Friday, February 28, 2003 NOT FEELING WELLS: In a disclosure that should be surprising to just about nobody, New York Yankees pitcher David Wells admits in his forthcoming autobiography that he was still "half-drunk" from partying the previous evening on the afternoon of May 17, 1998, when he pitched baseball's 15th perfect game. Wells had been out the previous night at a party with the "Saturday Night Live" cast (Damn that Will Ferrell!), and pitched on two hours' rest.
Wells boasts that he is the only one of the pitchers to throw a perfect game who "did it half-drunk, with bloodshot eyes, monster breath and a raging, skull-rattling hangover." Wells is not, however, the first major league baseball player to pitch a no-hitter while under the influence- that would be Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, who on June 12, 1970, somehow managed to no-hit the San Diego Padres after taking LSD.
This isn't Wells' first time in the news this off-season; earlier he had defended teammate Derek Jeter against occusations from owner George Steinbrenner that Jeter had been "partying too much." The rotund pitcher also testified against the Brooklyn man who assaulted him in a diner last summer, and admitted that he had "almost died" five years ago after taking the notorious muscle stimulant Ephredra.
Pitching a perfect game while drunk is quite an achievement, I've gotta say. Although drunk or sober, against a Minnesota Twins lineup that included the likes of Brent Gates, Jon Shave, Alex Ochoa, and Pat Meares, I might've had a shot at a perfect game myself.
FILM CRITIC QUOTE OF THE DAY: "'Daredevil' lacks intensity. Its only frisson comes when Michael Clarke Duncan's mug is splashed across the front page of the New York Post with the headline 'The Real Kingpin,' [because] the transposition of Hollywood racism is too close to what the Post does daily." -Armond White, in New York Press. It's funny 'cause it's true.
Thursday, February 27, 2003 THE JAIL SPECIAL: The final episode of HBO's groundbreaking prison drama "Oz" aired on Sunday, and while the show's sixth season had been generally lackluster, the writers and cast came up waith a finale that was as close to perfect as an "Oz" episode can get.
The show did just about the best it could in wrapping up the stories of each character. Yes, many will complain about Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergeson) ending the series without being paroled again, but I believe Beecher's resolution was perfectly consistent with what's happened to his character (the Job of "Oz") for six years: "Same old story," he said after landing again behind bars, "I get fucked in the ass."
While the show abandoned its clever "dead prisoner narrator" cameos after six episodes (and without an appearance by the Greatest of All Time, Adebesi), it returned the focus at the end to narrating ghost Augustus Hill (the wonderful Harold Perrineau) who, more than anyone else, gave "Oz" its gravitas.
Now I've made it very clear in the past that I don't make a practice of rooting for specific characters to die when I watch TV. But I made a once-in-a-lifetime exception for J.K. Simmons' Vern Schillinger on the final "Oz"- regardless of what else happened in the episode, I was prepared to give it a positive review provided that Nazi bastard Vern met a painful, bloody end. Vern was indeed "shanked" (I'm gonna miss that word), though I practically jumped when Simmons showed up last night as a guest star on "Law & Order."
Speaking of bloody ends (stop!), I suggest all those "Sopranos"-watchers who complain about the lack of "whackings" give "Oz" a shot, as by my count 25 different characters were killed in the eight episodes of season 6. Yet somehow Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson) was awarded a "Correctional Society Lifetime Achievement Award" in the penultimate episode. Any warden in real life who presided over 25 (mostly unsolved) prisoner deaths in eight weeks would be fired, not rewarded, but then "Oz" was never about realism. (It should go without saying, of course, that Warden Glynn was himself shanked and killed at said awards banquet).
"Oz" is, above all, an acquired taste, and I didn't acquire it until around this time last year, when I began devouring the reruns. It's a true triumph of writer/producer Tom Fontana's creativity that a show that has featured such material as frequent full-frontal male nudity, spoon sodomy, and a near-complete lack of women or heterosexual romance could be so popular with such a wide cross-section of people.
So I salute an excellent show, on its passing into the night. Not only is "Oz" the best HBO show to go off the air this year (better than "Arli$$" and "Mind of the Married Man"!), but who knows how many potential criminals it scared straight. Some may give credit for the '90s crime drop to the economy, or Rudy Giuilani, but I say it was "Oz."
DOES ELY, MINNESOTA, NEED A FOREIGN POLICY?: I'm paraphrasing Henry Kissinger's now-very-irrelevant pre-9/11 book "Does America Need a Foreign Policy" to illustrate the curious case of Ely, a small town (population 3700) in northeastern Minnesota that's going through a major (?) crisis. As reported in today's Star Tribune, Ely's city council on February 18 passed a resolution, by a vote of 4-2, to oppose the war in Iraq. While praised by some, the resolution has caused a town-wide uproar, and led many in Ely to question the council members' patriotism and demand their resignations- to the point that the council is considering rescinding the resolution. A town meeting held Tuesday night was attended by nearly 300 people, and the Iraq debate "pitted friend against friend," according to the Strib account.
The question of whether or not to go to war in Iraq is a highly important one, which will affect the future of our nation like few have in recent history. The question of how the politicians in Ely, Minnesota, feel about the war is not quite so important. In a time when the US is prepared to potentially go to war without the approval of the UN Security Council, I don't imagine the question of which side Ely, Minnesota's city council comes down on is something that's going to keep President Bush, Tony Blair, or Saddam Hussein up at night. Nor is the similar vote by the New York City Council, or by (God help us all) the Brandeis student body. All politics may be local, but when politicians are elected to regional offices (whether a small town city council or a student government), there's no reason why administration of geopolitical decisions should be part of the job's criteria.
Relax, people of Ely: even if the worst-case scenario occurs and the terrorists manage to detonate weapons of mass destruction in every major US city, Ely is far enough from Minneapolis/St. Paul to be safe.
(Damn, I hope Lileks writes about this...)
FRED ROGERS, 1928-2003: It was just announced (at 4:30 AM EST) that the childrens' host known to millions as Mr. Rogers has passed away at the age of 74.
Rogers' show, from his sweaters to his shoes to the Land of Make-Believe to visitors from friends like Mr. McFeeley, was an ever-present feature of my childhood, just as it was to tens of millions of others over many generations. And with re-runs, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" is likely to touch many more.
IT'S LIBESKIND!: On the tenth anniversary of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. has chosen German Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind's proposal for development at Ground Zero.
I don't love Libeskind's plan, but I do think it's far superior to the goofy THINK proposal, and I do like that it contains the world's largest building. I just hope that the LMDC, the city, the state, and the various developers can get their act together, and actually begin the process of construction of the buildings, a memorial, and a transit hub by this time next year.
But perhaps best of all, the choice of Libeskind's proposal is a slap in the face to the New York Times' obnoxious architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, who has been largely critical of the plan since the start of the process. Muschamp is the same man who infamously ripped the original proposals last fall because they "failed to address America's troubled relationship with the world." It's never a good idea for a single critic (whether in film, theater, architecture, or restaurants) to have all-powerful influence in any medium, so we should all be thankful that this modern-day Bosley Crowther has for once been cut down to size.
RATHER NOT: For the "journalistic coup of the year," the interview of Saddam Hussein by Dan Rather sure didn't make a lot of news. Due to the ground rules of the interview (much as with an Iraqi election, Saddam's camp essentially controlled every aspect of the process, including the tapes), Rather was able to ask virtually no tough questions and wasn't able to challenge any of Hussein's ludicrous assertions, from his insistance that he was "elected," to his argument that Iraq wasn't "defeated" in the first Gulf War, but rather chose "voluntarily" to withdraw from Kuwait.
I'm not sure if the problem was Rather's timidity, the Iraqi restrictions, or the editing of the tape, but more time was given to Saddam's DOA idea of a "debate" with President Bush than to discussion of gassings-of-the-Kurds or of weapons of mass destruction, and a five-minute tangent was broadcast in which the dictator interrupted his translator for disrespecting the first President Bush by failing to refer to him as "Mr. Bush." Rather did not mention until a later on-camera narration that Saddam himself was much more disrespectful of Bush, Sr., himself, when he tried to kill him in 1993.
Just as in Rather's previous interview with Saddam in 1990, the sitdown was a "huge get" that will ultimately prove worthless from both a journalistic and historical standpoint. And I bet it loses in the ratings to "I'm a Celebrity- Get Me Out of Here!"- it certainly won't out-rate the Robert Blake interview that aired later that night.
CHARLES FOSTER KANE AND HIS SISTER, MEG: Normally, Roger Ebert's Sunday "Movie Answer Man" column is the last place to look for inside info about neo-garage rock. But that's what I got this week, when Ebert answered a letter from a reader who recently watched "Citizen Kane" with his two children, when he noticed something strange:
"Whereupon everyone bursts into a song, 'There is a man, a certain man ... ,' after a few lines, my kids were mouthing the words. I was incredulous until they told me these were the lyrics to a song by the White Stripes, 'The Union Forever,' on the hit album 'White Blood Cells.' While the tune is utterly different, the lyrics are exactly those in the film and they are bracketed by other significant lines from the "Kane" script.
Lines from 'Kane' make up the entire bridge section of the song:
"There is a man/a certain man/and for the poor you may be sure/that he'll do all he can/who is this one?/who's favourite son?/just by his action has the traction/magnets on the run/who likes to smoke/enjoys a joke/and wouldn't get a bit/upset if he were really broke/with wealth and fame/he's still the same/I'll bet you five you're not alive/If you don't know his name" The song appears in its entirety to be a homage to 'Kane'; singer Jack White even says "I'm C.F.K." in its first verse. Now, since the Stripes gave themselves sole songwriting credit for the song, they may soon be in trouble with Warner Bros. (which owns the rights to 'Kane'), as well as the writers' guild, and the estates of Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles.
Funny, I thought I knew quite a bit about The Greatest Film of All Time from my Film Studies days- but I've been listening to that Stripes album for almost two years, and I somehow never noticed until now. Even more strangely, the letter writer, Phil Freshman, is (like me) from St. Louis Park, MN.
IT'S THE END OF 'THE WORLD': In a story that, for the first time ever, has led Gawker to link to 411wrestling.com, World Wrestling Entertainment has decided to close its Times Square restaurant/nightclub, The World. The club, while indicative of the wrestling group's rise in demographic status in the late '90s, managed to lose $18 million in less than three years of operation.
I went to The World (previously known as "WWF New York") a few times, and always enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere- sort of a wrestling fan's theme park during the week, while on weekends The World became a vibrant nightclub with next to no references to wrestling at all. During my one visit to the nightclub incarnation in the summer of 2001, I ran into the legendary Howard Stern character Hank the Drunken Angry Dwarf, mere weeks before his death.
The closing is indicative of the falling popularity of wrestling, and shows once again that WWF/E has been utterly incapable of any type of successful business endeavors outside of wrestling (see also, "No Holds Barred," the World Bodybuilding Federation, the XFL, etc.). And it also tells us something about the decline of Disneyfied Times Square, which in recent months has also seen the shuttering of the 42nd St. HMV record store, the food court next to the AMC Empire cinema, and numerous other businesses. It's only a matter of time before the hookers and peepshows return...
KG: MVP?: The Minnesota Timberwolves have been on an absolute tear lately, and there's even talk now that All-Star Game MVP Kevin Garnett could be a candidate for MVP of the league. And in Monday's victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, KG showed just how valuable he is.
On top of his league-leading 47th double-double of the year, Garnett pulled off a hilariously effective move at the game's end: With the Wolves ahead by 3 points with two seconds left and the Bucks out of timeouts, Garnett was able to sneak up behind Bucks coach George Karl as Karl designed a last-second play, and as a result, knew exactly where the play was going and caught the pass from Gary Payton, thus ensuring a Minnesota victory.
Despite injuries to key players Wally Szczerbriak and Terrell Brandon, everything has gone right for the T-Wolves on the court this year, with Garnett's career year, and surprisingly effective performances by players like Troy Hudson, Kendall Gill, and Rasho Nesterovic. After losing six consecutive first-round playoff series, the Wolves this year are actually in position to gain home-court advantage in the first round, and should gain an advantage from the new rules that expand Round 1 to seven games. If the Twins can win their first playoff series since 1991, I don't see why the Wolves can't win their first since 1989...
BIKINI APATHY: This year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue arrived in my mailbox about a week ago and... I've barely even looked at it.
There once was a time when the arrival of the annual swimsuit edition was something I looked forward to for months- especially what with the Kathy Ireland/Elle MacPherson/Paulina Poriskova editions of my junior high years, when I had never seen anything so racy either in a magazine or real life. In seventh grade I even brought the issue to school, where it was confiscated by the assistant principal and returned- the following day.
But now that I'm an adult, and with the pop culture that I'm surrounded with on a daily basis, what's so special about the swimsuit issue? I already get a swimsuit issue in the mail every month (it's called Maxim) and besides, for anyone with access to any type of pornography (from hardcore to Playboy), models in swimsuits are redundant, if not completely inadequete.
I'm not here to discuss the neverending battle over the morality of the swimsuit issue between feminists and males who love to gawk at bikini-clad babes. As evidenced by Maxim, Christina Aguilera, "Are You Hot," Jenna Jameson endorsing Pony, T.A.T.U., and just about everything else in TV, movies, or anywhere else in American pop culture, that battle's been over now for at least a decade. Though as always I am looking forward to SI's letters page two weeks after the swimsuit issue, which is always one of the better reads of the year.
Don't get me wrong- the swimsuit issue is sexy, and I certainly enjoy looking at bikini babes as much as the next guy. But there's no doubting that it's lost much of its cache over the years, simply because American culture has passed it by. Perhaps SI should take the advice doled out by then-teammates Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury at the time of the launch of ESPN The Magazine in 1998: "Please, no swimsuit issue. ALL NUDE. Tastefully done, but definitely: ALL NUDE."
GOVERNOR NUGENT?: Hellraisin' rock star Ted Nugent said tonight on Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes" that, since he's upset that his home state of Michigan elected Canadian-born Jennifer Granholm as governor, and because Granholm's votes came primarly from "pimps, whores, and blood-sucking welfare brats," he is considering running against her in 2006.
While Nugent has been quite active on various political fronts for years, most notably hunting and gun rights, he's bound to have quite a bit to answer for should he run for governor, from various behavior from his years in rock, to the lacklaster 1991 "Don't Tread" album, to a talk he gave this week at Northwestern University. During the speech, among other shocking statements, Nugent railed against "substance-abusing Indians," and blamed "butt-fucking" for the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Why is everybody trying to stop the war? George Bush ain't been saying, 'You all, make shitty records.' Politicians and music don't mix. It's like whisky and wine. [Musicians] ought to stay out of it." -Kid Rock, apparently inspired by those who call the president a "Cowboy" (and whose flop 2001 album "Cocky" has recently hit the top ten again due to his suddenly-hot duet with the very anti-war Sheryl Crow.) From the Daily News, via Gawker.
IT'S A CONSPIRACY, MAN!: The Star Tribune has an article on the various investigations and litigation surrounding the plane crash last October that killed Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. The main focus of the article is on the plane's pilot, Richard Conry, who is believed by most to be responsible for the crash. The families of those killed in the crash, the story tells us, are represented by noted anti-tobacco lawyer (and 2000 US Senate candidate) Michael Ciresi.
But then the Strib piece totally goes off the rails in telling us about James Fetzer, a philosophy professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth who has written extensively on his website, AssassinationScience.com, that Wellstone's death was a political assassination- and he explains the lack of forensic evidence by attributing the killing to "futuristic weaponry."
Showing once again that the standards we now require for teaching college students aren't what they used to be, Fetzer actually teaches critical thinking and logic at UMD.
GOOD ARGUMENT FOR PURITANISM: "If we were a Puritan nation Courtney Love would be arrested on the Slattern Act and forced into the stocks, and we’d all put on our big black buckled hats and head to the square to throw rotten fruit at her head. Puritans don’t show up for church in sweatpants." -James Lileks, trashing the non-Grammy winner.
NEED A HAND WITH THOSE, NORAH?
The woman whose impossibly sweet voice I fell in love with a year ago, Norah Jones, dominated the Grammy Awards last night, winning all five awards (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best New Artist, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance) for which she nominated. Not bad for a 23-year-old who, as I've mentioned, was headlining open-mic night at Makor as recently as the fall of 2001. She even bypassed the red carpet in order to avoid a confrontation with that pathetic old hag Joan Rivers. There aren't many people I would root for over my beloved Bruce Springsteen for a Grammy, but Norah's one; I've got a feeling her five Grammys tonight were just a warmup for what's coming for her in the future.
I missed about one third of the show due to my "Oz"-watching duties but regardless, here are my various Grammy observations:
- Great to see Simon & Garfunkel back together and performing one more time- but let's not let this turn into a permanent reunion with albums, tours, etc. The E Street comeback was the exception, not the rule. Got it? Nice to see them introduced by Dustin Hoffman- it would've been a nice touch if he'd arrived on stage on a people-mover to the strains of "Sounds of Silence."
- With all the "battles" that have dominated conversation about hip-hop in the last couple of years, it was refreshing to see Eminem, of all people, thank those rappers who came before and influenced him. But how long before some other rapper starts a fight because they were "slighted" by being left off Em's list? I didn't hear Triumph's name...
- Unintentional comedy of the night: for much of her performance, Sheryl Crow's "NO WAR"-inscripted guitar strap was blocked by the singer's hair, leaving a clearer, more consise message of "WAR."
- Fortunately, the only other presenter to address the Iraq situation onstage was the least-talented man in the room, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. Durst made the gutsy statement that he hopes the war "goes away as soon as possible," standing up to all those people (namely, no one) who hope for a really, really, long war in Iraq. How about some regime change within Limp Bizkit?
- Speaking of Iraq, shouldn't hindsight caused by recent world events have prevented the victory for Best Country Song by Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning," with its chorus of "I'm not sure I could tell you/the difference between Iraq and Iran"? Or perhaps it's just a victim of the Grammys' long lead time; the song was presumably written before the "Axis of Evil" speech.
- While I hated the constant flashing on the screen of the minor-award winners (there are so many dozens of categories, it wouldn't surprise me if I won a Grammy one of these years), I was happy to see that Stevie Wonder and Take 6 won Best R&B Group Performance for their performance on the "America: A Tribute to Heroes" telethon of Stevie's 1976 classic "Love's In Need of Love Today." Reminds me of when I went to see the composer of "Annie" speak a few years ago, and he told of having won a Best Rap Single Grammy the previous year, for his co-songwriting credit on Jay-Z's version of "Hard Knock Life."
- Best performances of the night? Norah, Bruce, and I guess John Mayer; also loved JT/Yo Yo Ma, and Coldplay with the New York Philharmonic (they're inches away from being a major, major band- Coldplay, I mean. The Philharmonic's already there). Better them than the increasingly tiresome Avril Lavigne, or the soon-to-be-long-forgotten Vanessa Carlton. The strangest? Probably the Springsteen/Van Zandt/Dave Grohl/Elvis Costello performance of "London Calling"- I never thought I'd live long enough to hear Bruce perform a punk song. Maybe the Best Album loss will cause his career to go in a completely different, punk-inflected direction... or maybe not.
- In the segments I watched I heard not a single reference by anyone to the Rhode Island club fire- I guess none of the winners or presenters or hosts was acquainted with any of the members of Great White.
- While the music academy's constituency still largely consists of old white people who aren't exactly in touch with new musical trends, tonight's Awards show that things are at least slowly crawling towards modernity- as evidenced by the victory by the 23-year-old Jones over the 52-year-old Springsteen, after Best Album the last two years went to the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack and Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature." It may be awhile before, say, a rapper wins the top award, but if last night was any indication, the Grammy Awards have at least arrived in the right century, if not the right decade.
Saturday, February 22, 2003 AND YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD SOME BAD PROFS IN COLLEGE...: It really says something about the state of academics in America today that a semi-respected university can hire the leader of a terrorist cell and make him a tenured professor. But that's what happened with Sami Al-Arian and the University of South Florida; thankfully, Al-Arian and several other men were indicted Friday on 50 counts of conspiracy to support terrorism, in addition to interstate extortion, perjury, obstruction of justice and immigration fraud. Al-Arian, under the guise of teaching computer science at USF and leading a "peaceful" pro-Palestinian group, was actually the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's leading supporter in the United States.
Al-Arian has claimed that his frequent proclamations of "Death to Israel" have nothing to do with killing Jews, just as rapper Ice-T claimed a decade ago that his song "Cop Killer" had nothing to do with killing cops. The indictment ties the professor to numerous attacks in Israel that led to over 100 killing, including the bus-bombing death in 1995 of West Orange, New Jersey native and Brandeis University student Alisa Flatow.
The men charged all face life imprisonment if convicted.
I'VE GOT A JONES FOR NORAH: I'm excited enough about the Grammys Sunday night that I plan to watch the awards and tape the final episode of "Oz." The Grammys probably won't be as brutal, nor as homoerotic (since there's no Eminem/Elton duet this year) and besides, I want the last "Oz" on tape for posterity's sake.
As for predictions, I had the same rapturous reaction that so many others did to "The Rising" last summer- the Boss was back, with an album of great material, which happened to be the first major response by a major artist to the events of 9/11 ("Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"'s songs only seemed to be about 9/11). I'll be very happy if Bruce wins for Best Album, but honestly, I'll be rooting for Norah Jones. This woman who's younger than I am and was playing gigs at Makor 18 months ago came absolutely out of nowhere to outpace the Britneys, Christinas, and Avrils and make the record that will stand the test of time more than any other put out this year- oh yea, and she's also better looking than Britney, Christina, and Avril put together. "The Rising" now finds its way into my CD player about once a month; "Come Away With Me" gets played just about every day.
Meanwhile, CBS executives have announced that they will cut off any presenter who uses their time to make an antiwar plea. Good for them, I say; if Richard Gere can be banned for life from presenting at the Oscars due to his Tibet comments a few years ago, I don't see why the Grammy people should have to endorse foreign policy analysis from Vanessa Carlton or Fred Durst.
HE HATED, HATED, HATED THIS MOVIE: The Kevin Spacey/Kate Winslet anti-death penalty propaganda exercise "The Life of David Gale" has been awarded the rare rating of Zero Stars from Roger Ebert. According to his search page, it's the first film to strike out with Ebert in such a way since last spring's comedy "Slackers," and only the 13th in the last 10 years (others included "Freddy Got Fingered," "Tomcats," Larry David's directorial debut "Sour Grapes," and Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," for which Ebert himself wrote the screenplay.) The 1999 re-release of John Waters' "Pink Flamingos" is the one and only film to receive a rating from Ebert of "Stars Irrelevant."
Normally Roger has a soft spot for liberal message movies; he previously gave four stars to the 2000 political thriller/gangbang drama "The Contender," which I consider probably the worst Hollywood film of the past five years. But apparently he doubts the sincerity of the film's anti-death penalty position. The Kevin Spacey post-Oscar losing streak continues; good thing it looks like he's finally got his Bobby Darin biopic off the ground.
I'M REALLY SICK OF GUYS NAMED TODD: Turns out George Carlin was right. I already told you about the Minnesota VIkings charity event/"snowmobile rally" last month that resulted in an alleged sexual assault, as well as the arrest of a team vice president on drunken-driving charges. Now Star Tribune columnist CJ reports that a suspect in the sexual assault is none other than Vikings backup quarterback Todd Bouman.
Bouman is known to many in the Twin Cities as the guy who's sitting in a hot tub in the ubiquitous TV commercial for Valley Pools & Spas, a local business. Very unluckily for Mr. Bouman, the alleged victim says she associated that night with Bouman and several other men in, you guessed it, a hot tub! Oops; time to take that commercial out of circulation.
At least OJ never endorsed Ginsu knives...
AND SPEAKING OF INAPPROPRIATE COMMERCIALS: Last night, before "Old School," I saw the trailer for the new Chris Rock movie "Head of State," in which Rock runs for president. In the final scene, in an apparent nod to Bill Clinton's inaugural-ball saxophoning, we see Rock spinning records in a DJ booth at what appears to be a political fundraiser filled with older people. So Rock starts singing, of all songs, "The Roof! The Roof! The Roof is On Fire!," causing everyone in the room to scream and run out the door. I was sure to enjoy the trailer the first time I saw it, 'cause after the Great White massacre, I know I never will again...
Regardless, there was nothing in it as funny as Rock's cameo last night on Bill Maher's new HBO show, during which he both insulted Jimmy Kimmel (whose girlfriend Sarah Silverman was about to perform a standup routine) and asked guest Ann Coulter if she was "fucking the president."
CRITIQUEES!: Just in time for tomorrow night's Grammy Awards, BlogCritics has posted their first annual Critiquee Awards. The winners (Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, Norah Jones, etc.) are almost totally in line with my picks- am I the only one who voted?
Friday, February 21, 2003 THE HOUSE OF BROKEN LOVE: In the latest in a series of nightclub calamities that have taken place across the country in the last few weeks, a fire that engulfed a rock club in Rhode Island last night has resulted in the deaths of at least 26 people.
On stage at The Station, a nightclub in West Warwick, was long-forgotten '80s hair-metal band Great White, who performed the Reagan-era hits "Rock Me," "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," and "House of Broken Love." The fire started as a result of the band's customary pyrotechnics display, which apparently caused the club's mostly wooden interior to catch fire, leading to a mass dash for the exits. Among the missing, according to reports, is the band's guitarist.
Great White is certainly the last musical act I ever expected to make headlines again- I guess now they know how Anthrax feels. I can't see this resulting in a Great White revival of any kind, although I do know we're about to see numerous media exposes of "nightlife out of control," as well as renewed legislative pushes to crack down on drug use and other illegal activities at nightspots nationwide (even though drugs had nothing to do with any of the recent tragedies). But what I really want to see is Hunter S. Thompson or John Strausbaugh or someone else do a long investigative piece on America's Grade-Z concert circuit- isn't Great White the kind of once-popular band that, in Strausbaugh's words, "now plays to half-full audiences of punters at gambling resorts"?
RETURN TO ZION: Last week's expansive Entertainment Weekly Oscar preview issue was an excellent read, from its capsules of this year's nominees to a great profile of the man who played Fredo Corleone, John Cazale (an actor who was in only five movies before his death, though all five- "Godfather," "Godfather II," "The Conversation," "Dog Day Afternoon," and "The Deer Hunter"- are cinematic classics.)
But perhaps the best part of the issue was a look back (not online) at the 1978 Oscar ceremony, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. It was the year Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" won for Best Picture, as Woody skipped the ceremony in favor of his regular Monday night jazz-band gig. And proving that misguided political sanctimony by Hollywood actors is nothing new, '78 was also the year that PLO sympathizer Vanessa Redgrave denounced the "Zionist hoodlums" from the podium after winning for Best Supporting Actress. Now that would be a great name for a blogger, "The Zionist Hoodlum."
JUST THE KOUFAX: An all-time baseball great is angry at the New York Post for running a blind gossip item alleging that he is gay. Mike Piazza? No, this time it's Sandy Koufax. The Hall of Fame pitcher is so upset about the Page Six item that he has cut ties with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the only team for which he ever pitched (the Dodgers are owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns the Post).
The Post's Page Six gossip page ran a brief piece on December 19 which stated that "a Hall of Fame baseball hero cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep it secret that he is gay." I remember reading the item at the time and realizing that the book (Jane Leavy's "A Lefty's Legacy") was the only best-selling biography of a baseball Hall of Famer released in recent memory, and therefore it must be a reference to Koufax. Just as last year, when since-deceased Post gossip Neal Travis reported that an unnamed Mets star "known for cavorting with models" was actually a closeted homosexual, I knew it had to be Piazza, simply because there are no other Mets who cavort with models. Had he said "strippers," I would've known it was Mo Vaughn.
The 68-year-old Koufax has neither confirmed nor denied the gay rumor (which, to the best of my knowledge, had never been brought up until now), though biographer Leavy calls the Post item "thoroughly erroneous on all counts, blatantly unfair, scandalous and contemptible." Koufax is known above all as a man of principle, as he is after all the player who sat out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. It's sad that he must cut ties with the organization with which he's been associated for nearly a half-century, although Murdoch is said to be looking to sell the Dodgers, and Koufax would presumably return to the team in that event.
As for the Post, it's about time they started being a little bit more careful about their "blind" items- breaking a story about an unnamed person whose identity is easily guessed by a 10-second process of elimination is really not so "blind" at all.
Thursday, February 20, 2003 HOORAY FOR NEAL: The Greatest American Writer, Neal Pollack, has a piece in The Stranger that's the best thing of his I've read in years (found via WKIKYA). It excoriates writers, left- and right-wing, pro- and anti-war, for their self-righteousness and hubris in covering terror, and for not knowing just when to shut the hell up. Pollack may be an unabashed man of the left, but it's heartening to know that even he can tell Ted Rall is nothing but a bloviating jackass who makes fun of 9/11 widows in his spare time. Pollack's blog may be a disappointment, but he's at his best when making fun of journalists (as in his first book), and the Stranger piece is in that tradition.
STRANGEST BLOG OF THE DAY:This one's almost entirely in Russian, features a dog humping the letters ".ru," includes the entire BlogCritics blogroll (and thus my name), and the only English-language link in the top post is to GodHatesFags.com. WTF?
EPHEDRA PANIC: Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died tragically on Monday, at the age of 23. Since his death, and the declaration later that day from the Broward County coroner that the weight-loss supplement Ephedra may have contributed to it, there have numerous calls that the drug be banned from baseball, or possibly even taken off the market.
Even if Broward County's medical examiner somehow proves more competent than that same county's election officials, I believe this entire panic is a massive, irresponsible jumping of the gun. Bechler's actual cause of death will not be determined until the completion of toxicology tests in two or three weeks, but the preliminary autopsy determined that Bechler (in addition to using the drug) had a history of high blood pressure and liver abnormalities, and had hardly eaten much solid food the previous two days.
So at this point, there's really no way of knowing whether or not Ephedra had anything to do with Bechler's death at all. While media reaction (especially from ESPN) has caused a nationwide panic throughout the week reminiscent of last year's revelations of rampant use of illegal anabolic steroids in the sport, Ephedra is completely legal as an over-the-counter drug, and used by millions of Americans in products such as Stacker 2 and Ripped Fuel. The drugs all have FDA approval, and no deaths have been reported that didn't involve other, pre-existing medical conditions. Perhaps Ephedra is dangerous when used incorrectly, or by those with medical conditions- but that's also true of just about every drug there is.
This also reminds me of the artificial furor created in 1998 when Mark McGwire admitted that he had used the completely legal, not-banned-by-baseball supplement Androstenedione (exposed when a reporter allegedly peered into McGwire's locker and was somehow able to read the word "Androstenedione" off of a bottle). A clear distinction must be drawn between actual, illegal, anabolic steroids (the ones known to have caused the deaths of NFL star Lyle Alzado and too many wrestling figures to mention), and the over-the-counter supplements that are used by many and dangerous to very few.
I've gotta disagree with Michael Wilbon here (and I don't often): the baseball player's union shouldn't be pushing for a banning of Stacker 2; they should be cracking down on the much more dangerous use of real steroids- which, according to the admissions of former MVPs Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, are used rampantly throughout baseball.
After the similarly sudden deaths in recent years of athletes Korey Stringer (of heatstroke) and Darryl Kile (of a heart ailment), it's sad to see another sports star go so long before his time. If Ephedra is indeed found to be responsible for his passing, then I believe action should be taken at that time. But let's not rush to judgment or jump to conclusions before we know all the facts.
"STEPHEN'S STOCK:" Here's the description given for this blog, on The Talking Dog's Dog Run:
Steve Silver joins other nice Jewish boys from Minnesota to come to New York and make good like Al Franken and Bob Dylan; Steve settled for coolaceous Hoboken (hey, I used to live in Weehawken), where Steve tells us he is a professional journalist. He is slightly to my right (whatever that means), as reflected in his blogroll (which I am somehow in). But Steve's commentaries are pithy, and, like a good journalist, well documented. Further, Steve treats us to popular culture, and especially, sports, to a degree that MAKES ME WANT MORE.
TD Designation: Stephens Stock
I'd place Tom Friedman, Garrison Keillor, and both Coen Brothers high above Franken in the MN-to-NY pantheon, but other than that, it's all good (Thanks Seth!).
LOST OUR PAYCHECK: Country singer Johnny Paycheck died today at the age of 64. The well-known hellraiser, not to be confused with Johnny Cash, sang such hits as "Don't Take Her, She's All I Got," "I'm the Only Hell Mama Ever Raised," "Slide Off Your Satin Sheets," "Old Violin" and "You Can Have Her." Condolences to the entire Paycheck family...
CAN YOU (GOLD) DIG IT?: Proving once again that continuing to date a lying, duplicitous lunkhead is not without its entrepreneural rewards, Zora was picked by Evan as the winner on Monday's season finale of "Joe Millionaire," and chose to remain with him despite being told that he did not really inherit $50 million. As a reward for deciding to forgive the lies and remain together, the couple was handed a check for $1 million. If you yourself are an aspiring sugar daddy, as always you can find a Zora of your own over at the CraigsList personals. (If Sarah-type women are more to your liking, here's the X-rated "Casual Encounters" section, while the Melissas of the world are on display here.)
For its next loathsome reality experiment, the Fox Network will delve into the world of audience-voted marriage, with a show called "Married by America." I find it quite ironic that after all the talk that one of the reasons the terrorists hate us is our "decadent" popular culture, America is now returning the favor by borrowing a custom (arranged marriage) from the Islamic world.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003 GOING DOWN: Snowed in on Presidents' Day, I watched the recent movie "Igby Goes Down." Very good, I thought; 'Igby' is the latest in the burgeoning neo-Salinger film genre ("Rushmore," "Ghost World," "Donnie Darko," etc.) about teenagers battling the phoniness of the world Holden-like; picture "The Catcher in the Rye" with about three times the cynicism, and then you've got 'Igby.'
Great cast too- Kieran Culkin in what was then the best performance ever by a Culkin brother (soon surpassed by his brother Rory in "Signs"); Susan Sarandon in raving-sick-addicted-older-woman mode (showing once again that for many screenwriters, Karen from "Will & Grace" has become the default setting for older woman characters); Ryan Phillippe reprising his "Cruel Intentions" character; Jeff Goldblum as an impersonal tycoon; and Amanda Peet in her usual turn as both impossibly thin and impossibly slutty. But perhaps most impressive was Claire Danes, in probably her first good performance since her own neo-Caulfield showcase, "My So-Called Life," was canceled eight years ago.
Danes' character has one of the great recent movie character names (Sookie Saperstein); I would love to date a woman named "Sookie," if only just to sing her to bed each night with a rendition of "Freak Me" by Silk ("Sookie, Sookie").
Though perhaps the funniest moment of the movie (or, really, of any movie last year) is a total throwaway- Culkin and Danes are sitting in Central Park together, and in the background of the scene we see two teenaged Catholic school girls playing lacrosse- and by scene's end they're screaming obsenities at each other ("F-ck you, c-ntface!") and brawling. It's little touches like that that make director Burr Steers' screenplay a winner.
One more thing: "Igby Goes Down" is not to be confused with "Ari Goes Down," a blog by my fellow NYC blogger Ari, who I met at the recent Blogger Bash. Ari makes perfectly clear that her blog preceded "Igby Goes Down" by many months and the similarity in names is a mere coincidence; she can also be thankful that no one snagged the "Ari Goes Down" name for a fetish site dedicated to the current White House press secretary.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The [anti-war] protests attracted about as many people this weekend as the movie 'Kangaroo Jack.' I'm sorry, but it's true." -Blogger Ken Layne, putting the "super-successful" nationwide protests into some much-needed perspective.
ELEKTRA COMPLEX: The winner of the "America's Sexiest Jennifer" poll, with 32% of the vote, is "Alias" and "Daredevil" star Jennifer Garner. Coming in second with 23% is my personal choice, Jennifer Connelly; tied for third are Jennifer Aniston and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Jennifer Lopez, the so-called most beautiful woman in America, received only two votes, and neither Jennifer Capriati nor Jennifer Jason Leigh got a single mention. Thanks to all who voted...
Tuesday, February 18, 2003 MY CROSS-BLOG IRAQ DEBATE ANSWERS: See more pro-war responses at NZ Bear's blog; for the anti-war response, take a look at Stand Down.
I want to preface that while I am in favor of US military action should it be necessary in order to disarm Saddam Hussein, I believe that every reasonable peaceful measure should be taken beforehand, up to and including serious attempts at a deal for Saddam to go into exile. For purposes of this debate my position may be considered "pro-war," though I certainly do not consider myself "in favor of" war in any case.
1. Attacking Iraq has been publicly called a "preemption" of a threat from Saddam Hussein's regime, whose sins include launching regional wars of aggression. Do you think there is a clear and reliable difference between preemptive and aggressive warfare, and if so, what is it? Preemptive warfare is conducted in order to prevent catastrophic events from occurring that otherwise would be unpreventable. Whereas aggression (whether the Nazis or Saddam himself in 1990) is done for no purpose other than financial, military, or geopolitical gain for the aggressive country. I believe that since the main aim (though not the only aim) of a military campaign in Iraq is the disarmament of that country, this particular intervention falls into the former category.
2. What do you feel are the prospects that an invasion of Iraq will succeed in a) maintaining it as a stable entity and b) in turning it into a democracy? Are there any precedents in the past 50 years that influence your answer? Since Iraq is itself essentially a made-up hodgepodge of ethnic and religious groups that only came into being as a result of the carving of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, I don't feel that the eternal survival of the "Iraq" name is necessarily important in the long haul (as the region was of historical and biblical import for millennia, but "Iraq" has existed for less than a century). However, if an immediate goal is to be the creation of a democratic state post-Saddam, I do feel it should remain one country, at least at first. Then the question of Kurdish independence, and other details, can be sorted out at a later time. Though I do consider it necessary for the US and its allies to have a clear, postwar plan in place before intervening.
I believe that if a country as historically unpredictable as Afghanistan can be turned into something resembling a functional democracy in less than a year's time, there's no reason Iraq can't as well. It won't be easy, but I feel it will eventually happen. Other historical examples of US intervention leading to democracy that was at least an improvement over the previous situation include the Balkans, as well as Germany and Japan after World War II. And Israel, of course, likely would not be the successful, surviving democracy it is today without the US' help.
3. How successful do you think the military operations and "regime change" in Afghanistan have been in achieving their stated objectives? Does this example affect your feelings about war in Iraq in any way? They have not been 100% successful, as evidenced by the continuing influence of ex-Taliban radicals, the regular assassination attempts, and the at-large status of Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama Bin Laden. However, the mere elimination of the Taliban, all by itself, both dealt a tremendous blow to Al-Qaeda and rescued that country from the grip of the most tyrannical, fascist government on the planet. It is my belief that the overthrow of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan is the greatest act performed by the US government in my lifetime.
Both due to the prevention of terrorist threats and/or mideast nuclear hegemony by Saddam in the future, as well as the possibility of a functional democracy emerging in the Middle East that has the potential (albeit a long shot) to set the dominoes rolling across the entire region, it will be better for the US, better for Iraq, and better for the world at large if Saddam Hussein is removed from power.
4. As a basis for war, the Bush Administration accuses Iraq of trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), supporting terrorism, and brutalizing their own people. Since Iraq is not the only country engaged in these actions, under what circumstances should the US go to war with other such nations, in addition to going to war with Iraq? Yes, Iraq is not the only country doing this, but it is an established enemy of the United States, a direct threat to the United States, and a country that has violated literally dozens of UN resolutions related to its disarmament. Twelve years ago the US fought a war against Iraq, and since Iraq has repeatedly violated the armistice that ended that war, the US would be remiss in failing to address those violations. And the measures taken so far have not been effective.
Geopolitics are complex, and there are dozens of factors that separate, say, the Iraq situation from the North Korea situation. For instance, there is a strong possibility that Kim Jong-Il's bluster is a bluff to gain concessions from the US, whereas all indications are that Saddam is serious about the use of weapons of mass destruction to kill his enemies- after all, he has done so before.
There is also the factor that Iraq is in a region of the globe that is vital to US interests. Now it would be a lie to say that oil plays no ancillary role in the equation, but not for the reasons the anti-war folks say it is (a personal profit motive for oil men Bush and Cheney). Rather, cooperation with a democratic Iraq would help ease Western dependence on Saudi oil, completely alter the balance of mideast power away from the Saudis, and possibly even lead to a wave of democracy throughout the mideast, like the one that swept through Eastern Europe in the late '80s.
5. The Bush Administration has issued numerous allegations about the threat represented by Iraq, many of which have been criticized in some quarters as hearsay, speculation or misstatements. Which of the Administration's allegations do you feel stand up best to those criticisms? The Bush Administration has never claimed that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks of September 11. They may have insinuated that he has ties to Al-Qaeda, or that the two entities have cooperated in operations (which may or may not be true). But no "smoking gun" has been found linking Iraq directly to 9/11- if one had been found, the US would've been justified in invading Iraq in 2001, not in 2003.
A common misconception is that the current administration is "warmongering," in contrast with Clinton and post-Gulf War Bush I. In fact, Clinton bombed Iraq on three separate occasions throughout his presidency (while Bush has yet to a single time), and as Kenneth Pollack's excellent book "The Threatening Storm" illustrates, the "regime change" option was always on the table throughout Clinton's years in office- and always favored by at least some military and intelligent officers. But it never happened, simply because the political will was never there. But after 9/11, when the American public became aware of just how vulnerable they were to terrorism, it suddenly was.
While 9/11 can't be traced directly to Saddam Hussein, a history of terrorism can, as can a serial animosity towards the US and the rest of the democratic western world. The case has been made by the administration (and made even more strongly by Tony Blair) that Iraq is hiding chemical and biological weapons, is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, is jerking around the inspectors, and has no intention of cooperating at any time in the foreseeable future. The longer the problem is put off, the closer he gets to gaining nuclear capability. Clearly, something must be done to stop him first.
Of course, I believe the weakest anti-war argument of them all is that the Bush Administration is "rushing to war." I first heard that statement in regards to Iraq sometime last spring, and now it's nearly a year later- and in that ensuing year the administration has gone to the UN, and made every effort to cooperate with that body, the European Union, and NATO. If this is a "rush to war," how long is a "slow march to war"? 10, 15 years? As journalist Christopher Hitchens has said, this is the longest national discussion leading up to a military conflict at any point in American history.
Which is a discussion that I have been debating and conversing about with people in bars, restaurants, living rooms, and elsewhere for months, and I look forward to taking this debate to the internet. Bravo to NZ Bear and the folks at Stand Down for putting together this little project- what a wonderful, wonderful idea.
THE BLIZZARD OF '01: Ah, nothing like two feet of snow to remind me just where I came from. But I've gotta say that whenever Minnesota got this level of severe weather, things never shut down like they do around here. The streets and sidewalks are always shoveled by morning. Watching Bloomberg on TV this morning apologizing that "we won't get to all the sidewalks today- sorry" just underscores what a pathetic little man he is- didn't he learn anything from Rudy about how to handle a citywide calamity?
But in happier, warmer news, pitchers and catchers for the Twins reported today.
'THE HORN' DON'T BLOW NO MORE: The second-most reviled cable talk show to emerge in the past year (after you, Mr. Donahue), ESPN's "Around the Horn," is still on the air, and while it's still about 1/100th the show "Pardon the Interruption" is, after some tweaking it actually appears to have finally turned the corner.
Hosted by 28-year-old boxing analyst and lifelong Yiddish enthusiast Max Kellerman, the show got off to a weak start due to Kellerman's uneasiness as host, plus its bizarre "McLaughlin Group"-meets-"Wheel of Fortune" format- Kellerman asks questions about sports to four regional sportswriters, awards them points based on the cleverness of the answers, and awards the winners with "face time" at the end of the show.
"Around the Horn" has gotten better in recent months mostly because Kellerman has gotten sharper and more comfortable on the air, and the show has also did a better job in changing up the lineup of sportswriters. There's also been less lately of Woody Paige, the Denver Post columnist and Kellerman's designated whipping boy- Paige recently disclosed that he has suffered from depression in the past; therefore, is it really such a good idea for him to go out there every day and be insulted on national television?
And ever since ATH launched its been slammed repeatedly by Sports Illustrated's "Scorecard" section; this week ESPN got the last laugh by placing an ad for the show in that very section.
BLOG NEWS: As of this morning's listing on BlogStreet of the 100 Most Important Blogs. InstaPundit is #1, followed by Sullivan and Eugene Volokh. I'm ranked #7009 (out of 80,712- that's 90th percentile!); my goal is to make the top 1000 by the summer.
And the other big news in the blogging world? In the first big New Economy transaction in recent memory, Blogger has been sold- to Google! Two of the few internet phenomena to rise well after the collapse of the Dot.com boom are joining forces; let's hope Blogger doesn't change too much as a result.
WAR ON WAR: On my way to meet friends for dinner in Manhattan on Saturday, I stumbled into a few hundred of the anti-war protesters, apparently on their way back downtown from that morning's UN rally. The atmosphere reminded me a lot of a radical New Years' Eve, as there were loud revelers all over, and Times Square was blockaded at every block. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd- while I may totally disagree with their stance in regards to military action, I saw very little of the anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic content that I had heard had been traditionally associated with these protests, though I am told such sentiment was there, albeit scattered. This may be because unlike the last couple of protests, this one was not sponsored by ANSWER, the far-left group that's been associated with some quite shady interests (Stalinism, defense of Saddam and Milosevic, Ramsey Clark, etc.); ANSWER also disallowed Rabbi Michael Lerner, perhaps America's left-most Jewish public figure, from speaking at San Francisco's rally due to his support of the continued existence of Israel.
Of course, the rally itself severely undercut arguments from many on the left that America is turning into some sort of fascist police state; in how many countries on Earth are citizens allowed to march through the largest city, carrying a picture of the president that says he sucks? Try that in Baghdad with Saddam and see what happens...
I did encounter two things, however, that crossed the line: I saw a flier for a seduction seminar (www.RealSeduction.com) that shamelessly tried to piggyback on anti-war sentiment, with a headline of "Make Love Not War: A Bush in the hand is worth 2 in the White House" (rimshot). Then later, after the rally was long over, I saw a crudely-drawn cardboard sign on top of a Village Voice box that said "Powell is a Puppet." Then I turned it around and the other side was the sort of sign I often see used by homeless people: "I need $ for beer, cigarettes, and hookers- at least I'm honest." This means either A) the homeless guy made the sign after the rally was over and the sign had been discarded, or B) The homeless guy had it first and the demonstrator stole it from him. I'm betting on the latter...
THE BEST FOUR QUOTES FROM THE 'PAZZ & JOP' MUSIC CRITICS POLL: See the whole poll here.
Third runnerup: "America is no longer shocked by Eminem's lyrics, yet Michael Jackson doesn't say a word and he continues to scare the pants off people of every age, race, class, and gender. That's power." - Jeanne Fury.
Second runnerup: "That's all I know about Justin and Britney/Can't tell you more 'cause I'm coked up like Whitney/But there we were waving Justin and Britney goodbye/Whoa oh, whoa oh, whoa oh oh oh oh oh" -Rob Sheffield.
First runnerup: "Wait a second. Are both of Michael Jackson's sons really named "Prince"? What about 'Your Butt is Mine' and 'I'm Bad'?" -Franklin Paul.
And the winner: "The worst musical trend of the year had to be those innumerable permutations of Ashanti, Ja Rule, J. Lo, Fat Joe, J Rule, Ja Joe, and Fat Lo. All these songs trade on the same gimmick- girly-girl singer paired with manly-man rapper. The result is an unintentional parody of gender panic, where Ja seems to fear that he ever rises above a monotone, it must mean he's a fag, while any girl who fails to outsource her rapping to a guy with big pecs has to be a closet dyke" -Ted Friedman.
Sunday, February 16, 2003 HUDSON COUNTY HAZARD: The nightlife in my adopted hometown of Hoboken has generally been pretty safe and worry-free, so long as you don't drink too much, and are able to avoid the throngs of roided-up ex-frat boys, multiple-gold-chain-clad dirtbags, and anorexic Tara Reid wannabes. But an incident earlier this month underscores that any old night on the town has the potential to end quite tragically.
According to the Hudson Reporter newspaper (for which I've written in the past), on the night of February 1 a 22-year-old man got into a scuffle with another man (also 22) outside of the Cadillac Bar on Newark St., was punched in the temple, knocked unconscious, and left on the sidewalk outside the bar. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead six days later; the second man has been charged with reckless manslaughter.
One of the more shady aspects of this story is that Cadillac Bar had been forced to close for the entire month of January, and paid the largest fine of its kind in Hoboken history, due to multiple Alcohol Beverage Control Board violations- and the fatal assault took place on the first night it reopened after the suspension. According to a city spokesman quoted in the Hudson Reporter story, Cadillac Bar and its two neighbors (Boo Boo's Bar and the Clam Broth House, both owned by Cadillac's owners) had been found guilty of 15 ABC citations in three years, for such violations as "allegedly serving minors, serving intoxicated individuals, and allowing brawls to take place on the premises" (emphasis mine). The bars are also on the same block as the River Street bar, where two years ago then-Penn State quarterback Rashard Casey was arrested for assault after beating up a white off-duty police officer who was at the bar with a black woman.
Perhaps most shamefully of all, last night my friends and I walked down Newark Street across from Cadillac Bar on our way back from the PATH, at about 3AM, and the bar was open! If this bar was closed for 30 days for liquor control board violations, shouldn't it have been shut down again (for another 30 days, if not permanently) after there was a fatality?
A NET LOSS: On Friday I went to my first NBA game of the year, as the New Jersey Nets defeated the Chicago Bulls by 20 points at the Meadowlands. It was my first time ever at Continental Arena, and while I'd heard bad things before, I was shocked by the passivity of the crowd. Now, I have often lamented that skyrocketing ticket costs have priced out more and more of teams' logical fanbases over the years, robbing sporting events (especially basketball) of their traditional, authentic blue-collar feel. You'd think that Nets games, with their much-lower-than-the-Knicks ticket prices, would be the exception, but the crowd was both small (about 2/3rds capacity) and surprisingly quiet for a crowd watching a team that was in the NBA Finals last year and is in strong contention again now- and Friday's game was a blowout win. I went to five Timberwolves games a year back in the dark, dark pre-Garnett days, and even those crowds were always more into the game than Friday's Jersey folks. Perhaps things will change when the Nets and Devils get their new state-of-the-art, reachable-by-public-transit arena in Newark.
Also, those who attend Knicks games are used to spotting celebrities, from Woody Allen to Spike Lee to Billy Crystal. The Meadowlands' top celeb in attendance was Joe Piscopo, who at halftime MC'd an "American Idol" knockoff called "Jersey Idol," in which all five singing contestants were booed.
Still though, I always enjoy the NBA, and I had an overall good time. And I can imagine few things more heartwarming than the opportunity to spend Valentine's Day with Wife Beatin' Jason Kidd.
MOST EMBARRASSING NEW YORK TIMES CORRECTION EVER: From Thursday: "Because of an editing error, a front-page article yesterday about diplomatic developments in the Iraq crisis misidentified the Bush administration official who said about the weapons inspectors in Iraq, 'At some point it will become obvious that it's time for them to go.' It was an administration official speaking on condition of anonymity, not Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser." (Via KausFiles.)
Friday, February 14, 2003 NICE GUYS FINISH LAST?: The Daily Pennsylvanian's Eliot Sherman on the perils of being a "nice guy" on Valentine's Day (found via Jordan Rockwell).
FRANK AND THE JEWS: The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing, for a story in The Blueprint, one of the truly unique all-around characters in New York, Aaron Braunstein. Braunstein is the host of "Wise Guys, Black Guys, and Rabbis," a weekly radio show on both Sporting News Radio and his website, NYShockjock.com, and his careers in addition to talk show host have included boxing promoter, racecar driver, and synagogue vice president. Braunstein's recent guests have ranged from Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) to Muhammad Ali to John Leguizamo to Don King, and he also scored the first interview nationwide with wrestling's Stone Cold Steve Austin after Austin's arrest last year.
Remember last summer's Hebrew University terrorist bombing that killed 15 people, including two Americans? You may recall that the cafeteria where the bombing took place was named for Frank Sinatra. Braunstein shared that, as he learned from friend and recent radio guest Frank Sinatra, Jr., Francis Albert Sr. was invited to perform in Jerusalem in 1950 by then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, and from then until the end of his life this Italian from Hoboken remained a staunch supporter of the Jewish state, despite his various well-publicized political shifts. Later he made a donation to Hebrew U., resulting in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria.
Braunstein, for what it's worth, is a staunch Republican, but has endorsed Joseph Lieberman for president.
THE VENTURA VENTURE: It was announced last week that former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura has reached a deal to host a nightly talk show on MSNBC. Here are four reasons why Ventura's show will be successful, and four reasons why it will not:
Pro: Cable news shows these days rise and fall on the personality of the host- and Ventura's greatest strength throughout his career (whether in wrestling, radio, or politics) has been his unique, iconoclastic, and unpredictable personality.
Con: But that's a personality of which Minnesota voters quickly tired, which is the biggest reason why he declined to seek re-election rather than face near-certain defeat; the same is certain to eventually happen at the national level. And what about Ventura's frequent off-the-cuff, anti-PC comments? Is MSNBC prepared to fight an advertising boycott each time Jesse insults the Irish, or another ethnic group?
Pro: While the failure of Phil Donahue's show on the network proves that there's next to no viewer demand for left-wing ideology on cable news talk shows, Ventura's brand of centrist, anti-establishment, libertarian politics may very well strike a chord with news junkies sick of both the left-leaning mainstream and Fox's conservative slant, those who are eager to hear thought-provoking arguments not normally put forth in the medium.
Con: There's no evidence that such viewers exist in any significant number. If Fox's success has proven anything, it's that the members of the cable news talk show audience aren't interested in "learning" or in "questioning things"- they're there to hear their own beliefs barked back at them. And liberals don't fit into this equation, since they've already shown that they'd rather watch "The West Wing" (or, for that matter, "Joe Millionaire") than CNN. Fox News has done an able job in filling the demand for hostile right-wing programming (as best exemplified by Bill O'Reilly's brand of not-so-compassionate conservatism) which, once again, simply isn't there for either left-wing or centrist material. Exhibit A for the latter is center-dwelling "Hardball" host Chris Matthews who, despite hosting a show that's as well-known as anything on Fox, gets clobberred nightly in the ratings by the FNC "debate" show that's hosted by Sean Hannity and his prison bitch, Alan Colmes. Since "Hardball" is anything but a pure ideological organ (and at least partially due to Matthews' anti-war stance), it's fallen way behind "Hannity & Colmes"- and Ventura is due to take over Matthews' timeslot.
Pro: But at least a small measure of O'Reilly's success has come from the host's toughness, stubbornness, and mean-spiritedness. Ventura's got a well-known propensity for all three, on top of the sort of physical presence that's bound to intimidate guests into telling the truth. Besides, there are tons of guests who it would make logical sense to see Jesse interview, from future political star Arnold Schwarzneggar to Vince McMahon to new Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Con: O'Reilly may not be any smarter than the college dropout Ventura, but his strength is his skill as a debater. O'Reilly's guests rarely get the better of him, but if Ventura uses a similar format it's likely that a great many of his opponents will out-talk and generally embarrass him. Which can only be harmful to the fortunes of the show, especially at the start.
Pro: MSNBC is littered with the bodies of the hosts of ill-conceived talk shows, from Mike Barnicle to Alan Keyes to Donahue. Ventura's show looks more promising than any of those- and besides, doesn't the law of averages prove the network will eventually break its losing streak?
Con: It may just prove that the MSNBC has been doomed all along to eventual failure. When even the network's flagship, "Hardball," is in 3rd place each night, it shows that MSNBC may simply be beyond help; Ventura's been described as their last, best hope to stay in business. Whether he was the right choice remains to be seen, though let's not forget that the last time Jesse and NBC were in business together was the XFL, which is generally regarded as the most sorrowful debacle in the history of network television.
MSNBC is my favorite of the three cable news channels and I very much hope that it stays in business, and as an on-again-off-again fan of Ventura ever since his wrestling days I do plan to watch. Like President Bush, Ventura's at his best when people underestimate him- after all, it still hasn't sunk in for me, five years later, that he was actually elected governor of Minnesota. There is a chance that his show will catch on, but I certainly wouldn't be making any wagers to the effect that it will, or (for that matter) that MSNBC will even still be on the air this time next year. Even less likely to succeed? The rumored new primetime show to be hosted on the network by Sam Donaldson. Why would anyone who didn't watch Donahue watch Sam?
Perhaps what MSNBC needs is some sex appeal, which they've clearly been missing ever since Ashleigh Banfield all but disappeared from the air a few months ago. Ventura's certainly not the one to provide it, and neither is Donaldson. How about a new nightly show co-hosted by comely correspondents Campbell Brown and Norah O'Donnell, who both have brains and knowledge to go with their looks? They can also toss in Dan Abrams, for the ladies.
AND SPEAKING OF MSNBC...: The network's other big hire this week was the return of Keith Olbermann, the near-legendary former SportsCenter anchor who has bounced around the news and sports cable networks like a pinball since leaving ESPN in 1997. Keith briefly hosted a nightly show on MSNBC in 1998, until he quit after being forced to talk about Monica Lewinsky in nearly every segment. Keith will host the cable coverage of the 2004 Olympics, as well various other assignments; Olbermann sat in yesterday for the still-hospitalized boss/host Jerry Nachman.
BLOGGING'S GREATEST CONTRIBUTION YET: There's a project underway called the "Cross-Blog Iraq Debate," which was the brainchild of California blogger NZ Bear, in conjunction with the NoWarBlog. The way it works is that five questions are prepared by the pro-war side for the anti-war side to answer, and vice versa, and the answers are all posted on the respective host blogs. The questions are intelligent and inquisitive, and the only thing this project can possibly do is foster increased discussion and knowledge. Check back over the weekend for my responses.
FILM CRITIC QUOTE OF THE DAY: "A shoo-in for the Moral Duplicity special prize, Matthew Ryan Hoge's "The United States of Leland" turns the murder of a retarded child into an occasion for a Sartre-for-idiots meditation on "all the sadness" in the world—the victim is stabbed, but might just as well have been suffocated with the plastic bag from 'American Beauty.'" -Dennis Lim, The Village Voice.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "For example, [Bush will] say Islam is a religion of peace. Which is nonsense. In fact, many of the remarks made by religious people are nonsensical. People say, 'I think Jesus is my best friend.' No one responds as they should to that, which is to say, 'You should be locked up, that’s utter crap.'" -from an interview with the great, great Christopher Hitchens.
BUCKLE UP, BUTTERCUP: New York City has decided to put the kibosh on those annoying recorded celebrity voices in taxicabs that remind passengers to buckle up. The biggest problem seemed to be that the TLC (Taxi & Limousine Commission) simply wasn't able to get effective celebrities, and thus hired only people whose voices no one wants to hear (like Joan Rivers, Elmo, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer).
One funny story though- during one of my first trips to NYC during college, I ate dinner one night at Carnegie Deli, which was decorated with multiple posters of Jackie Mason, then starring in a one-man show. Then, as we were heading out the door, Jackie Mason himself walked right in, having just finished his performance that evening. Then, when we got into the cab five minutes later, the buckle-up voice in the cab was provided by, you guessed it, Jackie Mason.
JENNY JENNY, YOU'RE THE GIRL FOR ME: Just three more days left to vote in the "America's Sexiest Jennifer" poll. Jennifer Garner leads with 33% of the vote, followed by Jennifer Connelly with 14% and Jennifer Aniston and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, tied at 13%. I find it quite inspiring that more of my readers find Gov. Granholm sexy than they do Jennifer Lopez (10%).
I PITY THE FOOLS: Much as the neocons of the Bush foreign policy team know what they're doing when it comes to fighting terrorism, they're not unaffected by the mass pop-culture ignorance common to America's political right. Take Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who this week referred to the Iran-backed, Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah as "The A-Team of terrorists." As anyone who watched '80s TV knows, "The A-Team" kicked ass- shouldn't comparing a group to them be a compliment? Does this make Hezbollah kingpin Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah "Mr. T"? Shouldn't it be "Mr. N"?
If we can't do any better than this in our rhetoric, this could be trouble- what's next, a slam of Osama Bin Laden as "terror's knight rider"? Maybe that's why we haven't found him yet, 'cause he escaped Afghanistan in his talking car...
OOH, IT'S SPOOKY!: Can anyone explain how this works?
MY KIND OF RAZZMATAZZ: I finally caught "Chicago" tonight, and enjoyed it very much. I didn't like it as much as "Gangs of New York" or "The Hours," but I still find it very worthy of its Best Picture nomination. The film also earned all of its nominations in the technical categories, as the staging, costumes, cinematography, and music were dynamite at just about every turn. And beyond the amazing performances by both Catherine Zeta-Jones and the great John C. Reilly, everyone in the cast was perfectly capable of singing the superb Kander & Ebb songs.
The best musical number was the "Cell Block Tango" sequence, although the less said about the Lil' Kim hiphop cover the better. I also loved Queen Latifah's song; if this movie had been made five years ago we know the part probably would've been played by Whoopi Goldberg, and it may have sunk the film.
Renee Zellweger, as Roxie Hart, sings and acts well enough, but two years after gaining both weight and acting credibility for her role in "Bridget Jones' Diary," Renee now looks so emaciated that frankly, it's a distraction. Also, with her hair and costumes, when Roxie is shot in anything but closeup she looks more like Sarah Jessica Parker than Zellweger- and no, that's not a compliment.
And don't count me among those shedding tears over Richard Gere's Oscar snub. The last few weeks HBO has been running Gere's 1996 movie "Primal Fear," another film where he plays a hotshot Chicago lawyer defending a murderer who's guilty- using the same accent, the same mannerisms, and even some of the same lines- the same role, really, minus the singing.
Like "Moulin Rouge" before it, I was rooting for "Chicago" to be successful, because there haven't been nearly enough movie musicals in recent years- and now that "Chicago" is a huge hit, we can now expect Hollywood to quickly greenlight films based on every hit Broadway musical in the past 25 years. We've got the inevitable all-sung film remake of "The Producers" (with Lane and Broderick) to look forward to, plus movie versions of the thus-far unfilmed parts of the Andrew Lloyd Webber canon. A few years ago Tim Burton almost filmed Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd"; that may be just the project to get Burton's career back on track. And of course, it's only a matter of time until we see "Rent: The Movie"; last year a version was all set to go with Spike Lee directing but that, mercifully, fell apart shortly before production was to start.
I'm all for this trend, for a couple of reasons: I can't wait to see the smug Manhattan theater freaks whine when their favorite original cast members are replaced with movie stars for the films, and also because the trend is certain to lead into a revival of perhaps my favorite film subgenre of all: the pseudo-psychedelic musical. Just as the Rogers & Hammerstein filmed musicals of the '60s gave way to the likes of "Pink Floyd: The Wall," "Yellow Submarine," and (of course) "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" in the '70s and '80s, I can't wait for the current, conventional musicals to be followed by a spate of crazy trippy pictures by mid-decade. Wouldn't you love to see Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman take a crack at the genre?
ENOUGH MUSICAL THEATER- LET'S TALK ABOUT FOOTBALL!: The San Francisco 49ers, known until recently as one of the classiest and most well-run organizations in all of professional sports, this week made the dumbfounding decision to hire Dennis Erickson as their new head coach. This is just the latest in the sad, sordid tale of what has become of this once-great organization in recent years, one whose inner turmoil is now virtually certain to translate into on-field disaster.
The 49ers won a total of five Super Bowls in the '80s and '90s under coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert, and invented the most influential on-field strategic innovation in football in the past 20 years, the West Coast Offense. At one point almost half the head coaches in football were either direct proteges of Walsh, or proteges of Walsh's various proteges (Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Andy Reid, etc.). After '80s owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., was indicted, and had to give up control of the team to his sister Denise and her husband John York, the mid-late '90s version of the the team was facing what looked like ruin due to salary cap miscalculations and the retirement of future Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young- until San Francisco returned to contention due to the contributions of young stars Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens and new coach Steve Mariucci. But a feud soon developed between Mariucci and the management team of York, "consultant" Walsh, and General Manager Terry Donahue, and it began to appear that "Mooch" would soon be on his way out.
The first of San Francisco's coaching miscalculations took place last off-season, in which they were prepared to let Mariucci walk away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with two years left on his contract, so that they could take a run at Jon Gruden, who was openly looking to leave the Oakland Raiders. But Raiders owner Davis wasn't about to let Gruden walk away to his crosstown rival, so he engineered a deal with Tampa Bay in which the Bucs hired not Mariucci but Gruden, compensating the Raiders with four draft choices and sticking the Niners with the coach they wanted to get rid of. The Raiders and Bucs played in the Super Bowl last year; the 49ers did not.
Mariucci coached the Niners to another division title (and playoff victory over the Giants) last year, but he was nonetheless fired by York, who apparently went into the subsequent coach search with no plan whatsoever while Mariucci moved on and was hired by Detroit. With a virtual treasure trove of former 49ers assistants all over the NFL, and numerous others with ties to the Bay Area, San Francisco made no effort whatsoever to pursue logical candidates like Holmgren and Dennis Green, and picked as their three "finalists" a trio of nondescript defensive coordinators. Then they made noises about going after University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel (whose primary qualification seemed to be that he looks like Gruden), before turning around and hiring Oregon State's Erickson, who won a national championship at the University of Miami over a decade ago but utterly failed in a four-year stint as coach of the Seattle Seahawks- not to mention that he has no ties whatsoever to either the 49ers or the Bay Area. Does this mean the Niners will bring in Craig Erickson to play quarterback?
Here's a great piece by Jason Whitlock of ESPN.com on how the 49ers blew it. And another by Michael Silver (no relation) from SI.com.
TRIUMPH OF THE TALKING DOG: The blogger known as The Talking Dog, who I was recently disappointed to discover is not actually a dog but rather a guy from Brooklyn named Seth Farber, is going through the alphabet and providing descriptions of each blog on his blogroll ("The Dog Run"); he's bound to soon reach the S's. Check it out.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 SUB-PAR SUB-POENA: According to ESPN.com, attorneys for the estranged wife of superstar NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon were turned away yesterday after attempting to serve Gordon with a subpoena at Daytona International Speedway, where the driver is preparing for this weekend's Daytona 500.
As reported in last week's Sports Illustrated (not online), millions of NASCAR fans despise Gordon for his decidedly non-redneck, California city-slicker image, alternately taunting him about the divorce and accusing him of being gay. Perhaps Brooke Gordon's lawyers thought they'd be cheered on by the NASCAR throngs as they served Jeff Gordon with the summons at the track. And if that didn't work, maybe they could've had another driver in another car pass Gordon the papers, at 150mph, during the race. 'Cause that would rule.
This exemplifies a new trend of vengeful ex-paramours of athletes attempting to embarrass the stars "at the office," by crashing their actual competitions. There was an incident during the 2001 baseball season in which David Justice, then with the Yankees, was served with a paternity suit from a woman whose lawyer ran out onto the field with the papers during a game in Anaheim. The humiliation of that moment, on top of lingering remorse over his decision to dump Halle Berry a decade ago, apparently got to be so much for Justice that he retired last week.
BIGGEST NEWS IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE: The Big Bang Theory has been proven true. For those of you out there who still had lingering doubts...
PLAYIN' KISS COVERS, BEAUTIFUL AND STONED: My favorite album of 2002, Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" has won the Village Voice's 29th (or 30th?) Pazz & Jop music critics' poll, the most comprehensive poll of music writers in North America. And much as I thought I was disconnected from hipster musical tastes, my top five albums for the year (Wilco, Springsteen, Norah Jones, Beck, and Bright Eyes) are all represented in the Top 20. How do ya like that...
AN HONOR JUST TO BE NOMINATED:The nominations for the 75th Annual Academy Awards were announced this morning. Here are some stream-of-consciousness ramblings; all links are to my original reviews of the films.
- I'm generally in agreement with the Best Picture nominees, although I am yet to see "Chicago" or "The Pianist." This in contrast to last year, when two absolutely abominable films ("In the Bedroom" and winner "A Beautiful Mind") were both up for the big prize. Prediction? I stick with yesterday- "Chicago" wins Best Picture, "Gangs of New York" Best Director.
- I would've liked to see my favorite movie of the year, "Road to Perdition," up for Best Picture, but I'm content with its recognition for Supporting Actor (Paul Newman), Cinematography, Art Direction, Original Score, Sound, and Sound Editing.
- The five Best Actor nominees have won seven Oscars among them: three for Jack Nicholson, two for Michael Caine, and one each for Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicolas Cage. My pick? Great as Jack was in "About Schmidt," I gotta go with DDL.
- The most glaring snub of the whole list? The best performance of the year by a man or woman, Maggie Gyllenhaal's in "Secretary," went unrecognized for Best Actress. Andrew Sullivan already pointed out that this year's nominations are the gayest in Oscar history, but apparently the Academy draws the line at S&M.
- I was right about two noms for Julianne Moore, though Meryl Streep must settle for just one (for "Adaptation"). Having not seen "Far From Heaven" yet I'm not ready to make a Best Actress pick, but I do think that Moore overshadowed both Streep and Kidman in "The Hours," and that's enough for me to pick Julianne over the Most Beautiful Woman Alive, Catherine Zeta-Jones, for Best Supporting Actress.
- There are so, so, many great actors and actresses in this world who have never gotten an Oscar nomination. But now, they're all looking up at Queen Latifah. She won't be the only rapper on Oscar night; Eminem is nominated for Best Song for "Lose Yourself" from "8 Mile." - All five Supporting Actor nominees are great performers and very, very deserving. I was thrilled to see Christopher Walken recognized, as he was the best thing about "Catch Me If You Can," though I certainly wouldn't complain about one more Oscar for Paul Newman. But I've got a hunch this is John C. Reilly's year- he is I believe the first actor in history to appear in three of the five Best Picture nominees. Long live Reed Rothschild!
- There's all sorts of craziness in the Screenplay categories- "Gangs of New York" is based on the book of the same name by Herbert Asbury, so why is it "original"? Ditto for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (based on star Nia Vardalos' standup routine) and "Far From Heaven" (essentially a remake of Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows.") And while "Adaptation" takes as part of its inspiration Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief," it is not, itself, really an "adaptation." I'm rooting for it to win though, so we get to see the world's first-ever fictional Oscar winner, Donald Kaufman.
- I saw it coming, but Michael Moore's loathsome, overlong, dishonest, condescending, self-aggrandizing, and hatefully anti-American "Bowling For Columbine" is a nominee for Best Documentary Feature, while two other great docs (Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen's "The Kid Stays in the Picture" and Sam Jones' "I am Trying to Break Your Heart") were left out. If there's any justice the only Moore recognized on Oscar night will be Julianne.
- And due to the Academy's convoluted rules, neither "Y Tu Mama Tambien" nor "Talk to Her" is eligible for Best Foreign Language Film, although both are nominated in other categories.
- Strange that there are five nominees for Animated Feature, when I don't know that there were more than five full-length animated features released in the US this year. They reached down so far that even the universally panned Disney film "Treasure Planet" was picked.
- Why is "Frida" nominated for Best Achievement in Makeup, when all Salma Hayek had to do was stop tweezing her eyebrows?
That's likely it for Oscar commentary until the big night (March 23rd). There'll be more analysis after that- but if you're looking for commentary on what people were wearing, look somewhere else.