Why do they use the English version of the title (“The Artist”) in a French newspaper? Do they call it “The Artist” in France? Not “l'Artist”? FWIW: Dujardin lost out on meilleur acteur to Omar Sy, but Bejo won meilleure actrice. So Gordon Jump is alive and well and living in France.
- David Denby has a nice homage to silent film in the latest New Yorker. To which everyone should be subscribing.
- Then Denby goes through the looking glass with fellow critic Richard Brody to talk about silent films via a silent film. Fun.
- Oh, don't forget this: My Oscars page.
- Finally, in 2005, I wrote a piece for MSNBC on who was most due for an Oscar. Among my choices? Martin Scorsese, Jeff Bridges, and Glenn Close. Done, done, and... probably not.
No live-blogging tonight kids. Oscar hosting. But I'm sure I'll have an opinion or two when the night is through...
Oui, vous est tres jolie. Je t'aime, vraiment. Mais... meilleure actrice?
- Earlier this week I gave a talk on how to do a good Q&A. My advice mostly involved listening, being curious, having a conversation, then editing, editing, editing. Nice that Errol Morris, master interviewer, basically says the same. As I said during my talk: It's not rocket science.
- It's always interesting to get outsider views of the U.S., as in this Der Spiegel commentary on the GOP nominees, “A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses.” Turns out the outsider view of my country is my view. Money quote about the Republicans who would be president:
They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge — political, economic, geographic, historical — that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.
- Stephen King wrote a book on the Kennedy assassination called “11/22/63.” Ross Douhat wrote a semi-critical New York Times column on the book called “The Enduring Cult of Kennedy.” Now King calls out Douhat in a letter to the editor. Fun!
- More fun: Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker lists off departing congressman Barney Frank's greatest insults. My favorite is more waggish than insulting: “We don’t get ourselves dry-cleaned.”
- Last Sunday, Dudley Clendinen had a nice NY Times Op-Ed on a timely (for cinema) subject: “How J. Edgar Hoover Outed My Godfather.” Sad, nasty stuff. Makes me wish Clint Eastwood's movie had been more hard hitting.
- Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated on “Brian's Song,” 40 years later. It was as he said. I still remember the grade-school oneupsmanship on manliness. Someone would claim that he never cried, and someone else would bring up “Brian's Song,” and then we'd all admit, “Well, yeah, 'Brian's Song.' Everybody cried at 'Brian's Song.'” Hell, I still tear up hearing the theme music. “Superman had Kryptonite,” Rushin writes. “The rest of us have Brian's Song, the first — and still most surefire — Male Tearjerker.”
- The general rule of modern political journalism is to treat stupid statements from stupid, prominent people as if they were reasonable statements from reasonable people. Salon's Alex Pareene don't play that.
- I don't know if this is going to be a new category/meme on Andrew Sullivan's site but the first example made me laugh out loud.
- My college roommate Dean Jolliffe, who went on to Princeton and then the Dept. of Agriculture and the World Bank, was quoted in this Freakonomics piece on poverty and obesity. Dean's original article was in Economics and Human Biology, which the Freakonomics guys tell us is “more far-reaching” research than what others have put forth. Go Dean! Money quote from Deano:
Contrary to conventional wisdom, NHANES data indicate that the poor have never had a statistically significant higher prevalence of overweight status at any time in the last 35 years.
- Finally, from my sis, an editor at The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a nice piece on not letting winter--and we're talking Minneosta winter here--push you indoors. She tried it last February at a weekend winter camp, but ran into some ironic trouble: nice weather. Excerpt:
The air-gun class was held inside. We got a lecture on safety rules and learned how to load the guns. I learned that I'm left-eye dominant even though I'm right-handed. “That's why I've been a lousy shot all my life,” I thought to myself. So I set myself up to shoot left-handed. My first shot hit the inner circle on the target, 15 feet away. So did the second. Virtually my whole round was clustered in the center ring. My kids, who have learned to ignore my anti-gun rants — even about the plastic Nerf guns taking over the block — were in awe.
It's usually about 40 degrees colder, with snow about five feet deeper, during Feburary in Minnesota.
- Via Roger Ebert: OhNoTheyDidnt, a livejournal, celebrity gossip site, has broken down the 13 movies posters we get: from Sexy Back (lone, violent, often western hero), to Back to Back (oh, those crazy couples), Legs Spread Wide (could be a raunchy comedy, could be Bond). My favorite of the bunch is the first, “Tiny People on the Beach, Giant Heads in the Clouds,” films that tend toward the sappy, such as “Charlie St. Cloud,” “City of Angels,” “Forever Young.” Are most of the posters we see French posters? Would be interesting to break down international films by country. How poster art differs from country to country.
- Oscar Oscar Oscar: Brett Ratner's gone as producer after his “fags” comments, etc., so Brian Grazer steps in. Eddie Murphy follows of his own accord as Oscar host. Leaving? Jeff Wells suggests Vince Vaughn. Not a bad idea, actually. Or if you're going to co-host it ... Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Or Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Any of them frat packers.
- Nope. Looks like it'll be Billy Crystal. Like Grazer, the safe choice.
- New Yorker editor David Remnick has a nice piece on former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, who died this week, and who never forgave Muhammad Ali his insults.
- Meanwhile, Smokin' Joe Posnanski weighs in: “Frazier was heavyweight champion of the world when that meant something.” Indeed. And don't forget he was in the first “Rocky.” Yes, in that awful green suit.
- Andrew Sullivan has smart readers. From “Who Caused the Financial Crisis?” series.
- Speaking of: Michael Lewis, who has spent books determining who caused the financial crisis, goes beyond “Moneyball” in this Vanity Fair article. Wait: way beyond “Moneyball.”
- This is the best thing I've read in weeks: Malcolm Gladwell on Walter Isaacson on Steve Jobs. Gladwell calls Jobs not an inventor or innovator but a tweaker. He would take something and improve upon it and then close it off so it couldn't be improved upon by others. Thus the closed-off (but well-designed) design of Apple products. Most amusing to me, though, is the anecdote about how the iPad came to be. The Jobs family had a friend who was married to a top executive at Microsoft, and who was invited to Jobs' 50th birthday party. As Jobs tells Isaacson:
This guy badgered me about how Microsoft was going to completely change the world with this tablet PC software and eliminate all notebook computers, and Apple ought to license his Microsoft software. But he was doing the device all wrong. It had a stylus. As soon as you have a stylus, you’re dead. This dinner was like the tenth time he talked to me about it, and I was so sick of it that I came home and said, “Fuck this, let’s show him what a tablet can really be.”
- Matty Alou, one of the three Alou brothers (with Jesus and Felipe), a lifetime .307 hitter, and the tying run stranded at third when Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson to end the 1962 World Series, died in the Dominican Republic at the age of 72. His career stats here. The death of ballplayers, particularly ones I grew up with, tends to sadden me more than any other celebrity group.
- I mean I spent more time with Andy Rooney than Matty Alou and yet ... Of course, Andy was older, too. Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells gives Andy a nice sendoff.
- Who knew that a dinner party with Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot could be dull and awkward?
- The creator of my favorite TV show these days, Jonathan Ames of HBO's “Bored to Death,” lets the Atlantic magazine in on his reading habits. Quote: “My parents kindly gave me a subscription to The New Yorker but I don't seem to read it any more. They just pile up. I'm so far behind — there's an article from 2010 on the brain I've been meaning to read for almost two years — that I've just given up on the magazine altogether.” P.S. Someday I'll have to write a post about “Bored to Death” and how much I identify with the fictional Jonathan Ames played by Jason Schwartzman.
- You heard what New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said about Congress being responsible for the Global Financial Meltdown? Here's the genteel repsonse from Mike Konczal of Rortybomb: “Both the subprime mortgage boom and the subsequent crash are very much concentrated in the private market, especially the private label securitization channel (PLS) market. The GSEs were not behind them. That whole fly-by-night lending boom, slicing and dicing mortgage bonds, derivatives and CDOs, and all the other shadiness of the 2000s mortgage market was a Wall Street creation...”
- Here's the less-than-genteel response from Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine: “Well, you know what, Mike Bloomberg? FUCK YOU. People are not protesting for their own entertainment, you asshole. They’re protesting because millions of people were robbed, by your best friends incidentally, and they want their money back.”
- Did you read how Hassan Elahi dealt with being a suspected terrorist? Smart.
- Did you read how Ann Jones dealt with being a suspected terrorist? Scary.
- Voted the other day. Mostly a straight Stranger ticket. If a Stranger ticket can be straight.
- The artwork of high school friend Marcellus Hall, a sometime New Yorker cover illustrator, is featured in this post about art for children's books. I marvel at the talent.
- How the U.S. is losing engineering and math students at the college level. Even at the elite college level. I feel part of the problem. Where went that elementary school love of math?
- And bad news on the global warming front: “The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.” At least we've stopped debating that this is happening. Oh right.
The Alou brothers, Jesus, Matty and Felipe, with the San Francisco Giants in the early 1960s. They were the first brothers to play in the same outfield in the same game.
- Here's why Brendan Ryan is one of my new favorite Mariners. That and the fact that his batting average is generally above .250.
- I saw this catch before I even knew Trayvon Robinson was on the M's. Welcome, kid.
- Want to run like Ryan and catch like Robinson? Don't eat movie popcorn—at least at the chains—unless you want 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium and 60 grams of saturated fat. Eesh.
- Hey, here's another reason to like Brendan Ryan: He's one of the Seattle athletes participating in this “It Gets Better” video. But where's Ichiro? Hell, where's Dan Savage? He started the thing, he lives in Seattle. Let's get together, people.
- Over at IFC, Matt Singer praises the Mighty Marvel Manner of making comic-book movies: with a shared universe and the same kind of continuity with which they've created comic books.
- Peter Bogdonavich is still stumping for “The Searchers.” Jeff Wells isn't buying it. Wells' take is pretty similar to my own more than 10 years ago.
- Talk about devolution: “The 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults”, which is a fun read, begins with Truffaut on Antonioni (and I agree) and ends with Uwe Boll on Michael Bay (and I could care less what Boll says about anything). The early stuff here is particularly good. Jean-Luc Godard, never one of my faves, takes a few shots. Orson Welles is right on him. The rest is too much piling on Quentin Tarantino and too much lip from Kevin Smith.
- SIFF is reopening the Uptown Theater! Yes! I am so there ... the night after opening night. I'll leave opening night to the corporate crowd. (My RIP for the Uptown, from last November, can be read here.)
- Congratulations to Josh Wilker and his wife on the birth of their son. Josh is able to cull meaning from a 40-year-old baseball card so imagine what he can do with this.
- “Corporations are people, my friend.” Bye-bye, Mitt. Door, ass, out.
- “Rick Perry may be a neo-Confederate sympathizer with a recurring tendency to bring up secession, but he doesn't look as weird in a photograph as Bachmann does.” Salon's Alex Pareene takes down the sudden Republican front-runner with ease, humor and disgust.
- Paul Krugman was particularly good last Monday on S&P and their ways.
- How do you engage an atheist who appears on FOX-News? For Christianists, it's with a 12-gauge apparently. Dozens on Facebook suggested killing the guy. Several suggested nailing him to a cross. Which, of course, would put them, the Christianists, in the “Lord, they know not what they do” category. These people defeat themselves.
- Remember Misha Pemble-Belkin from Tim Hetherington and Sebastien Junger's documentary “Restrepo”? The dude with a calm, bemused manner? Who seems less soldier than punk rocker? Martin Kuz, a friend of a friend, writing for “Stars and Stripes,” caught up with him back in Afghanistan.
- Remember where “Restrepo” was set? Kuz writes how we're back in the Pech Valley again. Some soldiers question the redeployment on the record: “If we wanted to be in this valley, we probably should have stayed.“ Some question it off the record: ”Is there an insurgency if we’re not here? It’s a valid question.“ Meanwhile, the rationale for our return echoes our rationale in 2003: “We’re coming here to set the conditions for a transition that will support the Afghan army and Afghan police in providing security,” Lt. Col. Colin Tuley, commander of the 2-35th, said.
The International Fountain at the Seattle Center last Saturday night, before taking in the Seattle Opera's production of ”Porgy & Bess."
I haven't done a Lancelot Links in a while. Maybe the news is too depressing to link to. (“The devil take this world/And shove it up his ass” is a line from a Tropicals song I keep thinking these days.) But not everything's depressing....
- Here's the trailer for the new ensemble romantic comedy “New Year's Eve,” directed by Garry Marshall. I'm not recommending the trailer or the movie or the director. I'm recommending Jeffrey Wells' one-word synopsis.
- Bachmann Pawlenty Overdrive. Probably the only time in the history of the Internet that a YouTube commenter was dead-on. WTF indeed, Minnesota.
- Well, at least Minnesota elected Al Franken, who, here, takes apart an anti-gay-rights leader. Here's hoping for a real Al Franken Decade.
- Could this be the chart of the decade? New policy changes under Bush: $5.07 trillion . And under Obama (projected to 2017): $1.44 trillion. Grab your favorite tea-partier and shove their face in this.
- The New York Times gives us a necessary Q&A on raising the debt limit. Money quote: “Q: Do you mean that Congress can pass a budget that requires borrowing, and then argue later about whether to approve that borrowing? A: That’s right. The system goes back to World War I...”
- The Onion cuts to the heart of the debt-ceiling debate.
- Funnier? Or dieier? Dan Savage threatens to change the definition of “Rick” if Rick Santorum doesn't behave himself.
- Here's a great takedown of Thomas Friedman by Salon's Steve Kornacki: “Does Thomas Friedman even follow the news?”
- I know it won't garner much sympathy from the rest of the country melting under incredible heat, but this kind of thing wears on you after a bit.
- Meanwhile, in hot and sultry (and sexy, I'm told) south Minneapolis, Jim Walsh goes nightswimming.
- Someone save the left from left-wing activists.
- Someone save the right from folks like Sarah Palin and Andrew Breitbart.
- Related: How's that Undefeated thing working for ya? Brandon Gray at boxofficemojo.com parses the numbers on Palin's documentary and declares: “Even before The Undefeated bottomed out in its second weekend, the movie was a bust in its first weekend, but its boosters latched onto two stats: per-theater average and ranking among political documentaries. The classic tactics of movie spin include bragging about per-theater average and declaring a high ranking in a niche category. The funny thing is that Undefeated's opening didn't rate highly on either front, making the spin extra egregious.”
- In the wake of Anders Breivik's attack on a children's camp in Norway, many are saying that Norway and other Scandinavian countries paid too much attention to extreme Muslims and not enough to homegrown extrimism. Joan Acocella reminds us that Stieg Larsson was paying attention.
- Superman from scratch? I have some ideas. Unfortunately it's just another gimmick. It's creating another universe after DC went to so much trouble to consolidate them.
- Not sure if “Supergods” by Grant Morrison is worth buying (some excerpts were pretty purple), but this article by Tim Martin, on what superheroes mean, where they've been, and where they're going, is definitely worth reading.
- Great appearance by Spider-Man at Comic-Con.
- Supercool slideshow on Slate.com of dancers—and I mean dancers—doing amazing things in public.
- Now go outside and play.
View from Granite Mountain last Sunday.
Talented friends edition.
- My friend Adam Wahlberg has a nice piece in our alumni magazine about a panhandler, a statue, and a soul-searching moment. It's specific to Adam but universal. We've all been there on that curb. Somehow Adam also rates a Barry Blitt illustration? Not just that: he gets drawn by Barry Blitt? Was Blitt an alumnus? A Hubert Humphrey fan? Excerpt:
I stand on the curb a long moment, wondering when and how I became this guy. I shoot a glance across the rail line to Minneapolis City Hall. Hubert Humphrey is looking right at me. ...
I’m 41. Humphrey (B.S. ’39) was heading back to the U.S. Senate by the time I was born. Before that he was mayor of Minneapolis, a U.S. senator, vice president under Lyndon Johnson, and then the Democratic candidate for president. He died when I was in grade school. I never met him, voted for him, heard him speak, or experienced him in any firsthand way. But I’ve always been inspired by images of him. It’s the smiling thing. He’s always beaming in photos, especially when surrounded by throngs of people. The Happy Warrior. With how polarized the discourse has become, are people even allowed to be happy in politics these days? We have a comedian in the Senate right now who has barely cracked a smile in two years.
- Minnesota's newly conservative legislature, at odds with any notions of Minnesota Nice, not to mention 20th century progress, are wasting everyone's time by attempting to ban gay marriage in the state. My friend Jim Walsh, in the pages of Southwest Journal, penned this take on his first birds-and-the-bees lesson, an adolescent run-in with (and run from) reactionary forces, a middle-aged f-u to those guys and that moment, and a parting kiss:
Which was somewhat comforting, a subtle reminder in these times of scarlet letters, sexual suspects, and same-sex lynchings: No matter what laws go on the books, no matter how hateful the ignorance, people will find good love and good sex with whomever or whatever they please.
Because it feels good.
- Finally, one of Adam's best friends, and someone who's written for me in the past, Martin Kuz, is now working for Stars and Stripes and is stationed in Afghanistan. His first pieces came out this month. One is about “harrassing fire” in the remote region of Kor Jalal. The other is on the difficulty of being both soldier and ambassador in this remote region:
For now, the obligation to safeguard the remote southern reaches of Logar province — an area of eastern Afghanistan that troops dub “the frontier” for its sand-swept landscape and sparse population — falls mostly to the Company D platoon, deployed here since October. They have taken fire on at least 60 occasions from insurgents who typically strike from no closer than a half-mile away, hiding amid the clefts and caves of the surrounding mountains. “We never see them,” said Pfc. Joseph Tichacek, a radio technician. “You see muzzle flashes, but that’s about it" ...
Even nine years into this conflict, Beck recalls that early in the deployment some villagers saw U.S. troops and thought the Russian army had returned. “Closer to Kabul, people have more of an understanding of the world,” Beck said. “Out here, they just want to be left alone. But the Taliban isn’t going to leave them alone.”
Smile while you can, love whom you can, keep your head low.
- “If there’s a Jewish Miami Cuban homo out there, then that person should rule the world.” Why I love Dan Savage.
- Why I love Paul Simon. During a Toronto show, a woman in the crowd asked him to play “Duncan,” from his self-titled 1971 album, adding she learned to play the guitar with that song. What does he do? Invites her on stage, talks to her over the roar of the crowd, takes off his guitar and straps it to her. And she, and the band, play the song. NPR calls it a moment of pure sobbing joy. It is.
- Oliver Willis on “Why Obama Matters to Black America: High School Graduation Edition.” Great effin' picture.
- “A restaurant is like a shark, it has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we've got on our hands is ... a dead shark.” Right: No more Elaine's.
- Alex Pareene, inspired by Don Trump, gives us five political books doomed before publication, but the one I want to read, for a laugh, didn't even make his top 5: “The Bush Boom: How a Misunderestimated President Fixed a Broken Economy.” That and $200,000 will help you break even on your underwater mortgage. That and $8 trillion will bring the national debt back to Clinton-era numbers. That and a job will help you get a job.
- Back in Law & Politics days, whenever there was a disagreement over commas, apostrophes, capitalization, I'd always ask the managing editor, Mike or Jessica, “What does AKC say? Do what she says.” AKC is Anne Kelley Conklin, our copy editor back then, and the Omar Vizquel of copy editors (she made every play), who now has a must-read blog about all the many ways we're effin' up the English language. I'm anxious to read it everyday. Every day? Still waiting on that post, AKC.
- Our foreign correspondent, Andy Engelson, sees where Tea Party tax-cutting measures, like those in Colorado Springs, will invariably lead us. It's the new Vietnamization.
- The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which Jon Stewart helped get passed, has a special master: Sheila Birnbaum of Skadden Arps, whom we profiled, or Phil Dray profiled, two years ago in New York Super Lawyers magazine. It's a good article. Here's a work-day post about it all.
- Finally, as a run-up to bike-to-work day (today), The Seattle Times' Danny Westneat ponders the supposed cyclist/motorist contretemps in Seattle with a comical shrug. Love this quote from Tom Fucoloro, 25, of seattlebikeblog.com. “Most of us are not riding bikes to make a statement or to be negative or to wage war. We're just doing it to ride our bikes.”
Lancelot Links: Harmon Killebrew Edition
There's a lot of great writing out there on Harmon Killebrew, the Twins slugger who died yesterday, at the age of 74, of esophageal cancer. Here are a few favorites:
- The New York Times has a well-written obituary by Richard Goldstein, with a photo that feels like the quintessential Killebrew swing: balanced, extended, all out. They get the story right--born in a farming community in Payette, Idaho, recommended to the Washington Senators by a U.S. Senator, the quantity and quality of the homeruns, the quality of the man--but they also dig up quotes from Fay Vincent's oral history, “We Would Have Played for Nothing.” Then there's this gem:
He made sure that his autographs for young fans were legible.
“I had a doctor’s signature,” the former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter told The Star Tribune in recalling the time Killebrew looked at his autograph several years ago. “I had a ‘T’ and an ‘I’ and a dot-dot. He said, ‘What the hell is this?’ He said, ‘If you play the game this long, make sure people know who you are.’ ”
The bat Harmon used to hit homer #573. (As a Royal, against the Twins.)
- As if on cue, Jim Salisbury tells us why it matters that kids can read your autograph, as he recounts a day outside Fenway Park in 1973 when he met Killebrew. Salisbury got to meet him again in 2007, this time as a professional, and regaled him with the story:
Killebrew could not have been more of a gentleman. He laughed when I told him I thought he was the trainer. He smiled when I thanked him for being so kind to me during that brief 1973 encounter in the underbelly of Fenway Park. “That makes me feel good,” Killebrew said. “I'd hate to think I wasn't nice and respectful to someone.”
A '60s bumper sticker ... now under glass at Target Field.
- Here's that 1963 Sports Illustrated cover story on Killebrew that everyone's been quoting lately—particularly the line about what kind of hobbies he has: “'Just washing the dishes, I guess,' says Harmon, trying to help.” Irony: SI talks up how ignored Killebrew is ... even as their cover story on him doesn't really put him on the cover. The cover is bat and ball. You gotta open the fold-out to see the man himself.
- You can also go to the SI vault and read old articles on the man. I'd always wondered whether, on the heels of Damn Yankees, and with the rise of Killebrew the homerun hitter, if someone made the inevitable Joe Hardy allusion. They did. Then we get this great quote:
“People have been comparing me to Joe Hardy, the hero of the musical Damn Yankees,” Killebrew told the group, referring to the George Abbott-Douglass Wallop hit show of a few years back. “You might be interested to hear what Bob Addie told me the other night after I had struck out against the Yankees to end the game. 'You may look like Joe Hardy to some,' Addie told me, 'but today you were more like Andy Hardy.' ”
- A nice photo gallery from CBS News. But they fail to mention, in photo 11, that those three players—Robinson, Jackson, Killebrew—weren't just 500-homerun guys. They all hit homeruns in that 1971 All-Star Game.
- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in their slideshow, gets it right. But who knows what the story is behind the photo of Killebrew and Hank Greenberg. Plus... I mean, The New York Times has been hawking its photos of Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, et al., for years now, and I always thought the Star-Tribune should do the same, from their extensive archive, with photos of Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, Tovar, etc. So far nothing. What—don't you guys need the money?
- Also from the Strib: the fans who gathered at Target Field yesterday. I'm with Kevin Lindquist: “I've never been so sad about [the death of] someone I didn't know.”
- I'd never heard this song, “Harmon Killebrew,” by Jeff Arundel, until today. Jeff: I, too, wrote a letter to Harmon Killebrew about the time you did. That's how I got that autographed photo. That's what came back. BTW: Where did you get the Bob Casey recording? So cool.
- Stats & Info, on ESPN.com, give us of some of Killebrew's stats. They remind us that no one hit more homeruns in the deadball 1960s. Not Aaron, not Mays, not anyone.
- Rob Neyer, over at Baseball Nation, reminds us of the length of those homeruns. It makes me think again that if Killebrew played in a bigger market, a New York or Boston, oh, the stories we'd all know. Oh, the stories we woud've heard on Ken Burns' Baseball (instead of nada):
In 1962, Killebrew became the first player to hit a ball over the left-field roof at Tiger Stadium; only three others would accomplish the feat before Tiger Stadium closed 37 years later.
In 1964, Killebrew hit the longest-ever measured home run at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
In 1967, Killebrew hit the longest-ever measured home run at Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium (today the landing spot, 520 feet from home plate, is commemorated by a stadium seat inside the Mall of America).
I had a Twins/Killebrew pennant just like this one in my room when I was a kid. This one is under glass at Target Field.
- ESPN's tribute. Some nice quotes, including this one from Killer: “I found out early in life that I could hit a baseball farther than most players and that's what I tried to do.”
- One of my favorites, of course, which I linked to last week, is Josh Wilker's 2007 post about his 1975 Harmon Killebrew card:
I was just learning the basic language of baseball statistics in 1975, and so took in Harmon Killebrew’s long litany of 40-homer, 100-plus RBI years with the pure and enthusiastic fascination of the true beginner. I have an attraction to anonymous players, to failure and ignominy, to the fallen and the wilkerized, but I am as drawn to the players whose feats stand in bold opposition to the general entropy of the universe as any other baseball fan. I am sure that I found this card soothing. There is greatness in the world. There are things that won’t be forgotten.
- Jim Caple, always a pleasure to read, gives us another nice remembrance.
- Once again, with everyone writing about the same baseball subject, Joe Posnanski again manages to write about the best piece out there. He gets to the heart of the baseball story: those first five fruitless years with the Senators as a bonus baby; how most were resigned to the idea that he would go nowhere; and how, during a 17-game stretch in May 1959, he changed their minds. Posnanski brings up the fact, ignored at the time, that for a six-year stretch, from 1966 to 1971, despite his low batting average, Killebrew led the American League in On-Base Percentage with a .401 mark. Posnanski ends with the great battles between Killebrew and ... George Brunet? Yep! Oh, and there's this choice take on the Idaho Senator who discovered him:
Harmon Killebrew had been recommended to the Washington Senators by an actual senator, Idaho Republican Herman Welker, who would mainly be known to history for two unrelated things:
1. Being so closely allied with the reckless demagogue Joe McCarthy that he became known as “Little Joe from Idaho.”
2. Recommending Harmon Killebrew.
- Finally, here's a nice ESPN piece on reaction, mostly player reaction, to Killebrew's death:
Harmon Killebrew was a gem. I can never thank him enough for all I learned from him. He was a consummate professional who treated everyone from the brashest of rookies to the groundskeepers to the ushers in the stadium with the utmost of respect. I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for Harmon Killebrew. He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.
Jane Forbes Clark, chairwoman, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Since joining the Hall of Fame family in 1984, Harmon was a beacon of light among his fellow Hall of Famers, always smiling, always enjoying every moment that life delivered at his doorstep.
He never showed you up, no flaps down or anything, just that little number 3 — like Babe Ruth — trotting like he hit 'em before and he would hit 'em again.
He was a bigger Hall of Famer off the field.
Harmon Killebrew during Camera Day at Met Stadium, circa 1969. Note the band-aid on his forearm and the airplane in the background. This photo has been on my wall in one room or another, in one city or another, for the last 20 years.
- State Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie, Minn.) recently introduced a cost-cutting measure that would remove 15,000 single adults from MinnesotaCare and give them vouchers to buy their own health insurance. He argued that this would be better for the state, since it would save money, and better for the individuals, since it gave them a choice. Then Sen. Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights) rose and said, basically, “If it's so good, why don't we try it first?” Cue silence followed by sputtering and harrumping. Hann's cost-cutting measure passed but will be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. But good for Goodwin! Full story by Doug Grow at MinnPost.
- Not done yet, the Minnesota Senate then approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, 38-27. The house is expected to pass it, too. WTF has happened to my home state? Remember Minnesota Nice? This is Minnesota Nuts. Minnesota Backwards. Minnesota On-The-Wrong-Side-of-History. Minnesota Shame.
- The sponsor of that bill, who doesn't want a small majority to define marriage (oddly, he's not talking about his own group), and who cited a poll saying 3/4 of the state want to vote on the matter, is named Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove. Here's his website. It includes his email address. He says “Contact me by e-mail.” Please do. I did.
- My wish? Every one of these guys had to be cross-examined by David Boies.
- If that doesn't work, Dan Savage.
- Over at the New York Times, Paul Krugman gives us “2000s 101” in case anyone needs a refresher. And judging from ... everything, most people do.
- Rolling Stone magazine gives us The People v. Goldman Sachs. I'd like to hear more on this.
- One of the nice things about the Seattle International Film Festival, or SIFF, which is opening in week, is that you can see films before New York and LA. Case in point: Last May, I saw “City of Life and Death” and reviewed it here. A year later, Manohla Dargis finally gets off the schnied. (P.S. We don't agree.)
- This year's SIFF schedule is out. The problem, of course, as always, is finding the time to sort through the hundreds of movies available to see what you want to see. Anyone done this yet?
- Meanwhile, at Cannes, Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris” opened the festival. Mostly to applause.
- Finally, The Grand Salami, the alternative Seattle Mariners program for which I wrote for many years, is finally doing something with its website. It's also on Facebook.
- Josh Wilker writes about why he only writes about baseball cards. Then he writes about Stephen Siller, a firefighter who died on 9/11 in a way that upends his reasoning for why he only writes about baseball cards. And if you're wondering why the George Brett card? Stick around.
- What Jim Walsh wrote on Sept. 11, 2001.
- Andy's parents visit Hanoi.
- Norman Mailer's Manhattan home is up for sale. Shouldn't we be making this into a museum? I'm serious.
- Just as President Obama releases his long-form birth certificate, Superman, the Man of Steel, renounces his U.S. citiizenship. Of course he never had it. He's an illegal alien who got past our defenses during less vigilant times. Bill O'Reilly's going to do a special on why Supes needs to get kicked out of Metropolis.
- The birther controversy feels so over in the wake of the Osama bin Laden news, but this video, “Show me your papers, Negro,” is still worth watching. It'll piss you off all over again.
- From Salon's Alex Pareene: “A patriot's guide to still hating Obama for killing Osama.” One wonders when the right is going to start targeting Pareene himself. One anticipates with what wit Pareene will respond.
- The way Pres. Obama presented the Osama bin Laden news wasn't exciting enough for you? Pareene reimagines the event with the image makers of the Bush adminstration still in charge.
- From the Onion: The five-year-old screenwriter of “Fast Five.” Brilliant.
- ESPN columnist Jayson Stark's stats are always fun. Here he looks at the first month of the baseball season. His rookie of the month? The guy I saw win his first game on April 12.
- I only cheer for the White Sox when they're playing the Yankees. Last month, Brent Lillibridge had me cheering.
- The NY Times' Ben Shpigel on Derek Jeter's lousy start. Shpigel talks batting average when it's really about the slugging percentage. Sure, Jeter's 2011 average is off by 63 points from his career total (.250 vs. .313); but his slugging percentage is off by nearly 200 points (.269 to .450). A bargain at $15 mil per. The Yankees and their money are soon parted.
- Michael Cieply on the battle between theater owners (and James Cameron) vs. the major studios, who want to release films sooner, or immediately, to pay-per-view. I like the theater experience but admit to watching a few newly released films on PPV lately, including “The Housemaid” and “Certified Copy.” It ain't the same but it's easier on a Friday night.
- William Campbell started out with dreams as big as anyone, I'm sure, but in the end he's known for playing a Klingon and being married to the woman who had affairs with both JFK and Sam Giancana. Which is more than most of us will be known for.
- Finally, check out Patricia's big brother, Alex Bradbury, marine biologist, who was once one of Bill Nye's “way cool scientists,” on Deb Slater's “Experience Northwest” show. They're clam digging, and then clam cooking, at Birch Bay State Park. Alex is a natural and the show is well-named. That slate gray sky? That chill wind? Yes, I've experienced it. Every day for six months.
- I hope to write more on Burkhard Bilger's New Yorker profile of David Eagleman and the mysteries of time and the brain, but in the meantime, please read it. Seriously. If you've wondered why time seems to slow down in life-threatening situations, or why time seems slower when you're a kid, Eagleman has answers.
- My friend Jake, drummer for Semisonic, has been big on Jennifer Egan's rock 'n' roll novel, “A Vist from the Goon Squad,” for some time. Now it's won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I'll have to read it. Here's an excerpt.
- Mayor Koch lives! A second baseman at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, Kent Koch, all of 23 years old, is also his small town's mayor. He's the younget mayor in the U.S. I wonder who's the oldest?
- Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite suggests, in the wake of Paul Ryan's budget proposal, that the Christian right “have some soul searching to do.” Amen.
- A measured piece by Salon's Andrew Leonard on what's wrong with Obama's left critics. Including especially Paul Krugman.
- A nice post from David Schonauer on Tim Hetherington, Chris Hondros, and the bravery and authenticity of war correspondent photographers.
- A Roger Angell piece about Mariano Rivera blowing a save: that's like finding ice cream inside your ice cream.
- Explanding the baseball playoffs? I've always been against it but not this time. Not if they add a wild card team to play the other wild card team in a one-game playoff at the end of the season. It'll give that much more meaning to winning the division. Plus the one-game format, in both leagues, will be exciting. Plus, since it's only one game, it won't push us more deeply into October. (But if they make it a three-game playoffs, I'll be pissed.) Here, ESPN's Jayson Stark, a proponent, delves into the standings since 1995 to see who that extra team would've been. Guess what? Four times it would've been your Seattle Mariners. My oh my.
- Sarah Rimer waxes nostalgic, with sometimes too much wax, on the high school years of Manny Ramirez: “Before Manny Became Manny.” Those 400-foot homeruns in high-school settings must've been cool to watch.
- Schwarzenegger is back and “The Terminator” is in rights packaging again. But see this Josh Karp article, please. BTW: Terminator with a face lift? Won't that look odd?
- Here's a nice bit of journalism from Jeff Wells, who noticed that the reds and blues seemed oversaturated in Warner Bros. Bluray version of “All the President's Men,” one of my favorite films, and went to the voice of God for an opinion: DP Gordon Willis himself. Here are some of Willis' comments: “It's all fucked up ... All the medium tones [are wrong] and contrast is way higher than it oughta be.” Wells asked him if he'd called anyone at Warner Home Video since the Bluray came out. “And what are they gonna say? 'We're sorry and we'll do it all over again?' You call these guys, it's like talking to a head on a stick.” Bummer. And I was excited for the BluRay of “President's Men.”
- Finally, a birth certificate. Will it stop all the noise and blather and distraction? Of course not. Americans think we faked the moon landing (we can't travel through space...), there are aliens in Nevada (...but they can), and 9/11 was an inside job. But maybe it'll stop some of the noise and blather and distraction. Until next week.
- James Rocchi is one of the better movie critics out there, by which I mean he's one of the better writers out there who happens to be writing about movies. This diatribe against Comments fields is indicative. The ending cuts to the heart of the matter: “I'm a grownup. I put my name on what I say. And if you can’t do that, or can’t get why that matters in an age of willful stupidity and inhuman rudeness, then, really, who cares what you bellow from your rotten, wounded idiot heart?”
- Andrew Sullivan liveblogs Pres. Obama's budget speech. He was impressed. As was anyone who had a heart and a sense of history.
- Hendrik Hertzberg has a nice piece on the same speech. Basically: About effin' time. Meanwhile, “The Daily Show” missed the boat and went for the obvious.
- Then there's audio of Pres. Obama being less politic about the Republicans. More, more! This is a case that needs to be made and made now: tax the rich, regulate Wall Street, provide a social safety net for our most vulnerable, which may include us.
- And if you want to really scare yourself, read Jeffrey Toobin's “Talk of the Town” piece on the U.S. Supreme Court's continued 5-4 majority belief that corporations are human beings and money is speech, and what this means for 2012.
- I didn't know “Soul Surfer” was supposed to be a Christian movie until I read Andrew O'Hehir's piece on why modern Christian movies are so lousy: “Does the Lord really want to be glorified by way of something that looks like an especially tame episode of 'Baywatch'?”
- Nice “Big Picture” post about Sidney Lumet fighting the blacklist.
- Even nicer: David Thomson on the regretful eyes of Marion Cotillard.
- My friend Andy blogs about dong, which is to say Vietnamese currency, and the quick route to becoming a Vietnamese millionaire. Just add $250 U.S. He also forced me to look up “numismatic.”
- My friend Kristin has spent the year taking a photo a day. I like the week of yellow.
- Let's go out with some music, shall we? The Damnwells have a new album and this is the first single from it (if we still do singles): “The Great Unknown.” Nice video. Nice message. Ballsy opening line.
L'opposite de Piaf: je regrette tout.
- This week someone alerted me to Austin Kleon's pep talk/slide show/life advice “How to Steal Like an Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me),” and some part of me is cheesed that I still need this advice, at my advanced age, but mostly I'm just grateful that it's there. Immediate reactions to the 10? 1) I've always stupidly fought against; 2) I've always known, have even had arguments about, but I've never put it that way before; 3) I need to repeat every day; 4) will be increasingly difficult; 5) YES! Or, paraphrasing John Lennon, Art is what happens when you're busy making other plans; 6) is more profound than it sounds; 7) is, well, not as worthy as the others (poor 7); 8) please, 9) got that covered, and 10) yes, “Kill your little darlings.” Much thanks to Austin. I'll keep returning.
- On BBC Radio, Jennifer Egan talks about the pauses in rock songs--inspired by Jake Slichter's discussion of same, as it related to the song “Closing Time,” in his excellent memoir of the Semisonic years, “So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Star?”
- Via Jim Walsh: Great video of Bruce Springsteen, opening for Dave van Ronk in Kansas City in 1972, singing “Growing Up,” and seeming very much one of the next Bob Dylans that Loudon Wainwright III once sang about. Two immediate thoughts: 1) damn, he was handsome; 2) this was from a period when intellectualism, being smart, was still coveted by the general culture. You wanted to write lyrics as smart as Dylan's. Before the great dumbing down in the Reagan '80s.
- Jeff Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere highlights a great, early '60s-style, Saul Bass-y title sequence to the upcoming film, “X-Men: First Class,” which is set during the early 1960s. Joe DiLeonardo of Trenton, NJ is the man with the plan. Check out his site. Love his Shepherd Faireyesque “Woody Allen has a posse” poster.
- You see Billy Crystal on “The Daily Show” the other night? He came on and I thought “I miss him. Wonder what he's up to?” Turns out--and was this a first?--he was on “The Daily Show” to plug a Funny-or-Die clip. Maybe he was also on because people missed him.
- Mickey or Bugs? To me it's not even a debate. But over at Andrew Sullivan's site (his new site on the Daily Beast), they've been refining the reasons why corporate icon Mickey Mouse is inexplicably more popular than trickster rabbit Bugs Bunny. Naaah, WTF, doc?
- I'm with Jane Mayer on this. I wanted an open, civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. Instead we gave in to fear and politics, and he's getting the Gitmo treatment.
- Dahlia Lithwick at Slate weighs in, too. Hard. She writes: “In reversing one of its last principled positions—that American courts are sufficiently nimble, fair, and transparent to try Mohammed and his confederates—the administration surrendered to the bullying, fear-mongering, and demagoguery of those seeking to create two separate kinds of American law.” Then she gets tough.
- But if you really want to get into it, you should read Terry McDermott's excellent profile of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in last September's New Yorker. You'll discover the haphazard way tragedy strikes and history, tragic history, is made. You'll also find a man, not a beast. The wacko right would read into that last sentence an excuse, an excusing, but it's the opposite. Being human means being responsible, and thus potentially culpable. A monster just is. It's like blaming a shark for eating.
- Then back to Dahlia again. After routing the Obama administrtion for abandoning rule of law, she takes on the conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, for undermining the culpability of prosecutors who withhold evidence, and undermining the landmark decision Brady v. Maryland.
- You probably don't know Cathie Black, the schools chancellor for NYC, you probably don't care about Cathie Black, unless you have children in NYC, but you should check out Amy Davidson's New Yorker post on why Black wound up with a 17% approval rating and is no longer schools chancellor for NYC. Holy crap. Her first answer is bad enough. The second essentially makes Nazis of us all.
- Dave Schoenfiled, who took Rob Neyer's place as the Sweet Spot guy, counts down the 50 greatest Yankees of all time. Here it's numbers 15 (Don Mattingly) though 1 (George Hermie Something). What do you think? Jeter before DiMaggio? Mantle before Gehrig? Posada before Rivera? Might see that middle one. The other two leave me shaking my head.
- It's official: Manny's been Manny.
- This is the funniest, most poignant paragraph I've read all week: Cardboard Gods' Josh Wilker on choking up (on the bat), Gene Richards (of the Padres), and the Padres' 2011 chances.
- Finally, footage of Tony Oliva's statue being unveiled outside Gate 6 at Target Field yesterday. Long deserved. Go to my bio page and you'll see me and Tony Oliva 41 years ago. Same on the baseball page (eventually). Only player in baseball history to lead the league in hitting his first two years in the Majors (1964, '65). Only did it once more ('71). Then the knee. Lead the league in hits five times, double four times, runs once, slugging once. Prettiest swing. Prettier than the statue. Ask Roger Angell.
Classic Minnesota moment: a statue is unveiled but ... no need for too much pomp and circumstance. It's just us here.
- Favorite gay-themed movies? Awards Daily has the top 15 here. Not surprisingly, most are from the past 10 years. Elsewhere, in Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeff Wells objects to the exclusion of “Boys in the Band.”
- Steve Allen used to mock crappy rock 'n roll lyrics (or any rock 'n roll lyrics) by reading them aloud as if they were poetry. Maybe this is the updated version of that. That is, if you can mock anything in our “only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” culture.
- The New York Times' David Laskin spends “36 Hours in Seattle” and spends Friday night at some of my hangouts: Elliott Bay, Oddfellows, Sitka & Spruce. But no Molly Moon's? No Cafe Presse? And while he writes, vis a vis the Arboretum, “You don’t have to leave the city limits to immerse yourself in the region’s stunning natural beauty,” I'd still recommend it. If can choose when to come to Seattle, come in July and August and get out in the Cascades and Olympics.
- The New York Times editorial page takes down Gov. Paul LePage of Maine for the whole “mural in the Labor Dept. building” non-controversy. Takes him down, I should add, not gently.
- Not every governor is nuts. There's Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota, who, this week, became the first MN governor in decades to meet with citizens of North Minneapolis, and who stunned the crowd with a simple promise.
- From Vanity Fair, a pretty cool account, part of an upcoming bio on Robert Redford by Michael Feeney Callan, on the making of “All the President's Men.”
- Linton Weeks at NPR echoes my complaint: that we are not only a fragmented society but a fragment society; that we spend our cultural lives nibbling and sampling, not gorging. Options are too many, world is too confusing, attention spans are shot. And, yes, I didn't read the whole thing.
- ESPN's Jim Caple remembers Dave Niehaus.
- The guy whose house we were at to divvy up the M's tickets? Stephen Manes? He's quoted in today's New York Times about the new Paul Allen book, “Idea Man.” Why is he quoted? Because he wrote his own book, years ago, called “Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry--and Made Himself the Richest Man in America”, so he knows a thing or two about the subject. His reaction to the revelation that Bill Gates tried to cheat Allen in the early days of Microsoft? Basically: “It's in my book.”
- The New Yorker's Ben McGrath has a nice piece on the Barry Bonds trial that calls into question: 1) its necessity; 2) the banning of PEDs from sports. I'm not buying it but it's definitely worth reading. Of course you have to buy The New Yorker (or borrow my copy) to do so. Only an abstract is available online. But as Rob Neyer wrote the other day, “It's the freaking New Yorker. If you enjoy the beauty of our language, you should be subscribing already.”
- Speaking of Neyer, he has a nice post, “Embracing the Beauty of the Unlikely,” on three of the Royals' Opening Day relief pitchers.
- I didn't know The Oatmeal dude lived in Seattle. But he does and he nails our less-than-fair city.
- The Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris,” opening the Cannes Film Festival looks ... fun, actually. It begins like a continuation of some part of “Annie Hall”—she wants to hang, meet new people, etc., and he doesn't—but then something magic and funny seems to happen. At least one hopes. I haven't liked a Woodman film in more than a decade, so ... fingers crossed.
- Finally, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Colin Covert has a nice interview with the writer-director of the new comedy “Win Win,” the writer-director of indie hits “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor,” the co-screenwriter of the Pixar comedy, “Up,” and the actor who played scumbag preppy journalist Scott Templeton in the fifth season of HBO's “The Wire.” And it's all the same guy: Tom McCarthy.
When journalists were the heroes.
- Over at The Art of the Title Sequence, they have a cool “Brief History of Title Design” by Ian Albinson: “Intolerance” to “King King” to “Modern Times” to “My Man Godfrey” to film noir and Saul Bass, to Bond and Pink Panther, to Scorsese sandwiched between blockbusters. Short shrift to older films? What's missing? I say this as someone who tends to miss title design.
- And yet, for some reason, 11 years ago, The Seattle Times sent me to review this.
- Alex Eylar has created a mashup called “Supercut - Spoiler Alert,” in which he gives away the spoilers, more or less (they're not obvious, being out of context), from more than 70 films. We watch a surprising number of movie stars (Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Jean Reno) getting shot in the head. My favorite section, though, is the one related to our deep-seeded fear of falling: everyone from Jimmy Stewart to Alan Rickman to Ian McKellan to King Kong to those frogs in “Magnolia.”
- Of course, in the way of the Web, that led to this: the “Get out of There” mashup. Question: Are these kinds of mashups, where we get the same line, the same scene, over and over and over again, ultimately a greater critique of Hollywood than anything Pauline Kael ever wrote?'
- Jeff Wells gets naked with Angie Dickinson.
- Josh Wilker is predicting each team's 2011 baseball season by reading into a random card from that team. It's one of the small joys of spring for me. (In a spring in which I need joys, small or otherwise.) The close-up of Lou Piniella on his '76 Yankees card? “The big fat face of the Yankees will be all up in your grill.” That '81 Pops Stargell card? “The 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates will once again cause their fans to ponder seemingly unbridgeable distances, but I also see a little yellow spark of hope.” Wilker is also quite poignant on Larry Hisle (Twins), Bill Freehan (Tigers), and Barry Foote (Phillies). And probably wrong about the meaning of Barry Foote.
- BTW, his book, “Cardboard Gods,” a must-read, and reviewed by me here, with comment from his brother Ian here, is now out in paperback. Buy it already. Read it. You'll thank me.
- Here's some bad new about Barry Bonds. The second government witness against him is childhood friend and former business manager Steve Hoskins, who, in 2003, recorded trainer Greg Anderson talking about giving Bonds shots, how it was undetectable, how it was the same stuff Marion Jones used.
- Here's some good news about Harmon Killebrew.
- First Avenue South in front of Safeco Field in downtown Seattle has a new honorary name: Dave Niehaus Way. I think we need more than honorary, Seattle.
- The first reason to like Buck Showalter is his lack of faith in rookie pitcher Mariano Rivera in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. Here's the second reason.
- You're kidding me. New footage of the Bambino, the Georgia Peach, and the Big Train? How cool is that? I think I'm most blown away by Walter Johnson's pitching motion.
- You're kidding me. New footage of the Bambino and the Iron Horse barnstorming in '27? Have they found any new footage of Cool Papa Bell yet? Cy Young? Abner Doubleday? William Shakespeare?
- Christy DeSmith admits she can be taken in by pomp and circumstance but has questions for Tim Pawlenty and his slickly produced videos.
- Love the Bobcats over at oatmeal.com. Makes me wonder: What bad behavior would our cat, Jellybean, be demonstrating at work? Stealing people's chairs? Watching them eat? Yakking away and complaining when they're trying to work? “Power naps”?
- Oatmeal.com also has a good strip on Pres. Obama meeting the technology gurus.
- Wisconsin Republicans keep getting crazier and crazier.
- Zack Snyder says he's going to show us a Superman we haven't met before. Another way of saying “reboot.” He also wants to create a more “realistic” setting for the Man of Steel. As with Snyder's “300,” “Watchmen” and now “Sucker Punch”? To quote Han Solo: “I've got a bad feeling about this.”
The absurd, insulting realism of Zack Snyder. Yes, Abbie Cornish, you should be hooded and hiding in the background.
- In Rob Neyer's old ESPN.com slot, Jon Weisman wonders “Where Have All the Game 7s Gone?”—which I wrote about two and a half years ago, in an open letter to Bud Selig, but whatever. It's still worthy of discussion. More than ever, I guess, since it's been three more years since we've had that Game 7. Unfortunately, Jon's penultimate sentence is unworthy: “This year marks the 10th anniversary of Arizona’s bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off title, and quite arguably, we haven’t had a more memorable World Series game since.” Quite arguably? Not even arguably but quite arguably? Lord. Just say it, Jon. Game 7, bottom of the 9th, the hometeam goes from defeat to victory against the best closer the game has ever seen. I don't think there's anything arguably about it.
- Speaking of: What's the gap between Mariano Rivera and the active pitcher with the second-most saves? What was the no. 1 song in the nation when Mariano was born? How many saves does Mariano have since Rob Nenn, who's the same age, retired? Joel Sherman at the NY Post has your answers.
- Fun piece by Craig Calcaterra on the greatest living player for each franchise. He's got my teams, the Twins and Mariners, right, but I wouldn't give it to Nolan Ryan in Texas (Pudge instead) nor Joe Morgan in Cincinnati (Bench). Would probably go Berra over Jeter, too. Hey, that's three catchers, isn't it? I'm consistent anyway. Not enough to choose George Mitterwald or anything, of course...
- TNR's James Downie on “What Caused Glenn Beck's Decline?” I love the use of the past tense in the title but unfortunately the present continuous is probably more apt.
- Great quote of the day from Paul Carr. Must reading for writers and editors (and readers) everywhere.
- Apparently I'm on shaky ground. Literally.
- Fun bit from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost doing z-grade C3PO and R2D2. Pegg has Anthony Daniels down.
- Lord. They're already rebooting “Daredevil,” with David Slade (“Twilight: Eclipse”; “Hard Candy”) set to direct. Well, can't be worse than the first one, can it?
- I referenced this last week but in case you missed it here it is again: In his year-early, March 2010 predictions for the January 2011 Oscar nominees, IndieWire's Peter Knegt correctly predicts only one of the best actor nominees (Colin Firth), one of the best supporting actor nominees (Geoffrey Rush), none of the supporting actress nominees, but four of the five best actress nominees. He only misses Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter's Bone.” So is the pool simply smaller for best actress? (Yes, it is.) Are these actresses more consistent? Did he just get lucky here and unlucky elsewhere?
- I like Jeff Wells' comments on “The Rookie”—the Dennis Quaid real-life story of a high school pitching coach who becomes, at 36, a reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays. It's one of those, “You know, that wasn't a bad movie” movies. Any others come to mind? Movies that are never in the big discussioins but are pretty good. “The Dead Zone”? “Unbreakable”? “About a Boy”? Or are some of those too good for this category?
Greatest living Twin.
- After watching him as a talking head in Robert Stone's doc, “Owald's Ghost,” I began to miss Norman Mailer all over again and sought him on the Web. Came across Joseph Mantegna's documentary, “Norman Mailer: The American.” Anyone know if it's playing anywhere anytime soon? SIFF maybe?
- Also came across that great interivew Norman gave to Charlie Rose two months before the war in Iraq. Norman got everything so right and Charlie got everything so wrong—and was so vehement in his so wrongness. That particular discussion starts at about 22:40.
- Also this: the amusing sucker-punches of Muhammad Ali.
- “Jews and Baseball” finally comes to Seattle, as part of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival this month. I've got tickets, with Patricia and Paige, for the March 13th screening. I'm hoping for something that approaches the quality of “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.”
- Why wait for the end of the year for top 10 lists? Andrew O'Hehir's “The Movie List” ranks films as the year progresses. His 2011 list already has 33 films on it (poor bastard). Makes me want to see “Poetry,” and “Putty Hill,” and “Of Gods and Men.” Meanwhile, “I am Number Four” is apparently ill-named. It's No. 33. And dropping.
- A guy named Bill, guesting in Rob Neyer's former slot at ESPN.com, takes down people who still don't get “Moneyball.” He says it exactly right. “Moneyball” isn't about OBP or closers or how well the Oakland A's have done since 2006. It's about small-market survival. It's about finding what is undervalued and buying it and finding what is overvalued and selling it. OBP was once undervalued; now it's not. Now you find something else to survive. (Psst: Pitches per at-bat.)
- What's the right-wing is obsessed with these days? Salon's Alex Pareene keeps track and mocks so you don't have to.
- Hendrik Hertzberg writes on the decline and fall of labor in America. is it also the decline and fall of democracy?
- This is pretty cool: a 26-year-old sells 100,000+ copies of her nine self-published books per month. Amanda Hocking. Anyone read her?
- The Cesars took place the night before the Oscars. Best picture? “Of Gods and Men” (see above). Best director? Roman Polanski for “The Ghost Writer.” Best foreign film? “The Social Network.” Richard Brody's got le scoop.
- Brody also has a nice, short, sharp piece that not only references everyone's favorite actressexual but gives another reason, a pretty profound reason, why the Academy didn't honor “The Social Network.”
- My friend Joe Day alerted me to this bit from Jimmy Kimmel's show, a takeoff of “The King's Speech” called “The President's Speech.” It gave me my biggest laugh of the week.
- I've had my differences with Patrick Goldstein in the past but I liked his “Oscars: Most embarrassing moments” post. Particularly his last most embarrassing moment.
- I referenced it in my live-blog of the Oscars, but now you can see for yourself: best speech of the night, Luke Mathey winning live-action short for “God of Love.”
- Finally, here's a clip of Jodie Foster opening la troissixieme ceremonie de Cesars le samedi soir dernier. Nice French, Jodie! Yale education, kids.
- Someday I should do a “worst of the worst best-picture winner lists,” but even writing that makes me sleepy. I thought of it, however, when a Facebook friend posted Barry Koltnow's worst best-picture winner list from the Orange County Register, approvingly, and ... what can I say? Mr. Koltnow objects to “No Country,” “Rain Man,” and “The Hurt Locker” but not “Crash” and “The Greatest Show on Earth”? His argument against “The Hurt Locker” is particularly lame and could apply to 90% of best picture winners. Plus, yes, travesty on “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan,” but, in hindsight, the latter shouldn't have won, either, since that was the year one of the greatest movies ever made was nominated. Maybe that's how you should lay it out: what won; what, given the year and guild awards, should've won; and what, in hindsight, really deserved it.
- Speaking of “Crash”: Apparently if it wasn't for Scientology, Paul Haggis might not have gotten where he got and “Crash” never would've won best picture. Another reason to hate Scientology. And, yes, I know a posted a link to Lawrence Wright's piece a few weeks back but I only now just finished it. In the magazine it goes from pages 84 to 111. Oof.
- In this video from Time Magazine, Jesse Eisenberg of “The Social Network” (and “Adventureland” and “The Squid and the Whale” and “Roger Dodger”—nice career so far, kid) talks up seeing Michael Shannon in my friend Craig's Wright's play, “Mistakes were Made.”
- Studios and theater chains should be careful about where they play the trailer for Terrence Malick's “Tree of Life.” Whenever I see it, I lose all interest in the movie I'm about to watch.
- Coming down a bit in quality: The second “Thor” trailer is better than the first. But does this mean the focus of the movie has changed? Or simply the focus of the trailer?
- An organization calling itself the Internationial Cinephile Society picked their best movies of 2010, and their best was my best: “Un Prophete.” Their second-best, “Carlos,” is not in my Top 10; I was actually disappointed in it. So apparently I'm not quite international, not quite cinephile. But stay tuned.
- Pacino to play Matisse? “L'expression, pour moi, ne réside pas dans la passion qui éclatera sur un visage. Elle est DANS TOUTE LA DISPOSITION DE MON TABLEAU!!!”
- My friend Jerry Grillo recounts meeting Stan “the Man” Musial, who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and whose stats are even better than I thought. Three-time MVP, three-time runner-up MVP. Led the league in hitting seven times, in OBP and slugging six times, in OPS seven times. Retired with 3,630 hits—at the time second only to Ty Cobb, and all these years later still fourth. Has anyone checked George Will's numbers? 3630 hits: 1815 at home, 1815 on the road? Beautiful if true. Touch 'em all, Stan. And Jerry.
- My friend Andy Engelson recounts his recent family trip to Bali. Hate. Him.
- Michael Lind over at Salon.com lists off the reasons why Glenn Beck-bashing is counterproductive. Makes sense. On the other hand, the mainstream media ignores Rush Limbaugh for years at a time and he's only gotten stronger. These guys are weeds; he doesn't need mainstream media light to grow.
- Is this the book that may bring Sarah Palin down? Please please please please. P.S. Thanks for nothing, Bill Kristol.
- Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, amid much protest, is currently attempting to neuter public unions. Paul Kruman says it's about power, not money.
- So how did Gov. Walker get into office? According to Mother Jones, with the help of the Koch brothers of Kansas, who are also infamously attempting to undermine Pres. Obama. The billionaire brothers were the second-biggest contributers to Walker's campaign ($43K), plus they contributed $1 million to the Republican Governors' Association, which spent $65K on Walker, plus they spent millions attacking Walker's opponent. “What's the matter with Wisconsin?” now has the same answer as “What's the matter with Kansas?”
- All of which is a good reminder to buy Phil Dray's book “There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor In America.” (Extra: Here's Phil on “The Daily Show” last October.)
- A ditty by the same name from Billy Bragg.
- Finally, really enjoying Bright Eyes' new album, particularly “Ladder Song,” in these early, crappy months of 2011. Sample:
No one knows where the ladder goes
You're going to lose what you love the most
You're not alone in anything
You're not unique in dying
- Go west, young ballplayer! Dave Allen at The Baseball Analysts has graphed the U.S. birthplace of ballplayers in five eras. The first map (heavily Northeast) is almost the mirror image of the last (heavily Southwest).
- The original lyric sheet for Bob Dylan's “The Times They Are A-Changin'” sold for nearly half a million dollars to a hedge fund manager. Harry's Music parses the irony.
- Some smart, chicken-or-egg talk about world cinema and U.S. audiences from Salon's Andrew O'Hehir before his equally smart review of “Carancho,” a film he thinks can entice U.S. audiences with two word: “sexy” and “bloody.”
- Also on Salon, Bob Calhoun counts down the top 10 stunts of Judo Gene Lebell, a judo champ and Hollywood stunt man. Be sure to check out no. 1, an old episode of “Ironsides,” for the early work of Bruce Lee. Holy crap. Not a wasted movement. Everything is so clean.
- Speaking of stunts: Remember Danny MacAskill? The cyclist who did insane shit around Edinburgh? Well, he's taken to the Scottish countryside now in his new viddy “Way Back Home.” And he's gotten better.
- Five favorite movies with Elton John. The man, or the Sir, has got good taste. He also says smart things about each one.
- Five favorite books about movies with Darren Aronofsky. I've read three. Didn't even know about the Vogler, which seems right up my alley. Anyone read it?
- At the end of this snippet of February reviews, Joe Morgenstern tells us the story of how Lionel Logue, the hero-therapist of “The King's Speech,” helped, in a sense, create FOX-News.
- Roger Ebert has 13 smart questions from watching 11 1/2 minutes of Glenn Beck. I only made it to minute 7, and then just barely.
- Related: I can't stop reading Alex Pareene.
- From the “About Time” Dept.: Shirley Sherrod is suing Andrew Breitbart for defamation and general idiocy. OK, just for defamation. But I know a lot of lawyers, the super variety even, who would handle her case pro bono.
- Someday I'll have to post about my ideal search engine (something with a greater respect for original content, and chronology, and which can distinguish between sites that are linked to positively (“I love this!”) and negatively (“Look at this idiot!”)), but in the meantime here's another good piece by The New York Times on a search-engine snafu: How did J.C. Penney become the no. 1 Google result for everything from “dresses” to “bedding” to “area rugs”? And just in time for the holidays? Short answer: it wasn't legit.
- Finally, in this review of the latest attempt at a J.D. Salinger bio, Jay McInerney has both the best first sentence I've read in a while (“J. D. Salinger spent the first third of his life trying to get noticed and the rest of it trying to disappear”), and the best second paragraph I've read in a while (not reproducing it here; give the Times some love and click on the link). I read poor Ian Hamilton's attempt at a bio in the '80s so doubt I'll read Kenneth Slawenski's. I guess I'm waiting for definitive. At the same time, though I knew Salinger fought in World War II, I didn't know he was a one-man “Band of Brothers.” From McInerney:
For this reader, the great achievement of Slawenski’s biography is its evocation of the horror of Salinger’s wartime experience. Despite Salinger’s reticence, Slawenski admirably retraces his movements and recreates the savage battles, the grueling marches and frozen bivouacs of Salinger’s war. It’s hard to think of an American writer who had more combat experience. He landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Slawenski reports that of the 3,080 members of Salinger’s regiment who landed with him on June 6, 1944, only 1,130 survived three weeks later. Then, when the 12th Infantry Regiment tried to take the swampy, labyrinthine Hürtgen Forest, in what proved to be a huge military blunder, the statistics were even more horrific. After reinforcement, “of the original 3,080 regimental soldiers who went into Hürtgen, only 563 were left.” Salinger escaped the deadly quagmire of Hürtgen just in time to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, and shortly thereafter, in 1945, participated in the liberation of Dachau. “You could live a lifetime,” he later told his daughter, “and never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose.”
- WTF? Rob Neyer is signing off from ESPN.com? What happened?
- Oh, he's going here. I wonder if there's any story behind the move? Besides a guy wanting to switch jobs after 15 years.
- I guess this is the story. I'm not a fan of the in-your-face Snickers ads but ... I'll follow him. Why stop now?
- Did you know? The MLB Network is counting down the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years, and it turns out I was at no. 15. It's the fifth and final game of the 1995 ALDS, M's vs. Yankees, but people in the Pac NW just call it Game 5. (We don't have many Game 5s.) Patricia and I watched MLB's show last night. Fun revisiting—I have respect for David Cone for showing up, and wow does Lou Piniella look great—but so bittersweet. The M's won the battle but lost the war. Bigtime.
- But buck up, M's fans! Inside the Book has discovered something that Chone Figgins does better than anyone in baseball.
- Wow. Bill O'Reilly is dumber than we think. And remember: he's the smart one on FOX-News.
- Richard Brody has some interesting snippets from an interview Philip Roth gave to a German newspaper two years ago. But doesn't Brody mean Roth made comic hay of Jewish anger and paraonia in the first of the Zuckerman trilogy, “The Ghost Writer,” rather than the third, “The Anatomy Lesson”? “Ten Questions for Nathan Zuckerman,” and all that. Resurrecting Anne Frank, and all that. Just talking about it makes me want to read it again. I haven't read any new Roth in years, and it'll take more than Brody's passing recommendation to get me to try “Nemesis.” Anyone else read it?
- Man, I just loved this takedown of memoirs, or at least three out of four memoirs, by Neil Genzlinger (Gunslinger?) in the Jan. 30th New York Times book review section. The one he liked? Johanna Adorjan's “An Exclusive Love.” One of the three he didn't? Allen Shawn's “Twin,” which received a positive write-up in The New Yorker. For a second I wondered if ol' Genzlinger was being too hard on his charges ... until I remembered: “Shawn,” as in William's son, and The New Yorker, where William once reigned. I'd link to the NYer review but it's subscriber only. Odd thing to keep from the masses, isn't it? “Books Briefly Noted”? Yeah, that'll get 'em to subscribe.
- “Why the Arab World is Seething” seems like an Onion infographic, but this one from The New York Times is helpful.
- On the new “Roger Ebert Presents...” show, correspondent Jeff Greenfield takes down, in very humorous fashion, one of the worst tropes of political movies: the insulting speech that wins everyone over.
- Meanwhile, Ebert co-hosts Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Christy Lemire go over the smaller Oscar noms they're pleased with, including John Hawkes for “Winter's Bone.” Couldn't agree more.
- Glad to see them disagreeing with each other, too, as with “The Green Hornet.” She views it as a Hollywood genre film (thumbs down), which it is, and he views it as a Michael Gondry film (thumbs up), which it also is. I'm mostly with her, but the movie is still messing with the heads of its audience, even if the audience doesn't know it.
- Does this mean I have to like Paul Haggis now? Nah.
- Never has one critic (A.O. Scott) devoted so much space (two big NY Times pages) to a subject I care so deeply about (foreign films), and told me so little.
- The Brothers Coen talk here about the surprising box office success of “True Grit.” “When we finished, we put it out there and thought, 'This might cross over,'” Ethan says. “For us, that meant doing the kind of business that 'No Country for Old Men' did. What's happening now, this did not seem to be in the realm of possibility.”
- Finally, the best headline I've read about the AOL-HuffPo thing comes from Kim Voynar over at Movie City News: Arianna $300 Million, Writers 0. I say this as a reformed HuffPost poster. (“Hi, my name is Erik. It's been more than two years since my last Huff post.”) They got me when MSNBC stuff was drying up and kept me because I had something to “say” about the 2008 election. Eventually I realized I was part of the problem. Now I never even go to the site. If there's a writer you care about, you shouldn't either.
No. 15 for the MLB Network. No. 1 in the Pac NW.
Hold onto your seats; it's going to be a bumpy Lancelot Links.
- To start. The Star-Tribune's Colin Covert recently asked me, vis a vis my review of “Vincere,” what responsibility the critic has in parsing fact from fiction in historical dramas. I shrugged, adding, “Historical context should get more play if the filmmakers fudge history in a way that makes the film less interesting.” To wit: “The King's Speech,” which Christopher Hitchens' reminds us, gets its facts wrong in its drive toward the obvious and comfortable conclusion. In reality Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) was a Nazi sympathizer while George VI (Colin Firth), our sympathetic, tongue-tied hero, was an appeaser who wanted to stick with Neville Chamberlain even after Sept. 1, 1939, and whose first choice as successor was another appeaser, Lord Halifax. “And so the film drifts on,” Hitchens writes, “with ever more Vaseline being applied to the lens.”
- Then our old friend Michael Cieply gets into the act. He writes of the attempts by other filmmakers, not to mention Hitchens, to take down frontrunner “The King's Speech.” The Weinsteins, he adds, are ready to fight back:
And it is lost on few here that a primary competitor, “The Social Network,” has also faced questions about the veracity of its portrayal of the Facebook entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, so any showdown between that film and “The King’s Speech” over matters of fact and fiction might end in a draw.“
- To which Richard Brody of The New Yorker parses the difference between the two movies:
“The King’s Speech” is an anesthetic movie, “The Social Network” an invigorating one—and their scripts’ departures from the historical record serve utterly divergent purposes. The tale of royal triumph through a commoner’s efforts expurgates the story in order to render its characters more sympathetic, whereas the depiction of Mark Zuckerberg as a lonely and friendless genius (when, in fact, he has long been in a relationship with one woman) serves the opposite purpose: to render him more ambiguous, to challenge the audience to overcome antipathy for a character twice damned, by reasonable women, as an “asshole.”
- To which Tom Shone, former critic for The London Sunday Times, objects on grounds that indie films like to wallow in misery as much as Hollywood films like to revel in happy, stupid endings:
It is the reigning aesthetic consensus of the day. In Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher we have a pair of twin dark princes for whom life is misery and pain and unpleasantness not just every now and again, but all the time. Black Swan is virtually a primer on developing-your-own-dark-side, in much the same spirit that teenagers take up smoking to annoy their parents, but presented as if this represents the loftiest of artistic aims.
He thinks I’m complaining about pleasantness, and about viewers who enjoy “The King’s Speech”; not at all. ... “The King’s Speech” is pap, but I have no argument with the people who enjoy it. I’m not against the film’s existence or the audience’s pleasure, I’m against giving it awards for any supposed artistic merit. Because, as it turns out, my point of view regarding character in art is one that has some precedent. It is, in fact, the core of what we call Western art: inducing the audience to overcome feelings of repugnance or derision (i.e., prejudices or settled moral values) and enter into sympathy with people who, despite (or even because of) their virtues, make themselves into monsters (in tragedy) or asses (in comedy)
- Updates as they come. In the meantime here's a nice Sundance rundown from MSN's James Rocchi, who chronicles the hits (”Martha Marcy May Marlene“) and misses (”Son of No One“). But it's his list of superlative documentaries that most intrigues me. From Morgan Spurlock on product placement (”The Greatest Story Ever Sold“), to the daily newspaper in the internet age (”Page One: A Year in the Life of the New York Times“), to personal injury lawsuits (”Hot Coffee“) to the man inside a muppet (”Being Elmo“), I kept thinking, ”I'm there, I'm there, I'm there, I'm there.“
- I haven't read Daniel Zalewski's profile of Guillermo del Toro in The New Yorker yet, but his video on del Toro's monsters, particularly the ”pale man“ from ”Pan's Labyrinth,“ is way, way cool.
- Are you reading Alex Pareene over at Salon.com? Here he is on media coverage of events in Egypt: ”It goes against the nature of the medium to suggest that we just watch and analyze the events of a faraway nation and examine America's role only in a historical sense.“
- My friend Jerry Grillo takes a break from Facebook (for non-Tom Shone reasons) and makes a list of what he's missed. Answer: Not much.
- Finally, we have a new Superman: Henry Cavill. Here he is talking about his role on ”The Tudors." Yeah, he's a Brit. Like Batman (Christian Bale), the new Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), the young Beast (Nicholas Hault), and the old and young Professor Xes (Patrick Stewart/James McAvoy). But the U.S. still has Ghost Rider! Plus Iron Man, of course (Robert Downey, Jr.). Who also plays Sherlock Holmes. Is that our tit or our tat? Either way, it feels like a trade deficit.
After yonks, Cavill wangles the bleedin' superbloke. Brilliant.
- My friend Tim Harrison has some thoughts on Tucson, Ariz., his hometown, in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting.
- My friend Jim Walsh compares teachers during winter break to soldiers on leave: “While the rest of us go back to work or celebrate back-to-school peace and routine,” he writes, “the teacher’s job is to prepare hundreds of kids for the white-hot competition of life/careers/college, while at the same time making sure they take something away from the classroom that can’t be measured in grades or monetary success.”
- My friend Andy Engelson, living in Hanoi, tries eating man's best friend.
- My man Jackie Chan on his White House visit.
- My kindred spirit, Josh Wilker, with a short post on the connection between dry Xmas trees, writing and “Let Her Dance” by the Bobby Fuller Four. “Life seems thin sometimes,” he says, “most of all when I’m between the writing of books.” (As an aside, it's depressing that someone who has written a book as deep and entertaining as “Cardboard Gods” still has a day job. Help the brother out. Have you bought your copy yet?)
- On the other hand, in this interview with Graham Womack, Wilker talks about how the stability of a regular job helps him with writing even as it eats into what little time he has. Also why he admires Chekhov (who had a day job, too).
- Quick quiz, baseball fans. When is a single worth more than a walk? Only when runners are on base. It's in all of those first-to-third or second-to-home situations. This leads Bill James, the granddaddy of all baseball statisticians, in a subscription-only series on the Hall of Fame, to write the following: “500 walks, according to people who study this, have almost the same value as 325 singles.” And this leads Joe Posnanski to do the calculations to see who might benefit from such a trade to improve their Hall chances. McGwire, yes, McGriff, yes, Palmeiro, no. He points out the players who couldn't do it since they don't have 500 career walks (Raul Mondesi; Juan Gonzalez). Then he gets to my man:
Actual line: .312/.418/.515
After the trade: .341/.405/.536
Make the trade: Abso-freaking-lutely.
Edgar was so good at getting on base that he could just give away 175 times on base and STILL keep his on-base percentage above .400. His batting average would soar to .341, and people might finally realize that when it came to hitting a baseball very hard, very often, there are not many people in baseball history better than Edgar.
- I've always like these “Familiar Faces” posts Nathaniel Rogers writes for Film Experience, and his latest, on the recurring actors in Darren Aronofsky's movies, is a trip. “Okay, in this scene, Dad, I want you to...”
- I've got an iPad now and one of the bells and whistles in the 1/24 New Yorker (which costs $4.98 even if you already have a subscription: that's Conde Nasty), is this great, short video piece by Richard Brody talking up Harry Langdon, a silent film comedian I barely know.
- Also recommended from that issue is Louis Menand with an historical analysis of Betty Friedan's “The Feminine Mystique,” and Ken Auletta in a subscription-only piece on Tim Armstrong, AOL's new CEO, and his attempt to save both AOL and journalism. It's not going well. Here's Auletta's sharp downer of an open: “In the past three years, newspaper advertising revenues have plummeted, a fourth of all newsroom employees have been laid off or have accepted buyouts, and more than a hundred free local papers have folded. During these unhappy times for the profession, a surprising savior has appeared: America Online....”
- In an interview with FrumForum, ousted RNC chair Michael Steele complains about incoming RNC chair Reince Priebus. “I know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele says. “I trust my friends. Well, I guess the adage is right. In Washington, you should get a dog… We put a lot of resources in Wisconsin over the last two years… that’s what you do for [the] team.” FrumForum also implies that Steele made Priebus, by appointing him RNC general counsel, but it ignores how much Priebus helped make Steele. From an article Kevin Featherly wrote for my magazine, Wisconsin Super Lawyers & Rising Stars, in December 2009, just over a year ago: "I wouldn’t be here without [Priebus],” Steele said. “And I don’t mean in Wisconsin, I mean as chairman of this party. … He just laid down a nice pathway to this chairmanship by being honest, by being genuine and by being the counsel in my ear.” Doesn't mean Steele's advice isn't correct. We should all get dogs.
- Speaking of, this heartbreaking photo of love and loyalty comes via Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish.
- January may be the month for sucky new releases but not for reviews of sucky new releases—as Manohla Dargis proves here while batting about “Country Strong” as easily as a cat bats about a mouse.
- Our friend Nathaniel Rogers over at the film experience blogspot finally gets his own place. Here. Check him out. He's always worth a visit.
- Hey, Seattleites! The new “At the Movies” will premiere this month in 48 of the 50 major markets ... but not Seattle. Moira Macdonald's got the scoop, along with an e-mail address to voice your displeasure.
- The National Society of Film Critics, my favorite film society, released their winners for 2010 last Saturday night. Basically: “The Social Network,” David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin and Jesse Eisenberg. For foreign language film, they went with “Carlos” over “Un Prophete,” which is my best movie of the year. Makes me chomp at the bit that much more for “Carlos.”
- More of this, please: pushback against everyone who thinks the U.S. Constitution is an absolute in a changing world.
- USA Today takes down Sarah Palin's reality show.
- You may have heard: A version of “Huckleberry Finn” is being published in which the word “Nigger” is expurgated. Michiko Kakutani, under the best headline I've read on the controversy (“Light Out, Huck, They Still Want to Sivilize You”), is on the case. Here's the money graf for me:
Authors’ original texts should be sacrosanct intellectual property, whether a book is a classic or not. Tampering with a writer’s words underscores both editors’ extraordinary hubris and a cavalier attitude embraced by more and more people in this day of mash-ups, sampling and digital books — the attitude that all texts are fungible, that readers are entitled to alter as they please, that the very idea of authorship is old-fashioned.
- Roger Ebert gets in on the controversy, too. He tweets about it (“I'd rather be called a Nigger than a Slave”), is criticized for that tweet (since he's not likely to be called either), offers a mea culpa (unlike so many in similar situations), and his reward is a catty, misleading headline on Huffington Post designed to get you to click and click and click some more. His money graf, in a post about the whole, idiotic controversy, hits HuffPo where they live and advertise:
Of course Twitter doesn't black out words. That graphic was provided by HuffPost, to avoid offending its millions of readers who have never seen the word Nigger in print. If you look carefully, you'll see that Huff's web wizards made the block just a teeny tiny bit transparent, so you can see the word dimly peeking through. This reminds me of the wet T-shirts worn by the troubled starlets that HuffPost features with such unflagging dedication. I applaud their daring in not blacking out “****.”
- R.I.P. Richard Winters, the commanding officer of Easy Company during the last year of World War II, and a genuine American hero, who was played so well by Damian Lewis in HBO's “Band of Brothers.” If you haven't seen that epic mini-series yet, please do.
- R.I.P. Peter Yates. So many of the headlines preface his name with “'Bullitt'-director”; but to my mind he's the director of one of the most underrated American movies ever made. Ciao.
- IFC lets us know the top 10 indie films for 2011. Particularly looking forward to the Cronenberg, the Almodovar, and the Alfredson.
- Josh Wilker blends talk of the last Jose Canseco card, “The Twilight Zone” and “Jersey Shore” into a great, morbid greeting for the new year.
- I rail on the stupidity of American moviegoers but French ones ain't all that. In this unscientific poll from Le Monde, French readers chose “Inception” as the best movie of the year, with only one movie, “Des hommes et des dieux” (“Men and Gods”), within 40 percent of the former's total. That's fine. I have no problem with that. But somehow “L'arnacouer,” a lame romantic comedy, wound up with three times as many votes as “Carlos”? Mon dieu!
- My god. How interesting talk shows used to be. This time Dick Cavett talks to, believe it or not, Robert Altman, Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdonavich and Frank Capra. All on the same stage.
- My god. What a good writer Hendrik Hertzberg is. This time he talks up the 111h Congress and talks down the filibuster.
- Another good writer. Roger Ebert's last graph in this “White Material” review is as good as film criticism gets.
- The Land of 10,000 Lakes looks to be in good hands, as new Gov. Mark Dayton allows tea party protesters, railing against “Obamacare,” to have their say at the Capitol.
- Meanwhile, Karl Bremer, of Ripple in Stillwater, does due diligence on one of those protesters, and discovers that the man railing against churches for not providing medical ministrations (forcing the government, his argument goes, to do so unconstitutionally) is in fact a minister ... whose church doesn't provide medical ministrations. But that's just the beginning of the tale.
- The Writers Guild of America announces its 2010 nominees. I've seen all of the originals, only two of the adapted. Not sure what to make of that. According to Nathaniel Rogers over at Film Experience (which finally has its own Web site instead of a mere blogspot), many screenwriters couldn't get nom'ed because they weren't WGA members.
- The Producers Guild of America announces its 2010 nominees. Six documentaries and no “Restrepo.” The world gets dumber by the day.
- Last word goes to Joe Posnanski and his Hall of Fame post: “And Bert Blyleven, finally, made it into the Hall of Fame. This should cut back my writing work load by about 10% in 2011.”
- No, wait. Last word has to go to my last man standing. Apparently Michelle Bachman (R-Mn.) recently told a crowd of well-wishers that she became a Republican after reading a snooty book by Gore Vidal. (“Burr” or “1876,” she's mentioned both.) Salon's Justin Elliott then went in search of Vidal for a response. He finally got one through an assistant: “She is too stupid to deserve an answer.”
- The New York Times lets us know their top 10 books of the year. I've read exactly zero. Should I try Franzen again?
- One of my childhood heroes is battling cancer. More later.
- Andrew Breitbart, manufacturer of the Shirley Sherrod controversy last summer, continues his quest to be the biggest jerk in the western world.
- Beautiful little post from Josh Wilker here on grace and Doc Gooden.
- The Winklevoss twins, now and forever known as the “Winklevii” thanks to either Mark Zuckerberg or Aaron Sorkin, are still fighting their legal settlement. Mostly, though, they're fighting their supporting role in history, their walk-on status. It's awful when your story stops being your own. Welcome to the asterisk, kids. Most of us aren't even there.
- Karen Durbin at the Times gives us five movies worth another look. Two of them (“Un Prophete” and “A Film Unfinished”) are among my favorite movies of the year. The other three (“Animal Kingdom,” “Fish Tank” and “Never Let Me Go”) I haven't seen. Now I will.
- Michael Cieply writes of the strong slate of documentaries in 2010 without once mentioning the best of the lot: “Restrepo.”
- My friend Jerry Grillo posted this Vic Chesnutt remembrance on Facebook.
- My friend Jerry Grillo writes this remembrance of his Uncle Bill, who nearly pitched with Bob Feller, who recently passed away.
- My friend Andy Engelson writes about 20 untranslatable words. Here's to wabi-sabi. Here's to hyggelig.
- My friend Jim Walsh, as well as other Minneapolis music critics, list their best songs/albums/shows of 2010. From Jim's suggestions, and via the snippets on iTunes, I've already bought “Detroit Detroit” and “Sun's Gonna Shine.”
Weclome to 2011, everyone. Let's get it right this time.
- Are you counting down with Alex Pareene's “Hack Thirty”—the 30 worst, most insufferable political pundits—on Salon? It's brutal and fun. Hard to believe there are 29 worse than David Brooks, who begins festivities at no. 30, but I suppose in the scheme of things he's a lightweight. Consider no. 26, Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker, of whom Pareene writes, “There's a special circle of hell for the journalist whose mendacity or incompetence directly leads to actual war.” Pareene, late of gawker.com, has a thing for exclamation points and the jugular, and so far (until he gets to someone I like?), it feels like something we're not used to in the cable-news/internet age: It feels like accountability. Here's Goldberg's representative quote, from the build-up to the Iraq War, hoisting himself:
“There is not sufficient space, as well, for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected).”
- Hendrik Hertzberg takes down Glenn Beck for his B.S. takedown of George Soros. Job done (but never done), Hertzberg then takes questions for New Yorker readers and assorted FOX nutjobs. Watch for the ones accusing the opposition of their own crimes. These people won't be happy until they destroy democracy. Don Segretti is the new norm.
- David Frum takes down Sarah Palin. Via Tweet.
- A reminder—again and again and again and again—which party is the truly fiscally responsible party during the last 30 years. Hint: It's not the party of voodoo economics. H.W. was right back in 1980. He was right in 1990, too, but the rich turned on him. They ate their own.
- James Surowiecki on how seniors voted earlier this month. It's not pretty. “The very people who currently enjoy the benefits of a subsidized, government-run insurance system,” Surowiecki writes, “are intent on keeping others from getting the same treatment.” I should add, in defense of the elderly, and with some small amount of pride: Not my old man. He's generally to the left of me. Don't mention George W. to him, for example, around anything flammable.
- I would like to live in a world where I could disagree with Andrew Sullivan more often—where we're both not fending off the idiocies of the right and thus in constant agreement—but here's a post with which I disagree. He's high on Bjorn Lomborg's “Cool It” doc, which I haven't seen, but for which I saw trailers; and for most of the trailer I assumed this guy was a global warming denier. He certainly positions himself that way. I think Andrew O'Hehir gets him right in his movie review, whereas Andrew Sullivan unjustly writes “O'Hehir whines from the right.”
- Great piece by Dave Kehr on the first cog in the star machine, Charlie Chaplin, whose movies at the Keystone Studios in 1914 are now available on DVD. “It was now possible for a performer to appear before widely different audiences in widely separated corners of the world,” Kehr writes, “and Chaplin was the first to feel the full impact of this new kind of celebrity.” In case anyone's thinking Xmas presents for yours truly.
- Nice Dave Niehaus obit by his former broadcasting partner Ken Levine. “People in the Pacific Northwest clung to his every word,” Levine writes. “The attraction was not the team; it was listening to Dave. His passion for the game, vivid descriptions, and magnificent voice made any baseball game sound exciting, even a Mariners’.”
- In between rants about the TSA, Tim Harrison nudges the M's on how they might, finally improve.
- Uncle Vinny, with whom I'm taking that Hitchcock class at Northwest Film Forum, drinks the Kool-Aid on Hitchcock. But it's French Kool-Aid, and il a tres soif.
- Finally, my favorite show on television right now may be the little-seen “Bored to Death,” about a failing writer who takes up detective work, and which just finished its second season on HBO. The lead character, named for the creator, Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), is the opposite of hard-boiled; he's part of my touchy-feeling generation, forever drinking white wine, forever engaging people in conversations about heart-felt issues. Example: In one episode, Jonathan worries about the size of his penis and mentions it to his friend, Ray (Zach Galifianakis), while they're at a cafe in Brooklyn. Then he asks him to come into the bathroom to check him out. Watching, I thought: “Like Hemingway and Fitzgerald in ”'A Moveable Feast.'“ A second later, Jonathan says, ”Hemingway checked out Fitzgerald when he went through a crisis like this. He wrote about it in A Moveable Feast.“ ”Bored to Death“ is a show for every literary person who fears for the death of the literary; who cares for the literary in an off-hand but all-encompassing way. I haven't even mentioned the best part yet: Ted Danson is to ”Bored to Death“ as Alec Baldwin is to ”30 Rock." Brilliant. Check it out. And don't tell me you don't get HBO. There's a thing called DVDs now, and DVD players? You put one into the other and, boom, you have shows to watch.
- Tim Egan has become a must-read. Here he is writing about... well, the headline says it all: “How Obama Saved Capitalism and Lost the Midterms.”
- In a similr vein: WTF has Obama done so far? Plenty.
- Whenever someone argues that FOX-News isn't biased, or is only as biased as MSNBC or NPR, trot out some of these figures. Then there's that slogan. If the most untrustworthy man is the man who says “Trust me,” what do you make of a news network that keeps reminding us they're “Fair and balanced”?
- Rush Limbaugh keeps getting it wrong and keeps on trucking. This time he complains about the graduated income tax. Where did that come from? he asks. People who read stuff answer: Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
- After all that, not to mention Nov. 2, here's a little cheerer-upper: Ricky Gervais singing a celebrity lullabye to Elmo on “Sesame Street.”
- I also love this early 1970s visit to “Sesame Street” from Paul Simon singing “Me and Julio” and getting upstaged (almost) by a little girl who just loves to sing. This may be the second time I've linked to it.
- A documentary about Jews and baseball has opened in New York. I'm over here in Seattle. Am I holding my breath? Probably. Ah well. DVD. Streaming. Something. Eventually.
- There's a new term in baseball, “super utility player,” but it's not a new phenomenon. Rob Neyer does the Dr. Livingstone thing and tracks it to its source, or at least a source: Cesar Tovar, one of my favorite players when I was a kid.
- Skip the first eight paragraphs of Jeff Sullivan's MLB piece, “Season of the Improbable,” and just get to his list of all of the improbables that happened during the 2010 season. Fun! Yes, and not, Mariners fans. If there's any of you left.
- The New York Times is screwing over David Waldstein! Or their search engine is. In Monday's edition, or Tuesday's west-coast edition, Waldstein published a piece titled “Renteria Is Positioned for Another Last Swing at a Title.” All about how the Giants shortstop had the final at-bat in the '97 Series (winning it for the Marlins) and the '04 Series (on the losing end of the Red Sox first title since 1918), and, who knows, maybe it'll happen again. It didn't, but Renteria did, in a sense, swing for the title: his three-run homer decided Game 5 and the Series for the Giants—their first since 1954. But online the Times appear to have written over that prescient piece. Search for it, then click on what appears to be the article (“Giants' Renteria Seeking Another Last Swing at Title”) and it takes you to a piece entitled, “Decisive At-Bat is Again Renteria's,” which is after-the-fact analysis. What the hell? To find the original opening you have to scroll a third of the way down Kenneth Plutnicki's live-blogging of the game. Not sure why the Times would destroy an online record of a helluva call.
- I've been trying to write a Josh Wilkeresque piece but couldn't get past the definitive way he describes the joy of opening a pack of baseball cards What could one add? Then I came across this piece from Jim Caple, which is from last February:
You hold the pack in your hand as if it were a lottery ticket. What players might be inside? You rip open the foil and are greeted by a familiar face. It is not a star — the first card is never, ever a star — but it is a reliable veteran, or a middle reliever, or maybe a September call-up who looked promising. You shuffle through the cards as hopeful as when you're dealt a hand in poker. Let's see, you got Eddie Guardado, and Nick Punto, and Ryan Garko, and — good grief, another Willie Bloomquist? — and James Parr, and then, boom! There's an Ichiro! When you turn over the card to glance at Ichiro's stats — nine consecutive .300-average and 200-hit seasons — summer and your childhood both seem a little bit closer.
- My friend Nathalie, who watches “Dances with the Stars,” was complaining about this very thing the day before Andrew Sullivan posted it on his site.
- My friend Andy visits Hue, Vietnam, and sees ghosts.
- Seriously, isn't the autocorrect on text messages one of the most annoying things about iPhones? It's bad enough that their suggestions are almost never correct; they also make the suggestions the default. You have to take action to prevent the auto-correct from writing over your words. The assumption is that they are smarter than you. That's getting into Microsoft territory.
- Finally, happy belated birthday to Famke Janssen (above), who is two years younger and four inches taller than me. But where has she been lately? She never calls anymore. Back in 2005 I placed her second on my list of the 10 sexiest actresses (oh, the crap we'll write when editors call), and since then I've seen her in exactly one thing: playing the thankless role of the ex-wife in Liam Neeson's “Taken.” It doesn't help that she's on “Nip/Tuck,” which I don't watch, and starring in movies like “100 Feet,” which I'd only see if they paid me. Apparently in that film she's under house arrest for killing her abusive husband, then discovers that the house is haunted...by the ghost of her abusive husband! On the poster she's frightened and crying. Because we don't see enough frightened and crying women on movie posters. You're a beautiful 46, Famke. Come back soon.
- A Nirvana retrospective at EMP on the 20th anniversary of “Nevermind”? I'm there. Next spring.
- It's always good to have a little Bob Dylan in the middle of the day. Or the beginning of it. Or at 2 a.m. when you can't sleep. “Yes, and how many ears must one man have/Before he can hear people cry?” That song doesn't get old, does it?
- What makes Will Ferrell laugh? Now you know.
- Peter Knegt over at IndieWire on 10 underdog acting noms this year. I'm including him here because he includes two I've touted: Pierce Brosnan in “The Ghost Writer” and John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone.” We'll see what the rest of the year brings, but those two are at the top of my list, followed by Tom Hardy in “Inception,” and, if you want to go broad or get into comedy (and why wouldn't you?), Mickey Rourke in “Iron Man 2” and Michael Keaton in “The Other Guys.”
- Over at flick philosopher, Maryann Johanson attempts to define “the female gaze” by what it isn't, “the male gaze,” then lists off lame (“Marmaduke”) or disgusting (an unnamed gossip site) versions of the latter. She only gets back to the female gaze at the end (“Bright Star,” “The Runaways”) but not in a revelatory way. I still don't know what she means. Are there no variations in the male gaze or female gaze? Why dismiss the homosexual male gaze, for example, as she seems to do? (Off the top of my head: Gore Vidal, Tennesee Williams, Merchant-Ivory.) Since most gossip sites attract women, to what extent is that unnamed gossip site a female gaze? Her post is a good second draft, though.
- Somebody, in this case “The Independent,” likes “Restrepo,” the Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington documentary about a platoon in Afghanistan in 2007-08, as much as I did. Hell, they go further. They ask: Is it the greatest war movie ever made?
- The M's have a new manager! Former Indians manager Eric Wedge! I know. Can he hit? Jerry Brewer calls the announcement cheerleading at a wake.
- The Coolest Asshole of the Week is Bobby Knight, who takes on the God-in-sports question deep in the heart of Texas.
- Speaking of Texas: Here's Joe Posnanski's beautiful column on Cliff Lee's beautiful pitching performance in Game 3 of the ALCS: striking out 13 New York Yankees.
- Speaking of New York: those fans in the Bronx can't keep their sticky fingers off the playing field, can they? This time, at least, it didn't affect the outcome of the game.
- Finally, one of my first posts, way back in February 2008, was about that tension between saving and letting go. My friend Kristin says it better here.
- You know what I like about Tim Gunn's “17 Films That Shaped Tim Gunn”? It's a truly personal list. I can't imagine anyone else in the world—in the world, mind you—who would include on their list “Waterloo Bridge” and “Valley of the Dolls” and “Keeper of the Flame.” Hell, I can't imagine anyone who would choose both “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Pee Wee's Big Adventure.”
- Speaking of Tim Gunn: He also made one of those great “It Gets Better” videos for GLBT kids. Powerful in its honesty and directness.
- Have you seen the recently released footage of “Back to the Future” with Eric Stoltz, the original Marty McFly, doing the bits that Michael J. Fox made famous? Heavy. Director Robert Zemeckis and proudcer Steven Spielberg decided to replace Stoltz five weeks into the shoot because the laughs weren't coming. Judging from the clips, they were right.
- Really? We're doing this, women? You're complaining about the portrayal of women in “The Social Network”? You somehow think the women in “The Social Network,” the ones seen as prizes, and who see themselves as prizes, are representative of all women? Are you arguing that this doesn't happen? Are you arguing that all the women in the movie are like this? Are you arguing that the men in the movie—dweebs and assholes and rich bastards—are representative of all men? I'm so tired of this conversation. I really am. I've been having it for decades and it just gets dumber. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin responds more diplomatically than I do.
- Now Pat Goldstein weighs in on the misogyny controversy. Goldy is apparently and legitimately shocked that some men treat women as sex objects, and some women acquiesce, or thrive, at being treated as sex objects by men whom they have objectified in terms of wealth and status. We're all as naive as we want to be, I guess. Or is this hypocrisy? Goldy seems concerned about the “disturbing misogyny” depicted in the movie but ignores, or can't be bothered with, the difference between his own headline and URL. The former (the stolid face the L.A. Times presents to the world): “Aaron Sorkin on 'The Social Network's' problematic depiction of women.” The URL (the way the L.A. Times drums up business): “aaron-sorkin-on-why-women-are-such-slutty-sex-objects-in-the-social-network.html.”
- This is a simple, helpful site about what's coming out this week in film, books, music, DVDs, video games.
- Hilarious! A History Channel 3000 look, a thousand years back, at the Beatles: John, Paul, Greg and Scottie. As always with YouTube, please don't read user comments. You'll only get depressed.
- Nathaniel over at FilmExperience apologizes his way through this look at the youngest best actor nominees, but he didn't need to. I love this stuff. And I agree: Eisenberg should get a nom.
- I missed “The Simpsons” episode Sunday night, because I never watch it anymore, but thanks to, you know, this Internetty thing, I got to see it here. First, though, I read Joe Posnanski's take. Why was Posnanski blogging about it? Because it was about baseball. More than baseball, it was about Sabrmetrics, and included special guest voice Bill James (“I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes!”), and Posnanski was actually at Bill James' house for the episode. Read on, read on, teenage queen.
- Via my friend Vinny: Hyberpole and a Half's look at CAKE. The protagonist in this hilarious story reminded me of no one so much as my cat Jellybean.
- I like the tone in this short, personal story from Jerry Grillo.
- Did you know Hanoi, Vietnam just turned 1,000? My friend Andy blogs about the event from a three-foot hole in the sidewalk.
Jellybean would like some cake, too, please. Also cookies, crackers, corn on the cob, broccoli, edamame, chicken, tuna...really whatever you're having.
- I'm usually a fan of Joe Posnanski but he takes a long time to come around to the obvious on this Ichiro post.
- But that was in the regular season. In this post on Roy Halladay's no-hitter against the Reds, and Tim Lincecum's 14-K gem against the Braves, Posnanski is back in post-season form.
- Did you know that George Steinbrenner has been immortalized in Monument Park at New Yankee Stadium? Did you know that his plaque is bigger than any other? Bigger than Ruth or Gehrig or DiMaggio or Mantle? This is the funniest thing I read on the subject.
- Bad news for Billy Crystal: All nine innings of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, the Bill Maseroski game, the game that caused Crystal to say in the Ken Burns doc, "I still hurt," has been found. In Bing Crosby's basement. I'll be shown this winter on the MLB network. Fire up the popcorn.
- I like the lead in this Guardian.UK piece, tying the documentary "Waiting for Superman" with the fact that Superman fans have been waiting for Warner Bros. to figure out what to do with Superman since 1993, but it's still a shallow piece that doesn't get to the heart of the Superman dilemma.
- A week later, of course, Warner Bros. finally made a move and tapped Zack Snyder ("300"; "Watchmen") to resurrect the Man of Steel. Not my first choice. Or second. Or 50th. The bigger question is who will be tapped to play Supes. I'm hoping unknown, that's the way to go. To be honest, Brandon Routh has grown into his face a bit and would make a better Superman at 31 than he did at 26, but I doubt a studio will take the chance.
- Speaking of not taking chances: Nextmovie.com lists off 50 remakes being planned by Hollywood. 50! Some seem like perennials ("The Three Musketeers"), some seem like no-brainers ("Footloose," "Meatballs"), some are merely U.S. remakes of foreign properties ("Battle Royale," "El Orfanato"). But a few seem insulting. "All Quiet on the Western Front"? "My Fair Lady"? Why not "Singin' in the Rain" and "Citizen Kane" and "Seven Samurai." Oh, forgot. The last has been remade, lamely, with guns.
- This is a great, humorous story from Roger Ebert, via Walter Matthau, about Tony Curtis and Yvonne de Carlo (above).
- Andrew Sullivan calls out Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly, as far as I've heard, hasn't taken up the challenge. Of course not. Like all bullies, he's a coward at heart.
- Bill Gates, Sr. argues for the next generation, and against his own wallet, in this ad in favor of Washington state's Initiative 1098. My kinda rich guy.
- Have you heard about Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" series, aimed at gay/lesbian teenagers who are being picked on in school? They can be aimed at almost everyone in high school, since high school is a nightmare for almost everyone. My favorites: Dan and Terry; Dave Holmes; and a cop and Marine. Each one is a lesson and a joy.
- Great Op-Ed a few weeks ago by Ron Chernow on the Tea Party and the Founding Fathers. Upshot: You can't say you're following what the Founding Fathers wanted since they didn't even agree with each other. Not even close.
- Finally, and most importantly, a story on my own father and his second career: tour guide at Target Field. If you're in Minneapolis, and want to see the park, make sure you ask for him by name. Bob, by the way, not Jerry.
- My President! This is from a week ago but worth repeating. Pres. Obama on Muslim-Americans: "We do not differentiate between them and us. It's just us." Awful that this most basic American principle needs repeating.
- OK, Dems this is the way you fight back. And media, this is the way you report. Rep. Michele Bachman, Mn., 6th district, and notorious nutjob, aired campaign ads about a supporter of hers, "Jim, the Election Guy"—a step below even Joe the Plumber in idiotic hooks to hang your campaign on—but no one knew who "Jim, the Election Guy" actually was. So Bachman's opponent, Tarryl Clark, began airing ads starring "Jim, the Actual Voter." Meanwhile, Derek Wallbank of MinnPost, a great news site created by former Star-Tribune reporters, uncovered Jim, the Election Guy." First, his name isn't Jim. It's Beau Peregino. Second, he's isn't from the 6th district. Third, he doesn't even live in Minnesota. He lives in Hollywood by way of Maryland. Full story here.
- Meanwhile, we need more Sherry Devlins in the world.
- Nice piece by Charles Pierce over at Esquire on the Tea Party victory of Christine O'Donnell in the Delaware primary: "She is what politics produces when you divorce politics from government. She is what you get when you sell to the country that nothing government can do will help, and that the government is an alien thing, and that politics is nothing more than the active public display of impotent grievance."
- Andrew Sullivan sees this piece by David Weigel as a long overdue takedown of Dinesh D'Souza—he who gave us "The End of Racism" in '95, and now gives us "The Roots of Obama's Rage," which D'Souza ties to anticolonialism in Africa (as opposed to, say, anticolonialism in the U.S or anywhere.). And it is a takedown of D'Souza. Mostly. It's also a takedown of liberals. Weigel makes the tired argument that D'Souza is only able to get published because he pisses off liberals. If liberals didn't fight back, he implies, he wouldn't be able to get his crap published. Basically Weigel is counseling the John Kerry route when Kerry was swift-boated in '04. Sssshh. If we be quiet, it'll go away. That worked out well, didn't it? As a liberal, or at least as a Democrat, I feel the problem, generally, isn't that Dems respond; it's the way they respond. For example, I would respond to the title of D'Souza's title with peals of laughter. Rage? Obama? He's the calmest man in the room. The rage is all on the other side.
- He's not the best stage actor, his line-readings are sometimes off, but Lawrence Wright's "My Trip to Al Qaeda," directed by Alex Gibney and available on HBO, is worth the time. His perspective on the U.S. is mine and hardly news (we are channeling the worst in us to take on the worst in them), but his perspective on the different societies of the Middle East, borne of decades of reporting, is always fascinating, not the least this tidbit: the Koran specifically cousels against suicide: "O you who believe! ... do not kill your people; surely Allah is Merciful to you." Wright begins by talking about how the attacks of 9/11 seemed like a movie. He then reveals that he wrote that movie, "The Siege," from 1998, which deals with a terror attack in New York City. Yet I wrote the exact opposite in 2005. In "The Siege," the terrorists think small (buses, etc.) and the U.S. reaction is loud and public (rounding up people in stadiums), instead of what actually happened: the terrorists thinking big (WTC) and the U.S. reacting secretively (Guantanamo; Abu Ghraib). 9/11 reminded us of a movie, yes, but it was other, stupider movies. Our reaction then flowed from that—right down to the "Get off my plane!" U.S. President.
- Wright also has a good piece in The New Yorker on Park51, those Danish cartoons, and the need of radicals (here and there) to inflate their own importance. "Those stirring the pot in this debate are casting a spell that is far more dangerous than they may imagine," he writes. He means Geller, Gingrich, Ingraham, and the usual suspects over at FOX-News. What they are doing is dangerous and unpatriotic, and they are doing it to inflate their own importance.
- Have you read The New Yorker piece on the Koch brothers, billioniares both, and their war on Obama? Why not?
- Have your read Michael Lewis on the source of Greece's $1.2 trillion debt—or a quarter of a million dollars for every working adult? Wow.
- I wrote for the alternative program, The Grand Salami, for years, from about 1997 to 2002, and I still pick it up when I go to an M's game. There was a nice Ichiro cover in August (right, from the guy who tends to this site), and a smart decision, given the current state of the M's, to go with a "Future Stars" cover (Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda) for September. But owner Jon Wells needs to get off the schnied and get online—or more online than this. Jon's never been shy about his opinions and for the last two months he's been smartly proselytizing (fomenting?) against M's President and COO Chuck Armstrong and M's Chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln, the men for whom winning isn't everything, it's the only thing they can't do. They're more about "family friendly" atmosphere and hydro races. Ideally, Jon would like to see them gone. Pragmatically, since they seem more entrenched than Castro, he wants M's fans to let them know that winning matters. In this regard, in his last "Sounding Off" column, he includes their postal address so you can let them know how you feel. Here it is: Seattle Mariners, P.O. Box 4100, Seattle, WA 98194-0100.
- But it's his previous column, in August, in which Jon compares and contrasts Armstrong to recently deceased Yankees' boss George Steinbrenner and found him wanting, that's the real kicker. Apparently Armstrong didn't like Randy Johnson much. Apparently that's part of the reason RJ was gone midway through the '98 season. Then Jon includes a sidenote about the aftermath of one of the most depressing M's games ever—the final game of the 2001 season, when the M's, after winning 116 of 162, were unceremoniously shown the door by the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. I've written about it before. Here's what Jon has to say: "After the M's lost Game 5, I saw Armstrong, with a wide-eyed smile unbefitting a team executive whose team had just seen their dream season end in bitter disappointment, chatting up a security guard in the bowels of Yankee Stadium. I waited until their conversation ended and then asked the guard what Armstrong had been so happy about. He replied, "He said to make sure and beat Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks in the World Series." Holy crap. I can't even imagine. The Yankees are the M's were fierce rivals at the time. From '95 to '97 we kind of owned them, but from '98 on it was all them. They'd beaten us in the 2000 ALCS (in six games) and now in the 2001 ALCS (in five excruciating games). And this idiot, who actually runs our team, wished them well? Make sure you send your letters. "Dear Beanhead" is always a good beginning.
- Bill James finally comes out on the steroids scandal. With a great deal of common sense, and taking into account the great American personality, he says: Babe Ruth would've done it, too. The Babe brokes the rules. That's who he was. You can prosecute Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens all you want but... is it really worth it? My favorite lines in the piece: "It is a very American thing, that we don't believe too much in obeying the rules. We are not a nation of Hall Monitors; we are a nation that tortures Hall Monitors."
- This is one of the lamest defenses of lameness I’ve ever read. Fred Fox, Jr., the writer of that “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie jumps the shark, claims the show didn’t “jump the shark” on his watch because…wait for it… it went on for six more seasons! And it was in the top 25 for five of them. So it didn't jump the shark because popular = good. Dude's been in the sun too long. Or L.A. Or both.
- R.I.P., Kevin McCarthy. You'll always be Dr. Miles J. Bennell to me. (Or Victor Eugene Scrimshaw.)
- R.I.P., Harold Gould. You'll always be Kid Twist to me. (Or Rhoda's debonair dad.)
- R.E.P., Claude Chabrol. I need to see more of your movies. Or—yikes—one of them? Bad movie critic, bad movie critic.
- R.I.P. Don Quixote? Eight years ago I reviewed the documentary, "Lost in La Mancha," about Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to make a Don Quixote story, and about why his attempt to make a Don Quixote story failed—when directors such as Coppola and Herzog, beset by their own on-set disasters, succeeded. Well, apparently Gilliam's at it again. Not at making the movie; at failing to make the movie. Warning: not the best writing. The Independent should be better than that, shouldn't it?
- Finally, what's wrong with the ad below—which I first saw on Rotten Tomatoes—besides the call-out to an "On-Set Cat Fight!" starring apparently Betty White? Yeah, names and faces. The faces have a kind of symmetry—mothers flanking daughters, with grandma caught in the middle—but since billing is set in stone (or contracts), I'd order the faces to match the billing. Because this just looks weird.
- Are the Democrats serious? Listen, this is why I back Pres. Obama and this is why the Dems piss me off. If you cannot sell taxing the richest 1% to the other 99%, then you cannot sell anything and better get out of the game.
- After Jonathan Franzen landed on the cover of Time magazine a few weeks back, Craig Ferman did the hard work and figured out, decade by decade, how many other authors have been on Time's cover. The answer?
- 1920s: 14, including Conrad, Shaw, Kipling, Sinclair Lewis and...Michael Arlen?
- 1930s: 23, including Cather, Stein, Joyce, Mann, Dos Passos, Woolf, Hemingway, Malraux, Joyce again, Faulkner and...John Buchan?
- 1940s: 7 (a war was on, kids), including Sinclair Lewis (again), and...Kenneth Roberts?
- 1950s: 11, including T.S. Eliot, Frost, Thurber, Hemingway (again), Malraux (again), and...James Gould Cozzens?
- 1960s: 10, including Salinger, Baldwin, Lowell, Updike, Solzhenitsyn, Nabakov and...Phyllis McGinley?
- 1970s: 8, including Gunter Grass, Mailer, Vidal, Alex Haley, Solzhenitsyn (again), and... Richard Bach?
- 1980s: 4: John Irving, Updike (again), Keillor and Stephen King.
- 1990s: 4: Turow, Chrichton, Morrison and Thomas Wolfe.
- 2000s: 1: King
- 2010s: 1: Franzen
- As we expected, more or less. Authors were initially central to our culture and then not. But who's missing? No F. Scott Fitzgerald? No John Steinbeck? No Capote, Doctorow, DeLillo, Kundera, Orwell, Roth, Vonnegut? BTW: Is this a new direction for Time? The magazine, which is now also peripheral to our culture, is putting on its cover other things that are periperhal to our culture. Since, it could be argued, the only things central to our culture these days aren't particularly substantial.
- The second-richest man in America in 1986 is now dead. I mention it only because he founded Metromedia, and I used to watch one of those stations, Channel 11, in Minneapolis in the 1970s and '80s. In fact I still have its slogan in my head: A voice intoning: “Metro-Media-Television...” and then dreamily. “11...11...11...” It would be interesting to hear it... Wait a minute. Ah, YouTube. You rarely fail me.
- A great Onion piece: God Angrily Clarifies “Don't Kill” Rule. Money quote from the Lord: “Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand.”
- I had a discussion earlier this week on the birth/death/resurrection cycle with some FB friends, and while we were talking politics and the middle class, you could use that same cycle for “At the Movies,” the show that Siskel and Ebert gave birth to, Disney helped kill, and Roger and Chaz Ebert have now resurrected. The announcement on Roger's blog feels more press release than Roger but the clip of the show feels fun and familiar. The main hosts will be the AP's Christy Lemire and NPR's Elvis Mitchell, with MSN's Kim Morgan adding occasional noir/old-film commentary, and Omar Moore, whom I don't know, and whose delivery is a bit stilted compared to the others (but whose thoughts on Alomodvar's “Broken Embraces” post-theatrical success are great), chatting about online film commentary. Will it work? Is it a format whose time has come and gone? Not sure. But who doesn't love a resurrection story?
- Larry Stone, baseball columnist for The Seattle Times, apparently needed a fan at Safeco Field to tell him that the M's were last in almost every offensive category in the Majors. Reason no. 30 why Larry Stone shouldn't be a baseball columnist for The Seattle Times.
- Friday morning I read a piece by Rob Neyer on why no one will break Pete Rose's record of 4,256 career hits. He thinks it's one of the unbreakable career records of baseball—the 7th least likely to be broken, in fact. (Incidentally, his no. 1 is my no. 1: Cy Young's complete games. No one's touching this.) As for why Rose's record is unbreakable? Neyer says you need a guy who 1) gets a ton of hits, 2) doesn't walk much, 3) doesn't get hurt, 4) leads off. Those guys don't come around much. He mentions Derek Jeter and no one else. I'm thinking: “Dude, Ichiro. He's exactly that guy. He just happened to play the first part of his career in Japan.” Thankfully, that evening, Neyer amended his post with this one, in which he basically smacks his head and offers a mea culpa, or the Japanese version, and says, “Yes, of course: Ichiro, Ichiro, Ichiro.”
- Neyer, by the way, references this Rick Reilly piece on Rose, in which the disgraced Hit King makes some disgraceful comments about the Mariners' Hit King, arguing against infield hits and the legitimacy of Japanese baseball. I never liked Rose. He was a great player but a bully. Plus he had the worst haircut in baseball in the 1970s and that's saying a lot. Plus, you know, he bet on baseball. Interestingly, if Ichiro leads the league in hits this year, and he is at the moment, Ichiro will have led the league in hits the same number of times (7) in his 10 years in the Majors that Rose did in his 24 years in the Majors. How do you like them apples, Pete? But the worst line in the piece isn't from Rose but from Reilly, who, commenting upon the autographed “I bet on baseball” baseballs that Rose sells, asks, “Who else but Pete could turn shame into shekels?” Um... everyone, Rick. Go to any newsstand. It's practically the American way.
- Finally, are you asking yourself, as I'm asking myself, what Marion Cotillard is up to this week? Why, talking to Pip Clements of This is London, that lucky bastard. Takeaway: If she could enter anyone's dreams, she'd choose a lion's; she grew up in Orleans, near Paris, to parents involved in the theater; her teenaged years were “troubled” but acting helped; she had trouble letting go of Edith Piaf after filming “La Vie en Rose”; she likes Chaplin and the Marx Bros.; she's working with Woody Allen and Matt Damon, and her latest French film, “Les Petit Mouchoirs,” directed by boyfriend Guillaume Canet, comes out in France in October; and she's shy when photographed. Evidence:
- Is Ron Charles at The Washington Post showing us the future of book reviews? At the least, his is laugh-out loud funny.
- The Onion on the pride of the uninformed right. Would be funny if it weren't true.
- A doc about the making of Bruce Springsteen's “Darkness on the Edge of Town”? I'm there. If it ever gets here.
- Everyone's second-favorite French gangster, Vincent Cassel, charms MovieLine with boner metaphors.
- Nathaniel over at Film Experience feared he was underperforming, but he actually did some great live-blogging of last week's Emmy Awards, including these lines about why none of us give a crap about the Emmy Awards: “Lead actor... And the winner is Bryan Cranston for the third time. Poor everyone else. This is actually why I've never been into the Emmys. It's like making your bed in the morning. There's always deja vu.”
- Do we regard the terrorist as a symbol (of his race/religion) or as an individual? Stanley Fish on the opportunistic language of the right. Money graf:
The formula is simple and foolproof (although those who deploy it so facilely seem to think we are all fools): If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.
- Neil Genzlinger's interesting look at TCM's interesting look at “The March of Time” docs of the 1930s and '40s. Includes a great opening paragraph.
- Christopher Hitchens on the Tea Baggers, in a Slate piece entitled “Glenn Beck's rally was large, vague, moist and undirected—the Waterworld of white self-pity.” Money quote:
In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one. What does it take to believe that Christianity is an endangered religion in America or that the name of Jesus is insufficiently spoken or appreciated? Who wakes up believing that there is no appreciation for our veterans and our armed forces and that without a noisy speech from Sarah Palin, their sacrifice would be scorned? It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be. The clue, surely, is furnished by the remainder of the speeches, which deny racial feeling so monotonously and vehemently as to draw attention.
- Finally, how bad are the Mariners, Seahawks, et al.? Bad enough that Forbes magazine has named Seattle “the most miserable sports city” in America for the second year in a row. Knute Berger writes about it. He doesn't get mad enough.
“No, Kenjiro. I refuse to go to Seattle until the Mariners get a decent no. 3 hitter.”
- Must-read of the week: Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece on the billionaire, libertarian Koch brothers, Charles and David, out of Wichita, Kan., who are helping fund the anti-Obama and Tea Party movements. Listen to this rhetoric: Socialists will “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the President is a Socialist, unknown to the rest of us.” Except that's not their rhetoric. Replace “Socialist” with “Communist” and it's from a speech their father gave in 1963, a year in which he also warned of the colored man's use in this plot. Fred Koch was one of the original members of the John Birch Society, or Birchers, and now his kids are helping fund those who question Pres. Obama's birth certificate, or Birthers. That's the progress the extreme right has made in this country in the last 50 years: one letter.
- You know what's really awful about the Koch brothers' rhetoric? It's working.
- “America is better than Glenn Beck. For all of his celebrity, Mr. Beck is an ignorant, divisive, pathetic figure.” Bob Herbert takes the gloves off.
- Tim Egan takes off the gloves, too, on the Know Nothings of the Right.
- Dan Savage makes the best point I've ever heard when arguing same-sex marriage with fundamentalists. “It's almost as if they don't trust God to persecute us after we die. Have a little faith, people!” Whole thing here.
- Must-view of the week: FOX-News wonders where the money for the so-called Ground-Zero Mosque is coming from. Jon Stewart answers: It's coming from FOX-News. Then he asks his own questions: So did the folks at FOX legitimately not know this...or did they not mention the name of the contributor because it didn't fit into their preconceived storyline? Are they evil or stupid?
- Is the Web dead? Robb Mitchell on FB alerted me to this Wired article, which he poo-pooed for going for the iconic look of TIME magazine's 1966 “Is God Dead?” cover (see: “Rosemary's Baby,” doctor's waiting room), and which I initially poo-pooed because it seemed absurd. The Web not only doesn't seem dead, it seems as omnipresent as God. But Wired, of course, is talking web-Web, browsers and all, not Internet. The article is all about apps circumventing browsers. It's an interesting thought. Hey, one day, maybe writers will get paid again!
- The profits of the have-nots in Major League Baseball, like the Pirates and the Marlins, are revealed. Turns out they have.
- Best last line of a movie review this year (thus far) goes to A.O. Scott's review of “Piranha 3D.”
- Nathaniel over at Film Experience rightly accuses the Academy of playing “Logan's Run” by hiding the old folks (your Francis Coppolas) in favor of baby-faced nothings like Miley Cyrus, but his greater point comes later: Why has it been 20 years since a woman presented Best Picture all by her lonesome? He then provides a list of those who haven't done this, including Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jodie Foster, and Julia Roberts. The Academy should blush if the Academy could blush.
- Finally, there's that rumor that Marion Cotillard, late of “Inception,” is being considered, or has been offered, or has turned down, the role of Catwoman in the next “Batman” movie. Why do I care about a mere rumor? I don't, really. I just wanted to post another picture of Marion Cotillard. You're welcome.
- How did the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero go from "More power to ya" (on FOX-News in December) to "AAUUGGHHHHHHH!"? Two words: Pamela Geller. Salon has the full history here.
- Nicholas Kristof, meanwhile, says those who object to the mosque are basically taking the Osama bin Laden position. Money quote: "It is mind-boggling that so many Republicans are prepared to bolster the Al Qaeda narrative, and undermine the brave forces within Islam pushing for moderation."
- So how dangerous is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf? FOX-News plays the guilt-by-association game and says "dangerous." Jon Stewart plays that same game and answers: less dangerous than Rupert Murdoch, owner of FOX-News.
- Finally (on this subject), Noah Millman says what I've been saying all along: "Any debate should be about who we are, not about who they are or what we want them to think of us." Exactly. Which path brings us closer to the American ideal? To First Amendment rights? Then you move on to more important matters. As I thought we did last December.
- Here's a more important matter: Who counts as rich? James Surowiecki asks the question everyone, particularly everyone on Capitol Hill, should be asking. If the top tax rate is for the richest one percent, and the richest one percent include anyone making more than $250,000 a year, then it's time to parse this one percent. Tax those making $1 million at a higher rate, and tax those making $10 million at a higher rate, and those making $100 million at a higher rate. And on and on, world without end. Then let Republicans claim that upping the tax rate on the top .1% is hurting "small business owners."
- Speaking of. How insane has the right become? The black helicopters for Colorado's Republican gubenatorial candidate aren't black helicopters. They're bicycles.
- This is fun. Illustrator Christopher Nieman in the New York Times on taking a red-eye from New York to Berlin.
- And this is laugh-out-loud funny: Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) makes a recuitment video for the NYPD.
- I can't believe I haven't linked to this yet. Masato Akamatsu of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp makes one of the great catches of the year, maybe of the decade, maybe further. I love the way he tries to nonchalant it but his emotions get the better of him and he breaks into a smile as he throws the ball in. I love the emotions of the announcers. I love the way Akamatsu seems to go "Wow" at the end. They call it a "Spider-Man" catch but that's Griffey territory to me. This is almost a parkour catch.
- Finally, R.I.P, Bobby Thomson. The opening of Don DeLillo's novel, "Underworld," was originally published as a novella in, I believe, Harper's, and it's all about Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World on October 3rd, 1951 that gave the New York Giants the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers. DeLillo called it "Pafko at the Wall," which is a great title. Russ Hodges, the Giants' announcer, never used that phrased. He used others. Touch 'em all, Bobby.
October 3, 1951
- Stan James on why Facebook is the new TV. Basically it's the disconnect between the pristine lives on display and the unspoken torment within. But it's mostly about envy...of those pristine lives on display. It's Winesburg, Ohio, 2010. “I used to be on Facebook a lot,” a friend of James tells him, “but found that it left me feeling bad about my life.” Amen. I experienced that this morning—less about the lives, I guess, than the careers of people I don't really know. On the other hand, is this bad? It's me telling myself to get out there again instead of staying in here.
- Last month British actor Andrew Garfield, 27, was picked as the new teenaged Spider-Man. Do we care? Not yet. Nothing against Garfield but I thought Tobey Maguire was perfect casting for Steve Ditko's Peter Parker. Plus the first “Spider-Man” was released only eight years ago, while the most recent “Spider-Man” (3) only three years ago. We're in the age of the perpetual reboot now, which devalues everything. Don't know where to go with your story? Start over. Apparently even Marvel, which invented the idea of continuity for costumed superheroes, and which is attempting same in the movie realm with their “Avengers” project, is getting rid of the most recent Bruce Banner, Ed Norton, who is the second Bruce Banner of the decade, for a third Bruce Banner as yet unnamed. Mark Ruffalo? John Cusack? Hey, how about Andrew Garfield?
- Argentina joins the 21st century. The U.S.? Stuck in 1968.
- Andrew Sullivan keeps doing it. This post is exactly my feeling on what is right about Pres. Obama and the Obama administration and what is wrong with the do-nothing, bitch-about-everything opposition. Money quote:
The public may be frustrated by the lack of progress in the economy, and who can blame them? But they are still looking for solutions more than someone to blame. And most are fair enough to understand that Obama has no magic wand, that these problems are bone-deep, and that he has passed actual, substantive legislation that fulfilled clear campaign pledges in an election he won handily.
- Since I don't watch cable news I missed most of the Shirley Sherrod debaccle: how she gave a speech in which she brought up a negative (hers) in order to accentuate a positive (ours, hopefully); how Andrew Breitbart used only the negative portion of that speech to condemn her, the NAACP and the Obama administration, and to drum up fears of a black planet; how FOX-News kept beating that drum (“What racism looks like” they said); how she was fired as a result from her position at the Dept. of Agriculture; and how, finally, everyone went “Oops” and went looking for scapegoats. But it wasn't until I read Frank Rich on the debaccle that I realized she was married to civil rights veteran, and legend, Charles Sherrod. That fact doesn't make the whole experience worse, necessarily. It just makes it more...poignant.
- Finally, two years ago, just before the 2008 election, we did a cover story on David Boies for New York Super Lawyers magazine, called “Boies v. Bush v. Gore.” Written by Tim Harper. It's a good piece, check it out. Then check out Boies recounting his cross-examination of witnesses during the Prop. 8 trial in California. He actually got an anti-gay-marriage advocate to admit, on the stand, that allowing same sex marriage is more in line with the American ideal than not. Wish we could profile him again.
Lancelot Links Celebrates the 4th (A Day Late and $10 Trillion Short)
- My friend Jim Walsh writes a short July 4th letter to the President and says it all. I particularly like this reminder about what candidate Obama actually said, as opposed to what a lot of people think he said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
- Hollywood.com created this fun interactive feature, “The United States of Movies,” for the 4th, with their editors' choices for each state's best movie embedded within the map. Just click on the state to get an image from the movie. Double-click to get title and synopsis. Nifty. You expect arguments—“Twister” for Oklahoma? What about “Oklahoma!”?—but the majority of arguments in the comments below aren't the smartest arguments. E.g., the feature is an “epic fail” because “Fargo” was chosen for Minnesota when everyone knows, duh!, Fargo is in North Dakota. Yes, kids, Fargo is, but “Fargo” isn't. In this way Hollywood.com's interactive feature is like a micro-version of the U.S. itself. It begins as a great idea but pretty soon you're just surrounded by idiots.
- The New York Times interviews author Sebastian Junger on his documentary “Restrepo,” about a platoon in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Again, see the movie if you have the chance. It's brilliant.
- What does it take to get elected these days? Clint Webb for Senate!
- A reminder from a few weeks back: Joe Barton Would Like to Apologize...
- A real senator, Sen. Al Franken talks seriously (with the usual biting humor) about the sorry state of the current U.S. Supreme Court. Excerpt:
I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to recognize that the Roberts Court has, consistently and intentionally, protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans. And you certainly don’t need to be a lawyer to understand what that means for the working people who are losing their rights, one 5-4 decision at a time.
- To be American do you have to hate everything the rest of the world loves? Hendrik Hertzberg takes down (but not sharply enough) the insane right's reaction to the World Cup.
- If you know one thing about me you know I hate the Yankees. But this video, from the New York Times, on Mariano River's cutter, is way, way cool.
- Finally, I'm reading James S. Hirch's biography, Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, and enjoying myself immensely. Some takeaways. Mays was a legend (in the media) before he was a legend on the field. Baseball was his third-best sport in high school but the others (football, basketball) provided no avenue to a successful career. And most important: Never underestimate the ability of the enthusiasm of one man (albeit one extremely talented man) to transform a team.
Lancelot Links (Gets Covered in Oil)
- With all of the people blah-blah-blahing about the BP oil spill, it's nice to read someone who knows a little history—like Elizabeth Kolbert over at The New Yorker. A few weeks back she had a smart “Talk of the Town” piece on what happened with the Union Oil Company spill off the coast of California in 1968, what we subsequently did (in part: Earth Day, the EPA), and what's gone horribly wrong since. Who's to blame? All of us in our SUVs, certainly. Plus a few others:
Members of the Drill, Baby, Drill Party have blocked efforts to raise the liability limits for oil spills, and have yet to muster a single sponsor for climate legislation. At the same time, they have sought to portray the spill as President Obama’s Katrina.
The President does, in fact, share in the blame. Obama inherited an Interior Department that he knew to be plagued by corruption, but he allowed the department’s particularly disreputable Minerals Management Service to party on. Last spring, in keeping with its usual custom, the M.M.S. granted BP all sorts of exemptions from environmental regulations. Ironically, one of these exemptions allowed the company to drill the Deepwater Horizon well without adhering to the standards set by NEPA.
- So who else is to blame besides BP, all of the pretty deregulators in a row, all of the MMSers partying on, and all of us driving our SUVs and Hummers? Timothy Egan at The New York Times names a few more names, including Halliburton, who cemented the well that blew, and our court system, which allowed Exxon to get away with paying a fractiion of what they should've paid for the Exxon Valdez oil spill 22 years ago. He calls the John Roberts Supreme Court, in a line worth repeating, “a compliant pet of the corporate world.”
- Joel Connelly of the “I'm not dead yet” Seattle P.I. also has a line worth repeating: Exxon still owes $92 million from its 1988 spill.
- Last one on oil: David Carr's column last Monday on how BP, a private company, has hampered the press in their coverage. “BP is running everything down here,” said an employee of the St. Bernard Parish government. “It’s their show.” That's scary. I guess we're all compliant pets of the corporate world.
- How about some fun? Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals made an impressive debut a week ago Tuesday—7 IP, 14 strikeouts, no walks, 2 earned runs, amazing stuff—and Joe Posnanski, the best baseball writer in the country, was there to liveblog the event.
- Despite all of the noise from fans about how Jim Joyce sucks, about how Bud Selig should give Armando Galarraga the perfect game anyway, about how replay is desperately needed in Major League Baseball, the players themselves think: a) Jim Joyce is the best umpire in the bigs (53%), the call shouldn't be overturned to allow the perfect game (86%), and no way replay (77%).
- My friend Adam keeps pushing Sports Illustrated on me and I'm beginning to think he's right. I made fun of Tom Verducci a few weeks back but he has another good piece, similar to Posnanski's, on Jim Joyce's blown call in Galaragga's better-than-perfect game. Grace quote I:
If Joyce provided a tipping point toward baseball's embracing more technology, the irony is that baseball never seemed so human and empathetic as it did in the aftermath of his blunder.
Upon seeing a replay on the night of the blown call, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said, “It happened to the best umpire we have in our game. The best. And a perfect gentleman. Obviously, it was a mistake. It's a shame for both of them, for the pitcher and the umpire. But I'm telling you, [Joyce] is the best baseball has, and a great guy. It's just a shame.”
- But Verducci isn't SI's best writer. Gary Smith is. And his latest piece is about Gareth Thomas, a rugby player for Wales, and the only openly gay professional athlete in the world.
This isn't BP's fault. This is rugby. And this is Gareth Thomas.
- Smart talk from Andrew Sullivan and friends on members of the Tea Party: Part I here, Part II here. Why are they so angry? Why, if they care about deficits, did they not protest George W. Bush, whom most of them supported, as he raised our national debt from $5 trillion to more than $10 trillion? Why wait two months into the new guy's administration to take to the streets? Read on, read on, teenage queen...
- He doesn't say it outright, but Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere was a pretty big “Greenberg” fan. He saw it four times and hopes it stays in the heads of critics long enough to make top 10 lists in December. He also rightly slams Universal Home Video for marketing the film as if it's a slightly nutty relationship comedy. They've changed the austere, almost black-and-white, word-ballon movie poster to something colorful and snuggly. From “What's life all about?” to “Will they or won't they?” Has anyone done a piece on the most egregious DVD cover art ever? I'm not talking discussion forums, and I'm not talking about straight-to-DVD, only-10-people-have-ever-seen-it-anyway movies. I'm talking about theatricial releases with decent or great poster art that was reduced, in the transition to home entertainment, to something generic and awful. I don't want to do that piece but I'd like to see someone (someone getting paid) do that piece.
- The feds have approved box-office futures trading! I dibs James Cameron. I'd go short on this one.
- David Carr on “Restrepo,” the best movie I've seen this year.
- Finally, a really nice piece by Geoff Young on Ken Griffey, Jr.
- It's worth noting that, for all of the U.S.'s problems, many people would still like to live here. According to a recent Gallup poll, focused mostly on Mexican immigration, 700 million people worldwide said they would like to live in a different country, and 165 million chose the United States. The Compass sees this as “the country's capacity to regenerate itself and stave off a decline in population. America's two major great power rivals - China and Russia - can boast of no such attraction.” I'd go further. I think immigration is the only thing that can save us from inevitable decline, because it fills the country with people with drive rather than with a sense of privilege.
- Related: Who wants to work at the FoxConn plant in Shenzhen, China? It's a tragic situation, but, I have to admit, the dueling headlines at the New York Times yesterday made me laugh. In the morning: “After Suicides, Scrutiny of China's Grim Factories.” The story's all about the horrible conditions for these Chinese factory workers, 12 of whom attempted or committed suicide in the past year. In the afternoon: “Changes in China Could Raise Prices Worldwide.” It's all about how rising wages for these factory workers, including those at FoxConn (doubled to US$300 per month), will impact your wallet. It's our schizophrenia in one neat package. “Oh, how awful for these poor people!”/“Wait, I don't want to spend more money for a T-shirt, an iPhone, a slinky!” See also: “BP sucks!”/“I'm driving to the gym in my SUV!”
- Is this part of our schizophrenia or just part of our assholedom? I'm talking the controversy surrounding the mural at Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Arizona. Lord. Roger Ebert has a nice, personal essay on race in response, but Arizona's becoming a real embarassment. Remember “Mississippi, Goddam”? Try “Arizona, Goddamn.”
- FYI, but I would read a Newsweek magazine redesigned by David Carr.
- Movies! Matthew Belinkie at overthinkingit.com on “Jaws” and Chief Brody's heroic journey, complete with phallic and impotent images.“ It's a fun read that clarifies the film. I'm also warming up to his contention that ”the summer blockbuster is about a regular Joe becoming a real man" (i.e., Neo, Peter Parker, Harry Potter), and that Chief Brody was the first of these regular joes. Sorta kinda maybe. He was still a man, of course, just not a man's man. He had a real job and a real family. But what does this trend mean? Is it a positive (characters aren't thrust whole into the storyline but must develop) or a negative (wish fulfillment for all the half-men out there)?
- Finally, there was a lot of puffed-up talk about Jim Joyce's blown call in Armando Galarraga's perfect game last Wednesday, but the best thing written about the entire affair was written within hours of the game. By my man Joe Posnanski. Read the whole thing. Please. Excerpt:
Galarraga pitched a perfect game on Wednesday night in Detroit. I’ll always believe that. I think most baseball fans will always believe that. But, more than anything it seems that Galarraga will always believe it. The way he handled himself after the game, well, that was something better than perfection. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was thrilling. Roy Halladay’s perfect game was art. But Armando’s Galarraga’s perfect game was a lesson in grace.
- The Texas State Board of Education wants to put Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy into their textbooks. Michael Lind of Texas says have at. (My first thought: They're not in textbooks? How do you teach the U.S. Civil War without those idiots?)
- Michael Lewis writes a mocking, open memo to the CEOs of Wall Street, congratulates them for diverting attention from breaking up banks and banning CDOs, and then lays out the three remaining steps needed to waylay any meaningful financial reform. Reconsult in a month.
- Andrew Sullivan slaps down Peggy Noonan. Good for him. She needs slapping down. I still remember that awful book she wrote about the Reagan/Bush years, “What I Saw at the Revolution,” and how she began a chapter on Pres. Reagan thus, “I first saw him as a shoe,” and how, in that first paragraph, she describes the shoe in detail, and confesses to wanting to cradle it and protect it from bad weather. My god. That anyone offers her any gigs after that...
- From Jeff Wells' site, a great clip of Orson Welles on the old “Dinah Shore” show explaining why there are no true audiences left. Smart, smart, smart.
- What's your earliest film memory? Nathaniel Rogers of Film Experience wants to know. He doesn't remember his but one of his earliest memories about a movie is the summer of '75 and “Jaws,” and how the poster, just the poster, made him scared of swimming in the backyard pool. Love the accompanying comic strip.
- It's the 50th anniversary of Jean-Luc Goddard's “Breathless” and David Thomson isn't celebrating. So it's not just me.
- Adam Liptak has a fun article on those crazy U.S. Supreme Court justices and baseball. They're fans.
- Fascinating post by Sex in a Submarine's William Martel on the long, sad road "Robin Hood" took to the big screen. Once upon a time, he says, there was a much ballyhooed screenplay called "Nottingham," in which the RH tale is told from the Sheriff's perspective. Russell Crowe signed to star as the Sheriff. They just needed a director...
- Check out Felix Salmon's thoughtful New York Times Op-Ed on the future of the futures market for Hollywood movies. He thinks the studios, who are against it, and lobbying Congress to make it illegal, have the most to gain from it. Me, it might be the one futures market I'd have a chance in hell in.
- And the battle to reign in copyright infringement in the digital age continues. The FCC has allowed studios to encode video-on-demand with a signal that prevents set-top boxes from recording that content, while music publishers are suing profitable Web sites from posting song lyrics without license. Quote from David Israelite, the chief executive of the National Music Publishers’ Association, which represents more than 2,500 publishers: "The digital age has provided a chance to re-evaluate the value of the words." He adds, "[It] hasn’t been exploited very well." Understatement of the year, bro.
- Via IMDb.com, Jessica Barnes of Cinematical lists her favorite books about movies, and readers chime in. Off the top of my head, I'd go with: David Thomson's "The Whole Equation," Edward Jay Epstein's "The Big Picture," Mark Harris' "Pictures at a Revolution," Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," and David Mamet's "Bambi vs. Godzilla." If we're talking influential, then my no. 1 is "The Filmgoer's Companion," Fourth Edition, 1974, by Leslie Halliwell. Dog ears should be so dog-eared.
- Via a Sean Axmaker FB status update, here's Richard Thompson singing, believe it or not, "Oops... I did it again." He nails it, too.
- Is "This Much I Know" a regular Guardian column? Good idea—even if the title reminds me of Homer Simpson botching the title of that right-wing record album, "This [sic] Things I Believe." Guardian's latest version is from Malcolm Gladwell. Of the things he knows this much, some are interesting ("We need more generalists"), some are obvious ("I prefer great songwriters to politicians"), and one, near the end, just feels wrong: "Hollywood is strangely indifferent to questions of faith, while the rest of America is consumed by them." Counter-argument: Most of America isn't consumed by the questions of faith so much as by the desire to see their faith validated. Hollywood used to do this, with their Biblical epics in the '20s, '50s, '60s, but it's a bigger world now, a bigger market, and while sometimes the Christians come out to spite those they feel are spiting them ("The Passion of the Christ"), mostly they just stay at home ("The Nativity Story").
- Good article on The Atlantic site on what's wrong with "Glee."
- Also from The Atlantic: Odd, creepy encounter between Donald Rumsfeld and Alex Gibney, documentarian ("Taxi to the Dark Side"), at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Rumsfeld: "Abu Ghraib... That was a terrible thing." OK, so maybe that was the understatment of the year. Not a big fan, by the way, of the WHCD. It always has a "Nero fiddles" feel. With one exception.
- Hawaii's had enough of the Birthers. And who hasn't?
- The best lines I've read on the Junior-sleeping-in-the-clubhouse controversy is in this post from a New York Yankees fan. Read it and laugh. Or weep. Or just shake your head sadly.
- Finally, here's a special "Iron Man 2" quote for the New York Yankees and their invincible closer Mariano Rivera: "If you can make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water. And the sharks will come." Touch 'em all, Jason Kubel!
- Video of Al Pacino speaking with Katie Couric on "60 Minutes." Do I find out anything I don't already know about Al? I guess that he was raised by a single mother and grandparents, and that his mother and grandfather died when he was relatively young, and where "Attica!" in "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Hoo-ah!" in "Scent of a Woman" come from. That's about it. It's fun listening to him but the questions are so generic, and often gossipy, that you're not learning much. I would've asked more about "The Insider", or at least one question about "The Insider," but I know I'm in the minority.
- Now here's an interview. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly talks to director James Cameron as "Avatar" comes to DVD in the U.S. (a month after I bought it in Vietnam for 50 cents). Money quote, much reprinted, on the puny DVD extras. Cameron: "There’s zero extras! There’s so few extras that you put it in, you push play, and the movie starts. There are no trailers, there’s no bullshit at the beginning that you have to endlessly go through. I have a deal with the studio and it goes like this: Any movie I make that makes over a billion dollars goes out without a bunch of crap trailers for your other movies." Hoo-ah!
- A lot has already been said about the new Arizona immigration law and the demand, the Nazi-era demand, for people to show their papers, but a couple of readers on James Fallows' Atlantic site have good takes. The first reader's comments are particularly apt. If driver's licenses don't count as citizenship papers, then U.S. citizens don't really carry around citizenship papers. Put another way: Nothing defines an American more than NOT carrying around the very thing Arizona's new law demands you carry around to prove you're American. The most suspect people, then, are the people who can prove they're not suspect. Nice law. The second reader's comments have a kind of Nelsonesque "Haw-haw!" attached to them, since the right wing in this country is becoming like the very thing they've always disparaged: France. It's amusing, certainly, but here's a killjoy reminder: The last thing we want is for Latinos in this country to feel as welcome as northern Africans do in France. That's not what we're about.
- Andy Engelson in Hanoi eats some crickets, reads Saul Bellow, hoists a couple of glasses of fresh beer.
Lancelot Links (Has Some Fun)
- Sarah Bunting and Matt Zoller Seitz recently posted this fun video on "The Ties of Zodiac." Not just for fashionistas or nostalgics.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere, which compared it (accurately) to Mad magazine movie parodies of the '60s and '70s, here's a funny slam on everything wrong with "The Blind Side."
- My friend Andy is learning Vietnamese. Tell him "way to go" in your language of choice.
- My friend Jessica recently pointed out this video of a gentoo penguin escaping killer whales in Antarctica. It's from last year. The cynic in me wonders if it was staged, but it feels genuine, and all the people involved feel genuine. And either way it's fun.
- Same kind of thing: an Octopus has stolen my camera!
- Slide, schmide. Fordham's Brian Kownacki scores from first on a double with one of the most acrobatic baseball plays you'll see at any level.
- Via Rob Neyer. I'm going to have to get this book.
- Last June, while praising Pixar's “Up,” I wrote the following about Dug the dog: “What makes him funny isn’t that he’s not like a dog—that he stands on his hind legs and sings a rap song, for example, as he might in other animated features—but that he’s exactly like a dog. Pixar finds humor intrinsically within the object.” So why am I quoting myself? I just saw the trailer for “Marmaduke,” a live-action feature about a giant dog (voiced by Owen Wilson), in which—ahem—Marmaduke stands on his hind legs, and sings, and dances, and romances, and tries to be hip. Out in June. I'll be in hiding.
- Speaking of dumb dogs: I began reading this exchange between David Brooks and Gail Colllins on who will lead the Republican party until I got to these lines from Brooks that stopped me cold. I never finished:
First, let’s all stop paying attention to Sarah Palin for a little while. I understand why liberals want to talk about her. She allows them to feel intellectually superior to their opponents. And members of the conservative counterculture want to talk about her simply because she drives liberals insane. But she is a half-term former governor with a TV show. She is not going to be the leader of any party and doesn’t seem to be inclined in that direction.
The Sarah Palin phenomenon is a media psychodrama and nothing more. It gives people on each side an excuse to vent about personality traits they despise, but it has nothing to do with government.
She is in 2010 what Jerry Falwell was from the mid-1990s until his death — a conservative cartoon inflated by media. Evangelicals used to say that Falwell had three main constituency groups — ABC, CBS and NBC.
- How does Collins let Brooks get away with this? We talk about Sarah Palin because liberals want to talk about her? She's the 2010 equivalent of Jerry Falwell? Falwell never held public office. He was not mayor nor governor nor—let me remind Brooks—the Republican Party's candidate for vice-president of the United States. Thus she is both heir apparent—as losing vice presidents or vice-presidential nominees often are—and a media phenomenon. The idea that she remains in the news because liberals want her there, as someone to feel superior to, is, I would guess, 90% untrue. Put it this way: Speaking as a liberal, I would love her to go wherever Joe the Plumber went, but I don't think I'll get that wish anytime soon.
- Speaking of people I'd love to never hear from again: We have another reason to hate A.J. Pierzynski. As if we needed one.
- Speaking of something that feels like cheating: Here's a Wall Street Journal excerpt of Gregory Zuckerman's book “The Greatest Trade Ever,” about John Paulson buying credit-default swaps on the riskiest home mortgages in 2006. A year later his firm made $15 billion, with a measley $4 billion for himself. That amounts to $10 million a day. Nice work! He's not the cheater, by the way. He just saw where things couldn't keep going and acted on it. The worrisome graf for the rest of us:
Housing prices had climbed a puny 1.4% annually between 1975 and 2000, after inflation. But they had soared over 7% in the following five years, until 2005. The upshot: U.S. home prices would have to drop by almost 40% to return to their historic trend line. Not only had prices climbed like never before, but Mr. Pellegrini's figures showed that each time housing had dropped in the past, it fell through the trend line, suggesting that an eventual drop likely would be brutal.
- Speaking of brutal: Here's what I wrote about Hanoi traffic last week. And here are some friends of Andy's videotaping their ride to work. Fun!
- Speaking of Andy: Here's his post about teaching poetry in Hanoi.
- Speaking of poetry: Rogert Ebert says what I said about “Kick Ass,” but shorter and sweeter.
- Speaking of ass kicking: Andrew Sullivan takes down the Tea Party here. His main complaint is mine: If it's government spending and debt you're against, all you white Republicans, where were you when your man George W. Bush was increasing the national debt from $5 trillion to over $10 trillion? Why save your rage for two months into the new guy's presidency?
- And speaking of irrational critiques of Obama: In The New Yorker a few weeks back, Judith Thurman relayed an interview that Philip Roth gave to Italian freelance journalist Tommaso Debenedetti, in which, among other subjects, Roth complained about Obama's presidency, how disappointing it was, and what empty rhetoric there had been on hope and change. The problem? The interview was a complete fabrication. “But I have never said anything of the kind!” Roth objected to another Italian journalist who asked him about the first interview. “It is completely contrary to what I think. Obama, in my opinion, is fantastic.” In fact, Roth had never even spoken with Debenedetti, who also had an Obama-critiquing interview with John Grisham in the same right-wing tabloid. Regardless of whether Grisham and/or Roth sues, Roth delivers Debenedetti's epitaph. “Surely his career is over,” Roth says. Or he'll wind up on FOX News.
- Roger Lathbury, head of Orchises Press, whom my sister and I unintentionally screwed out of publishing J.D. Salinger's last novella, "Hapworth 16, 1924," tells his side of the story, which is a lot more fascinating than mine, in New York magazine. If there's a mistake in all of this, as Mr. Lathbury implies, it's the eight years Mr. Salinger took to consider his offer—taking him up to the digital age, where pre-pub of "Hapworth" could be more readily found on amazon.com by someone like me. Either way, it's a sad story. But that's part of what makes it a good story.
- My friend Andy's friend Matt Steinglass has a good piece in The New York Times Book Review called "Reading Tim O'Brien in Hanoi." Oddly, 20 years ago, I entitled the first notebook I filled while living in Taipei, Taiwan, "Reading Dostoevsky in Tien Mu." (Tien Mu is a suburb of Taipei.) That Dostoevsky and Tien Mu have nothing to do with each other may be the first reason of many it never wound up anywhere near The New York Times Book Review.
- Speaking of Andy, here's the beginning of the 15 books that most influenced him. We talked about this briefly while on the veranda of our joint hut in Phu Quoc two weeks ago. Just two weeks? A lifetime ago. I'll probably write up my list one of these days. It may be the only list that includes both Ernest Hemingway and Syd Hoff.
- Via Rob Neyer, Slate contrasts the way children's books and adult books treat five great baseball players: Babe Ruth, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. It's funny stuff but, as a longtime reader of baseball biographies, both as a child and as an adult, you get the feeling it could have been funnier.
- As funny, maybe, as this movie trailer. Out in August. Fingers crossed.
- Or this post from Claver and Converse on the census. He encourages those red-staters who are wary of the census to give into their fears and not fill it out, since their lack of voice will only harm their states. "I want you to know how much I respect you for refusing any government assistance of any kind," he writes, "be it Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits, FHA home loan, etc. More power to you because it will leave more for me in the future."
- Finally, the not-so-funny: Michael J. Burry, the subject of Michael Lewis' new book, "The Big Short," responds to the oft-heard excuse from Alan Greenspan & Co. that no one saw the global financial meltdown coming by clearing his throat. Loudly. A key observation occurs halfway through. When Greenspan was grilled by Congress about financial analysts like Burry, who saw the dangers way back in 2005, he dismisses their insights as "a statistical illusion." Then he reiterates that no one at the Fed meetings mentioned anything about the dangers. Burry writes: "By Mr. Greenspan’s logic, anyone who might have foreseen the housing bubble would have been invited into the ivory tower, so if all those who were there did not hear it, then no one could have said it." Exactly. Greenspan is a poster child for the institutional voice. If you rise within a system you come to believe in that system, since you yourself have (obviously, deservedly) risen within it. More, you come to believe that anyone who doesn't rise within the system doesn't deserve to. Systems are self-protecting in this way. Would that economies were.
- Louie Psihoyos, the director of the Academy-Award-winning documentary, "The Cove," didn't get his 15 seconds on Oscar night—he didn't get any seconds—so here's what he would've said.
- Patrick Goldstein gives us a Hollywood ending to a Hollywood movie, "The Perfect Game," about Mexican little leaguers in 1957. It took two years but it's finally getting distributed, in April, to 500+ theaters. By Lionsgate. (And if you're keeping track, Summit has expanded Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" to 224 theaters, or less than 1/10th the theaters of "Sorority Row" or "Sex Drive.")
- But whatever you do, don't watch these films on your effin' phone! A public service annoucement from David Lynch.
- The 15th annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Series began in New York March 11th and runs through the 21st. Via The New York Times, here's a slideshow of 10 of the 20 features. And here's Stephen Holden's take. He's big on Lucas Belvaux's "Rapt."
- I'm not a Catholic, I'm a fundamentalist agnostic, but this clip of Andrew Sullivan, who is Catholic, and homosexual, speaking at Princeton University on the subject of gay marriage, is beautiful. He speaks from the heart, and with humor and honesty, about what it means to to be in love, and married, and above all what it means to be human.
- Finally, less than a week from the vernal equinox, here's Garrison Keillor, waxing, as only he can wax, about the tail-end of a Minnesota winter, the joys of public financing, and the stink some animals leave behind. I love his populism, and his adjectives, and the fact that he mentions in passing, to a national audience, "the statue of Killebrew," without further explanation. To which I add: 573 home runs during a pitcher's era. It makes me want to be in Minnesota this summer and take in a game with my father, and brothers, and nephews. But the quote I'll leave you with is how he begins. I think it's true and easily lost by both the left and right in our reductive culture. It's spring. Play ball.
We have a good guy in the White House, a smart man of judicious temperament and profound ideals, a man with a sweet private life, a man of dignity and good humor, whose enemies, waving their hairy arms and legs, woofing, yelling absurdities, only make him look taller. Washington, being a company town, feasts on gossip, but I think the Democratic Party, skittish as it is, full of happy blather, somehow has brought forth a champion. This should please anyone who loves this country, and as for the others, let them chew on carpets and get what nourishment they can.
I got this around 1970, the year after he won the AL MVP,
the year before he hit his 500th homerun.
- If you're in the Twin Cities today through Sunday, the Heights Theater, a beautifully refurbished 1920s theater in northeast Minneapolis, and one of my favorite theaters in the entire freakin' world, is hosting the Sixth Annual Arab Film Festival, with documentaries, comedies, etc. Here's a Star-Tribune piece on the festival by Erik McClanahan. No relation. If I were there (Mpls.), I'd be there (Heights).
- Obama's health care speech at a university in... Georgia? I love his aside about “when you hit 48... and things start breaking down...” From this 47-year-old: Amen, brother. As Sully says, start watching the clip at 9:30.
- I'm a long-time fan of Loudon Wainwright III so this video, via the New Yorker site, was fun: Wainwright singing “The Paul Krugman Blues.”
- Almost every Alfred Hitchock cameo in this 3:49 video homage.
- Nice thoughts from Alec Baldwin on hosting the Oscars.
- But the Academy didn't do anything in their three hours that demonstrated as much love for movies as Matt Shapiro does, in just over 4 minutes, in his 2009: The Cinemascape. And the kid's 17! Third time I've posted it, 20th time I've watched it.
- I don't know if I have 1,000 essential anythings, but here's a list from Bill White, late of the late Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on the 1,000 essential movies. It's an eclectic list. A personal list. No “Gone with the Wind” in 1939, for example. And he doesn't have half of my top 10 list: no “The Insider” or “All the President's Men” or... really?... no “The Godfather” or “Casbalanca” or “The Third Man”? But he does have “Watchmen” and “Julie and Julia” from last year???? Wow. I was going to say, “It's just a list, concentrate on what you have in common, not what you don't,” but... man, that is fucked.
- This photo from Baseball Researcher on a swastika-wearing Rabbit Maranville, circa 1914, reminded me of the 1931 James Cagney movie, “Blonde Crazy,” where a grifter-pal of Cagney's has a gig selling swastika charms. By the way: Baseball Researcher aptly named himself. Nice work on this post.
- The other day Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun wrote a column about the unfairness of the imbalanced Major League Baseball schedule, particularly from the standpoint of the O's, J's and Rays, who have to play those money-laden monstrosities, the Yankees and Red Sox, a buttload of times. It's a good point. To which Rob Neyer, from whom I got the original article, more or less yawns. Major League Baseball has some major league problems, which I reiterated last November, and that they're seemingly intractable is no excuse not to address them, as Neyer, with one of the best baseball bully-pulpits on the Web, is not. It's the very reason to address them. Otherwise it's like writing about movies and not caring how studios distribute movies.
- Speaking of: I was recently introduced to Patrick Pacheco, a freelance writer out of New York, who has written a documentary, “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” about how the Disney animation studios turned themselves around in the years 1984 to 1994, that will get a limited released this month in four cities: New York, L.A., Chicago and San Francisco. Apparently those are the only four cities that care about animation. Hope Disney, which is distributing the doc, goes a little wider. Here's the trailer.
- Finally, via everyone's favorite uncle, Vinny, I present this Ted Rall cartoon that he's had on his refrigerator since the Bush tax cuts of 2001. To upend a cliche: It would be funny if it weren't true.
- “Un Prophete,” which is currently playing in nine theaters in New York and L.A., and which the rest of the us get to see who-knows-when (seriously, does anyone know when?), swept the Cesars on Sunday, winning nine of 13 awards, including best picture, director (Jacques Audiard) and actor (Tahar Rahim). Isabelle Adjani won best actress for “La journee de la jupe,” which is her fifth Cesar. Fifth! Makes Meryl Streep seem a piker. As for Meilleur Film Etranger (Best Foreign Film), the choices, for a film released in France in 2009, were: “Avatar,” “Gran Torino,” “Milk,” “J'ai tue ma mere,” “Panique au village,” “The White Ribbon” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” And the winner? My least favorite among the nominees.
- For yesterday's post I did a Google search on the phrase “Delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses“ (with quotes), so I could find the original A.O. Scott New York Times article that the phrase appeared in. Here's what I found. The first result was from theauteurs.com, quoting Scott. The second result was from The New Yorker, quoting Scott. Third and fourth? From lmagazine.com and smellytongues.com, quoting Scott. The fifth was my site. As for the original article by Scott? It doesn't appear among any of the results. Techies would argue that the Times needs to work on its search-engine optimization, and they do, but the bigger fault lies with the search engine, Google. The place where content originally appeared should be the no. 1 result when searching for that content. Not sure how you'd fix that (time stamp?) but it needs to be fixed. This isn't a feature. BTW: You add ”A.O. Scott (without quotes) to the search, and, bing, the Times article suddenly appears at no. 4. Odder and odder.
- I didn't compile a list of top 10 scenes of the 2009, as in years past, but if I did I would've included this scene. Or I might've gone for the expectations/reality scene from the same film.
- Want to be kept busy for the next year? Conor Friedersdorf of Metablog has compiled his list of the best journalism of 2009. I think I've read a quarter of the pieces he mentions, but that quarter is superlative so I can only imagine what the rest are like. I'm going to keep this page bookmarked and delve into it during free moments. Might finish it in time for the 2010 version.
- Apparently people are paying more for the first issue of Batman (Detective Comics no. 27) than for the first issue of Superman (Action Comics no. 1). Apparently they're confusing recent box office with historical importance. The invention of Superman more or less created the superhero genre. Batman came in his wake. So did many others, who faltered, including, oh you know, The Flame, The Blue Beetle, The Owl, Captain Future, Captain Flight, Bulletman, Doll Man and Air Man, so give the Caped Crusader credit for surviving. But there's no doubt which one I'd pay more for.
- Meant to post this a while ago: the dispossessed in Israel (and elsewhere) identifying with the Na'vi in “Avatar.” Pretty stunning what a movie can do.
- The Dude abides. By Manohla.
- “Avatar” has now grossed over $700 million domestically. It's also no. 15 on the all-time adjusted chart, and will pass no. 14, “Return of the Jedi” ($715 million) soon.
- Finally, Pete Hamill has a nice, personal review of the new Willie Mays biography in yesterday's New York Times. Hamill's sad close, along with the great Book Review cover illustration by Rodrigo Corral:
Hirsch has given us a book as valuable for the young as it is for the old. The young should know that there was once a time when Willie Mays lived among the people who came to the ballpark. That on Harlem summer days he would join the kids playing stickball on St. Nicholas Place in Sugar Hill and hold a broom-handle bat in his large hands, wait for the pink rubber spaldeen to be pitched, and routinely hit it four sewers. The book explains what that sentence means. Above all, the story of Willie Mays reminds us of a time when the only performance-enhancing drug was joy.
- Powerful Ash-Wednesday piece from Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic, on Marc Thiessen, another Catholic, and former chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, who defended waterboarding on a Catholic cable channel. The host never challenged him. Sullivan does: quoting the Catechism and some guy named Pope John Paul II:
...whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity ... all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator.
- Russell Shorto's New York Times Magazine cover story, "How Christian were the Founders?," about fundamentalist Christian activists on the Texas Board of Education influencing textbooks for most of the country, can be an annoying read—less for the fundamentalists than for Shorto, since he does a bit of the following: 1) Things aren’t the way you think (Read on!); 2) This is how things are; 3) OK, things are the way you think (Thanks for reading!). Specifically, Shorto says that, despite what you might remember, the founding fathers were overwhelmingly Christian; then he goes on to dissect this in the way we remember. They may have been Christian but most were also enlightened rationalists wary of relgiion and interested in keeping the spheres of reason and faith separate. At the same time the piece made me realize, or re-realize, that the opposition is doing the opposite of what they should do. Rather than pull back from including religion in textbooks, they should push forward and try to include as much religious history as possible. This graf in particular is instructive:
IN 1801, A GROUP of Baptist ministers in Danbury, Conn., wrote a letter to the new president, Thomas Jefferson, congratulating him on his victory. They also had a favor to ask. Baptists were a minority group, and they felt insecure. In the colonial period, there were two major Christian factions, both of which derived from England. The Congregationalists, in New England, had evolved from the Puritan settlers, and in the South and middle colonies, the Anglicans came from the Church of England. Nine colonies developed state churches, which were supported financially by the colonial governments and whose power was woven in with that of the governments. Other Christians — Lutherans, Baptists, Quakers — and, of course, those of other faiths were made unwelcome, if not persecuted outright.
- Teach this. When activists say the founders were Christian, say "Which denomination?" and "What did they think of other denominations?" and "What did they do about it?" and "What parallels do we have to this today?" The first words of the first amendment to the U.S. Consitution are these: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." Why? The fundamentalists want religion in textbooks? Give them religion in textbooks—just not the absolutist version they demand. They've been praying for this a long time, but we all know what St. Teresa of Avila said about answered prayers.
- According to Bloomberg News, the 400 highest-earning households averaged $345 million each in 2007. That's before the Big Fall, of course (although during the Big Slide), but, more importantly, Bloomberg also reports (with italics from me): "The top 400 earners received a total of $138 billion in 2007, up from $105.3 billion a year earlier. Adjusted for inflation, their average income rose almost fivefold since 1992, the figures show." Taxed Enough Already. Right.
- Apparently they're going to make a movie about Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, the wife-swapping Yankees of 1973, with BoSox fan Ben Affleck attached to star. According to Deadline Hollywood's Mike Fleming (an avowed Yankees fan, and thus now on my list), the highly touted screenplay "has the feel of a Hal Ashby movie." Sounds good! Of course these days that means a release into...500 theaters? 250? Do I hear 100? "Sugar," a great baseball movie about a Dominican pitcher coming to the U.S. to pitch in the minors, and dealing with the inevitable culture clash, and the stangeness and whiteness of this vast world, was distributed last spring by Sony Classics. Its widest release? 51 theaters. Three theaters less than "Dil Bole Hadippa!" (Although one better than "L'heure d'ete," my favorite film of 2009.)
- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is finally going too far for Nathaniel Rogers over at Film Experience. He didn't mind past acting winners introducing, and talking to, the candidates at last year's ceremony (I did). He was for, or at least wasn't against, the doubling of the best picture nominees from 5 to 10 (I was agin from the get-go). But now the Academy is... 1) forgoing music; 2) snubbing Lauren Bacall; 3) limiting all those great, teary speeches to 45 seconds. He's written a piece about it for Tribeca Films but his shorter version on his blog is better since his personality is in it. (Nathaniel, I'm sorry. I couldn't get past the first sentence of your Tribeca piece.) Make sure you read the comments field, too. Film Experience is one of the few sites where the comments field doesn't make you fear for the fate of the species. Jimmy, in particular, has a great thought on classic-movie-pairing presenters: Dunaway and Beatty; Redford and Streisand; Thelma and Louise. You'll never get Woody Allen, Jimmy, but you can pair Diane Keaton with Al Pacino. Or with Warren Beatty. How about Beatty and Dunaway and Keaton and etc. and etc.? If I could pick one classic movie couple it'd be Allen and Keaton. But many others come to mind. Hoffman and Voigt. Redford and Fonda. Redford and Hoffman. Fonda and Voigt. What about you? Who would you like to see presenting Oscars?
- What does James Cameron think of conservative critics who dissed his $2.2 billion (and counting) movie? “Let me put it this way: I'm happy to piss those guys off. I don't agree with their world view.” Keep reading. It's fun.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere: Great story from Quentin Tarantino on how Brian DePalma, in 1980, in the midst of shooting “Blow Out” (one of QT's favorite films), and feeling pretty good about himself and the movie, went to see Martin Scorsese's “Raging Bull.”
- Speaking of “Raging Bull”: Richard Schickel has a good piece on its making in the March “Vanity Fair.” I'd link to it but it's not online. To which I say: Good for them! Someone's got to pay for this shit. Here's an excerpt. Buy the mag:
There are a lot of words in Raging Bull, but there are only four that really count—“I'm not an animal”—muttered in that jail cell in a tone so choked that you can barely hear them. Until that moment, Jake is, as the title implies, jus an animal, without any real consciousness, any sense of morality or mortality. It's not a blinding revelation; sainthood is not suddenly on offer for him. But he is, as Scorsese says, “more accepting of himself. He's more gentle to himself and to the people around him. ... It's the old line from The Diary of a Country Priest: 'God is not a torturer. He wants us to be merciful with ourselves.' And Jake kind of gets there.”
- Matt Zoiller Seitz's video of some of the great kissing scenes in movies is late for Valentine's Day but not for its declared purpose: getting you laid. It's also a good beginning if I ever decide to do a follow-up to my kissing article. Or am I already late for that party? Words words words. Show us pictures! By the way: Good work, Matt. The first half in particular (before “Sid and Nancy”) is particularly, squirmingly sensual.
- Finally, a baseball question as pitchers and catchers report. Which players do we know took steroids? And which might we guess didn't? Joe Posnanski creates his Fair Play list, puts Griffey, Maddux and Moyer on it, along with “Every Royals hitter since 1985,” then includes Frank Thomas, and makes a deeper argument in favor of Frank Thomas as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He begins with the stat that seven players, whose careers are complete, have a lifetime .300 average and 500 homeruns, then goes through them one-by-one:
Ruth, Foxx and Ott all played before integration. Williams might be the greatest hitter in baseball history. Mays might be the greatest all-around player in baseball history. Aaron might be the most consistent player in baseball history. And Frank Thomas — well, he was perhaps the most vocal non-steroid user of the Selig Era.
- From Neal Gabler: Finally! Someone else comes out against the Academy's switch from five to 10 nominees for best picture. Then he goes too far. He blames a general cultural inflation within democracy—everyone demanding, and getting, what they want, so everyone feels good about themselves—but, to me, a greater source of the movie industry's problem (and thus the Academy's problem) is the fact that studios target specific demographics within our increasingly fragmented society. “We'll make this for 13-year-old boys, this for 13-year-old girls, this for fans of horror, and this for awards shows. And this last movie we'll release in New York and L.A., then in select cities, and maybe one day we'll widen it to a quarter of the theaters that, say, a cartoon about gun-wielding hedgehogs played in. When it doesn't do well, we'll scratch our heads and say, 'Well, I guess the audience for serious drama isn't what it used to be,' and we'll stop making those kinds of films.” Of course it could be that the audience for quality drama isn't there anymore. Or it could be that this audience has simply shifted indoors, waiting for DVD or PPV. But I'd guess very few players in Hollywood are trying to make movies for a general audience anymore.
- From Uncle Vinny: Simon Heffer's piece in the Telegraph (UK) is as much a slam on the moribund British film industry as it is a paean to modern French cinema, and, at least to this latter issue, I agree, agree, agree. Obviously he loses me with this statement—“Almost every Hollywood film is now made to appeal to such a broad audience...”—since, as I argue above, Hollywood isn't trying to appeal broadly but specifically: to 14-year-old boys. (The result is the same: stupid films.) I was also saddened to read Mr. Heffer's appreciation of “Mesrine,” starring Vincent Cassel. Not because I disagree but because I haven't been able to see it yet. I had tickets for both parts at last year's Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) but it was pulled at the last instant. Forget why. According to IMDb.com, it doesn't even have a U.S. distributor. DVD? Not in this country. It sits in my Netflix “saved” queue, along with a dozen other great or interesting films, such as “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” and “The Century of the Self.” And don't even get me started on where the hell “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis” is. But thanks to Mr. Heffer I have added “Le gout des autres” to my queue. The most startling thing about his article, though, is that he spends a thousand words praising modern French film and doesn't mention “L'heure d'ete.”
- From David Carr: One of the best journalists working smartly reminds us that it's not Leno, Conan nor Zucker who's responsible for this debacle; it's you and me. The audience for traditional late-night shows is being lost to other media, primarily this one, and if Leno's ratings are slightly higher than Conan's it's because his audience is older and less likely to be here. Moving Jay back to the “The Tonight Show” is like moving a man to the driest part of a sinking ship—and knocking over other passengers, including a tall redhead, in order to do it. That man might last a little longer but it's hardly stopping the ship from sinking.
- The other day my father was searching for a Ring Lardner quote on the origin of the phrase "crossword puzzles," clicked a link to Salt Lake City's Deseret News and came across...his own article on the history of the crossword puzzle that he wrote for The Minneapolis Star-Tribune 20 years ago. They give credit but no money (at least not to the author). But follow them on Facebook! Follow them on Twitter! As for the quote? Lardner said crosswords were so-called because "husbands and wives generally try to solve them together." Nice line.
- Speaking of quotes: A few weeks back the L.A. Times asked screenwriters for the origins of their famous movie lines, such as "Go ahead...make my day." Most of the screenwriters give a lot of credit to the actors saying the lines, and two of those lines are said by Tom Hanks, but my favorite anecdote of the bunch, maybe because it's my favorite line of the bunch, is Frank Pierson on "What we got here is failure to communicate."
- New York Magazine asked critics around the country for their worst movies of 2009. It's fun to read—not least because some of them try to outdo each other with their contrarianism. Really, Nathan Lee? Really really, Rex Reed? And either remove the caps lock, Choire Sicha, or get a new job before you give yourself a heart attack. On the other hand: Exactly, Joe Morgenstern. And thanks for the laugh, Michelle Orange. Elsewhere Patrick Goldstein does us the favor of adding up these "worst ofs" and getting the top 10 worst films of 2009. Number one? Guess.
- Snkkt! They're prosecuting the guy who uploaded that copy of "Wolverine" onto the Web last March, more than a month before its theatrical debut. His name is Gilberto Sanchez, 47, a glass installer and musician from the Bronx, who says he bought a bootleg copy of the movie from an Asian, possibly Korean, man in a Chinese restaurant, watched it with his grandkids, then posted it on the Web so others could enjoy it. Not smart. Worth jail time? I don't know. The bigger question is how the bootleg got into that Chinese restaurant in the first place. But that's the difficult part. Which is why Sanchez is being prosecuted by himself.
- Tom Shone's Slate piece on the politics of "Avatar" was fun reading. It's not only smart but kept me off-balance, veering from "What are talkin' about?" to "Exactly!" to "Oh, please," to "Right effin' on!" The slide over into the Cameron oeuvre is particularly good and the ending packs a whallop. Smart smart smart. Even if Slate's headline is dumb dumb dumb.
- By the way: If "Avatar" wins the weekend, as it's predicted to do, it will be no. 1 for the fifth weekend in a row. When was the last time our throwaway culture kept the same movie no. 1 for five weekends in a row? Way back in 1999, when "The Sixth Sense" was also no. 1 for five weekends in a row. (Three other films in the 2000s managed four weekends at no. 1:"The Dark Knight," "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." More here, in a piece I wrote in 2006.) And if "Avatar" manages a sixth weekend at no. 1? That'll be the most since, of course, "Titanic," back in '97-'98, when it spent... wait for it...15 weekends at no. 1. As I've said and said and said: fanboys are all well and good but there are no repeat customers like teenage girls dying to see Leonardo DiCaprio dying for them.
- Nathaniel over at Film Experience raps up his 100 best films of the 2000s with his top 15. It's not that I agree with him—although I do some of the time (Brokeback, Habla Con Ella, Rachel); it's, as he writes, "List-making is, by its very nature, personal. If you're doing it right that is."
- How about some baseball action? Joe Posnanski takes apart Tom Verducci—not for arguing that Edgar Martinez shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame, but for arguing that Edgar Martinez shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame because "Only four times did Martinez play in 150 games and put up an adjusted OPS of 120." Edgar's adjusted OPS in those seasons, Posnanski notes, was considerably higher than 120. "There are many ways to mess around with the numbers and one is to make the qualifying standard way below a player’s standing," Posnanski writes. "If you do that, you can come up with all sorts of crazy stuff." He gives examples. Most seasons with 10 or more home runs? Turns out Chili Davis is tied at no. 24...with Babe Ruth! Who knew?
- Finally, if you know me, if you read me, if you love me, you know how much I love both baseball and Charles Schulz's "Peanuts." Which is why I think this is the greatest thing ever.
Ballplayers: Daddy-o, Papa, and a boy named Charlie Brown
Lancelot Links (Still Loves David Simon)
- Last Lancelot Links ended with this Q&A from David Simon of “The Wire,” and it's so good I decided to begin this Lancelot Links with it—in case you didn't get a chance to read it the first time around. Simon's view of the world is basically my view of the world—just, like, lots more articulate.
- Tired of reading? Feeling like Chance the Gardener and just want to watch? Here's a joyous end-of-the-year video from Matt Shapiro (who's 17? Really?) on our 2009 cinematic moments. Nicely done, kid. I saw it via Jeff Wells' site and he had the audacity to complain it was a week late. Jeff wants his end-of-the-year celebrations before the end of the year—even though some of the best movies aren't released until the end of the year. And in most cities not even then. Two words for Jeff Wells: Chill the fuck out.
- Via Sully's site, a nice 10 or 15-year-old video of Jon Stewart interviewing George Carlin.
- A New Year's message from Minneapolis' own Dan Wilson: “What a Year for a New Year”
- Opinionator subhed on The New York Times' site: “Is 'the system worked' this White House’s 'heckuva job, Brownie'?” Quick answers: 1) The former is about a disaster that didn't happen, the latter is about a disaster that did; 2) the former is something Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, the latter is something Pres. Bush said; 3) the former defended a bureaucratic system put in place by the Bush administration; the latter defended an incompetent and party loyalist. So my opinionator answer to the Times, and to Tobin Harshaw, who hasn't impressed me thus far, is no. The subhed, though, is an early candidate for most fatuous of the year. Heckuva job, Tobin.
- In the Times', and Tobin's, favor, of course, the system didn't and doesn't work. I see old men made to take off their shoes and belts at airport security, and yet this guy, with all of the alarms he sets off, waltzes in with a bomb in his undies? But blaming Napolitano for one comment doesn't answer the question: What to do? How do we keep the system efficient and safe? I don't have answers. I just know fatuous when I hear it.
- Via Rob Neyer's “Sweet Spot” column on ESPN.com, I saw this bizofbaseball.com piece on the spendiest MLB teams of the 2000s. Some highlights (or lowlights): Six of the 30 spent over $1 billion. The second-spendiest was...wait for it... the Boston Red Sox, who spent $1.3 billion. And the team who spent the most? Yeah: Your (or their) New York Yankees, who spent $1.87 billion. Quite a gap between 1 and 2. The thriftiest, or cheapest, was the Florida Marlins, whose $0.4 billion still got them a World Series title, but they're the anomaly. Most of the time, if you don't spend, you don't dance in October. The two spendiest teams are the only teams to have two titles in the decade.
- Also via Neyer, who agrees with Jason Rosenberg's All About the Money (Stupid) piece blasting MLB Fanhouse writer Ed Price's headline: “No Rival to Red Sox in 2000s.” I agree the headline's silly, since the Red Sox had nothing but rivals. But I disagree with everyone who's given the meaningless title of “team of the decade” to the Yankees. Sure, based on the stats, the Yankees eke out the Red Sox—and blast by every other team. But baseball's not just about stats. It's about who's expected to win and who isn't, who pays to win and who doesn't, who wins all the time and who doesn't. The Red Sox are the team of the decade to me because they overcame not just a nearly 80-year legacy of operatic futility but they did so in a fashion no team's ever done. Down 3 games to 0 to the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, and behind in the ninth innng of Game 4, they managed to tie the game with a walk, a stolen base and a single, then win in extra innings on a David Ortiz homerun; then they won the next night in extra innings on a David Ortiz base hit; then they won behind the bloodied sock of Curt Schilling; then they tore the Yankees a new one in Game 7 for the greatest post-season comeback ever. Plus in their two World Series titles they never lost a game. They turned their franchise around entirely. The Yankees? Considering how they began the decade, considering how much money they spent, considering the history of their lofty franchise, they were actually kind of a disappointment. Besides, as everyone knows: Yankees suck.
Lancelot Links (Votes for Edgar, Worries over the Future of Journalism)
- A good piece in The New York Times on the established media attempting (yet again) to put up fences and charge $$ for online use. Much of the back-and-forth is same old, same old (“It has to be done or we die” vs. “It's already too late, suckers”), but the money quote, near the end, comes from Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU: “People who really think we have to charge or the industry is sunk would be more persuasive if they said at the same time we have to add more value than we’ve been adding.“ Exactamundo, Rosen. But value's a tricky business. Rupert Murdoch says the following in the article: “In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.” I got sad reading that because people don't want good journalism now. They want gossip, sports, biased politics. Asking people to pay for good investigative journalism is like asking people to pay for vegetables when hamburgers are free. It's like asking people to pay for ”The Hurt Locker“ when ”Transformers 2“ and ”2012“ are playing at the same cineplex for nothing. That's the true dilemma. Beyond starting over from scratch, with better civics lessons at every level of school, I don't know a way out.
- Another stats-head vote (from David Schoenfield) for Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame. I'm on board, of course. I've been on board forever. I wrote the player profiles for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, back in the late '90s and early '00s, and Edgar's numbers were just amazing. Schoenfield references some of them: ”Edgar hit .311/.423/.517 at home, .312/.412/.514 on the road,“ he writes. But it's not just home and away. He hit everywhere, against every team. He's not just a manager's dream, he's a mathematician's dream. This is from his player profile in April 2000:
In Ken Burns' Baseball documentary, columnist George Will put the cherry on top of Stan Musial's remarkable consistency with this fact: of his 3630 career hits, 1815 were at home and 1815 were on the road. ”He didn't care where he was,“ Will says, ”he just hit." For our own Seattle entry into baseball consistency, we present Edgar Martinez. Last season he hit over .300 at home and away. He hit over .300 before and after the All-Star break, versus lefties and righties. He hit over .300 every month of the season except for April and June, when he slumped to .298 and .297 respectively. For his career he's batting over .300 against every AL team except Toronto (a meager .297). The sunrise should be so consistent. And don't even get us started on his on-base percentage.
- The lead-in is beyond embarrassing but Vice Magazine's Q&A with The Wire's David Simon is a must-fucking-read. Excerpts:
On the gift of 12 hours
We weren’t cynical about having been given ten, 12, 13 hours—whatever we had for any season from HBO. All of that was an incredible gift. The Godfather narrative, even including the third film, the weak one, is like… what? Nine hours? And look how much story they were able to tell. We were getting more than that for each season. So goddamn it, you better have something to say. That sounds really simple, but it’s actually a conversation that I don’t think happens on a lot of serialized drama. Certainly not on American television. I think that a lot of people believe that our job as TV writers is to get the show up as a franchise and get as many viewers, as many eyeballs, as we can, and keep them. So if they like x, give them more of x. If they don’t like y, don’t do as much y.
On mistaking capitalism for a social framework
It’s one thing to recognize capitalism for the powerful economic tool it is and to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and, hey, thank God we have it. There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980—since Reagan. Human beings—in this country in particular—are worth less and less. When capitalism triumphs unequivocally, labor is diminished. It’s a zero-sum game. People paid a much higher tax rate when Eisenhower was president, a much higher tax rate for the benefit of society, and all of us had more of a sense that we were included.
On health care
We live in an oligarchy. The mother’s milk of American politics is money, and the reason they can’t reform financing, the reason that we can’t have public funding of elections rather than private donations, the reason that K Street is K Street in Washington, is to make sure that no popular sentiment survives. You’re witnessing it now with health care, with the marginalization of any effort to rationally incorporate all Americans under a national banner that says, “We’re in this together.” ... And of course it’s socialism. These ignorant motherfuckers. What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! If socialism is a taint that you cannot abide by, then, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be in any group insurance policy. You should just go out and pay the fucking doctors because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, “Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we’ll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan...” That’s fuckin’ socialism. That’s nothing but socialism.
On choosing personal ambition over a moral imperative
But all the characters who are serving the institutions, who are so self-preserving and self-aggrandizing, they are rigorous about always making the wrong choice when it comes to a societal good, to a communal good. And you know what? I was a reporter for a lot of years. I actually believe that’s how the city works or doesn’t work. I wrote a book about what was wrong with the drug trade, the drug war. It was very carefully researched and it made clear that this was a fool’s errand. I watched a councilman who was running for mayor go to the corner where I wrote the book, hold a copy of the book up in front of the TV cameras, and say that if he were elected mayor he would fight the drug war for real and he would win it. Well, he became mayor and he fought as a drug warrior and he clipped the stats and he made it sound like crime was going down when crime wasn’t going down and now he’s the governor of Maryland. ... And he didn’t like The Wire. He didn’t think The Wire was a good thing.
On the stories we tell ourselves and why
Let’s celebrate me and the wonder that is me. It’s not about society. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were consumed with questions about man and state. ... Now the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. How many frickin’ times are we gonna watch a story where somebody [rises agains the odds]: “You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “I’ll show you, see?” And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.
On the death of journalism
What got asked at the Baltimore Sun was, “How can we bite off a little morsel of outrage and run with it?” Yeah. “Let’s do 50 stories on lead-paint poisoning between January and December. We’re not going to do any more the next year because that’s past the Pulitzer year. But we’re going to show you how bad lead-paint poisoning is. In fact, we’re going to show you that if it weren’t for lead-paint poisoning, these kids would all be at fucking Ivy League schools. Never mind that their family lives have been decimated, that they’re in a school system that’s utterly dysfunctional, that the drug trade’s the only industry where they live. Never mind all of that. If they’d just stop eating the fuckin’ lead paint, they could all be at Princeton.” You would look at that and you would say, “This is the highest ambition for journalism? This is what you got? What the fuck happened to us?”
Lancelot Links (Is Pissed at QT)
- "Iron Man 2" trailer, dudes! Questions: 1) Are they overdoing Tony Stark with the "Yes, dear" line? He was so good in the first movie, but sequel writers tend to exaggerate the actor's first-movie exaggerations (see: Capt. Jack) and ruin 'em. Hope that's not happening here. 2) Iron Man makes a nice metaphor for America in the 21st century, doesn't he? Initially cocky and triumphant while enemies gather; then dazed and hurt; then ready for action. The difference is that Iron Man was smart enough to get a partner. An equal partner, Mr. Blair.
- Related: Sam Worthington as Captain America? It's an unfound rumor, and some object because he's Australian, but he sure looks like he'd fit the part.
- Phil Contrino of boxoffice.com wonders if "The Hurt Locker," which is garnering all the critics' awards, can possibly win best picture when it made only $12 million at the box office. "Crash is this decade's lowest grossing Best Picture winner with $54.6 million," he writes. "Technically, Annie Hall has the lowest domestic gross of any Best Picture winner since 1970 with $38.3 million in 1977, but that equals around $124 million when adjusted for inflation." Contrino seems to suggest moviegoers are at fault for the dismal box office, and maybe they are, but Summit Entertainment never really put the movie out there, either. Its widest release was only 535 theaters.
- Speaking of "Crash": Manohla Dargis goes off on the sexism rampant in Hollywood: the lack of female directors, the lack of smart female movies, the fact that time and again Hollywood executives seem to think women don't go to the movies—despite all evidence to the contrary. Spleen is definitely, and legitimately, vented. Then there's this beauty: "Let's acknowledge that the Oscars are bullshit and we hate them. But they are important commercially... I've learned to never underestimate the academy's bad taste. Crash as best picture? What the fuck."
- There's a great piece by Jeffrey Toobin in the Dec. 14th issue of The New Yorker on the legal issues surrounding Roman Polanski's arrest on statutory rape charges in 1977—not to mention his flight from, and attempted extradiction back to, the U.S. earlier this year. You need the print edition to read it in full, though. The abtract is here. Toobin is smart on the ways Polanski's celebrity both helped and hurt his case. There's little doubt, from Toobin's description, that Polanksi committed a crime in 1977. There's also little doubt, from Toobin's description, that those charged with that crime—that is, statutory rape—rarely did prison time back then. His recent incarceration in Switzerland, meanwhile, resulted from renewed interest in the case because of a documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which more or less declares him not guilty, and more or less on the strength of an interview with then-deputy district attorney David Wells, who implied misconduct on the part of the presiding judge. But Wells has since recanted that portion of the interview. Leaving us where? In a big fat no-man's land.
- Quentin Tarantino is starting to piss me off. Not as a filmmaker but as a critic. Here he lays out his top 8 movies of the year. I like that he includes "Funny People" and "Observe and Report," two underrated serio-comedies starring Seth Rogen. But "Star Trek" at no. 1? The thing is lukewarm "Star Wars." Does he like it s much because J.J. Abrams kills off the sacred in the "Star Trek" universe (the planet Vulcan) as QT kills off the profane in ours (Hitler in "Inglourious Basterds")? That's not enough of a reason. The accompanying video of QT adds little, but I suppose I should cut him some slack because he is taking this seriously. He talks of going to see certain movies again to see if they've risen in his estimation. That's more (twice more) than a lot of Academy members do.
- Finally, via my friend Mr. B., a Season's Greetings from the Seattle Mariners, who are getting smarter all the time. It's a clip from a game last...September? Ichiro hitting a walk-off homerun off some hack named Mariano Rivera. Makes. Me. Smile. Touch 'em all, Ichiro!
Lancelot Links (Wants to Deck Someone)
- John Perr's blog, "Crooks and Liars," takes Sarah Palin apart for her massive ignorance of the history of our country, but equally important, not to mention related, is the accompanying graph (below) on the recent tax rate of our lowest and highest income brackets. During World War II, which Palin insists, in a Washington Post Op-Ed of all places, was paid for by war bonds (volunteerism), the top income bracket was taxed at 94%. Ninety-four percent! So much for voluteerism. Now they're taxed at 35 percent. Me, I'd raise it back to at least 50 percent —at least—as it was from 1982 to 1986. Reagan years, people. Everyone in this bracket is making tons of money off of a system they were born into and it's time they showed their appreciation to that system, and the long-term stability of that system, by, yes, "volunteering" to give back. Read the whole piece, it's worth it:
- My man! Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) takes down Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on the health care bill. Franken, by way of Pat Moynihan, has given us a mantra for this age of disinformation: "You're entitled to your own opinion, you're not entitled to your own facts." I particularly like how frustrated and angry Franken gets by the end. You can tell he's fed up. These people keep lying.
- It's actually worse. These people make careers out of accusing the opposition of doing what they do. It's the absolutist right, not the relativist left, that's as close to a fascistic organization as this country has ever had. The Nazis, remember, started out as a vocal minority, an absolutist, bullying, hateful group that wheedled its way into power and then shut out all opposition. That's the absolutist right in this country. And their latest alley-oop accusation? Via the Daily Show: Global-warming debunkers are now accusing global-warming proponents (i.e., the scientific community) of believing what they believe...for money! The idea being that global warming is big business so it doesn't matter if it's true or not. Nice. Because we all know it's the opposite of that. Global warming continues because of big business, because of the money that's made pumping what we pump into the air. The whole thing is so awful it makes you want to retch. It makes you want to deck somebody.
- A voice of reason in this wretched political world? Hendrik Hertzberg. Again.
- And another. It's worth watching Pres. Obama interviewed by Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes." He's a serious man in serious times surrounded by the unserious and the moronic. By people who are dicking around. And not just the absolutist right and not just the mainstream media but you and me. We create all of this. Every second, with every decision, we create our world.
- And even this serious interview gets an idiotic response from Dana Perino, whose 15 minutes, in a normal world, that is a non-cable, non-fragmented world, would be up. Yet she keeps talking. She says that President Obama's suggestion that President Bush "was too triumphant in his rhetoric when talking about war...is demonstrably false." The obvious follow-up? "Can you demonstrate it?" But she was on FOX News so they didn't ask the obvious follow-up. Here. Here are the three words that demonstrate the truth of what Pres. Obama implied about Pres. Bush: "Bring 'em on." Do we need more? Do we need to recall the swagger and the smirk? The aircraft carrier and flight suit? The "Mission Accomplished" banners? The talk of good and evil? The covering up of America's war dead? Damn, people, it wasn't even 10 years ago.
- But apparently some people can't even remember January 19, 2009.
- First, The Daily Show helped expose Glenn Beck's inciting panic/encouraging gold-buying and repping for Goldline. Now it's The Colbert Report's turn. "'Pray on it.' Like we're preying on you." Brilliant. Here's an in-depth look from the L.A. Times. The question that needs to be asked—and I mean this—is: Why is Glenn Beck trying to destroy this country?
- To end on an up note, here's Pres. Obama's speech after winning the Nobel Prize. It's a serious speech by a serious man in serious times. Read the whole thing. An excerpt:
- We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
- We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
- The New York Times gives us their top 10 books of the year. I haven't read any of them but I'm still disappointed with the fiction offerings. Or maybe I'm merely disappointed with the Times' synopeses: "concise yet finely grained..."; "narrated by a Wisconsin college student who hungers for wordly experience..."; "the theme is feminism..." It all feels dry and small. Only the Lethem and Walls' books open things up.
- Meanwhile, the best bookstore in Seattle is moving.
- I'm not a big fan of the "forgot" school of commentary ("In your list of top 10 superhero movies, you forgot "Daredevil, dude..."), but NPR gives us an article on the top villains of the decade, complete with a poll of five possible picks... and doesn't mention Anton Chigurh? Nice work, friendo.
- Two years ago Variety's Peter DeBruge's watched an Oscar montage of best foreign films and was, in his phrase, "floored," and became determined to watch them all. He did so this year and reports his findings here. He talks about the excitement of the early years: "Bicycle Thief," "Rashomon," "The Nights of Cabiria," "The Virgin Spring"...
And then a curious thing began to happen. Questionable winners started to sneak in. Mushy French melodrama "Sundays and Cybele," a Stateside hit in 1962, won (submitted over Francois Truffaut's far superior "Jules et Jim"). De Sica's overripe "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" (1964) trumped the existential masterpiece "Woman in the Dunes," while massive French phenom "A Man and a Woman" (1966) bested "The Battle of Algiers" and so on.
The category was fast devolving into a popularity contest, with the B.O. sensations beating what many thought was their more deserving competition. Great films carried the category into the next decade, including De Sica's heartbreaking foiled-by-WWII romance"The Garden of the Finzi Continis" (1971), Truffaut's playful meta-movie "Day for Night" (1973) and Kurosawa's pensive non-samurai epic "Dersu Uzala" (1975). But corruption allegedly set in as well, which might explain how "Black and White in Color" (1976) beat "Seven Beauties" and "Cousin, Cousine" when those two films were nominated for five other Oscars between them.
My two most satisfying discoveries — 1978's "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," a nutty menage a trois from French provocateur Bertrand Blier, and 1985's "The Official Story," a wrenching look at the children of political dissidents put up for adoption during Argentina's Dirty War — fall during this questionable period.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere, James Cameron talks to a French journalist about the making of "Avatar." The questions are tough and the answers are smart. I don't know if "Avatar" will work, or will sell, but I like the way Cameron's selling it. He includes a kind of callback to Wiliam Goldman's famous dictum that nobody in Hollywood knows anything: "I think people in Hollywood don't really know what's commercial," Cameron says. "What's commercial is what people want to see. It's that simple. Sometimes they want to slow down and experience something. It isn't always dack-dack-dack, boom-boom-boom, rocketing along. This is what Hollywood has convinced themselves people want to see." ... Even better are Cameron's comments about how the best movies alter our perceptions. "It's not just about literally seeing [the Na'Vi] but about perceiving differently —perceiving through the eyes of the other person. That's what cinema's all about to me. You come in one door and you come out through another door. And that's a door of perception." The comment reminded me of the days when moviegoers would do this literally: enter one way, exit another (through the exit doors). We don't do that so much anymore. We tend to leave the same way we entered. Both literally and, sadly, metaphorically. (BONUS FOR FRENCH STUDENTS: The interview is subtitled in French so you can practice as you listen.)
- In baseball, the rich get richer.
- Finally, I'm a long-standing Marx Bros. fan, so A.O. Scott doesn't say much that either surprises or thrills me in his video critique of, or homage to, "Duck Soup." But watch it anyway—particularly if you haven't seen them in action. Halfway through, we get a scene where Chico and Harpo, spies for Sylvania, report to Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), who simply asks for the records of Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) of Freedonia. One simple question and the gags come rapid-fire:
- Harpo produces a record LP from his trenchcoat.
- Trentino throws it in the air in exasperation and Harpo takes a gun from his trenchcoat and shoots it like a skeet.
- Chico rings a bell, says "And the boy gets a cee-gar," and hands Harpo one of Trentino's cigars.
- Chico closes the cigar lid on Trentino's hand and Trentino rubs his hand in pain.
- Harpo pretends to take Trentino's hand-rubbing for excitement and rubs his hands in excitement, too.
- Five gags in 10 seconds. Brilliant.
- The awards from the National Board of Review are out, a harbinger of exactly nothing, but I'll let Nathaniel Rogers over at Film Experience parse the awards and the awarders. Few do it better. ADDENDUM: After doublechecking it appears that NBR—which was originally founded in 1909 as an anti-censorship organization, and has been doling out film awards since 1929—has picked the eventual Oscar winner in the last two years; but this is in stark contrast to the rest of the decade when they didn't come close. I know that's not their task, and sometimes I agree with them, but I've never really gotten over their "Finding Neverland" choice; or choosing "The Hours" in a year when "The Pianist" was released:
- 2000: Quills
- 2001: Moulin Rouge
- 2002: The Hours
- 2003: Mystic River
- 2004: Finding Neverland
- 2005: Good Night, and Good Luck
- 2006: Letters from Iwo Jima
- 2007: No Country for Old Men
- 2008: Slumdog Millionaire
- 2009: Up in the Air (coming soon to a theater near you!)
- In part two of his video essay on the revenge motif in Clint Eastwood movies, Matt Zoller Seitz expresses the same doubts I expressed two days ago after watching the first part of his video essay. Money line: "Is Eastwood an exploitation filmmaker with aspirations to importance, or an artist who uses violent action to entice viewers into experiencing his films' more complex aspects?" Both, I'd gather. See: the cake-and-eating-it-too line from earlier in the video essay.
- Jesse Ventura is making an ass of himself with his conspiracy show but who knew he had such good taste in movies? Here's his top 5 films via the Rotten Tomatoes site, and while they're not my top 5 they're a good top 5. "Riding Giants" is one of my favorite docs. Love what he says about "Full Metal Jacket." And I love his talk about the character development in "Jaws" and how this is unfortunately missing from today's action movies. What does this say about the state of our movies when Jesse "The Body" Ventura can be viewed as a highbrow connoisseur?
- Via Moira Macdonald's movie blog on The Seattle Times' site, there's this pretty funny Seattle-area festival, beginning Dec. 7 at Central Cinema and hosted by James Schmader: "Almost Human: Madonna on Film: A five week exploration of how the world's greatest pop star became the world's worst actress." Doubt I'll make it. Who wants to watch "Shanghai Surprise" again? But I bet it's funny. And fun. And deserving.
- Boy, St. Louis Park's own Tommy Friedman is really pissing me off. First he pimped for the Iraq War back in 2002-03, and now he blasts Pres. Obama's efforts to do whatever the hell we can in Afghanistan (which, I believe, is our official slogan). "This I Believe." Sheeeeyit. Here's what I believe: A more measured (if equally dispirited) response to Obama's speech came from Andrew Sullivan. Here's what I also believe: Obama's been given a shit sandwich, and he put the best possible sauce on this shit sandwich, and people are looking at it and crying, "Why are you making me eat a shit sandwich?" No, YOU made you eat a shit sandwich. 51% of you anyway.
- In this spirit, my friend Tim pointed out this column by Mark Morford of The San Francisco Chronicle on how we're actually living through some pretty amazing times. He mostly attacks the left for their disappointment that things haven't changed more quickly but he also gets in some nice digs at the right:
Conversely, there is all manner of incoherent noise spewing like radioactive urine from the far right, a nonstop wail of childlike panic claiming that, because Obama behaves with unnerving calm, shakes hands with foreign dignitaries and doesn't seem interested in bombing everyone in a turban, he must be a socialist Muslim Nazi hell-bent on banning machine guns and killing all old Republicans in their sleep ...
- From the Dept. of Wrong Directions: The Dallas News has ordered editorial to report to sales. Nice. Good-bye to any semblance of credibility. Someone contact Lowell Bergman so at least we can get a good rant out of this. "Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News what they can and cannot air?" As I wrote back in 2001: Wigand and Bergman won that battle but the war is everywhere else being lost.
- Finally, in his "Sweet Spot" column, Rob Neyer runs down how Dale Murphy's seemingly invincible run for the Hall of Fame got stopped short. All good points except for the comparison to Kirby Puckett:
The only real exception [to center fielders with only six good years not making the Hall] is Kirby Puckett, who was elected by the BBWAA in his first year of eligibility. Both were Gold Glove center fielders who finished their careers early and were forced from the majors by physical maladies. The difference is that where Murphy suffered from a knee injury, Puckett retired because of degenerative vision, and while still near the top of his game. When Puckett's name first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, his greatness was still fresh in the minds of the voters.
- Here's another difference. Murphy, known for his power, was a career .265/.346/.469 player, while Puckett, known for his hitting, was a career .318/.360/.477 player. Yes, allowed to continue to play into his 40s, these percentage numbers would've declined, but I don't think they would've declined much. More: How many post-WWII players have posted such a high lifetime batting average, with as many at-bats as Kirby, and not made the Hall? I don't know if there's anybody. (Todd Helton will test it again in 5-10 years.) Also, while it's hardly fair, Kirby played in two World Series and had that great performance in Game 6. That stuff's indelible. You could also say—and, again, it's hardly fair—that Puckett himself was indelible. His personality was big and positive, while Murphy's was...? I don't remember. Which is the point. As Jules says: Personality goes a long way.
- “Star Wars” Facebook status updates from collegehumor.com. The first one had me laughing out loud.
- The best reason to sneak popcorn into the movies isn't the price of theater popcorn. It's this.
- I haven't seen “Nine” yet, which opens this month, so can't comment on Jeffrey Wells' assertion that Marion Cotillard's acting, while fine, and perhaps deserving of the Oscar nom the producers of the film are pushing, is actually better in Michael Mann's “Public Enemies.” But his posting of this scene made me want to watch “Public Enemies” all over again. There's a frantic and frivolous quality to modern life, and Mann, by slowing the tempo of his films, by focusing on the essential—on the details of the details of the details, as Johnny Depp once said—actually relieves us for a time of this burden, of the unbearable lightness of being. He makes things matter. That aspect is in this scene and every scene. And that's part of why I want to see the movie again. The bigger reason is that some people caused a ruckus at the theater where I saw the film at the end of June and I ended up missing some of Cotillard's better moments. Wells is right right about this one, though. Man.
- Karl Rove is rich and famous but I wouldn't want to be him in a million years—and not just because he's a bald schlub. I just can't imagine living such a mendacious life. He helped ruin our country and now he's blaming others for the policies he helped create. Even thinking about it makes me want to take a shower. How awful to have to be him.
- For those who think Obama hasn't done anything in his first 10 months in office, I suggest reading Jacob Weisberg.
- Via Andrew Sullivan's site, Picasso's Guernica in 3-D.
- Finally, though it's a bit onanistic, here's my updated piece on how “The Wire” explains the world. Also why it's the coolest version of team-buidling on film. Indeed.
- Good music! Kris Tapley over at In Contention has posted this beautiful Ryan Bingham song, "The Weary Kind," from the new, as-yet-unopened Jeff Bridges film, "Crazy Heart." Listen. Ecoutez. The song certainly reflects my mood during this long, sick November. I'd recommend buying it on iTunes but it's not available yet.
- Benjamin Schwarz, literary editor of The Atlantic, picks the 25 books of the year. I've read exactly zero of them. Bad former book critic, bad former book critic.
- Hendrik Hertzberg finds distant precedent in tea partiers and anti-health care nuts battling against their self-interest.
- Patrick Goldstein has an interesting post on right-wing attacks on one small moment in the new Sandra Bullock movie "The Blind Side." His explanation for why the scene is in there is fascinating, makes sense, but won't, I'm sure, shut them up. Nothing will. Hollywood is a town that leans consistently left, sometimes loopily so, but you'll never convince the right-wing nuts (or right wingnuts?) that the product of that town is ultimately conservative. In my mind, no industry has done more than the movie industry to propogate the myth of the efficacy of the lone gunman using violence to achieve his ends. That's ultimately a conservative message.
- Related: Andrew Sullivan takes down the GOP's new ten commandments like they're false idols to which the conservative masses bow down and worship.
- Related: Alaska attorney Donald Craig Mitchell, writes about being named in Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue, and on the numerous lies in one simple paragraph about him:
Had Lynn Vincent, Sarah, or Meg called me before Lynn had finished writing Going Rogue, I would have told her that in a single paragraph Lynn/Sarah got almost every one of their facts about me, other than that I am an attorney, wrong. While I probably once was, I haven’t been a “prominent” attorney in Alaska in years. While I am a registered Democrat, my personal politics are hardly “liberal.” To the extent anyone cares, I am a social libertarian who is an Eisenhower era deficit hawk who agrees with Teddy and Frank Roosevelt that the principal responsibility of government is to save capitalism from itself. And while during the presidential campaign several of my ‘Governor Girl Reports’ were posted by individuals other than me on the Huffington Post and Atlantic Monthly web sites, none of those musings “detailed an ethics attack strategy.”
- Clay Shirky takes on the issue of what becomes authoritative in our culture, and what's becoming authoritative in Internet culture (and thus our new culture), and how they differ. Fascinating piece. He's just laying it out, seemingly unconcerned (he always seems unconcerned), but his description alarms me for, I guess, two reasons. One, even though they've rarely done me good, and even though they've stumbled at times, I haven't given up on the old authorities: The New York Times, Merriam-Webster, etc., and I still don't trust, but admit to being amazed by, enterprises like Wikipedia. Two: His description of algorithmic authority reminds me of nothing so much as how investment banks bundle mortgage securities. Individually, they're risky. Bundle them, chop them up, and sell the sections and the risk is made diffuse. Which works untll everyone gets too careless. Which they always do. But Shirkey's a must-read. The obvious joke is that he's an authority on this matter. To play with an example he uses: there's a world of difference between "Some guy on the Internet said so" and "Clay Shirkey said so." In fact, the problem with the former sentence, the lack of its authoriy, may be less the "Internet" reference and more the "some guy" reference. At least the Internet is specific.
- Some crazy, lovely person has compiled the 100 greatest lines from the five seasons of "The Wire." Most of my favorites (Bunk: "Shit is fucked") didn't make the cut but, among the ones that did, I'm partial to these:
- Omar: "I never put dirt on anyone who wasn't in the game." Bunk: "A man must have a code." Omar: "Oh, no doubt."
- Frank Sobotka: "We used to make shit in this country. Build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket."
- Prop Joe: "You don't think I'm gonna send any of my people up against Brother? Sheeeyit, that nigger got more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery."
- Reverend: "A good church man is always up in everybody's shit. That's how we do."
- Det. Freamon: "You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money and you don't know where the fuck it's going to take you."
- Russian mobster Sergie Malatov, talking about a dead body: "Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Yes? Then it wasn't us."
- Bodie: "This game is rigged, man. We like the little bitches on the chessboard."
- Jim Walsh on Ondi Timoner's documentary "We Live in Public" and the way the thing you're using right now is changing you and the world. A Timoner quote:
“The thing that freaks me out is that there are only so many hours in a day, and it’s so easy to create volume online, of emails and messages and correspondence,” says Timoner from her home in Los Angeles. “So it’s like two lives we’re living at the same time, and the real one is getting more and more compromised by the virtual one. You have to ask yourself, `Why am I on here? Why am I posting this online? Why am I still on here after two hours?’ ”
- Now go outside and play.
- Is the Vietnamese government blocking Facebook and its more than 1 million users in that country? "A technician at Vietnam Data said government officials had ordered his firm to block access to Facebook and that VDC instituted a block on the site Nov. 11. He declined to give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media."
- I'm sure you've seen the clip of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show calling out Sean Hannity's show on FOX News for trumpeting the size of the crowds at a Thursday afternoon anti-healthcare rally in D.C. ... by mixing in footage from a larger, Saturday-afternoon rally from two months earlier. If not, it's here. A few days later, Hannity apologized, but in a non-mea culpa, ham-handed way. The mistake, he claims, was not intentional. That'd be pretty tough to pull off. News shows don't just mix in two-month-old footage with today's footage. It's not like all the ingredients are on the countertop and they just happened to, oops, grab the wrong one. But things got better after Hannity's apology. To be precise, the attack on Hannity got more pointed. Here's a link to both Stewart's reaction to watching all of Hannity's show and Andrew Sullivan's attack on both Hannity and FOX News in general as enemies of conservatism. He writes:
Yes, I've tried [watching Hannity] as well. It's like listening to Hugh Hewitt. Or reading Pravda in the old Soviet Union. But somehow watching a human being so brainwashed and engaging in conscious brain-washing makes it worse. Hannity is a pathological level of propagandist, because his entire reality, his entire mindset is programmed for ideology and partisanship. There is no world for him but politics; and no perspective within politics except conflict and warfare. He greets views that do not comport with the opportunistic ideology of the moment as threats to be extinguished, not ideas to be engaged.
Whatever else this toxic, shallow and brutal perspective is, it is not now and never will be conservative - unless that word has now been so corrupted it has no meaning at all.
- This is really sweet, and already a YouTube favorite. A soldier returns home and is greeted by his dog, Gracie, who is happy to see him. To put it mildly.
- The Webbies post their 10 most influential Internet moments of the decade that just whizzed by. You start out astounded that Wikipedia launched only nine years ago then become more astounded that the iPhone only debuted 2+ years ago. The new is becoming established in the blink of an eye; the established is disappearing even faster.
- Just in time for Xmas: Paste Magazine unloads their top 12 music books of the decade. I've read #s 11 and 8—the Minnnesota books—and even interviewed the author of no. 11. His books's out in paperback. Get it if you didn't in hardcover.
- And here's more of Paste Magazine's best of the decade. memes, TV shows, live moments on TV shows, album covers. Album covers? Do we still count those? The only time I see them anymore is when they're the size of postage stamps.
- It feels like Richard Brody is a bit too kind to Wes Anderson in his Nov. 2nd, New Yorker profile on the director, "Wild, Wild Wes." Or maybe he's simply too kind to Anderson's 2003 film, "The Life Aquatic," which came on the heels of his biggest hit ("The Royal Tenenbaums"), which came on the heels of his most critically acclaimed film ("Rushmore"). After detailing several critic complaints about "Aquatic," Brody writes:
"In fact, 'The Life Aquatic" does tell a story, but it's one that sprawls with an epic ambition and a picaresqe wonder. Anderson's playfully unstrung storytelling was both purposeful and meaningful: life in the wild, the film suggests, doesn't follow the neat contours of dramatic suspense but is filled with surprises, accidents, and sudden lurches off course. ... 'The Life Aquatic' was proof of Anderson's maturation as an artist..."
- Come again? Here's my 2007 take on Anderson and his ouevre. I actually like Anderson, within limits, which I hope my article makes clear, but I'm not a fan of "Aquatic," for reasons stated, none of which has to do with its lack of storytelling. The short version of Brody's article is here, but you have to buy, or borrow from your local library, the Nov. 2nd New Yorker to read it in full. Or subscribe. I recommend subscribing already.
- The Washington Post focuses on a quiet but powerful contingent that is being ignored in the same-sex marriage debate: the ex-spouses of now-out-of-the-closet gay men and women. This section in particular packs a whallop:
Many of these former spouses -- from those who still feel raw resentment toward their exes to those who have reached a mutual understanding -- see the legalization of same-sex marriage as a step toward protecting not only homosexuals but also heterosexuals. If homosexuality was more accepted, they say, they might have been spared doomed marriages followed by years of self-doubt.
"It's like you hit a brick wall when they come out," Brooks said. "You think everything is fine and then, boom!"
Carolyn Sega Lowengart calls it "retroactive humiliation." It's that embarrassment that washes over her when she looks back at photographs or is struck by a memory and wonders what, if anything, from that time was real. Did he ever love her?
"I'm 61 years old," said Lowengart, who lives in Chevy Chase. "Will I ever know what it's like to be loved passionately? Probably not."
- I'm going to have to permanently link to Joe Posnanski below but in the meantime here's his early Hall of Fame arguments and they warm the cockles of my cold, cold Seattle heart. Actually his argument is: Who is the best eligible hitter not in the Hall of Fame? He then goes through the usual suspects. Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe and Barry Bonds are not eligible so he eliminates them. Mark McGwire? Impressive, certainly. A homer ever 8 at-bats, "but we knew how he did it," and anyway there's that lifetime .263 batting average. Dick Allen? Don Mattingly? Minnie Monoso? Babe Herman? I'll cut to the chase—particularly since the photo at right is a giveaway. Posnanski suggests Edgar Martinez. He talks about why he's a great hitter, all of which should be familiar to Seattle fans (lifetime: .300/.400/.500), and why he won't make it anyway, which will also be familiar to Seattle fans. Edgar's got the percentage numbers, but he played the majority of his career as a DH and he didn't play long enough to accumulate the gross numbers: the 3,000 hits, etc., because the Mariners (idiots!) didn't bring him up until he was 27. If he'd played his entire career at third, I think he would've made it. If he'd been a DH but had the cumulative numbers, I think he would've made it. It's the two together that put the kibosh on him. Of course I'd vote for him in a second but I'm obviously biased. At the same time, here's my non-bias: How many career .300/.400.500 guys, with as many at-bats as Edgar, aren't in the Hall of Fame? Extra credit. We've just been talking lately about what a great pitcher Mariano Rivera is. So how did Edgar do against Rivera? 16 at-bats, 10 hits, 3 doubles, 2 homeruns, 6 RBIs. A .625 batting average and a 1.888 OPS. Don't know if anyone with double-digit at-bats against Rivera has ever done better. Obviously that's not an argument in favor of the Hall but it is fun.
Lancelot Links—World Series edition
- Let's start out with Joe Posnanski's Sports Illustrated piece, “The Best Team Money Could Buy,” since it's the best piece I've read on the Yankees and their $208 million payroll, and what this means year after year for fans of Major League Baseball. Posnanski writes about why we need to talk about this. (Because it's been so-talked-about we've stopped listening.) He writes about why the payroll issue gets masked. (Because baseball is a sport where even the best teams lose a third of their games.) And he talks about why it's the Yankees in particular that are the problem:
- “The Yankees are not a big-market team. They DWARF big-market teams. They are quantitatively different from every other team in baseball and every other team in American sports. They don't just spend more money than every other team. They spend A LOT more money than every other team. The Boston Red Sox spend $50 million more than the Kansas City Royals? Who cares? The Yankees spend $80 million more than the Boston Red Sox.”
- Keith Olbermann isn't just for stentorian and (let's face it) often pompous putdowns of (let's also face it) wackjob Republicans; he's also a baseball fan. And in this piece, in honor of Johnny Damon's double-steal-without-an-error in Game 4, he counts down the nine smartest plays in World Series history. Couple things I like. He doesn't number them, or bold-face them, so he forces you to, you know, actually read them. Plus, most such pieces tend to focus on recent years, but Olbermann, like a great centerfielder, ranges wide, going from '55 to '46 to '07 (1907) to '69 to '72 to '60 to '88 to '91 to, finally, last Sunday. When he first raised the subject I immediately thought of '91. But I haven't really thought about what might be missing. Anyone? Anyone?
- Last Monday after Game 5, on the Facebook page of friend, a Yankees fan, I wrote the following: “What's interesting is that the Series is playing out like I feared it might: two even teams with uneven closers. Switch closers and the Series might already be over. In other words, no matter who they give it to, Mariano Rivera is always the Yankees' post-season MVP.” Here's dramatic evidence just how true that is. Rob Neyer even adds: “Purely in terms of increasing his teams' chances of winning, [Rivera] must be the most valuable pitcher in postseason history.”
- Here's even better evidence: The New York Times offers this cool, interactive chart on every batter Mariano Rivera has faced in the post-season: from Jay Buhner's swinging strikeout in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS (so that's why we lost that one) to Shane Victorino's ground-out to second base Wednesday night. I already knew one of the two post-season homers Rivera's given up—to Sandy Alomar in '97, which changed that ALDS around—but didn't know the other: to Jay Payton, with two men on, in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Overall: 397 outs, 82 hits, 14 runs allowed. Marquis Grissom scored the first run in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series (triple, single by Mark Lemke), and Chone Figgins scored the last in Game 6 of the 2009 ALCS (single, moved to second on ground-out, single by Vladimir Guerrero). Rivera's worst post-season for runs allowed? A tie: between 2000 and 2001 (4 each). Every other post-season, the most runs he's ever given up is 1. The good news? He turns 40 this month. The bad news? He wants to play five more seasons.
- After all that, I figure you might need a laugh. The Onion gives it to you. Their headline says it all: “95-Year-Old Yankees Fan Afraid He'll Never Get to See Team Win 27 More World Series.”
- Not good enough? How about some good, old-fashioned anti-Yankees moments? Here you go, courtesy of MLB (sorry for all the ads for the U.S. Marines. They may be few and proud but they're hardly brief):
- October 17, 2004: David Ortiz's walk-off homer in the 14th inning beats the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS. The Yankees still lead 3 games to 1.
- October 18, 2004: David Ortiz's walk-off single in the 14th inning beats the Yankees in Game Five of the ALCS. The Yankees still lead 3 games to 2.
- October 19, 2004: Curt Schilling and his bloody sock mow down the Yanks in Game 6 of the ALCS. The Series is now tied.
- They don't have Game 7 up? Damon's grand slam? For shame! But here's a “Baseball Tonight” rundown of the greatest ALDS moments. Ignore #s 8, 6, and particularly 2. Pay attention to #7 (Joba Chamberlain and the midges in Cleveland in 2007), #4 (Sandy Alomar homers off Rivera in 1997), and particularly, yes, #1, baby, a game I was at (Swung on and lined down the left field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey! Here's Junior to third! They're going to wave him in! The throw to the plate will be...LATE! The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship! I don't believe it! It just continues! My oh my!).
- Before the Series ended, Tyler Kepner wrote a nice piece on why the final moments in baseball are more memorable than in other sports. Yes, it has something to do with baseball's timelessness. More importantly, he doesn't even mention Bill Mazeroski, Gene Larkin, Joe Carter or Luis Gonzalez. Instead he writes about your Eric Hinskes and Sal Yvarses, your Jackie Robinsons and Joe Jacksons. And your Jorge Posadas. That one was sweet. But not as sweet as Gonzalez's.
- Finally, if you're looking for a good, hot-stove-league song, I'd recommend “Cooperstown” by the Felice Brothers, about Georgia in 1905, and Ty Cobb and baseball. It gets better every listen. Something about the last line below in particular gets to me: “And tomorrow you'll surely know who's won.” I keep coming back to it. I don't know what it means but it feels so right. Maybe because it suspends the action. It lays open all possibilities in the present and leaves true knowledge to tomorrow. And even then it doubts it. “Surely” implies that it's not sure at all:
I'm on first
And you're on third
And there are wolves all in-between
And everyone's sure that the game is over
The catcher's hard
He's mean and hard
And he nips at the batter's heels
And everyone's sure that the game is over
And the ball soars
And the crowd roars
And the scoreboard sweetly hums
And tomorrow you'll surely know who's won
- It's already over but here's a great piece from Dan Savage who defends the sexification of Halloween as a kind of straight people's gay-pride parade: a day when straight people are allowed to dress up and bust loose:
We don't resent you for taking Halloween as your own. We know what it's like to keep your sexuality under wraps, to keep it concealed, to be on your guard and under control at all times. While you don't suffer anywhere near the kind of repression we did (and in many times and places still do), straight people are sexually repressed, too. You move through life thinking about sex, constantly but keenly aware that social convention requires you to act as if sex were the last thing on your mind. Exhausting, isn't it?
- Martin Scorsese on the 11 scariest movies of all time. I've seen 1, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 11. I keep missing the Brits.
- It's not just me. Even members of the Academy question havng 10-best-picture nominees.
- Hilarious piece from The Onion on the long, sad, World Series drought for the Philadelphia Phillies. Sample: "To put into perspective just how long the Phillies have gone without a championship, the earth has almost made one full orbit of the sun since the franchise last paraded through downtown Philadelphia holding the famed Commissioner's Trophy."
- Floyd Norris, in his column in The New York Times last Friday, says people who ask why financial-industry CEOs are so well-compensated are asking the wrong question. The real question is: Why is there so much more money in the financial industry than there used to be? From 1929 to 1988, the financial sector averaged 1.2 percent of GDP. Then it shot up in the 1990s, peaking at 3.3 percent in 2005. Why? He tosses out some possibilities, including higher charges (for managing hedge funds) , concentration (the big guys are bigger), the derivatives debaccle, evading taxes and rules, and excessive risk-taking. Worth reading the whole thing.
- This is pretty exciting: The screening of "The Cove" at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the mostly positive and/or startled and/or embarrassed Japanese reaction. This part, though, is sadly indicative: "Taiji’s mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, has advised fishermen to carve up whales and dolphins in indoor facilities so as not to provoke activists further, according to the newspaper Yomiuri." Nice. My review of "The Cove" here.
- The cover story in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine asks: "Is America ready for a movie about an obese Harlem girl raped and impregnated by her abusive father?" But it's the wrong question. The correct question is: "Is Lionsgate ready to distribute such a film?" OK, it's both questions. But America can't be ready for "Precious" if Lionsgate (of the "Saw" franchise) isn't willing to distribute it beyond NY, LA and your Seattles and Chicagos and Minneapolises. And I doubt they are. Unless, of course, Tyler Perry, whose films are also distributed by Lionsgate, and is an executive producer on "Precious," can strongarm them in some fashion.
- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's film critic Colin Covert has a nice Q&A with Chris Rock about his doc "Bad Hair," which I now have to see. Rock remarks that "Bad Hair" is the funniest movie he's ever made, which initially sounds impressive until you consider the options. "Down to Earth"? "Head of State"? "I Think I Love My Wife"? Rock is frequently hilarious in his stand-up (less so in his most recent, "Kill the Messenger"), but for whatever reason that hilarity has never transferred to movies.
- Via Patrick Goldstein, who got it from Danielle Berrin's "Hollywood Jew" blog, here's a fascinating 2001 Index Magazine interview with Rachel Weisz and some pretty blunt talk about the Jewishness of Hollywood, as well as the sterile sexuality of Hollywood, as well as the sexiness of comedians. Quote from Weisz on the difficulty of Jewish women having success in Hollywood: "In some way acting is prostitution, and Hollywood Jews don't want their own women to participate. Also, there's an element of Portnoy's Complaint — they all fancy Aryan blondes."
- Francois Truffaut is my favorite director of the French New Wave, and Richard Brody, blogging on the New Yorker's site, acknowledges the 25th anniversary of Truffaut's death at age 52 with some choice quotes.
- Nathaniel over at Film Experience Blog gives us the history of who's presented the best picture Oscar. I hadn't really thought about this before. Best Actor gets the previous year's Best Actress, and vice-versa, and same ol' switcheroo for supporting awards, and directors tend to get directors, yes? The other categories get someone who will hopefully keep people watching. But for Best Pic? It's usually a big-name actor. Nathaniel's complaint? It's usually the same big-name actor—and rarely a big-name actress. He makes suggestions. His first one is so obvious only the Academy wouldn't have thought of it by now.
- I've always thought FOX-News was as close to a government-run news agency as the U.S. has had during my lifetime. James Fallows, who spent the last three years in China, says the same thing.
- We need smarter from the New Yorker. Most MSM columnists now agree that FOX News is a biased network, as does Louis Menand here, but it goes deeper, doesn't it? Via his Facebook account, Minnesota journalist Robb Mitchell quotes Jason Bartlett, a new media columnist (and not the shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays), thus: "Bias is not the issue for the controversy with FOX and media access, it is their continual intentional manipulation of facts for the sake of propoganda. To say what FOX does is okay because now MSNBC 'does it now too' misses the point of their intentional deception to the American public."
- I appreciated this piece from William Rhoden on how losing two games to the Angels exposes what nervous nellies Yankees fans really are.
- This past week, Tyler Kepner is writing about all the right things. First he gave us those dream quotes from Mike Scioscia before Game 6 of the ALCS on the ridiculousness of all the off-days in October. Then he followed it up in yesterday's paper with a piece about where all of those off-days lead: to a November World Series. Kepner ticks off what can't be done to prevent this in the future but the question looms: What can be done? I'd start by examining the smartness of Wednesday-night starts, which the networks and MLB feel draws higher ratings than, say, a Saturday-night start. Really? So why have World Series ratings dropped like a rock over the last 25 years while the Super Bowl recorded its greatest ratings just last year? Is MLB overstaying its welcome in October and November? Could a tighter schedule mean a tighter storyline? Do fair-weather fans not want to watch the game played in foul weather? COULD THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE HAVE NO MOTHERHUMPING CLUE WHAT THEY'RE DOING?!?! Not that I'm espousing any opinion one way or another, mind you. At least Kepner's asking the right questions and getting the right quotes from the right baesball people. Here's Scioscia again: "You can’t control the weather to a certain extent, but the earlier you can schedule these to get them in, the better chance you have of finishing this in weather that is, I think, conducive to the outstanding level of play that is going to be on any playoff baseball field." Exactamundo, Cunningham!
- Tablet has a nice, short piece on the history of Hasidim on film—from Molly Picon in “East and West” (1923) to (convert me, baby!) Natalie Portman in “New York, I Love You” (2009).
- Also from Tablet: Ben Birnbaum, two years ago, explaining much of what goes unexplained about Gertrude Berg in Aviva Kempner's documentary “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.”
- Have you read Tad Friend's New Yorker piece on Nikke Finke yet? Finke is good at what she does but I don't quite get what she does. She has a lot of inside information on the Hollywood industry, and, with her blog, Deadline Hollywood, scoops rivals at Variety and The Los Angeles Times. But most of her scoops, at least according to Friend's article, are stories that would come out anyway: next week, tomorrow, in an hour. So-and-So is replacing Such-and-Such at Yadda-yadda. Thingamajig is making Whatever with Whomever. Dick Cook is getting fired. She's scooping press releases. I understand why it leads to a kind of power, I just don't get why she would want to do it—other than the power. Is this what she's here for? Isn't there a better use for her inside information?
- Also from the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear's piece on Titanic director, and enfant terrible, James Cameron. Great first graf:
The director James Cameron is six feet two and fair, with paper-white hair and turbid blue-green eyes. He is a screamer—righteous, withering, aggrieved. “Do you want Paul Verhoeven to finish this motherfucker?” he shouted, an inch from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face, after the actor went AWOL from the set of “True Lies,” a James Bond spoof that Cameron was shooting in Washington, D.C. (Schwarzenegger had been giving the other actors a tour of the Capitol.) Cameron has mastered every job on set, and has even been known to grab a brush out of a makeup artist’s hand. “I always do makeup touch-ups myself, especially for blood, wounds, and dirt,” he says. “It saves so much time.” His evaluations of others’ abilities are colorful riddles. “Hiring you is like firing two good men,” he says, or “Watching him light is like watching two monkeys fuck a football.” A small, loyal band of cast and crew works with him repeatedly; they call the dark side of his personality Mij—Jim backward.
- A friend of mine, a big Phillies fan, mentioned a line that's gaining currency among Phillies fans: The Bigger, Redder Machine. (She actually told me, “Bigger. Redder. More Machine,” but same idea.) It's cute. But even if the Phils do repeat this year, as the original Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds, did in 1975 and '76, they're hardly, you know, bigger and redder. Put it this way. Six times in 8 years (1970-77) a Cincinnati Red won the NL MVP: Bench in '70 and '72, Rose in '73, Morgan in '75 and '76, and Foster in '77. The Reds had perennial gold glovers at catcher (Bench), second (Morgan), short (Concepcion) and outfield (Geronimo). Their record in '75 was 108-54, which was 18 games better than the second-best team in the league. Their record in '76 was 102-60, which was only one game better than the second-best team in the NL, the Phillies, whom they swept anyway in the NLCS before sweeping the Yankees in the World Series. In two years they only lost three games in the post-season—all to the Red Sox in that epic '75 Series, which, of course, the Reds won anyway. The current Phillies (92-70 last year, 93-69 this year) are good and all. But the original Big Red Machine? They were GOOD.
- Nice piece on Torii Hunter from ESPN.com before the start of the ALCS with the Yankees. I was living in Minnesota at the time the Twins gave him up and thought it a mistake—although my reasons were of the heart more than the head. Torii was getting old and slowing down in center field, but he was so positive, so outspokenly positive in a sport that needed heroes, that I thought it worthwhile to keep him on those grounds alone. Turns out he's actually improved as a player. So now he's the guy you want in the clubhouse and at the plate. Imagine if the Twins had kept him and Johan Santana, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. How quickly would they have crushed the Yankees in the ALDS? This is why Major League Baseball feels like a joke. The other teams are essentially farm systems for the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Mets. Everyone says nothing can be done but... something needs to be done.
- Meanwhile Buzz Bissinger misses the point completely in this New Republic article on Michael Lewis' Moneyball. He says Moneyball is dead. He says it's particularly dead this season, with the higher-payroll teams (Yankees, Red Sox) making it once again to the post-season, while lower-payroll teams such as Billy Beane's A's, the subject of Lewis' book, finishing last in their division. But Moneyball didn't deny that higher-payroll teams had an advantage. That, in fact, is the whole point of the book. How can lower-payroll teams even compete? Lewis found an answer with the A's and sabermetrics in the early 2000s, in which, through his inevitable Wall Street prism, the A's took what was undervalued (on-base percentage) and bought it, and took what was overvalued (closers) and sold it. Not a bad strategy. An inevitable strategy, given the uneven financial playing field of MLB, but it led to this problem: the other MLB teams, particularly the Yankees and Red Sox, now value what was undervalued. Beane no longer has that advantage. This season doesn't disprove Moneyball, as Bissinger argues; it proves it. Bissinger himself proves it. He writes: “Market inefficiences are harder and harder to find, one of the ironies of Beane's brief but successful reliance on on-base percentage from 2000 to 2002 is that it has made players with such skill far too expensive for his pocketbook.” Exactly. That's why Moneyball isn't dead but more alive than ever. As for Bissinger's argument about the importance of closers, I'd say Mariano Rivera is the freakish exception that proves the rule. The rule is Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes, Brad Lidge and Jonathan Broxton. Four of the best closers in baseball over the last two years. Match them up with your favorite, late-inning, post-season, season-altering gopher ball.
- Andrew Sullivan has long been arguing that Obama's opponents underestimate him. They think short-term (news cycles); he thinks long-term (public policy). They think his passiveness is weakness; Sullivan sees it as cunning. The latest argument in the Times online. Hope he's right.
- Sully again—on how it's time to stop the stoner jokes about medical marijuana. I couldn't agree more. On this issue, for most of my adult life, I've been caught between two forms of stupidity: people on the right who criminalize what is medicine, and necessary, for people in pain, for people who are dying; and people on the left, the partying crowd, who laugh and go “Ow!” whenever MEDICAL marijuana (wink-wink) is mentioned. Overall I'm in favor of legalizing marijuana itself but the medical marijuana issue is, in my opinion, and with no pun intended, a no-brainer. Don't even get me started on the fact that it's been deemed a schedule 1 drug (harmful, addictive, with no medical benefits) by cops rather than doctors, when all the medical evidence points to the fact that it isn't addictive and has medical benefits. More from Glenn Greenwald at Salon here. Review of Dan Baum's history of the war on drugs, “Smoke & Mirrors,” here.
- Also via Sully, this graph. Nice to be part of the the growing, hopefully vocal minority:
- Here's a good piece by my friend Jessica Thompson, who's lived in India for a year now, on the sexual harassment—called "Eve teasing"—there: "Eve teasing is to sexual harassment what Delhi Belly is to projectile vomiting and diarrhea: both are really ugly things hidden behind a cute name."
- Jeff Wells begins the end-of-decade ceremonies with his top 37 (37?) films of 2000-2009. It's a fun list—particularly his no. 1 choice. Have only vaguely thought about my top list, but it would include "The Pianist" (his no. 9) and "United 93" (his no. 5). What else would I have? "Yi Yi"? "Spider-Man 2"? "Munich"? "Brokeback Mountain," definitely. That movie just gets better with age. What about you? What movies in this decade stand out in your mind?
- Is "web" really the proper metaphor for this thing? It works, although not with the verb. You crawl a web while we claim to surf this one—and surfing is much cooler than what we do here. The metaphor that comes to my mind is pinball. I bounce from spot to spot. I careen the Pinball. The other day I visited Jeff Wells again, and he bounced me to this James Rocchi piece on MSN about press junkets in general and "Couples Retreat"'s in particular, and after reading one sentence I sought more of Rocchi and bounced all over the place. Found this MSN review on "Transformers 2," which definitely echoes my feelings about that abomination: "Where the first film was desperate, this one is desperate and sad. Where the first film sent mixed messages about ethnic and racial groups and women, this one is overtly racist and sexist. Where the first 'Transformers' was clumsy, 'Revenge of the Fallen' is paralyzed with its own stupidity." Rocchi's own site is here.
- Some good lines from Anthony Lane on "The Invention of Lying": "...as for the soundtrack, it’s like being haunted by the ghost of Easy Listening Past. Supertramp and the Electric Light Orchestra are one thing, but Donovan: there’s no excuse. And what really galls is not the songs themselves but the greasy way in which they are wrapped around crucial passages of action, to muffle any awkward transitions; thus, once Mark has armed himself with white lies, he strolls off to reassure all the other miserable folk we have encountered so far—old-timers, bums on the street, a bickering couple—with a smile and a word in their ears. But what word? We can’t tell, because Elvis Costello is busy belting out “Sitting” by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens."
- The New York Times' business column is becoming more of a must-read every day, particularly David Carr's on Monday and David Leonhardt's on Wednesday. This week, Carr wrote a sober, infuriating piece on the $66 million in bonuses delivered to Tribune Co. managers who mostly axed reporters to increase profits...which mostly went to them. Funny how that works. Leonhardt, on Wednesday, wrote of the excesses of left and right economic thinking, and who on the right (Bruce Bartlett) is finally going beyond "cut taxes" as a means to economic stimulus. We'll see how it plays. A smart voice on the right would be a nice change.
- Not all these links are worth clicking on, by the way. This is one. I'm sure you heard about it: The First Lady has white, slave-owning ancestors. That's the big story. A bigger story for me is that Mrs. Obama's great-great-grandfather, Dolphus T. Shields, the first child born to Melvina Shields, who was born into slavery, co-founded the First Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., which was pivotal in the civil rights movement. It's amazing, on the one hand, how carefully the Times tells its story, and, on the other, how carelessly. "While [Melvina] was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time." That's in the second graf. I would definitely lose "under circumstances lost in the passage of time," which is, given the circumstances, so romantic a phrase as to be close cousin to "under circumstances now...gone with the wind!" Plus the quotes from Edward Ball, "a historian who discovered that he had black relatives, the descendants of his white slave-owning ancestors," are embarrassing: "We are not separate tribes," he says. "We've all mingled, and we've done so for generations." Nice verb: mingled.
- Finally a must-read by another friend, Jim Walsh, in Southwest Journal in Minneapolis, on the funeral of the father of a friend. Jim's the real deal. Not just as a writer.
Lancelot Links, with Mike Blowers
Sober political pieces:
- Hendrik Hertzberg has been writing too many obituaries lately, as we all have, but here's a good one on former Carter press secretary Jody Powell.
- A smart take on the “is it racism or isn't it?” question regarding the vociferousness of the response to Pres. Obama's policies, via an unnamed reader on Andrew Sullivan's site. Money quote: “Of course they are screaming 'socialism.' They've been doing that since the 1950s at least. They're not talking about economic redistribution of wealth—they never have been. They've been talking about redistribution of privilege this whole time.”
- “Turkeys of the Year” from Minnesota Law & Politics, which is the first, parent magazine of the company that employs me. The difficulty isn't finding the turkeys anymore, it's choosing among them. There's a section here, “Quick! Cancel My Membership to the ACLU,” that is so full of the idiocies being spouted in public and political life that it might make the founding fathers rethink the First Amendment. Michele Bachmann rightly (no pun intended) gets her own section—including her frequent attacks on and insinuations about the U.S. Census Bureau. Glad that worked out. Then there's last year's gem from John McCain on why his pick, Sarah Palin, is qualified to be VP: “She knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America,” he said. How awful that reads today. What a sad thing they were trying to sell. What a sad thing they're still trying to sell.
Drunk movie pieces:
- What does it mean to be a back-up critic at a daily? It means you don't get first dibs. And it means that in looking over Rotten Tomatoes list of the worst-reviewed movies of the last 10 years, I discovered I reviewed no. 91 (“Surviving Christmas”), no. 36 (“The Whole Ten Yards”), no. 5 (“National Lampoon's Gold Diggers”) and...wait for it...no 1! (“Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever”) Not to nitpick...OK, to nitpick. “Gold Diggers” should've been no. 1. It was the worst thing I've ever seen—and I've seen garbage stewing for weeks by the side of a Taipei road in 100-degree heat. The big surprise for me is that “Elektra” didn't even make the cut. Now that's an impressive decade of film.
Partying baseball pieces:
- Ichiro is ejected from a game for the first time in his Major League career. Must've learned how to finally say “c***sucker.”
- Finally, here's an upper: In the pregame show before a late-September game between two teams going nowhere (Seattle at Toronto), color commenator and former third baseman Mike Blowers, known for the way he didn't crowd the plate during his playing days, made an insane prediction. He said Mariners rookie third baseman and Bellevue native Matt Tuiasosopo, who had all of 59 career at-bats going into the game, would hit his first career homerun that day. Not only that day but in his second at-bat. Not only in his second at-bat but on a 3-1 fastball and into the second deck in left field. Make sure you listen to what happens. I swear, Dave Niehaus has gotten such joy out of such lousy material—the short sad history of the Seattle Mariners—that he qualifies as the Patron Saint of the Pacific Northwest. And here, with great material, he's downright giddy. “I see the light! I believe you, Mike!” Way to go, Mike. Way to go, Dave. Touch 'em all, Tui. (UPDATE: Damn, even Rachel Maddow is on this story. Here she is, via Patrick Goldstein, who is also on this story. Hopefully more get on the story. It's a story worth telling.) (UPDATE: Here's the full play-by-play of the Tui homerun. It's worth listening to the entire thing.)
- I have to admit I'm a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the Internet—it wastes too much time, it doesn't make enough money, there's so, so much crap on it—but every once in a while it tosses up something beautiful. This week it's Danny MacAskill's “Inspired Bicycles” video, which is like parkour for bike riders. I love this kind of thing because I'm so not like this. Kids, don't try this at home.
- Speaking of bikes and “crazy,” my friend Andy Engelson, who recently moved to Hanoi, finally got his bike out and rode around in Vietnamese traffic. Let Danny MacAskill try that!
- Over at the Film Experience blog, Nathaniel Rogers crunched the foreign-language Oscar numbers and came up with: “France.” That's the country that has the most recent noms and the most noms all-time. I love this kind of thing. Scroll down and it's obviously a work in progress, too, so keep coming back. It also raises questions. Beyond borders, what does the Academy reward? Or ignore? I think this looking at France. In the last 20 years, the one French film that actually won best foreign-language film was...Indochine? Long and stately and self-important without making a lick of sense. But the Academy's gotten better in recent years. Haven't they?
- Interesting column by David Leonhardt of the Times on med-mal practice and insurance rates. The money quote: “Here, then, is the brief version of the facts: The direct costs of malpractice lawsuits—jury awards, settlements and the like—are such a minuscule part of health spending that they barely merit discussion, economists say. But that doesn’t mean the malpractice system is working.”
- Will Ferrell Answers Internet Questions. One of the best takes on the lack of civility around these parts.
- I didn't watch the Emmys last Sunday (who does?) but I did check out Neil Patrick Harris' opening song, “Put Down the Remote,” which was a lot of fun and veered toward brilliance halfway through with this verse:
Straight from “Mad Men” there's Joan
Oh, the curves she's shown
They could make a blind man say “Damn”
She could turn a gay straight
Never mind, there's Jon Haaaaaaam!
And yes, I checked it out online for free. I'm part of the problem. But I'm trying to be civil. I'm trying real hard.
- My friends Andy and Joanie moved from Seattle to Hanoi earlier this month—with two young kids—and Andy's blogging about the adventure. And the life. Check it out.
- Great, simple and sarcastic piece by Nate Sliver over at FiveThirtyEight.com on the difference betwen the Canadian (single-payer) and the British (nationalized) health-care systems. Even I understood it. The funny thing, of course (or not-so-funny thing), is that Obama isn't proposing either. He's proposing a government option that would compete with private insurance. And even that simple plan has the wackos up in arms. Or carrying them. Maybe it's time to move to Hanoi.
- Meanwhile more revelations on the people who got us into this mess—the Bush administration—which most of these nutjobs supported, and would probably continue to support. So, yes, it turns out Karl Rove, and the White House, were involved in the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys. I mean how bad were these guys? It's not even funny anymore. I just get sick to my stomach.
- Andrew Sullivan's taking a break. He's right. Godspeed.
- Mark Seal's article in Vanity Fair about the making of "The Godfather" is a couple of months old but I only got around to reading it last night. Great hilarious stories and revelations. About who had mob connections and who didn't. About which lines were ad-libbed. (Would you believe: "Take the canoli"?) About the difference between frying and browning garlic. About the long list of actors considered for the role of Michael: Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, Ryan O'Neal, David Carradine, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. You read and realize all over again what a series of accidents any movie is. To this day Al Pacino doesn't know why the movie connected with audiences, but he adds, with great matter-of-factness, something that's close to the truth: "I would guess that it was a very good story, about a family, told unusually well by Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola." Mikey.
I'm pretty bad at this. I often think, "I should link that," but never get around to it. But here's a few articles/posts over the last few days from the usual suspects that are worth reading —or, in one instance, not:
- David Carr returns to form with his post-Oscar analysis, particularly this necessary reminder: "Despite all the planning and guile of production executives, directors, producers and marketing executives, movie magic is still something that occurs in the space between the audience and the screen at the front of the room."
- Andrew Sullivan stays in form while live-blogging Pres. Obama's speech.
- I missed some of the speech — I was in French class — but heard bits of it on the radio and TV afterwards and may watch the whole thing when I get the chance. In the meantime, I love the way he finds the greater truth between two intractable extremes: "Living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture."
- I read Oliver Willis a lot during the campaign, but he's floundered a bit since, and he's got some pretty ugly ads on his site now. Can't blame him much for that — we live in tough times. But he either needs to stay out of the movie business or dig deeper as to why he feels what he feels. Particularly if he feels, as he says he feels, that "Casablanca" is overrated. To me, he's just showing his youth.
- Researching an article at work, we came across this site about William Henry Harrison, our 9th president, and the etymology of the word "booze," which is a lot of fun.
- Leonard Cohen returns.
Last minute addition:
- Forgot Tim Arango's great piece on the killing of a newspaper editor in Oakland and how, in an age of cutbacks, a team of investigative journalists was formed to do what the police hadn't done. Someone call "The Wire" guys.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard