Monday, September 30, 2002 SAME AS THE OLD MOSS: The only thing more disgusting than the Minnesota Vikings' 48-23 shellacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks last night was the ESPN announcers' excuses for Randy Moss' abominable behavior. To the laundry list of Moss' transgressions (his arrest last week, his numerous failed drug tests, his lack of effort on the field in the last two years), we can now add three (three!) dropped touchdown passes in last night's game- but you wouldn't know that from announcers Mike Tirico and Joe Theissman, who pursued the erroneous argument that the 26-year-old Moss is "just a confused kid" who is "misunderstood," and that the fans in Seattle who booed Moss throughout the game wouldn't do so "if they knew his personal situation." I don't mean to sound like Phil Mushnick here, but come on- why can't these people (the announcers, the team, the league) stop enabling this punk, start holding him accountable for his numerous misdeeds, and stop making excuses? If I were the Vikings I would not let Moss take the field again until he has undergone professional help, be it for drug counseling or whatever other disorder he may have. Because a Moss suspension right now may be the only thing that can save the Vikings' season.
JOEY PANTS DOWN: If last night you watched "The Sopranos" instead of the Vikings-Seahawks game, I can provide you an, um, analogy: The Seahawks did to the Vikings what Janice did to Ralphie in their soon-to-be-infamous bedroom scene. For those of you who missed it, last night's episode featured Janice and Ralphie engaging an the act known as "pegging" (so named by Dan Savage), and the inclusion of that scene may very well mark the end of Joe Pantoliano's career as a tough-guy actor- I don't know how anyone in his target audience will ever look at him the same way again. Also, we can be sure that scene will be raised again in future storylines (i.e. the Uncle Junior cunnilingus scandal from season 1)- man, imagine if Tony finds out.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A HERO: Yesterday a group of friends and family members re-traced the steps taken by FDNY hero Stephen Siller, who went from Brooklyn to Ground Zero on 9/11/'01 and died while saving lives when the towers collapsed. Now someone surprisingly, today was the very first I ever heard of this 9/11 hero whose name is almost mine- and I must say I'm proud to (almost) share a name with such an heroic individual.
THE TORCH IS OUT: In the second honorable withdrawal by an Italian-American Democratic candidate from a tri-state political race in as many months, Senator Robert Torricelli announced today that he will drop out of the race for re-election. It was an announcement that, sadly for the Democrats' Senate hopes, should've come six months ago, considering that "The Torch" had been dogged by ethics questions in relation to his dealings with convicted financier David Chang. And while Torricelli was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, his "severe admonishment" by the Senate certainly put a damper on his re-election hopes. Dropping out now was the right thing to do, and might end up being the difference between Democratic or Republican control of the Senate.
My co-workers from last year's McGreevey campaign appeared to be sitting this one out; I've seen no presence of the campaign anywhere in Jersey for The Torch's very close race, while Hudson County was completely blanketed by McGreevey posters and literature even though his election was never seriously in doubt. Rumors say that if the the party bosses can't persuade Frank Lautenberg or Bill Bradley out of retirement for one more race, the pick will be Rep. Bob Menendez- my Congressman- and he's definately got my vote. It's not like Doug Forrester is anything special anyway.
BEST OF "BEST OF MANHATTAN": It took a whole week, but I finally finished reading New York Press' annual "Best of Manhattan" issue. Great stuff as usual, although nothing compared to last year's classic "Return of Cracky" item. This year's best were the takedown of Esquire's "What Every Man Should Know" feature (it's aimed, you see, at the "Straight Homosexual"- scroll halfway down), and Adam Heimlich's essay on the last ten years of hip-hop (although it makes the cardinal error of referring to Tupac and Biggie's deaths as "The Assassinations.") All in all, a very good effort from the New York Press gang- if you've got six hours to kill at work this week, I recommend checking it out.
FIRST ROUND PICKS: Braves in 4, Cardinals in 4, Yankees in 3, Twins in 5. No, that's not just wishful thinking.
Saturday, September 28, 2002 WINNING RYAN: In a game two weeks ago, Twins rookie outfielder Mike Ryan proved that every time you buy a ticket for a baseball game, something history-making can happen. Ryan led off that game against Detroit (the first of his career) with his first major league hit. And then, after the Twins batted around in the first inning, Ryan came up again and got another hit- thus becoming the first player in the 150-some year history of Major League Baseball to get two hits in the first inning of his first major league game. But, in a development indicating that perhaps the baseball gods weren't smiling upon Ryan after all, the game was called on account of rain after 3 innings, and thus the results (and Ryan's historical feat, were washed away as well).
Ryan then went two weeks without another base hit, thus running the risk of joining Archibald "Moonlight' Graham as a player who tasted the glory of reaching the major leagues without the satisfaction of a hit. But thankfully, Ryan made it just under the wire, finally getting his first major league hit (for real this time) in Friday's victory over the White Sox. Congrats Mike- it won't be the last.
PS: Next week for the Twins: Playoffs. PLAYOFFS??? Yes, Playoffs.
GRAFFITI POINT-COUNTERPOINT OF THE WEEK: Seen above the urinal in the mens' room of the Staten Island Ferry terminal:
POINT: "I'm angry that the black and white working classes won't join together and realize that it's all an issue of class!"
COUNTERPOINT: "That's right. People with class don't write on walls."
Friday, September 27, 2002 WHAT'S WRONG WITH "THE WEST WING"?: For the answer, check out my latest contribution to BlogCritics, linked here. 2:11 AM
HAVANA BODY: In the kind of move that an elected official can only even consider when he's not running for re-election, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura arrived in Cuba today to visit with dictator Fidel Castro and argue in favor of expanded trade with the isolated island nation.
The only way in which I would've approved of this course of action would be if Ventura had revisited his wrestling career and pulled a "heel turn" on Castro, perhaps smacking the dictator over the head from behind with a steel chair and then cutting an anticommunist "promo." I certainly can't think of a more patriotic or dignified way for the Guv to have ended his four years as a political figure than that.
AND IN OTHER CUBAN NEWS...: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got married over the weekend in Barbados. Perhaps his new wife will demand he finally buy furniture for his heretofore empty 24-room mansion.
Thursday, September 26, 2002 NEW YORK SPORTS RADIO CALLER QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Vinny Testaverde is currently the fifth-best quarterback in New York, behind Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington, Drew Henson, and Charlie Ward."
BADDER THAN OLD KING KONG...: Say hello to Junkyard Blog. Not only the best blog name ever, but a damn fine blog too.
Wednesday, September 25, 2002 LYRIC CHANGE SUGGESTION OF THE DAY: Perhaps Outkast should change the words of "The Whole World" to "catch a beat running down a traffic cop like Randy Moss." Get on it, Big Boi and Dre.
CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Lots new today: I have added links to several of my past writings at the lower left-hand corner of this blog (the red part). Also, after a weeks-long blogger snafu, all of the archives since May have finally been restored. Enjoy, and don't forget to comment.
THIS JUST IN: Adding to the Vikings' woes that I posted about 20 minutes ago, Randy Moss has been arrested after a JR Rider-like incident in which he hit a female traffic control agent with his car and subsequently pushed her half a block down a street in downtown Minneapolis. Judging by the length of city blocks in Minneapolis, Moss almost certainly pushed her further than 16 yards, which is what he gained on a mere four catches in Sunday's loss to Carolina.
Moss is currently being held on suspicion of assault with a dangerous weapon, and will likely be charged with second-degree assault on Wednesday. Now if you were the Vikings, would you post bail? Neither would I.
TALK TO ME!: Unlike The Onion, it is no longer the policy of this blog for the readers to have no voice whatsoever so that it may remain a one-way conduit of information. I have added a comments section at the bottom of each post; please comment early and often!
PURPLE PEOPLE EATEN: I've always been one to caution against trashing one's own team publically, but it must be said: the Minnesota Vikings suck. Everything that could've possibly gone wrong this season has, all of which has manifested itself in an 0-3 start. And it's going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better.
The team has a horrible owner (Red McCombs, who has Minnesota on constant alert that he's about to whisk the team off to LA or San Antonio) and a coach who never should've been hired (Mike Tice, who got the job on the basis of acting as McCombs' locker-room narc during the last year of the Dennis Green era -even though he was merely tight ends coach- and is best known as the guy who taunted tackle Korey Stringer about his weight mere hours before the lineman died from heat exhaustion.) The team's gross salary cap mismanagement has resulted in a severe depletion of both their offensive line and their entire defense; the Vikings haven't even been able to sign their first-round draft choice, tackle Bryant MacKinnie, who could be providing much-needed blocking help.
But worst of all, the Vikings made the decision to base the entire direction of their offense on Randy Moss, who behaves more like a six-year-old than an NFL superstar. How can a professional franchise be so afraid of a man who must get the ball a certain amount of time, lest he whine about it and decide to go home? And when he does get the ball that much, he still cries, and the team loses all its games to boot? Haven't we learned from recent world events that appeasement never works? And adding insult to insult, the Vikings' only unblemished asset going into the season, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, has played like an amateur, throwing four interceptions in Sunday's loss to Carolina and even getting into a sideline skirmish with Moss.
Tice is looking a lot like the second coming of Les Steckel, the coach who took over the Vikings for a year in 1984 and went 3-13 before he was fired. How in the world could this team hire Tice when a proven coach with ties to Minnesota (Tony Dungy) was available? And when the team has a huge, very public lawsuit pending by Stringer's widow, shouldn't Mike Tice (who is named in the suit) have been the last person to consider as their new head coach? McCombs is apparently emulating his baseball counterpart Carl Pohlad's strategy from throughout the '90s- when you're pushing for a new stadium, the best thing you can do is give off the impression that you're failing miserably in your current situation.
When a team is horrible for a long period of time (like the Arizona Cardinals, LA Clippers, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, etc.) the problem is usually trickled from ownership on down. While the Vikings are only in the second year of their down cycle, their organization is in such disarray, from top to bottom, that's it hard to imagine them emerging from their funk anytime soon. Especially not as long as Randy Moss is on the team.
All I can say is, thank God for the Twins.
WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH DUNLEAVY?: Steve Dunleavy, the New York Post's perpetually half-in-the-bag columnist, must've hit the sauce even harder than usual when he wrote Monday's column, in which he lamented that his best buddy in the world, Charles Schwarz, is going back to jail. Schwarz, you see, was one of the four cops accused in the Abner Louima sexual assault of 1997; after two trials he was convicted of participating in the assault. Then this year he was briefly freed before getting re-indicted (and re-convicted), this time for perjury, and was about to be brought to trial a fourth time on two other charges when he reached a plea bargain with prosecutors last week in which he will likely serve 33 months of a five-year sentence. All the while, Dunleavy has been Schwarz's most ardent backer; after all, the boozy old Aussie never met a rogue cop he didn't love.
In his column Dunleavy wants to make sure everyone knows that Schwarz isn't a coward and isn't a rat, because "Schwarz made no deal- the deal was [made by] prosecutor Alan Vinegrad." So since the deal was initiated by Vinegrad, Schwarz wasn't part of it and is thus absolved of responsibility for it? BOTH SIDES made the deal, you numbscull! That's why it's called a deal!
Now I'm in no position to judge Schwarz's innocence or guilt, but what is Dunleavy doing praising the defendant's wherewithal when he agreed to serve five more years for a crime he says he didn't commit? He ends the column with "true to his code as a former Marine, Chuck never cracked - Semper Fi." But wouldn't "not cracking" have entailed fighting the charges and refusing to accept any plea deal at all?
The problem with Dunleavy's columns is usually that they're off morally (like when he claimed that John Gotti was a great man "'cause he didn't steal people's money like Enron did"); this time, it's his logic that's completely wrong. I don't know if it's senility or alcoholism, but it might be time for his editors to step in and suggest retirement. Besides, with Gotti dead and Skakel and Schwarz both in the can, Dunleavy's running out of things to write about.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I was struggling to write another novel, but I had nothing to say. I still don't have anything to say, but I've since learned that that's not really a problem. No one has anything to say, but we've got to do something when we're not sleeping." -Jonathan Ames
Monday, September 23, 2002 THE EMMY OF MY EMMY IS MY FRIEND: I only saw the second half of last night's Emmy Awards, as prior to that I was laying my eyes upon the twin wonderment that is "The Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I generally agree with most of the decisions on the major awards (great that Michael Chiklis won Best Actor for "The Shield"; he's a damn good actor on a damn good show) with the glaring exception of Outstanding Drama Series. Seeing as how "The West Wing" delivered by the far the weakest of its three seasons, punctuated by that insulting and condescending "terrorism" episode/lecture, how it could overtake the amazing "Six Feet Under" is beyond me- especially since "Six"'s second season was much better than its first, when it managed to beat "West Wing" for the award. I would've even been happy if "Law & Order" had won, especially considering that its terrorism-based season finale was the best episode of any television series all of last year. At any rate, when Aaron Sorkin created "West Wing" in 1999 I bet he never guessed he'd be accepting an Emmy Award from presenter Rudy Giuiliani.
PS: Speaking of "The Sopranos," I like everyone else have been amazed by the first two episodes of Sopranos IV. However, I am a little bit confused about the timeline, since the show took 18 months off on its production schedule. The third season seemed to incapsulate Meadow's freshman year at Columbia, and since it aired from March-May of 2001 I assumed the timeline of the season was from the fall of 2000 until the spring of 2001. There were, after all, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Super Bowl-themed episodes at midseason of Season 3. So now Meadow is about to start her sophomore year, so you'd think it would be September of 2001. BUT, that was of course when 9/11 occurred, and we know from current dialogue that 9/11 and the Enron scandal have both already happened, so it must be August or September 2002. Where'd that extra year go? Must be the same logic that explains how James Bond is the same age now as he was in 1964.
FAULTY HITLER SYLLOGISM OF THE DAY: Hitler had a mustache. Geraldo Rivera has a mustache too. Therefore, Geraldo Rivera is just like Hitler! 11:41 PM
AND NOW FOR THE MOST LUDACRIS ITEM OF THE DAY...: Bill O'Reilly has come out in favor of "The Sopranos," saying that "it takes vicious hoodlums and shows their human sides. The actors are so good, so convincing, that the audience sees real people on the screen." But he follows this up with the highly insincere sobriquet that he "roots for the feds" to catch Tony and his fellow hoodlums. How he can do this I'll never know; if the feds catch the whole mob then there's no more show for him to praise.
But how can O'Reilly endorse "The Sopranos" when he previously started a national boycott of the relatively innocuous rapper Ludacris? After all, pretty much all the lyrical content he ripped Ludacris for (violence, violence against women, sexism, glamorization of the criminal lifestyle, ethnic self-stereotyping, etc.) is right there in virtually every "Sopranos" episode. The reason "The Sopranos" and Ludacris and Eminem are acceptable despite all of that is because they practice their craft extremely well- better, in fact, than anyone else. "The Sopranos" is generally considered up there with the great television shows of all time, Eminem is currently the most important artist in popular music, and Ludacris is up there with the top acts in rap, because of his excellent lyrics and even better delivery. Seems like O'Reilly has one standard for "gangsters" and another for "gangstas."
This is a familiar hypocrisy, of white people (conservative or not) who blast rap music as "violent," "sexist," and all of the other buzzwords, yet count "The Godfather" as their favorite movie, love the sexual humor of "Animal House," and stand steadfastly for free speech as long as the people doing the speaking look like them.
In the meantime, I'd love to know whether or not O'Reilly watches "Oz." Who's his favorite O'Reilly brother, Ryan or Cyril? Has he seen the episode where Cyril beats up a visiting TV journalist?
NEIN!: Gerhard Schroeder was unfortunately re-elected Chancellor of Germany on Sunday, after a flap in which a top minister in his cabinet, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, compared President Bush to Hitler. Schroeder then issued a ridiculous and embarassing non-apology-apology in which he denied that the minister had actually made the Hitler comparison, but that if she had, she'd be very sorry. She should be- how can any German draw a comparison between Hitler and the president of the nation which freed her country from Hitler? The "apology" was technically correct, however, because that minister never actually used the word "Hitler," but in fact referred to the fuhrer as "Adolf Nazi." That, if you ask me, is even worse than any malapropism Dubya has made since becoming President.
Unfortunately, it's not just far-off Germans who are comparing Bush to Hitler over the Iraq question. Even normally sensible "Schlock and Roll" cartoonist Ward Sutton gets in the act here. (Well, maybe he just looks sensible sharing the Village Voice's letters page with that lunatic Ted Rall). I mean, come on now- wasn't "Holocaust rhetoric" considered beyond the pale until very recently? And shouldn't the recent upsurge in worldwide anti-Semitism make people think twice about such argumentative cheap shots? Did the Supreme Court strike down Godwinn's Law when I wasn't looking?
Let's get a couple of things straight: whatever you think about George W. Bush personally or politically, and whatever you think about his foreign policy, he hasn't put people in concentration camps, he hasn't expressed his desire for a "pure" Aryan race, and he's not about to appoint himself dictator-for-life. And most importantly, he's never made any effort to commit genocide, which is more than I can say for Iraq. Or, for that matter, Germany.
TERROR ON THE FIRST BASELINE: I've been going to baseball games with my father for my entire life. We've gone everyone from Wrigley to Fenway, Yankee Stadium to Shea Stadium, and we've seen everything from no-hitters to triple-plays to World Series championships (two of 'em, by the way). But in none of those instances did my dad and I decide to run out onto the field and beat the stuffings out of the opposing team's first base coach.
Local dirtbag William Ligue, Jr., and his 15-year-old son Billy did just that Thursday night in Chicago, as they lept, shirtless, out of the stands at Comiskey Park and jumped Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. Ligue claimed that Gamboa had somehow provoked them by giving them the finger, though it should go without saying that no one believes them; after all, that doesn't explain why they decided to take their shirts off. What appeared at first to be something out of "Jackass" was really just a case of two guys who got drunk as a skunk and thought it might be fun to physically attack a 58-year-old man. If they hadn't been at the game that night they likely would've done the same thing at the local bowling alley, or perhaps in privacy of their own home (NOTE: no Iverson reference implied in either of those examples). But since it happened at a televised sporting event, both Ligue boys are likely headed for a long jail stint, possibly in Joliet.
PS: An e-mailer to National Review Online's "The Corner" blog refers to the above-mentioned incident as an "anti-small market hate crime," which is just about the funniest thing I've heard all week. That makes sense- a couple of big-city good ol' boys decide to protest the recently passed "affirmative action" (AKA revenue sharing) and take matters into their own hands. Happens all the time.
Sunday, September 22, 2002 BUT THERE'S JUST ONE LAVERANUES: According to Sports Illustrated, there are seven different players in the NFL with the same first name, but all with different spellings: There's Antoine (Winfield), Anton (Palepoi), Antowain (Smith), Antuan (Edwards), Antwaan (Randle-El), Antwan (Lake), and Antwoine (Womack). Interestingly enough, there's not a single Antoine, Antwan, or Antwaan among the ranks of NFL coaches- how could that be?
TRIUMPH OF THE WILCO: My review of the documentary "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (about the band Wilco) is online at American Dreamer Filmworks. Try to catch this fine film if you can as long as it remains in its very limited release.
Thursday, September 19, 2002 WHAT YOU FUCK?: On my one and only trip to Israel seven years ago, there was a man named Schlomo who ran a kiosk near our campus where he sold falafel and other such fried delicacies. An enormous, middle-aged man who bore more than a passing resemblance to Ariel Sharon, Schlomo was my first exposure to the colorful, ethnic shopkeeper, an archetype that I would become much more acquainted with in my later New York life. Schlomo was famous in the area both for his food and his vulgarity, as he would bark out his favorite all-purpose catchphrase, "What You Fuck," at random times throughout the day. No one ever knew what, exactly, "what you fuck" meant, but it was generally concluded that it was his way of saying "what's up"- the only way Schlomo knew of bonding with the young Americans on the trip.
Reading the latest news out of the Middle East (6 dead in a bombing near Afula), all I can think is, yes, "what you fuck?" How can this nonsense continue? How can the world not only allow this horrible behavior, but (in many cases) condone it and take the Palestinians' side? The signs that the PLO is looking to dump Arafat is encouraging, but I'll believe that when I see it- we all dream of peace someday in the region, but with each bombing it only looks to be further and further away.
ROSIE'S OUT: It was announced yesterday that Rosie O'Donnell has decided to walk away from her self-titled magazine, which will be shut down after the completion of its December issue. This marks the latest bit of offbeat news to come from Rosie this year- first she quit her long-running talk show, then came out of the closet and became a political activist on gay issues, and also did a series of stand-up gigs in which she moved far away from her "queen of nice" image and ventured into extreme ribaldry.
I went on record years ago as someone who loathed Rosie O'Donnell and everything about her. I hated her movies, hated her talk show, and experienced what felt like severe migraines every time I heard the sound of her voice. But it shames me to say that I've almost taken a liking to the "New Rosie." I find her activism on behalf of gay rights and adoption very admirable, and she greatly impressed me in her recent interview by Bill O'Reilly- perhaps doing a better job of handling Mr. Factor than anyone else in the history of his show.
But I think most of all, I disliked the Old Rosie because she was so artificial- she was pretending to be nicer than she is, and she was pretending not to be gay, and now that she's being "herself" more, I find it much easier to have respect for her. Whether the folding of Rosie Magazine marks the end of O'Donnell's career as a public figure remains to be seen, but -I never thought I'd say this- she can now count me as a fan.
Wednesday, September 18, 2002 WHERE WERE YOU IN '39?: I'm generally supportive of the plan to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, and believe that he is a true threat to the U.S. and will continue to be as long as he's in power. But just as I generally hate hearing Hitler invoked in any form of modern debate about politics or foreign policy, I'm sick to death of this argument that "anyone who underestimates the threat of Saddam Hussein in 2002 sounds just like Neville Chamberlain in 1939." Yea, I suppose that's true. But if I were to say "no, I don't think my dog is much of a threat to start a major genocide or acquire weapons of mass destruction," wouldn't I also sound just like Neville Chamberlain in 1939, even though I'd be right? Intelligent people can disagree about foreign policy, and not every liberal is an appeaser, let's not forget that. I hear the same ill logic being used by extremist Jews who always see Holocaust II coming right around the corner, and anyone who disagrees is, once again, "just like 1939." That's starting to be up there, on the shear annoyance scale, with "worse than Hitler" and "otherwise, the terrorists win" in the realm of argumentative cheap-shots.
Tuesday, September 17, 2002 WE'RE GONNA WIN, TWINS!: Congratulations are in order for the Minnesota Twins, the 2002 AL Central division champions, and the first team in the American League to qualify for a playoff berth. Having overcome near-contraction and a near-strike, the very small-market Twins outlasted the higher-revenue Indians and White Sox and the grossly mismanaged Royals and Tigers in order to earn the crown. Now I've been saying all year that a Twins' playoff appearance would be enough to make me happy, but think about it: does a Minnesota championship look any less likely now than it did in September of 1987, when the Twins had only four quality pitchers (Viola, Blyleven, Reardon, Berenguer) and fewer wins than they do now? (That year, incidentally, Game 1 of the ALCS fell on Erev Rosh Hashanah, while this year the Twins clinched on Erev Yom Kippur- and as we all know, Game 1 of the 1965 World Series fell on Yom Kippur as well, and that's why the Twins didn't face Sandy Koufax at Met Stadium that night.) I'm not saying the Twins will be World Champions, but I am saying that it wouldn't necessarily surprise me. Makes me wish I'd gone through with my idea, during the contraction crisis, to go to Vegas and bet $100 on a Twins championship.
At any rate, the Twins are in the playoffs, George Bush is President, Guns 'n' Roses is on MTV, and we're going to war with Iraq... are we sure it's 2002 and not that other palindromic year, 1991?
Monday, September 16, 2002 MUSIC CRITIC QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "The worst part of any Kenny G album is the ol' Mr. G himself. Several tracks from his latest CD could've been perfectly servicable slow jams. But then the sappily romantic G starts trilling away on his soprano saxophone, creating the cringe-worthy sonic equivalent of an unwanted erotic massage." -Craig Seymour, revisiting the classic art of Kenny G-bashing, in Entertainment Weekly.
Saturday, September 14, 2002 HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE WORLD FOR SALE: Heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis decided last week to give up his IBF heavyweight title rather than face Chris Byrd, a mandated challenger whom he had rightly deemed unworthy (Lewis will retain the WBC version of the title). Then, this week, Sports Illustrated reported that Lewis had agreed to sell the belt to Don King for $1 million so that King may promote a fight in order to fill the vacant title.
This story bears an uncanny resemblance to a WWF storyline from 1988, when Hulk Hogan was in his fourth year as that organization's world heavyweight champion but was about to leave for several months to film the infamous movie "No Holds Barred." The WWF needed to come up with a way for Hogan to drop the title without actually losing in the ring, so they introduced a storyline in which villain "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase offered to buy the belt from Hulk for $1 million. The principled and virtuous Hulkster of course refused, so DiBiase moved on to Plan B, "rigging" a nationally-televised match between Hogan and Andre the Giant so that Andre would win, and then buying the belt from Andre for that same $1 million. But on-air figurehead president Jack Tunney stepped in, disallowed the transaction, and put the title up for grabs in a tournament at Wrestlemania IV, which was won by the "Macho Man" Randy Savage.
If you had any remaining doubts about the anarchic nature that the sport of boxing now finds itself in, the heavyweight champion of the world sold his belt for $1 million to a famously crooked promoter -something that was previously disallowed when it happened, in make-believe wrestling- and no one even batted an eye. That's because even though the WWF had its fictional figurehead authority figure Jack Tunney, boxing has not even that.
But look at it this way: each year George Steinbrenner spends well north of $100 million in his effort to buy a championship; in boxing and wrestling it only costs $1 million.
Friday, September 13, 2002 SULLY VS. NEAL: Neal Pollack, the Greatest American Writer, is now a blogger! Or rather, perhaps he's a "parody" of a blogger. And one of his first posts is a clever scewering of Mr. Sullivan.. whom to root for here? This could be the Jay-Z vs. Nas of blogger battles...
Thursday, September 12, 2002 VOICE AGAINST AMERICA: Yesterday was the time for touchy-feeling commemorations of 9/11; now it's okay to get angry again. During lulls at work today I read the Village Voice's 9/11 anniversary coverage, which contained no rememberances whatsoever of any of the victims, nor any reference to survivors, or even to the "hole in the soul" of New York (and America) that remains to this day. No, for them 9/11 is the time to talk not of the remarkable unity our city and our country have experienced in the last year, but rather of just how horrible our country has been, to the rest of the world and to ourselves. Unless you're an ardent leftist, it'll be hard to read this week's Voice without wanting to tear it in half.
First crazy Washington correspondent James Ridgeway, who's been writing for years as though "the Christers" are planning another Holocaust and it's right around the corner, writes a ludicrous piece called "I Hear America Sinking," in which he lays out all the ways America is in the shitter. But he doesn't write it like it makes him sad- in fact, he's downright giddy. It's as though he can't wait for the next big attack, 'cause that way we'll all get what we deserve.
Any territory not covered by Ridgeway is picked up by Alisa Soloman, on hiatus from writing her usual valentines to the "activists" of Hamas. Her "Things We Lost in the Fire" is not only just as laughable as Ridgeway's ramblings, but it's also dishonest, with factual errors all over the place.
Now I preface by saying that I am no great fan of George W. Bush, and certainly not of John Ashcroft. I agree that this administration has enacted legislation and put into place policies that are certainly questionable with regards to civil liberties. I'll be the first to admit that they've gone too far. But to put forth the notion that the civil liberties issue is the story to come out of 9/11 is not only closed-minded, but it's absolutely insulting to every person who died that day.
Solomon laments the "thousands" of Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants who were detained for months, and later deported. But what she doesn't mention is that virtually all of those people were illegal immigrants who had either overstayed their visas or never had visas in the first place- and many of them had earlier been on terrorist "watch" lists. How can anyone complain that people who aren't even supposed to be in the country are being punished? Solomon goes on to protest the firings of talk show host Bill Maher and openly terror-supporting college professor Sami al-Arian, as though they're indicative of Fascist America raising its ugly head; of course, neither man was fired by the government, and every single day constant, pointed criticism of both President Bush and the War on Terror takes place -from college campuses to comedians to media outlets from the New York Times on down- and of course not a word of it has ever been censored by the government. Nor should it be.
Solomon doesn't stop with empty accusations- she also makes several surprisingly shoddy factual errors: She calls the Vice President's wife "Lynn" Cheney; Tom Ridge is referred to as head of the "Homeland Security Department," when of course his current title is "Director of the Office of Homeland Security" (the Department doesn't yet exist, and when it does it will be led by a Security of Homeland Security, who will not necessarily be Ridge). She lambasts the ineffectiveness of the new airport security measures by invoking the case of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid; as anyone who followed that case knows, Reid's presence on the flight can't be blamed on U.S. security screeners because he boarded in Paris. And most insultingly of all, Solomon calls the name "USA PATRIOT Act" a "jingoistic acronym." Gotta love when just the thought, just the mention, of America, or the flag, or patriotism itself, is dismissed merely as "jingoism." And she writes this on 9/11. How dare she.
In the Voice's strange morality, the deportation of an immigrant who was in the country illegally is somehow a greater tragedy than an innocent person killed by a kamikaze jet or a suicide bomb. What Ridgeway, Solomon, Richard Goldstein, and the gang don't realize is that they are defending the "liberties" of people who would likely kill them in a heartbeat if given the chance. Because to them, Bin Laden isn't the real bad guy. Bush is. So unless you're a masochist, ignore the Voice's sub-Chomsky drivel and read this amazing piece by James Lileks instead. That'll teach you all you need to know about how to remember September 11- and its true impact on America.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 9/11/'02: It's honestly very hard to think of anything to write to do a day like today justice. But all I can say is that the entire vibe of the day (flags and "God Bless America" everywhere I looked in the city and in Hoboken; 24/7 TV coverage) almost took me back in time to 9/11 and the week after. And yes it was sad, and yes the wall-to-wall TV coverage got to be too much, but you know what? I wouldn't want it any other way- are we better off just ignoring it? I think we owe it to the victims, their families, and our great nation itself to give them the recognition they deserve- and that means never forgetting them. And if not forgetting requires the existence of nonstop media coverage, then so be it.
Just as with most blanket criticisms of "The Media," I disagree with this one. If you don't like constant commemorations of the tragedy on TV, I would suggest not watching, and remembering 9/11 in your own way. I remember the first week or two after September 11 I was glued to the TV virtually nonstop- because there was news being uncovered at all times, and also because I knew I was watching history unfold before my eyes- a cathartic event in American history had occurred, and right outside my window at that. I think, in place of anger, sadness, or horror (those would all come later), I became obsessed with finding out exactly why this had happened, so I resolved not to turn off the TV until I had learned all that I possibly could about that horrible day.
So I learned, and I observed, and I realized what exactly was so great about this country of ours. As a result my identity (as a human being, as a Jew, as an American) has been become stronger- just as our country has become stronger as well. That's why when I see an American flag on someone's window or car, when others would scoff and think "ugh, so jingoistic!", I smile. And when I hear someone play the "but" game ("the 9/11 attacks were horrible, but..." "The Palestinians really should stop the suicide bombings, but...") I just want to shake them and remind them of that horrible day. So to the Chomskys of the world, I say, God help you. If you can continue to hate America after this past year, I guess you're beyond help.
So after visiting Hoboken's Pier A earlier this evening (site of a park that was formerly in the shadow of the Twin Towers) I will say Kaddish for the victims and then go to bed. And I'll be thankful that Osama and Co. have for the most part been kept at bay for the past year, and hopeful that that remains the case for as long as possible. Tomorrow we will return to our normal lives once again- but again, let's not ever forget. Some people took their flags down at some point between last September 11 and today. Tonight, I put a new one up.
NOT A MIND MELD, JUST A PHONE INTERVIEW: This morning I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mr. Spock himself, the legendary Leonard Nimoy. The occasion was the debut of a new exhibit of his photography work at Hebrew Union College's museum, as well as the release of his book of the same photographs, "Shekhina." Mr. Nimoy was very friendly on the phone and answered all sorts of questions about both his photography and his acting, though I didn't get a chance to ask him about the "Body Wars" show at EPCOT or the ghost in "Three Men and a Baby" (both of which he directed). And while the photographs are of various women meant to represent the feminine aspect of God, it may be of interest to some of you that they are (to paraphrase Garnett and Marbury) all nude. Tastefully done, but definately- all nude. Look for my Nimoy interview in The Blueprint in the September issue.
Tuesday, September 10, 2002 9/9/'01: It's always been hard for me to think of September 11 without first thinking of September 9. A year ago yesterday I went with three friends (one of whom was this guy) to Yankee Stadium for a Yankees-Red Sox game, and the night before that we engaged in some drunken revelry at the famous East Village tavern McSorley's. I even took my friend ten minutes out of the way to walk over to Hoboken's pier and show him the view of the Twin Towers.
Ever since then I've wondered- there had to have been 50,000 people in the Stadium that day, and at least 50 in the bar. While I didn't directly know anyone who perished on 9/11, I must have come into contact with dozens (if not hundreds) of people that day who met their tragic end two days later. That just tells you something about the indiscriminate nature of terrorism- you could be hoisting a pint, watching the game, or sitting in your university cafeteria, when all hell breaks loose. But I suppose we can be glad that, except for that lunatic at LAX on the Fourth of July, there has been no terrorism at all within America's borders in the last year.
OUT WITH THE OLD: Blogcritics has been redesigned, and now they've added film and world affairs culture as well- look for my writings on both.
ANOTHER REASON TO SUPPORT ISRAEL: They don't let their 2-year-olds carry guns, like this charming Hamas dad does. Their shameless exploitation of children is really starting to rival that of NAMBLA.
'BURN YOUR SIDDUR' AWARD NOMINEE: Our newest award is for crazy and/or nonsensical things said or done by rabbis or Jewish laypeople which either reflect poorly on Jews, encourage stereotypes, or just plain make you shake your head in disbelief. It is based on a comment by Rabbi Rolando Matalon of Congregation B'nai Jeshuran ("BJ") in Manhattan, who once charged that if we as congregants didn't contribute to a certain charitable cause that he favored, we "might as well burn your siddur [prayer books]."
This week's nominee concerns on effort by a French rabbi, Pauline Bebe, who is in charge of a long-established congregation in Paris. The synagogue has been in the same building for decades, but recently the neighborhood has "changed," and is now occupied predominantly by Muslims who are immigrants from North Africa. This turn of events has had predictable results, as these young African Muslims haven't taken too kindly to having a synagogue in their midst, and vice versa; there have been several incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism. So this rabbi has begun an international campaign to raise money so that they may build a new synagogue in a different area, one that is predominantly Jewish and far away from the African Muslim riffraff.
Now the subject of resurgant anti-Semitism in Europe is something that certainly should not be trivialized. But it's something that should be encountered head-on, not run away from. Essentially, what this temple is doing is looking for international financing in order to undertake white flight. Why is this? Didn't a large perentage of America's Jewish community move away from inner cities in the '60s and '70s, without a dime of money from any worldwide channels? It's a well-established phenomenon- every time I'm around old Jews I still hear how bitter they still are about how the old neighborhood changed (sometimes ignorance can be comical), and last year on the High Holidays I sang at the last standing reform synagogue in Jersey City, which was populated almost entirely by people over 70 who never got the memo about the post-'67 white flight from JC and Newark. I've even heard reports that's there's been "white flight" by Jews in Jerusalem- not away from blacks or even Palestinians, but from "black hats"- ultra-Orthodox Jews who don't work (as they study all day and collect government welfare checks) and thus contribute nothing to their neighborhood's economy.
Could you imagine if an American synagogue today tried to start a nationwide drive for money so they could move out of their old, inner-city neighborhood because it had become predominantly black and local kids had broken in a few times? They might get the money, but (rightly) they'd get an NAACP boycott first.
WOMEN AND MEN: When I went to camp as a kid back in Minnesota, there was one cabin that was a little bit bigger and nicer than the others, and it was called the Arrow Cabin. Each year, for the week-long overnight portion of camp, the boys and girls would be split up, with all of one gender sleeping in the Arrow Cabin and the other being split among several smaller, inferior cabins. The Arrow Cabin was always coveted by each sex, though it was assigned on a year-by-year rotating basis, and my year (unfortunately) was the girls' turn.
As "Sex and the City" is ending for the year tomorrow night and "The Sopranos" is returning next Sunday, I think we can safely say that Sunday 9PM timeslot on HBO is the 21st century adult national television equivilant of the Arrow Cabin. One is the obsession of males and the other of females, though only one can have it at any given time- and when they don't have it, they must merely wait their turn (in the "The Sopranos"' case they must wait, literally, 'til next year).
Men have had to deal with the women in their lives (as well as the women on the subway, in their offices, and everywhere else) constantly yapping about "Sex and the City" for the entire summer. But thankfully our day has come: every Sunday from next week until next January, there will be both a full afternoon of NFL football, and a new episode of "The Sopranos." Hallelujah.
(However, since the "Sopranos" premiere is scheduled for Erev Yom Kippur and last year's premiere of the "Bruce Springsteen Live in New York City" concert fell on the first night of Passover, I can't help but wonder if HBO is actively discriminating against Jewish people from New Jersey).
BEST TOM FRIEDMAN COLUMN EVER: Check out this gem on what to teach children about 9/11 on the anniversary. While it's hard to disagree with almost anything in it, I think what I like more about Friedman's 9/11 "lesson plan" is that it's simple, and doesn't fall prey to that elitist condescension that is omnipresent in just about everything the New York Times publishes on virtually every subject. Bravo, Tom. Mim Kagol taught you well.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Printers are a lot like sorority girls. They believe that, as soon as there's a problem, your best bet is to cease communication with anyone beyond barely acknowledging their existence, and to stop eating. My computer, being a jovial, good natured plastic box, wanted desperately to see if Evil Printer was okay. Evil Printer, however, stopped taking its calls, and didn't even nibble on all the nice paper I put out for it." -blogger Scott Ganz. 8:24 PM
Friday, September 06, 2002 THEY'RE BACK...: Just in time for the Twins' playoff drive- it's the return of the Homer Hankies!
ANDREW, PART II: Cuomo finally dropped out of the race for New York governor on Tuesday after a shockingly lackluster campaign; Bob Herbert in the Times has a great description of why. What a smug jerk Cuomo comes across as- to think I almost went to work for that guy.
Thursday, September 05, 2002 ME SO KOURNIKOVA: Sports Illustrated has been doing a lot of things right since new editor Terry "Big Sky" McConnell took over last spring, in the area of feature writing- most notably Gary Smith's piece last month on the fight over Barry Bonds' 73rd home run ball and William Nack's feature two weeks ago on the 30th anniversary of the Munich Olympic massacre. With the exception of the new Page Six-like "Sports Beat" page, the magazine has generally gotten more readable and enjoyable, without sacrificing any of its integrity or journalistic quality. Until last week, that is, when they pretty much threw it all to the winds with one mind-boggling breach of editorial judgment.
In last week's issue SI ran a profile of Simonya Popova, an up-and-coming women's tennis star from Uzbekistan who has the skills of the Williams sisters and the looks of Anna Kournikova. Problem is, Popova doesn't actually exist. She was invented by writer Jon Wertheim, who defended his story as a satirical "work of fiction," meant to parody both Kournikova and Williams-mania and also reference the new movie "Simone" (about a fictional, computer-generated movie star; the "photo" of Popova included with the story is a computer-generated photo illustration). The Popova hoax was also in the tradition of Sidd Finch, a Mets pitching prospect who purportedly threw 168 miles per hour but turned out to be about as real as the Mets' 2002 playoff hopes.
I have a few problems with this reasoning. The Finch hoax, first of all, was published in SI on April Fools' Day and most people figured out the joke relatively quickly in that context. The movie "Simone" is so far below the cultural radar that most readers probably didn't even think to make that connection. It strongly hurts Sports Illustrated's credibility when they're randomly inserting fake stories in with all the real ones and it's up to their readers to guess. And worst of all, the story was pointless- there are several different young female tennis players who are both attractive and skillful, so there's no point in making up a fake one. Let's hope SI learns from this brouhaha and decides to limit its articles in the future to truthful material.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?: I probably should say something about new NFL season, which starts tonight with the Giants-49ers game up the road at the Meadowlands. I'm not sure what I think about this starting-on-Thursday thing; this contest so far has had the feel of a pre-season game and besides, it makes it tougher for people nationwide to bet on all the games when they have to remember one more game on the Thursday before.
As for the season itself, there's really no point in making predictions because football is the only sport in which a team can go from absolutely awful to championhip-caliber in one year- after all, the last three Super Bowl winners (the Rams, Ravens, and Patriots) were all ghastly the year before and entered their championship seasons seemingly in peril. Who's the team this year? Could it be the Browns, or the Falcons, or the Lions? Nah, not the Lions. Not as long as that big galoot Matt Millen is in charge.
So how about my Vikings? Well, they have a good quarterback, which is more than I can say for a lot of teams, if a team's got a QB it's hard to totally count them out. But you never know what Randy Moss' next tantrum will be about, and the defense has been so depleted by salary cap departures that when they signed free agent Greg Biekert last week, he became the one and only Vikings defensive player that I've heard of. I predict they go 9-7; no playoffs. As for the regular season I'll go along with the conventional (and thus most certainly wrong) wisdom: Rams over Steelers in Super Bowl XXXVII.
SEX AND THE SINGLE MUPPET: Back in one of my college film classes the professor, a noted expert on the period known as "Pre-Code Hollywood," brushed off a silly description someone had given of some forgotten B-movie by stating that "inter-species sexuality is something that the Hollywood Production Code probably would've frowned on."
Upon hearing this I immediately thought of the 1985 film "The Muppets Take Manhattan"- yes, it ends with an historic frog-pig wedding (likely the first and only in motion-picture history), but what really struck me was the subplot involving the endearing but ultimately unconsummated flirtation between Kermit the Frog and "Jenny" (a human female), and Miss Piggy's bitterness and jealousy over the matter. While of course the Hollywood Production Code was long gone by the '80s, I can understand why Henson & Co. would be skittish about human-frog intercourse- though why is it considered acceptable for Kermit and Miss Piggy (who are of two species just as different from one another as frogs and humans) to not only romance each other for decades, but eventually join in holy matrimony?
Fast forward to 2002. The sex-between-humans-and-talking-animal-puppets taboo has been shattered numerous times on television and in movies, must notably on the now-canceled series "Greg the Bunny" and in numerous bits involving Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (just tonight, Triumph was seen in a music video violating J.C. Chasez of 'N Sync). There's even something called the "furry" movement that's starting to creep out of fetish circles and into the mainstream (at least, among those who read Savage Love.) I'd like to think, though, that even after Jim Henson's death we can still count on the Muppets to maintain their innocense, and not go off screwing around with people. But I guess I counted wrong because now even the Muppets have been corrupted.
In the new video for the Weezer song "Keep Fishin'," the band has graduated from "Happy Days" to a performance on "The Muppet Show"- until drummer Pat Wilson is kidnapped by Miss Piggy and tied up in the back, apparently as a prelude to some kind of sexual assault. This is highly problematic for several obvious reasons: Miss Piggy is not only committing those crimes in addition to kidnapping, but she's also committing adultry, as she is presumably still married to Kermit. And worst of all, human-muppet sexual contact is hinted at, until Wilson thankfully escapes and rejoins the band (replacing Animal, who had sat in on drums). I've always been strongly against censorship in entertainment, but such a thing is a good argument for the return of the Production Code. Hell, if there's ever a Lieberman Administration, you can count on it.
IDOL CHATTER: The inaugural competition of "American Idol" ended tonight with a victory for Kelly Clarkson, a 20-year-old Texan who will now be awarded a $1 million record contract. Now I must preface by saying that I didn't watch any episode of "American Idol" for more than two minutes, but I have one observation: Clarkson could become a star on the level of Britney Spears for all I know, but all the while she's virtually guaranteed to have "American Idol" in front of her name at all times for the remainder of her career. "And nominated for Best New Artist, American Idol Kelly Clarkson!" I can only think of one other American who has that same problem: American Taliban John Walker.
Tuesday, September 03, 2002 GREAT UNCLES: Uncle Junior, Uncle John's Band, Uncle Fucka ("South Park"), Uncle Tupelo (alt-country band), Uncle Goddamn, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Uncle Ben's (rice), Uncle Fester, Uncle Jesse ("Dukes of Hazzard"), Uncle Bobo (Boris' Kitchen).
NOT-SO GREAT UNCLES: "Uncle" Joe Stalin, Uncle Kracker, Uncle Leo ("Seinfeld"), Uncle Eddie Savitz (Pennsylvania child molester), Uncle Tom.
Monday, September 02, 2002 BRANDEIS FOOTBALL: STILL UNDEFEATED: In a moment that football-deprived Brandeis students can only dream of, Florida International University's brand-new football team took the field last week for the first game in the school's history, which they won 27-3 over Jersey City-based St. Peters College. The event was an instance of immense pride for FIU students, as the school is also debuting its new band (in addition, oddly enough, to a new law school).
On the heals of a newly-released Princeton Review survey that ranks Brandeis students the fourth least-happy out of 350 schools surveyed, it's more important than ever that my old school do something to get the level of happiness up. Legalize frats. Tell those PC zealots that they're not welcome. Get rid of that nonsense that requires people to "register" if they want to have a party. And by all means, bring back football! If that won't restore school spirit, nothing will.
FEELS SO EMPTY WITHOUT MIM: School starts tomorrow at my alma mater, St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota (it started last week at my other alma mater), and this year will be the first in over 30 years without legendary journalism teacher Miriam "Mim" Kagol, who retired in June. In addition to teaching journalism, Mim advised the school's perennially award-winning newspaper the Echo, of which I was a writer and Student Life Editor from 1994-'96. I give Mim credit for teaching me just about everything I know about writing and setting me on the path towards journalism; New York Times foreign-affairs columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman has gone on record as giving Mim the same accolades. I also think it says something that even though Friedman and myself both share another alma mater (Brandeis), we both learned more from our high school writing teacher than from any journalism professor in college.
Sunday, September 01, 2002 WHY I HAVE NO OPTIMISM WHATSOEVER ABOUT THE '02 VIKINGS: "Meet the new Moss- same as the old Moss? Given that a year ago [center Matt] Birk and several others were making similar comments about [Randy] Moss' newfound maturity, how do we know the Vikings won't get fooled again?" - Sports Illustrated's Michael Silver (no relation), in his cover story on work-averse Vikings receiver Randy Moss.