Sunday, February 29, 2004 MEN ARE FROM MARS: Marc Cooper of LA Weekly, as quoted by Mickey Kaus, has an interesting theory about Sunday's presidential debate:
If you were a man from Mars who looked at the debate not knowing anything about the candidates or issues but just deciding who was most appealing, would you rank Kerry first? No. You'd rank him last. Kucinich and Sharpton might well be the Man from Mars winners, as performers--Kucinich was flush with that Hawaiian serotonin--with Edwards a close third.
I agree- if Edwards can win North Carolina, wouldn't you expect Kucinich to have a home-state advantage with the Man From Mars?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "To check out some drama dykes, I finally watched an episode of 'The L Word' in hopes of seeing who that kooky concoction is really for. The show started with two hot women making out as a guy peered through a window, jerking off. I rest my Birkenstocks, your honor." -Michael Musto, in the Village Voice.
Saturday, February 28, 2004 MICHAEL LEWIS VS. BASEBALL: Michael Lewis, who last year turned the Major League Baseball world upside down with his Billy Beane biography/sabermetrics bible "Moneyball," has a piece (not online) in this week's Sports Illustrated defending himself from the many critics of his book- and he fights back so fiercely that you'd think organized baseball was systematically cracking down not on steroids, but rather on his book.
Now I've gone on record numerous times as saying that I loved "Moneyball," consider it the most important book about baseball since Jim Bouton's "Ball Four," and truly believe that the onset of statistical-analysis use as applied by Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and others has been one of the most important developments in the last decade of the game. However, intrigued as I am by it I do not believe sabermetrics to be the be-all and end-all of baseball strategy, and I'm a bit irked by those who look on it in an almost messianic way. Lewis' SI piece is much more in that vein than the book was, and while he's right in some places the overall tone in the piece is paranoid, self-important and, above all, very arrogant.
Lewis writes of all the shots he's taken from the media and baseball establishment since "Moneyball" was published a year ago, lumping all the scattered voices who have dared to criticize the book into an amorphous entity he calls "The Club," as though players and executives and sportswriters and scouts are all on the same page and don't have natural feuds with one another. Sounding a lot like Rush Limbaugh bashing the Democrats, Lewis takes a few extreme examples (Joe Morgan's repeated, misinformed insistence that Beane actually wrote "Moneyball," and the ludicrous piece in the Toronto Star which argued that sabermetrics was racist), and paints anyone and everyone who ever argued with the book with the same conspiratorial brush. He writes not so much about "Moneyball" being a highly acclaimed, extremely successful best-seller that most fans loved; Lewis is too busy playing the victim to bother dwelling on the positive.
For instance, as an example of the "scorn" he and Beane have earned from various sportswriters (who, bizarrely, he twice calls "the womens' auxiliary"), Lewis includes this from Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
It was Beane who had a best-selling book, "Moneyball," written mostly about him, in which he bragged endlessly about outsmarting more wealthy clubs by reinventing the way players were evaluated.
It's critical of Lewis, yes- but is any part of that statement not true? Not to mention that in the original piece by Thiel, which doesn't even mention Beane until the 12th paragraph, the above statement is immediately followed with "much of Beane's system is a worthy consideration."
Lewis doesn't treat baseball establishmentarians as people with a differing opinion- he speaks of them as though they were heretics for daring to disagree with his book- even at one point comparing his battle with his critics to "a religious war... between creationists and evolutionists." True, sabermetrics is a revolutionary idea that has transformed the game and will continue to do so even more in the future- but does that mean the old way has never worked or will never work again? Of course not- there have been many great teams built various ways throughout history- would the '86 Mets have been so vastly improved if they'd brought in a centerfielder with a higher on-base percentage than Mookie Wilson's?
Additionally, is it not a legitimate argument to point out that Oakland has not yet won a playoff series and has suffered four straight first-round exits under Beane, or that another small market/low payroll team (the Florida Marlins) won last year's World Series without any use of sabermetrics at all? And of course baseball's fraternity of scouts has resisted the "Moneyball" phenomenon- if a new, untested theory were introduced that threatened to make your entire profession irrelevant, you'd fight it tooth and nail too.
But the biggest weakness of all in the piece is that "The Club" isn't nearly as monolithic as Lewis says it is: Someone in baseball must've liked the book, since one of the sport's most tradition-bound franchises, the Dodgers, just hired Beane protege Paul DePodesta as their GM, and more such hires are likely to come. In fact, what will probably happen in the next decade is that sabermetrics in baseball will end up like the West Coast offense in football- about half the clubs will use it, and teams will constantly be hiring GMs who are proteges of Billy Beane and proteges of his proteges, the way Bill Walsh begat George Seifert who begat Mike Holmgren. But other systems will be used by other teams, and no one will ever be under the illusion that Moneyball is the only way to go. After all, has anyone ever tried to argue that the West Coast offense is the only right way to win football games?
Michael Lewis wrote an entertaining, well-received, and very influential book which may in fact change baseball forever. But due to his apparent aversion to ever being criticized for any reason, he has unfortunately tarnished the book by writing a condescending, overly defensive polemic which is apparently based upon his belief that baseball doesn't appreciate him enough. He's spent so much time accusing others of being closed-minded that he's become closed-minded himself.
NOTE:Jeremy Wahlman, who will almost certainly be posting a contrary response to this entry imminently, met Lewis at a book signing last year, and is generally credited with being the very first person to alert Lewis to Joe Morgan's repeated claim that Beane wrote the book.
A BIN LADEN CONSPIRACY?: To hear Dave Taylor of the Naples Daily News tell it, a US capture of Osama Bin Laden is "imminent," and Fox News knows it. Taylor speculates that the Bush Administration has Bin Laden in their immediate sights and that's why FNC reporter Bret Baier has been dispatched to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. And since FNC is the most pro-Bush network, administration sources gave them the heads-up so they could have the exclusive on OBL's capture, with Fox's sure-to-be-fawning coverage sure to help Bush politically.
Aside from the complete lack of any hard evidence whatsoever, it's an interesting conspiracy theory, though I am prepared to eat my words if it does come off like that. But if US forces have been chasing Bin Laden around that region for the past two and a half years, why are they so sure he's about to be caught now? And wouldn't having a reporter nearby tip al-Qaeda off that the forces are about to swoop in?
Besides, you'd think that if a Bin Laden capture really were "imminent," that they would've sent Geraldo.
HIS WORST MOMENT SINCE CAPONE'S VAULT: As Bill points out, Geraldo Rivera's convoy was hit with enemy fire this morning in Iraq. He's okay, and has been appearing on TV to talk about it every 15 minutes since, but all it can do is bring to mind an SNL "Weekend Update" joke by Tina Fey:
Geraldo Rivera will leave his CNBC news show to go to Afghanistan as a war correspondent for Fox News. This raises an interesting moral question: do we have to act sad if Geraldo dies?"
HUH, HUH, YOU SAID "PHYSICAL": From a Sports Illustrated piece by Peter King about Maurice Clarett, his refusal to work out for NFL teams, and the growing irrelevance of the NFL Scouting Combine:
Clarett did not come across as well to inquiring minds. Asked what kind of player the team drafting him would be getting, he sounded more like Beavis than Jamal Lewis. "I don't know," Clarett responded. Then he chuckled and said, "cool."
Funny what can happen in the course of human events between a Tuesday and a Friday. Since Beavis is currently not under federal indictment for drug trafficking, and Jamal Lewis is, the Ravens would perhaps be better at this point with Beavis, Butt-head or Clarett in their backfield. Of those three, I'd say the best bet is Clarett: he may have only spent one year in college, but then Beavis and Butt-head are still stuck in middle school. Expect a lawsuit soon in regards to their draft eligibility.
MUST-READ 'PASSION' LINKS: Some of them are repeats from before, but worth sharing regardless:
- Sheila O'Malley's review- mostly positive, and including a long discussion of whether or not the guy playing Pilate is “a babe."
- And here’s Bill McCabe’s, and he also (rightly) chastises people for bringing their babies to this film. I wish the other seven people we went with had written reviews, but they don’t have blogs.
- Leon Wieseltier’s TNR review, one of the most scathing film pieces I’ve ever read- though I appreciate his reference to a hypothetical “Upper West Side Sanhedrin.”
- Here’s a great Village Voice piece by Jessica Winter from last November, which looks at Gibson’s previous work and argues that he has a “martyr complex.”
- Roger Ebert’s four-star take, which seems rooted in nostalgia for his own Catholic upbringing- though I’m surprised to see Ebert, who normally worships at the altar of liberal message movies, love the conservative-endorsed “The Passion” as much as he does.
- Andrew Sullivan, in five paragraphs, goes from praising Gibson’s film to calling it “a deeply immoral work of art.” And as always with the Sage of South Goodstone, there are too many worthwhile follow-ups and reader e-mails to mention.
- Also in TNR, Sullivan’s protege Reihan Salam breaks down the pundits, naming NYT columnist Frank Rich “the Pope of pointy-heading cultural elites,” and declares that “if sneering were an Olympic sport, Rich… would be so heavily laden with gold medals as to render him immobile.” Also, the Muslim Reihan makes fun of the Catholic William Donohue for using the Jewish word “chutzpah.” Only in America!
- Dong Resin gives us a typically hilarious paragraph of “things not to say on your cell phone outside the Jesus movie.” Of all the links in this entry, his is the only one which mentions bukkake.
- New York Press unfortunately didn’t let Armond White near this one, but Matt Zoller Seitz contributes a lengthy but very interesting review. I had always assumed Seitz was Jewish but I guess he’s Catholic; he generally praises the film except for pointing out longtime homophobe Gibson’s apparent fixation on machismo and queer-ish characters (the androgynous Satan, Herod and his "La Cage" entourage, etc.)
- And lastly, once again, I can’t recommend the Jon Meacham Newsweek article enough.
Sorry for being all-"Passion"-all-the-time these last few days, but whatever you say about the film, it's not one that gets out of your system easily.
BROOKLINE IN THE HOUSE!: Jeremy Wahlman, who now edits hockey highlights for a living (please don’t hate him) has returned from a months-long hiatus and is back blogging at Something’s Always Wrong. Go read all his posts- including the one where he takes partial (but very deserved!) credit for Michael Lewis' piece in the new Sports Illustrated.
UH HUH- OH NO!: I find out from Gawker that Fannypack, the group behind last year’s infamous novelty hit “Cameltoe,” performed last night at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, which is exactly six blocks from my apartment. I didn’t go, of course, but if the show started at 9, the car containing myself and three others drove past the club- on our way to see “Passion of the Christ”- just as Fannypack was taking the stage. So don’t ever say entertainment options in North Jersey in wintertime aren’t diverse- there’s Christ- or “Cameltoe”!
OSCAR PICKS: These are predictions, not my personal favorites, though in most cases they're both:
Best Picture: "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
Best Director: Peter Jackson, "Return of the King"
Best Actor: Bill Murray, "Lost in Translation"
Best Actress: Charlize Theron, "Monster"
Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, "Mystic River"
Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger, "Cold Mountain"
Best Original Screenplay: Sofia Coppola, "Lost in Translation"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, "Mystic River"
Best Documentary Feature: "Fog of War"
Best Animated Feature: "Finding Nemo"
I think I'll do a real-time "Oscar diary" Sunday night, could be fun.
AND ON A LIGHTER NOTE: Something I noticed while watching the film, and it bothered me the rest of the night:
Which is Jim Caviezel as Jesus- and which is Mick Foley as Cactus Jack?
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MEL: After nearly a year of nothing but hype and controversy, tonight I finally saw Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." So far this week the film's critical reception has been mixed, with a consensus forming around the view that the blood and gore was excessive, but that Gibson deserved to be exonerated of anti-Semitism charges.
Aside from the "mixed review" part, which I agree with, my conclusion is the opposite: I was less put off by the violence than most, yet there were indeed moments when I found "The Passion" uncomfortably- and disgustingly- anti-Semitic.
Now perhaps it's impossible to view this film through an objective lens, after following the firestorm for the past year and reading strong reviews both pro and con for the past few days. That said, Mel Gibson's unstilting arrogance, his disregard for the history of the Jews-killed-Jesus canard, and the well-established martyr complex that has seen his hero-characters tortured and (in the case of "Braveheart") crucified in the majority of his action pictures, have all been well-documented. Perhaps it is unfair to tar his film with that brush, but he has made it incredibly difficult not to.
Still, from a technical and filmmaking standpoint, 'Passion' is for the most part a marvelous picture, with beautiful cinematography by Caleb Deshanel and excellent storytelling (it is, after all, the "greatest story ever told.") Jim Caviezel, despite barely speaking, gives a very impressive performance as Jesus, and there are no weak links in the generally unknown cast. The violence has gotten all the attention and it was more than a little disturbing, but while cringing like I everyone else I wasn't "offended"- the massive amounts of gore were necessary for the film, and for that I give Gibson a pass- I'm not about to throw around the "pornography" charge, because I can't imagine anyone found this titillating.
Now there are certainly all sorts of questions about how faithful Gibson was to the Gospels, questions which might be better answered by a theologian or a Christian, of which I am neither. But my charge of the film as anti-Semitic has nothing to do with the words that are spoken and how they correspond to the New Testament, and everything to do with the choices Gibson makes as director- he casts every major Jewish role with stereotypically Jewish-looking actors, who -from Caiphus on down- behave like villains in a Jewish minstrel show. Not to mention Gibson's decision to shoot the crowd scenes wide, in order to establish unmistakably that a Jewish mob is calling for Jesus' death. Yes, Gibson agreed to take out the "His blood be on us, and on our children" line- but only under extreme duress; it would've been more honest and true to his convictions for Gibson to have kept the line in. I'm not worried that this will lead to pogroms or anything like that, but what does bother me is that Gibson would allow such a shameful depiction, and that he will make tens of millions of dollars doing it.
A few other things that rubbed me the wrong way: The androgynous-Satan character was way too silly for words, but that was nothing compared to Luca De Dominicis' interpretation of King Herod as what appeared to be a cross-dressing Elvis impersonator, surrounded by Cirque du Soleil clowns. That was just laughable, and way out of place in a biblical movie.
As I mentioned before, I saw the film with eight other people (including Bill and Sheila, who should have comments of their own pretty soon) and after it was over we spent almost a half hour talking about, debating about, and asking each other about the film- the Jews asked the Catholics about the Gospels, while the Catholics asked the Jews if we understood any of the Aramaic (I made out "L'Chaim"). I don't regret that I saw the film- it's flawed and offensive in many ways- but I can't deny that the film and debate surrounding it have both been quite thought-provoking.
Meanwhile, wherever you come down on "Passion of the Christ," or Jesus himself, this Newsweek piece by Jon Meachem is a must-read.
SAD TALES OF OLD WRESTLERS, CONT'D: Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake setting off a bioterror scare in the Boston subway was bad enough- now it appears Jake "The Snake" Roberts has killed his own snake. The 48-year-old ex-grappler, who always used to carry a snake to the ring and drape it over his defeated opponent, was arrested along with his 59-year-old girlfriend on charges that they "malnourished and neglected [their] Burmese python snake" until the poor reptile died.
Fans of the documentary "Beyond the Mat" may remember Roberts as a lifelong mean drunk and drug abuser who blew as many chances in wrestling as Darryl Strawberry did in baseball. Despite all the dozens of wrestlers who have died early deaths from drugs and other causes, Roberts has managed to keep chugging along, even if he's had to neglect a snake or two along the way.
THE LAST WORD ON "SEX AND THE CITY": Rachel Elder has a great review on The Black Table; my personal favorite part is when she expresses her wish that the last episode of 'Sex' had ended the same way the "Twin Peaks" finale did, with Carrie running head-first into a mirror. And it would've been even cooler if her reflection in the broken glass had been a returning Kyle McLachlan.
MR. LEWIS GOES TO JAIL: Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis was indicted yesterday on federal drug trafficking charges, and today he turned himself in and plead not guilty. With that, Lewis becomes only the second-best Baltimore Raven to be indicted for a major crime, after Ray Lewis, who is himself only the second-greatest player in NFL history to be tried for double-murder.
Also, funny that in the afore-linked ESPN.com story, there's an ad for the DVD of "Playmakers." Some subversive anti-NFL tweaking there by the Bristol people, methinks!
TALK ABOUT 'THE PASSION': I'll finally be seeing "Passion of the Christ" tomorrow (Thursday) night with nine other people and the group, appropriately, will be about half Jews and half Catholics. The last time I saw a movie with a group that large was when 20 of us caught the opening showing of (cough) "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" back in '99.
I'll post preliminary comments here once I return, and will also be writing a full review for Hot Movie Ticket. 12:25 AM
A QUESTION FOR THE PRODUCERS OF "ER": I know you guys have fallen in love lately with big, audacious special effects- hence the helicopter crashes, severed limbs, war-torn-Africa episodes, etc. But how do you propose to explain the presence of a tank in the middle of downtown Chicago? Unless it's a flashback episode set in 1968, I'm stumped.
If it weren't for Maura Tierney, Linda Cardellini and (especially) Thandie Newton, I might just have to stop watching that show.
POINT 'DREAD': There's another big movie coming out this week, though it's gotten about one one-thousandth the publicity of Mr. Gibson's Opus. It's "Broken Lizard's Club Dread," the follow-up to that troupe's brilliant 2002 comedy "Super Troopers," and it co-stars Bill Paxton in addition to the rest of the usual troupe. Because it's opening against 'The Passion,' an ingenious preview in Newsweek has labeled 'Club Dread' "the Anti-'Christ'," and quoted one cast member as saying that if 'Dread' somehow beats out Gibson's film at the box office, they will be "bigger than Jesus." Another point in 'Club Dread''s favor- it's unlikely anyone will die while watching it, which is more than I can say for Mel's movie.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004 WHY WE LOVE THE POST:
New York's Catholic cardinal's "message of love" in relation to the Jesus movie plays second fiddle to the story of a fugitive killer holed up in a Costa Rican gay strip club. 'Cause as we all know, the word "cardinal" doesn't sell nearly as many newspapers as the word "stripper."
THE STERN VOTE, CONT'D: You thought the Stern voters were alienated before... now, Howard has been pulled from the air on all Clear Channel-owned stations, after an "offensive" bit aired on this morning's show. The cancellation was the result of a "zero tolerance" policy for "indecency" which was imposed on all Clear Channel on-air employees earlier in the week, apparently by someone who had never heard the Stern show before. As a result, until Stern assures executives that he "will conform to acceptable standards of responsible broadcasting," the show will no longer be heard in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, San Diego, or Pittsburgh. Therefore, Floridians who appreciate raunchy morning-time humor are basically screwed, because Clear Channel also fired local morning host and Hulk Hogan confidante Bubba the Love Sponge earlier this week.
This is of course nonsense; Clear Channel is so scared shitless of avoiding fines from the Bush FCC that they're willing to alienate massive segments of their audience. Don't they realize that to an extremely large segment of the population, "zero tolerance" equals "zero fun"? And with the FCC going nuts post-Janet, the Bush Administration's insistence in re-igniting the culture war will only serve to even further separate the president from the "Stern voters" I spoke of earlier.
The press release announcing the news includes phone numbers and e-mail addresses for two of Clear Channel's in-house PR people; the over/under on death threats to those addresses in the next 24 hours should be around 1 million.
WOLVES LOOM:The New Jersey Nets are 13-0 under "Teaneck Larry" Frank, though tonight they travel to "Minny" to take on Garnett and the T-Wolves in a battle of division leaders. Methinks the streak ends tonight.
"GO THE GAY WAY!": No, this isn't another marriage post, but rather a review of today's Netflix movie, Rory Kelly's 1994 comedy "Sleep With Me." The film, starring Eric Stoltz, Craig Sheffer, and Meg Tilly, is probably best known for Quentin Tarantino's infamous monologue in which he argues that "Top Gun" was in fact about a man's struggle with his homosexuality (hence the title of this post). But it's also a very funny, albeit imperfect, comedy that fits very well into the "slacker romance" subgenre of the time, and it's about ten times better than the similar, contemporaneous "Reality Bites."
And another thing I liked about the film was the presence of the strikingly beautiful Meg Tilly, Jennifer Tilly's considerably more talented younger sister, who looks almost exactly like a girl I went out with in high school. Meg also starred in "The Big Chill" and "Agnes of God"- but, according to the IMDB, never appeared in another theatrical feature after "Sleep With Me." Anyone have any idea what became of her?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "President Bush came out today against gay marriage; according to Bush, the new Axis of Evil consists of Cher, Bette Midler, and Clay Aiken." -Conan O'Brien
BUSH TO GAYS: DROP DEAD: Remember when the purpose of constitutional amendments were to expand freedoms? You know, freedom of speech, of the press, the right to vote, abolition of slavery, that sort of thing? Today, for the first time, a constitutional amendment has been introduced that will take away substantial freedom- namely, the freedom of gays to be recognized by their government. Today's backing by President Bush of an amendment that would not only ban gay marriage but also civil unions and benefit-granting laws by states is an abomination, and Bush's lowest moment as president.
Now it's likely that the amendment will never enjoy enough support to pass, which is a good thing. But regardless, the president has essentially told millions of people to go fuck themselves, in order to energize a "base" that will likely vote for him regardless- and don't forget, nearly a quarter of America's gay population voted Republican in 2000. Expect that number to now approach zero.
This straight guy is wholeheartedly supportive of gay marriage, for both liberal and conservative reasons: It's a civil rights issue that helps the people concerned and hurts no one, while at the same time encouraging both love and family values rather than promiscuity. This notion that seemed so completely radical as recently as two years ago is now a reality: it's legal in Canada, it's about to be in Massachusetts, and in the past two weeks more than 3,000 gay couples have been issued marriage licenses by the city of San Francisco. Have any Americans been injured the slightest bit by any of the above? Of course not.
Andrew Sullivan is, of course, the definitive place for commentary on this, but see also Mike Silverman. A huge fight is about to begin- and if an eventual Bush loss is traced back to today, I won't be the slighest bit surprised. "Uniter, not a divider" my ass.
FILM CRITIC QUOTE OF THE DAY: "'Monty Python's Life of Brian' offers a more accurate guide," Jonathan Foreman, reviewing "Passion of the Christ" in the New York Post. Ebert and Roeper liked it, but the film has been slammed by everyone from David Denby to Jeff Jacoby.
I'll be seeing the film on Thursday, but in the meantime check out this entertaining TNR piece by Reihan Salam, which gives thumbnails of the leading 'Passion' pundits.
BLACKLISTED: My first-ever piece for BlackTable.com, an evisceration of ESPN's awful new reality show "Dream Job," is online right now as part of "The Black List" (fourth item from the top).
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I hate Ralph Nader. That's a pretty strong statement, since I'm just not much of a one for hate -- it takes too much energy. I don't even hate the roommate who stole $1,000 from me and reduced me to eating top ramen in water sauce for three months, then brought me up on racial harassment charges for objecting." -Jane Galt, in the middle of a long anti-Nader post. I've gotta hear that whole story- remind me to ask Jane about it at the next Blogger Bash.
STERN VS. BUSH: According to blogger Jeff Jarvis, Howard Stern has backed off his previously stated admiration for President Bush, and now says he is unlikely to vote for Bush's re-election. Stern cited Bush's positions on abortion and stem-cell research as the key reasons for his shift, in addition to threats of censorship from Bush's FCC.
This is potentially huge news, if Bush has alienated the "Stern vote"- and I'm not just speaking of people who literally listen to Stern. Coming from any geographical and socioeconomic walk of life, the Stern voter is a guy who is generally secular, pro-free speech, pro-sex, but anti-PC, and turned off by both the parochialism and prudery of the right and the condescension of the left. I've referred to this segment of the population before as "horny libertarians," and their views are given voice by Stern, "South Park," and various other quarters of pop culture, yet by almost no one in politics, with the once-in-a-lifetime exception of the first Stern voter president, Bill Clinton.
You keep hearing about these "NASCAR dads" as the big swing voters for '04, but I don't imagine the Democrats have any shot at those guys. The Stern voters, on the other hand, are very much up for grabs- and if Bush can't get them in his column, he could be in trouble.
EBERT VS. BISKIND: My two favorite living film writers (now that Pauline Kael is dead) are Peter Biskind and Roger Ebert, and now it looks like they're about to start a feud. In this week's Movie Answer Man column, Ebert answers a question about Biskind's current book "Down and Dirty Pictures" (which I am currently reading), and in it slams the author, writing that "Biskind has a way of massaging his stories to suit his agenda," and then quotes Steven Spielberg as saying that everything Biskind quoted him as saying in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" was false. (What, he wasn't really married to Amy Irving?) Ebert then goes on to quote a source who rips Biskind's book at length.
Biskind is yet to respond, and Ebert is not mentioned in 'Down and Dirty.' Not really sure who to root for here; I've immediately gone and looked up Ebert's review after each and every film I've seen in the last decade, though two of Biskind's books ("The Godfather Companion" and 'Easy Riders') are among my favorite movie books of all time. Can't you just get along, guys?
Monday, February 23, 2004 SHOW ME YOUR iTUNES: Vodkapundit suggests everyone press "shuffle" on their mp3 collection, and list the first ten songs that come up. Here we go:
1. Dana International, "Diva"
2. Stereophonics, "Handbags and Gladrags"
3. Ryan Adams, "Note to Self: Don't Die"
4. Scorpions, "No One Like You"
5. Bob Dylan, "Highway 61 Revisited"
6. Rufus Wainwright, "Good Night Sweetheart"
7. Rooney, "Daisy Duke"
8. Corn Mo, "Busey Boy"
9. Men Without Hats, "Safety Dance"
10. Green Day, "I Fought the Law"
Notes: Of the ten, only one (1) is sung by a transgendered Israeli pop diva, only one (8) is about being mistaken for Gary Busey, and only one (10) was downloaded by me even though it appeared in a national anti-downloading commercial.
"MODESTLY ENDOWED": Why does that phrase always seem to find its way into mainstream media articles about my alma mater Brandeis? Today my school gets the profile treatment from the Boston Globe, on the occasion of Jehuda Reinharz's ten years as president. No big surprises in the piece, aside from a description of the school's new Center for Middle East Studies, which Reinharz promises will be "non-ideological" (sure), and the figure that 'deis is now 54% Jewish.
Generally, the piece trots out the usual comparisons to Harvard and all the stuff about the university unendowment being small, though aside from that it looks like something that was drawn up by the school's PR department. And there's no mention, of course, of the Passner incident.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "And then, along comes Sean Hannity, whose new book has the following obscene title: 'Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism.' Why obscene? It is obscene for Hannity to purloin a sentence from the Lord's Prayer in order to advance his partisan political views. And yes, it is also obscene to equate terrorism and despotism with liberalism. Hannity isn't worthy to speak the word 'liberalism,' a long and complicated and deeply Western political tradition that is the only reason he can actually publish a book like this and face only criticism. To place it in the same context as "terrorism" reveals that this man has no understanding of what this war is about. It's a war in defense of liberalism, in defense of pluralism, in defense of the various peaceful Western political traditions that Islamo-fascism would snuff out in an instant." -Andrew Sullivan, who also gets in some digs at Michael Moore for good measure.
REPORTS OF MY DEMISE HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGERRATED: No, I'm not dead, but this Steve Silver is, and for some reason his death notice from nine years ago comes up first in an MSN search of my name, when really this blog should instead. That guy wrote the musical "Beach Blanket Babylon," which I've probably only heard of myself 'cause of my own Google searches.
So if you looked me up and thought I was dead- good news, I'm alive and well. But unfortunately, it looks as though I'll never have an Al Hirschfeld drawing of myself, like he did:
THE NYT'S MOST DISCREDITED BYLINE SINCE JAYSON BLAIR'S: For my first two years in New York, except on rare occasions, I refused to read the New York Times, for a few reasons: I hated its stuffy tone, I didn't appreciate its negative coverage of Israel, and I liked the Post better anyway. Then in my last job I had to write a news summary that required me to read it (and four other papers) every single day, and slowly but surely I learned to appreciate certain things about the Paper of Record, so long as I kept to the online edition. And since the fall of Howell Raines, and hiring of David Brooks as a columnist, the Times has undoubtedly gotten better, and I've found myself denouncing it less and less.
Until today, that is. Noam Chomsky on the op-ed page? Bashing Israel? Excuse me? I thought the Times would know better than to open their editorial page to a man who has spent the last three decades teaching two generations of college students to hate their country. This would be like if the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Mel Gibson's father.
The only silver lining is that it'll likely be the piece that launched a thousand fiskings. Bring it on, bloggers!
ROBERT COLESBERRY, RIP: The end of "Sex and the City" and the upcoming return of "The Sopranos" are getting all the attention this week, which has unfortunately overshadowed another HBO development: the death last week at the age of 57 of Robert Colesberry, Jr., who co-created HBO's cop drama "The Wire." An amazingly dense and complicated series, "The Wire" was my pick for the best television program of 2003, and in addition to creating and producing the show, Colesberry also occasionally appeared as an actor. Colesberry also co-produced such great films as "Mississippi Burning" and "61*," and served in the Army as a young man.
NO MORE 'SEX,' EVER AGAIN: My last word on "Sex and the City": Yes, it was at times cringe-inducing, especially with the dumb puns (SNL's parody last week was right on, for once) and for the past five years it's been impossible to walk down any street in Manhattan without hearing some woman screeching into her cell phone about Carrie and her shoes. But for some reason, HBO-on-Sunday habit perhaps, I've ended up watching it most weeks regardless.
So a few thoughts on the finale: I could've made six relatively easy predictions before the episode (Carrie finds her necklace, ends up with Big, and leaves Paris; we find out Big's name, Charlotte gets a baby, Samantha doesn't die) and been exactly right. All were the right decision for the writers to make, but really, was any one of those really a surprise? Next thing you'll tell me "Friends" will end with Ross and Rachel getting together!
Also, since Miranda's character arc wrapped up weeks ago, the writers had to come up with a lame plot for her at the end that distracted from everything else in the episode. And the slap, and subsequent "chase scene"? Please... but the ending was satisfying, and I guess that's what counts. A "Sex and the City" movie? I bet we'll see a "Simpsons" movie first, and I'm still holding out hope for an "X-Files 2."
Befitting my schizophrenic relationship with "Sex and the City," I'll follow this lengthy post by never speaking of the show on this blog again.
MEANWHILE: The rest of the HBO calendar, as made clear by commercials everyone saw tonight:
March 7: "Sopranos" fifth season premiere; I plan to blog after every single episode without apology, I hope you don't mind.
April 17: Chris Rock special.
June: "Six Feet Under" fourth season premiere.
I THOUGHT TWICE, IT WASN'T ALL RIGHT, or TODAY'S NETFLIX MOVIE: Rabid Dylanologists, and fans of unintentional comedy, will love "Masked and Anonymous," though I'm not convinced anyone else will. The film, which marks Bob Dylan's first major film role in decades, is a melange of post-apocalyptic nonsense and celebrity cameos and was one of the most critically ravaged 2003 films this side of "Gigli," with Keith Phipps of the Onion AV Club getting in the best dig: "Dylan's performance doesn't offer any clues. He's an icon and he delivers an icon's performance, literally: He could easily have been replaced by piece of wood with his face painted on it."
In a war-torn America that more resembles a third-world country, Dylan stars as a past-his-prime rock troubadour brought out of jail to perform at a "benefit concert," for exactly what purpose is never really made clear. While Dylan is not playing himself by any means and in fact appears to be some sort of Christ figure, his music is nonetheless featured throughout.
Dylan's "performance" is similar to much of his recent music, in that it's monosyllabic and you can't understand a word he's saying; for most of the film he merely listens while the likes of Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Val Kilmer, and Ed Harris (in blackface!) deliver nonsensical monologues. It also leaves intact Penelope Cruz's unblemished, six-year record of not appearing in a single watchable English-language film.
The film concludes with a climactic brawl between reunited "Big Lebowski" co-stars Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, which owes a debt to the WWF; folding chairs and guitars are used as weapons as though Hulk Hogan were wrestling the Honky Tonk Man.
"Masked and Anonymous" is pretty worthless except as comedy, which makes sense considering it was directed by longtime "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" writer/producer Larry Charles. They're saying now that Todd Haynes is set to begin work on an authorized biopic of Dylan; even if it's as weird as Haynes' previous work, it has to be better than "Masked and Anonymous."
I'LL HAVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING: According to Entertainment Weekly, a stage version of "When Harry Met Sally..." is currently being, uh, mounted in London. Even more strangely, the show stars Luke Perry and Alyson Hannigan. Will the Harry character have sideburns instead of a beard? Will Sally's Katz's Deli "Big O" scene involve a flute?
MUSIC CRITIC QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Granted, [Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's] 'Bodysong' is an indie-film soundtrack, but it still manages to do the unthinkable: make 'Kid A' sound like an 'N Sync greatest hits package." - David Browne, in Entertainment Weekly.
GIMME SHELTER FROM BILL O'REILLY: The host of "The O'Reilly Factor" has made enough of a fool of himself defending Mel Gibson in relation to "Passion of the Christ," going back to when he excoriated the New York Times for "going after Mel Gibson's father," without revealing that said father is, uh, a Jew-bashing lunatic. Never mind that O'Reilly has only on some occasions revealed that Gibson's production company has optioned his novel, or that Mr. Factor has a huge problem with liberal celebrities intruding in politics, yet not with a fanatic like Gibson doing the same.
O'Reilly embarrasses himself yet again in his syndicated column/"review" of the movie, as he attacks ADL head Abe Foxman for crusading against the film. "Your Humble Correspondent" then says this:
Even Abraham Foxman, the militant leader of the Anti-Defamation League, now admits the film is not anti-Semitic. Yet Foxman continues to object to it on the basis of what it might do. And that's the crux of this matter. Some Jews believe persecution is just a shout away, to quote Mick Jagger.
Now perhaps its too much to expect a boring fuddy-duddy like O'Reilly to correctly interpret the music of the 1960s counterculture, when he's almost certainly never listened to the Stones in his life. But according to the "Am I Right: Misheard Lyrics" page, the "just a shout away" line in "Gimme Shelter" is wrongly quoted: the correct lyric is "just a shot away," which is a cautionary reference relating to violence, not to shouting. Judging by his recent temperament, O'Reilly might want to take the "shouting" part under advisement.
(The page also lists the alternative interpretation "It's just a shadow, eh?," which may have sufficed had Jagger and Richards been Canadian). What's next, O'Reilly using Jimi Hendrix's "Excuse me, while I kiss this guy" as an argument against gay marriage?
Then there's this pretty laughable final paragraph:
It is Gibson's prerogative to use the Gospels to make that point. It is also the prerogative of his critics to frown on the project. But trying to destroy the man's reputation is something else. It reminds me of Roman justice: Guilt or innocence really didn't matter as long as the harsh punishment set a frightening example. Ad hominem, indeed.
So Gibson's "suffering," due to criticism he's suffered while making the film, is just like the crucifixion of Jesus! Of course! Like Gibson's allowing himself to be tortured and/or crucified in almost every one of his movies didn't hammer the point quite enough!
Saturday, February 21, 2004 BARUCH HA'SHEM: The recently-returned Asparagirl points out a wonderful thing: now that Saddam Hussein is out of power, Israeli citizens are now able to give back their government-issued gas masks. Anyone who was alive at the time of the first Gulf War remembers just about everyone in Israel putting on gas masks when Saddam fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv and other places.
Why the gas masks? Oh yea, 'cause Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Why would Israel bother to provide gas masks for its entire population if the whole WMD threat had been "sexed up?" All part of the grand Zionist conspiracy, I suppose.
Friday, February 20, 2004 ONE! TWO! JESUS WAS A JEW!: I haven't written too much about "Passion of the Christ," probably because I don't really feel comfortable reviewing a movie sight-unseen before it has even been released. What does concern me a bit is that Mel Gibson has done a whole lot to make himself look like an asshole, from his embarrassing, I-am-God hubris to his refusal to repudiate his loony Holocaust-denying father to his own answering of a question about the Holocaust with the very noncommital "atrocities happened, war is horrible." And no, merely inviting such right-wing Jews as Dennis Prager and Michael Medved to a screening doesn't even come close to making up for it.
I do plan to see the film, for no reason other than to enable myself to participate in the debate, though I don't really feel like giving Gibson any of my money. So I figure I'll probably just buy a ticket to another movie and then hop to Mel's.
IS CHRIS MATTHEWS DRINKING AGAIN?: Just now, when a Democratic spokesman compared Bush's economic record to that of President Hoover, Matthews asked, "did you just exhume Herbert Hoover for one more punch in the nuts?" Let's see if he apologizes by the end of the show, like he did last year when he referred, on the air, to evidence of weapons of mass destruction as "bullshit."
BLADES OF STEEL: I write a lot about how The Onion isn't particularly funny or relevant anymore, but this absolutely had me howling. "Stick two more blades in there. I don't care how. Make the blades so thin they're invisible. Put some on the handle. I don't care if they have to cram the fifth blade in perpendicular to the other four, just do it!"
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Frankly, sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like sharing a banana with a monkey. Take a little bite of it, and he will throw his own feces at you." -Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ), on his across-the-river, same-party colleague, in the Daily News.
NEWS ITEM: Ralph Nader will likely run again for president. Prediction: he will not be a factor. Those who voted for him in 2000, unless they're insane, now realize that Nader's primary reason for running (the two parties are exactly the same!) was nonsense. These lunatics from the Dean blog notwithstanding.
A POX ON ALL YOUR HOUSES: People such as myself who enjoy poking fun at all political ideologies at once will enjoy this, filtering a series of issues through the liberal, conservative, libertarian, and communist lenses. Example:
The speed limit should be...
CONS: 75 MPH on Interstate highways.
LIBL: reduced to 15 MPH to save lives, and resources.
LBRT: abolished. This will result in an immediate 50 percent reduction in highway fatalities, because a motorist barreling along at 150 MPH only spends half the time exposed to the hazards of the road, as someone plodding along at 75 MPH.
COMM: irrelevant, because after the revolution everyone will commute in public transportation.
AND THE DISEMBODIED VOICE HE RODE IN ON: As discussed earlier, Max Kellerman has officially left ESPN's "Around the Horn" and will host a new half-hour show on Fox Sports Net.
Aside from a slightly bigger paycheck, I don't see how this could possibly be a good career move, as it seems everyone else is going the other way- Jim Rome, Michael Irvin, and Stephen A. Smith have all jumped from FSN to ESPN in the last year. Never mind that Fox Sports gets a small fraction of the ratings of the Worldwide Leader, following its ill-fated plan to "go national" and compete with ESPN a few years back.
Despite my distaste for "Around the Horn"'s bizarre, nonsensical concept, I do like Kellerman- his personal story is interesting, and the man is a Yiddish enthusiast! I wish him luck, but since I don't have FSN, I doubt I'll see him on TV again for the foreseeable future.
(Hat tip, DaveWagz).
BLACK HATS VS. TRUCKER HATS: From the people who brought us Jewsweek.com, there's a piece in New York Magazine about the growing, "Do the Right Thing"-like feud going on in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood between the Hasids and the hipsters. The Orthodox Jews in the area don't appreciate the hipsters' "morally suspect nightlife" and contribution to high real estate prices, whereas members of the Trucker Hat Brigade counter that the Hasidim "willingly have ten-plus children... feed most of them on food stamps, and displace everyone else in the neighborhood." About all the two sides can agree on, according to authors Steven I. Weiss and Zachary Sholem Berger, is "a taste for black attire."
I never know who to root for in these "old neighborhood"/hipster/gentrification battles, because I generally have equal contempt for the territorial hubris of all sides. But I wouldn't worry too much about another Crown Heights happening; the hipsters are generally way too wussified to ever start an actual riot. Then again, maybe Howard Dean's withdrawal will have the same effect on them that Judy Garland's death had on the Stonewall people...
WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT A JOBLESS RECOVERY?: I am happy to report that after a not-so-extended period of unemployment, I'll be happily returning to the work force next week. I accepted a job on Wednesday as a general assignment reporter with Royal Media Group, a firm that publishes business periodicals and is located on 37th and Broadway in Manhattan, right between Times Square and Macy's. I'm excited, as my previous job search lasted nearly a year, while this one took just over six weeks.
This blog will of course continue, though starting next week I'd imagine there won't be many more 10-post days for awhile.
CAPTURING JARECKI: This evening I had the chance to attend a Q&A with Andrew Jarecki, director of the fine documentary "Capturing the Friedmans." The film, for those of you unfamiliar with it, concerns the tribulations of a family in Great Neck, Long Island after the father and one of the sons were accused of multiple counts of child molestation in the late '80s. The film is full of twists, including that the family had shot dozens of hours of home-video footage of their arguments, that one of the sons now works as one of New York's most popular birthday-party circus clowns, and that while the father was undoubtedly a pedophile, he and his son may very well have been innocent of the charges against them.
Jarecki who also, oddly enough, founded Moviefone, was an engaging and charming speaker, who showed clips from the DVD's voluminous bonus disc and later answered questions about the fascinating case. Jarecki was clear that he did not make the film as an advocacy piece, putting him directly at odds with the crusading and self-indulgent documentarian duo of Nick Broomfield and Michael Moore. He name-checked "Fog of War" director Errol Morris as his leading influence, and the two ironically are against each other in this year's Best Documentary Oscar category.
Thursday, February 19, 2004 NOSE CHILD LEFT BEHIND: The latest rumor is that President Bush once had a nose job. The easy thing would be to joke that this bit of news will give him more Jewish votes than any Israel initiative ever could, but that would be wrong; I think it's just a plant to counteract the Kerry botox stories.
WIDE RIGHT: Last year's Patrick Dennehy case at Baylor marked (allegedly) the first teammate-on-teammate murder in NCAA sports history; now we've apparently had the first teammate-on-teammate rape. Katie Hnida, a kicker who a few years ago became one of the only women to play college football, now tells SI's Rick Reilly she was raped by a teammate at the University of Colorado; this follows allegations that strippers were used for recruiting parties at CU, and that one stripper was herself raped.
Buffaloes coach Gary Barnett previously did what was thought impossible -he took Northwestern to the Rose Bowl- but he's about to be a household name for another reason: asked for comment on the Hnida accusation, Barnett told a reporter "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful... Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it." This is right up there with Baylor coach Dave Bliss trying to pin drug charges on Dennehy, the day after the player's body was found.
Barnett has been placed on administrative leave and, considering that the president of the university is a woman, I can't imagine he'll ever coach at CU again. And seeing as how the two previous coaches of the program have been Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney -who once accepted a "fifth down"- and Rick Neuheisel, who committed 51 NCAA recruiting violations in four years, Colorado really knows how to pick winners.
As for the SI story, considering that Rick Reilly is the highest-paid sportswriter in America, it sure is good that he actually, you know, broke a story for once.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Give the Democrats some credit. At least our soldiers aren’t still being libeled as baby killers, at least not by the establishment of the Democratic Party. (The goons in International ANSWER are another matter. They haven’t even caught up with the 60s. They’re still stuck in 1917.)" -Michael Totten, going after those coming up with Vietnam-related libels for both Kerry and Bush.
BARREIRO BAILS: The Minneapolis Star Tribune sports section, which I grew up reading, has had no change whatsoever in its lineup of sports columnists for the last 15 years- but that's about to change, because Dan Barreiro announced today that he's leaving the paper. Barreiro cited the proverbial "time for a change," in addition to the also proverbial "philosophical differences with management."
Barreiro will continue his call-in talk show on KFAN, which is sometimes co-hosted by noted Twin Cities sports personality "The Common Man," Dan Cole.
IN CASE YOU DOUBTED NORAH WAS FOR REAL: Ms. Jones' album took exactly six days to go platinum, selling 1.02 million copies in its first week to easily come in at #1 on the Billboard charts- the best debut for a CD in nearly three years. Like its predecessor, "Feels Like Home" only gets better the more you listen to it- so maybe eight more Grammys aren't totally out of the question.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004 PTI 500: Today marks the 500th episode of the best talk show on cable television, ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption." With "SportsCenter" becoming increasingly unwatchable, PTI is now, for me at least, the primary source for sports information, along with Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com. Congrats to TK and Wilbon.
SUSPENDED ANIMATION: NBA star Chris Webber, who just returned from an injury that's kept him out of action since the start of the season, was hit with an eight-game suspension by the league- five games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and three for admitting that he lied to a grand jury.
Now I'm not exactly Mr. Stop the Drug War, but isn't it a bit unfair that the NBA considers failing a drug test to be a greater violation, and worthy of a longer suspension, than lying under oath to a grand jury, especially one investigating whether he'd been paid while at Michigan?
"HE CLEANS UP AFTER HIMSELF WITH A SOCK": Now we're on to Phase Two of the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog vs. Canada feud. While the original anger over the anti-Quebec bit by Triumph -who is, for those who seem to have forgotten, a puppet- has begun to subside, a whole other set of Canadians has a beef with America's Foremost Insult Comic Dog: fans of a Canadian sock puppet known as "Ed the Sock," who also holds a cigar in his mouth and taunts celebrities with off-color insults, contend that the Triumph character is a mere ripoff.
True, Ed was around quite a while before Triumph. But a couple of holes in the theory: 1) Triumph is a dog, Ed is a, uh, sock. 2) The Triumph-interviewing-celebrities part didn't come up until two or three years into the evolution of the character; prior to that he was a one-joke character who said "for me to poop on" and went to the dog show every year, 3) Triumph follows every joke with "I Keed," whereas Ed gets into actual shouting matches with his "adversaries," 4) Triumph, with his Russian accent and old-school sensibility, is a homage to the Yiddish theater and Borscht Belt comics of the early 20th century, whereas Ed is, as Jim Treacher says, humor "for people who feel threatened by the understated wit of 'The Man Show.'" And 5) (most importantly), Triumph is funny, and Ed is not.
I just want to see Ed and his backers pick a fight with Conan/Smigel/Triumph, and thus be left in Triumph's dust (poop?) like Eminem, the Pets.com dog, and Quebec before them.
MEET THE NEW BOSS: Rick Kaplan is the new chief of MSNBC, and says he plans to stick with the current primetime lineup for now. Three words: Don't Fire Olbermann! 'Cause now that the Kerry sex scandal appears dead, he won't be storming off on his own.
HOWARD'S END: According to the AP, Howard Dean will drop out of the presidential race, after spending nearly a half year as the frontrunner yet failing to win a single Democratic primary. Somewhere in Burlington, Zephyr Teachout is weeping.
I was, of course, never a Dean supporter, though I do certainly admire the way he was able to galvanize the Democratic base in a way that few others have managed to in the last decade or two. Granted, this didn't translate into actual, you know, votes, but I am intrigued by Dean's plan to keep his organization together and turn it into a sort of all-purpose pro-Democratic interest group. No reason Blog For America can't continue indefinitely.
If you'd told me three months ago that Howard Dean would leave the race the day after Alex Rodriguez was introduced at Yankee Stadium while gays rushed to get legally married in San Francisco, I'd have laughed in your face, certainly. But still, today is the saddest day for America's hippies since the death of Jerry Garcia.
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SHORTSTOP AND SHORTSTOP:
Why do I have the feeling these two men are about to the subject of even more gay jokes than Frodo and Sam?
WELCOME BACK, GREG: Greg Maddux today will sign with the Chicago Cubs, returning to the team with which he started his career before jumping to the Atlanta Braves a decade ago. Then again, Maddux was the Cubs' only good pitcher in the early '90s, and now he'll line up behind Wood, Prior, and Zambrano in the rotation. It's the first good personnel move by the Tribune Company probably since they traded for Sammy Sosa.
Going from the loathsome Atlanta Braves back to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field- isn't that the baseball version of making Aliyah? 10:51 AM
A FROG AND A PIG IN ORLANDO: The Walt Disney Company has purchased the rights to the Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy characters from Jim Henson's heirs for an undisclosed sum. The move, hopefully, means we'll no longer be seeing the haphazard licensing of the Kermit character and subsequent abominations such as "Vomiting Kermit" and "Douchebag Kermit" will both be a thing of the past, along with that "Kermit and Big Bird Stoned" mp3 we were all subjected to a few years ago.
Then again, since the very disturbing incident the other day in which a worker dressed as Pluto was run over and killed by a float at Disney World, I'd watch my back if I were Kermit and Piggy. And considering what Kermit's been up to lately, do we need to worry about him running off with Minnie Mouse or something?
UPDATE: Oops, spoke too soon- Vomiting Kermit was on Conan tonight (Wednesday), complete with Mickey Mouse ears. Charming.
"YOU DON'T HAVE ANY MORE USEFUL INFORMATION, DO YOU NINA?": Best "24" episode since the bomb went off.
ALE YEA: McSorley's Ale House on E. 7th Street, which is everybody's favorite old-school Irish bar in New York, celebrated its 150th birthday yesterday, marking one and a half centuries of only serving two varieties of ale ("light" and "dark"), while recommending four beers at a time.
The Post account of the anniversary points out that the tavern was a popular spot for post-funeral gatherings in the post-9/11 period; LilB and I happened to close the bar there two nights prior to 9/11.
"THE AGGRESSIVE IMPULSES OF AN EVIL EMPIRE": Sports Guy gives us the official Red Sox fan spin on the A-Rod deal, taking a couple of nasty shots at Affleck for good measure. Did you notice that post-J. Lo, Ben has gone back to his "Chasing Amy"-era goatee and near-pompadour?
"Isn't working for the Weinsteins basically the Hollywood equivalent of playing for the Yankees?" Exactly. Miramax, for the first time in a decade, isn't up for Best Picture this year- does this mean the Yanks won't make the playoffs?
DOUG STAYS: I haven't done a post about my team the Minnesota Twins in about three months, for no other reason that they haven't done diddly-poo in terms of player movement since November. When pitchers and catchers report in a few days, the Twins will still be minus two starters and one reliever, and to say that miserly owner Carl Pohlad hasn't done much to address these needs would be the understatement of the year.
Which was why I was glad to see today's news that the Twins have re-signed my favorite Twin, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, to a two-year contract with an option for a third. Many thought Doug was on his way out of town ahead of the emergence of young 1B Justin "Nosferatu" Morneau, but the Twins have apparently decided they're better off keeping Your Olympic Hero around. And as the only person on the Eastern seaboard with my own Doug Mientkiewicz jersey, I'm thrilled.
Gleeman has more, and he's somehow found something Twins-related to write about every weekday of the off-season.
ON LAST NIGHT'S DENNIS MILLER SHOW: The most eclectic panel ever: Mark Cuban (who is quite a lefty for someone who sold his company to Yahoo for $6 billion), Mickey Kaus (who I had never, ever seen before outside of his blog), and Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, who still wears her hairstyle from 1985 and managed to link John Kerry to both "Hollywood elites" and "cocktail parties" in one sentence.
And note to Dennis- the "Weekend Update" bits don't work without a studio audience- what's the point of telling jokes if there's no one to laugh at them? (The current SNL "Weekend Update" regime can't elicit laughs even with a studio audience, but I digress; at least Miller, unlike Jimmy Fallon, can get through a segment without giggling).
RETURN TO "ZION": Blogging supercouple Brooke "Asparagirl" Schreier and Scott "Dr. Suarez" Ganz have finally launched their long-awaited joint blog, "Protocols of the Yuppies of Zion," certain to be a daily stop from now on.
Monday, February 16, 2004 HAPPY PRESIDENTS DAY: To paraphrase Chris Rock, you don't have to like the president today. All you have to do is not work. But much more profoundly, there's this:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
A-ROD, THE DAY AFTER: SOME THOUGHTS: - The Yankees now have four players with contracts in the nine figures, including the first $100 million player (Kevin Brown) and the first $200 million player (A-Rod). No team with even one $100 million player has ever won a World Series.
- But that said, do the Yankees even need a second baseman? Even if it's Miguel Cairo, who's set to make $850,000, the average 2004 salary of their infield will still be nearly $11 million. And Cairo's '04 salary is still $50,000 more than Alfonso Soriano's.
- Humiliating as A-Rod-to-the-Yankees is to the Sox, there is a silver lining: Had the Yankees' trade not happened, Sox fans would've kept up hope all season that A-Rod-to-the-Sox would eventually happen; now that they know it won't, they can finally accept that A-Rod's not coming. And start coming up with creative new Nomar-and-Manny rumors- how about both to the White Sox for Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez?
- On paper, of course, the Yanks have one of the strongest teams ever- but what about the dreaded "locker room chemistry"? True, it's not like football or basketball when the players "fight over the ball," but what if A-Rod and Jeter clash over who gets to play shortstop? Now that noted assholes Kevin Brown and Gary Sheffield have been added to the team, don't be surprised if things explode behind the scenes. And what if Javier Vasquez succumbs to Ed Whitson/Jeff Weaver-itis, and can't pitch in the Stadium? It's a long season, and a whole lot could go wrong.
- When Rangers owner Tom Hicks knew the Yankees were interested in Rodriguez, why didn't he go back to the Red Sox, in order to lure the rivals into a bidding war and thus get a better deal? Honestly, you've gotta wonder how this guy got rich in the first place.
- Referring to Jose Contreras as "Adebisi"- now that's funny.
- Check out SOSH and Baseball Primer for more.
A FEW WORDS ON CELEBRITY WEIGHT LOSS:
Drew Barrymore (see above) is on the cover of this week's People Magazine, trumpeting her recent loss of 20 pounds as she promotes her new movie "50 First Dates." The movie was filmed prior to her weight loss, and Barrymore is now apparently every bit as skinny as her boyfriend, Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti.
There's just one problem with all this: Barrymore looks better in the movie than in the magazine. Like many other actresses, most notably Renee Zellweger and Kate Winslet, Drew was about a hundred times sexier when she had curves, such as on a Vanity Fair cover last year, before apparently succumbing to pressure to starve herself down to People Magazine-approved levels. It's almost as bad as last fall's US Weekly expose of "How Christina Lost the Weight," published after the truly vile Christina Aguilera dropped from 90 pounds all the way back down to 80.
What sort of message does it send when these very attractive women -who are still thinner than most people as it is- are expected to drop even more weight, in order to "compete" with the likes of Paris Hilton? Even Beyonce Knowles has dropped pounds since recording the quintessential pro-curves anthem, "Bootylicious"- and Janeane Garofalo, who ten years ago did a famous standup routine about her hatred for stick-thin women, now is a stick-thin woman, though I'd posit that her cockamamie political activism is even more of a problem.
By putting allegedly "hot" women like Paris, Christina, and Brittany Murphy on one magazine cover after another, the publishers of the world are not only driving countless young girls to bulimia, but they're encouraging other celebrities who aren't rail-thin to go in that direction, to the detriment of both their attractiveness and, more importantly, their health. I've always heard women make this argument, but I'd really like to start hearing more men say it as well. I mean, does any guy think Sarah Jessica Parker is hot?
TOUCH OF 'GREY': Fans of "folk/rap" are certain to enjoy the latest internet remix craze: Someone going by the handle "DJ Danger Mouse" has engineered a hybrid of Jay-Z's "The Black Album" and the Beatles' "The White Album," which is called, you guessed it, "The Grey Album." EMI is trying to prevent release of the compilation, but it can be downloaded in full here. It's good stuff, especially the marriage of "Change Clothes" to "Little Piggies."
GROSSMAN OUT: The Dean camp says chairman Steve Grossman has left the campaign; yea, that tends to happen when you speak publicly about endorsing the opposition. Yea 'deis!
And as for the Kerry thing, the woman (Alexandra Polier) now says she did not have an affair with the senator. At one point are we allowed to stop calling Matt Drudge a "journalist"?
MONEYBALL COMES TO CHAVEZ RAVINE: Baseball's sabermetric community is rejoicing today, as the Los Angeles Dodgers have hired Billy Beane sidekick and "Moneyball" figure Paul DePodesta as their new general manager. With the move the Dodgers become major league baseball's fourth "sabermetric team," following Oakland, Toronto, and Boston, and the first in the National League.
I wrote a review of "Moneyball" last year that likened the sabermetric movement in baseball to the neoconservative movement in politics; funny that the Dodgers only embraced one after they were sold by Rupert Murdoch, one of the world's chief enablers of the other.
Sunday, February 15, 2004 SPEAKING OF OUTKAST'S UNPRECEDENTED POWER: Big Boi and Andre provided musical accompaniment for the player introductions at tonight's NBA All-Star Game, adding credence to Michael Wilbon's description of All-Star Weekend as "Black Thanksgiving." Outkast represented quite a step up on the zeitgeist scale from last year's introduction house band, Kool and the Gang.
Meanwhile, Christina Aguilera's hip-hop take on the "Star Spangled Banner" was the worst rendition of the anthem I've heard at a sporting event since Roseanne. Good thing Beyonce's in the building to almost make up for it.
UPDATE: The halftime show is being opened by Michael McDonald? WTF?
ANOTHER RED SOX NIGHTMARE: And again, it's all Aaron Boone's fault. If he goes home from the pickup basketball game five minutes earlier, he doesn't get hurt, Alex Rodriguez stays in Texas, and Red Sox Nation has one less reason to feel sorry for itself. But as it is, A-Rod is a Yankee, as New York's two-day pursuit proved more effective than Boston's two-month effort.
Yes, the two best shortstops in baseball are on one team, and neither of them is Nomar... With A-Rod at third to go with Jeter, Giambi, Sheffield, Matsui, Williams, and Posada, the Yankees will be expected to set an all-time record for scoring, and could conceivably have seven guys knock in more than 100 runs. But don't print out those World Series tickets just yet- the team still has quite a few questions in the areas of pitching and defense, and you never know what'll happen with injuries. And with the Bombers' salary/luxury tax bill for just this year possibly equaling A-Rod's 10-year contract ($252 million), the best bet for their rivals may just be to hope for Steinbrenner to go bankrupt.
So the Yankees will enter the season looking like an invincible dream team- much like how the Lakers entered the current NBA season, and we all know they've had their share of trouble. If I were Theo Epstein, I'd give some thought to sending a concierge up to Jeter's room in Tampa.
SALT LAKE SURPRISE: With today's trade of University of Utah alumni Keith Van Horn and Michael Doleac, Knicks hoop boss Isiah Thomas has finally purged New York of Scott Layden's creepy Utah fetish. Of the small army of former Jazz and Ute players brought in and signed to inexplicably astronomical Knicks contracts by Layden, only Shandon Anderson remains.
Getting rid of Simon-from-"Real-World-Paris" lookalike Van Horn, who goes to Milwaukee, was a no-brainer; the Knick faithful were never going to accept the player who replaced Sprewell, especially not if he was a goofy-looking white guy who's now been traded five times in six years. Doleac wasn't doing much either, and while Tim Thomas may be a career underachiever himself, he's not nearly as embarassing as Van Horn. Having a big center named "Nazr" will help them even more- imagine the punny headlines ("Nazr Party"?) in the Post.
The Hawks, for their part, seem to be moving ever closer to their goal of having no players left at the end of the season, in order to have, you guessed it, cap space. Does anyone else realize how overrated "cap space" is? No one's ever parlayed cap space into a championship, and every team in the last ten years that's had tons of cap space has either a) signed a bunch of players who ended up sucking, or b) been unable to sign anyone because no one wanted to play for such an awful team. I could see the Hawks going either way, so I guess that counts as "flexibility."
At any rate, the Knicks have made their third good trade in a row, after a years-long streak of bad ones. Never thought I'd praise Isiah, but he's done good.
KERRY UPDATE: The "Kerry sex scandal" story appears to be... dead! Yes, Kerry's denial made news, but that was the story on Friday and Saturday but nothing since. And Drudge has nothing new. Hmm...
In the meantime, stick a fork in Howard Dean- now even his campaign chairman (former Brandeis board chairman Steve Grossman) seems ready to shift to Kerry.
ALL THAT PAZZ: Four things I learned from reading the entire Village Voice Pazz & Jop music critics' poll: 1) Andre 3000 now officially controls the universe, 2) Robert Christgau has regressed in his old age into even more of a simpering buffoon than before, 3) Everyone (including women) wants to nail Karen O, and 4) If Bush is re-elected in November, there will be a mass suicide of rock critics- which would be, if you ask me, the primary silver lining of such an event.
Meanwhile, without further ado, the three best quotes:
Second runner-up: "We love [50 Cent] like a fat kid loves cake." -Nick Catucci.
First runner-up: "I wish Big Boi and Andre 3000 were gay, and a couple, and advocates for gay marriage." -Smith Galtney.
Winner: "R. Kelly is party to a long tragicomic tradition. Johnny Ace lost at Russian roulette. Sam Cooke was shot in a low-rent motel. Otis Redding's plane crashed. Jackie Wilson had a stroke onstage. Al Green had steaming grits tossed on him. Marvin Gaye was assassinated by his cross-dressing father. Sly coked away his career. Bobby Brown married the queen and lost his kingdom. And then there's Michael Jackson. If you're the pre-eminent r&b loveman of your era, you are destined to be a huge fuckup."- Nelson George.
Saturday, February 14, 2004 A FINE COUNTRY, FOR ME TO POOP ON: The government of Canada is up in arms about a segment that aired on last Thursday's edition of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," in which venerable Conan character Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was shown rampaging across Quebec City, making fun of that city's citizens and fornicating with local dogs.
Proving that leftist politicians are just as insufferable and humorless north of the border as they are here, one New Democratic member of Parliament referred to the broadcast as "utterly vile" and "racist filth," while others complained that the show both made light of the Quebec separatist movement, and "seemed to suggest that everyone in [Quebec] is homosexual." I heard no complaints, however, about Conan's repeated jokes about unknown-in-America hockey commentator Don Cherry, or the lack of a performance by the Canadian power trio Rush. WKIKYA has more.
Gee, it's a good thing we live in a country in which the federal government doesn't intrude in the broadcast of innocuous televised entertainment. Oh, wait.
A-ROD IN THE BRONX?: According to Newsday, the Yankees are aiming very high in their effort to replace injured third baseman Aaron Boone: they're talking to the Rangers about acquiring Alex Rodriguez. The proposed trade would send second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Texas, along with pitcher Jose Contreras and another player or two, for Rodriguez, who would then shift from shortstop to third base alongside Derek Jeter.
A few, shall we say, problems with this scenario: Hasn't Texas already promised their season-ticket holders that Rodriguez will return, and also made him team captain? Why would they take back Soriano when they could have had a far superior player, Manny Ramirez? And why would Rodriguez agree to play third for New York when such a move wasn't even considered for Boston?
From a Yankees standpoint, I know they're supposed to have "unlimited money" and all, but is it really a good business move to give up Soriano's nothing contract for that of the game's highest paid player? If the idea is to replace Boone at third, doesn't giving up Soriano then leave a huge hole at second? And the Yankees are expected to have enough trouble with fielding this year- why bring in another guy to play out of position?
If this actually comes close to becoming a reality, expect the Red Sox to jump back in once again with a counteroffer. But regardless, my take remains the same: unless Jeter gets hit by a bus, Alex Rodriguez will never play for the Yankees.
HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY FROM ANDRE 3000: Thus spake Outkast:
My name is Cupid Valentino,
the modern day cupid.
I just want to say one thing.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Every day the 14th!
I don't think ya'll heard me?
I just wanna say Happy Valentine's Day!
Every day the 14th!
Can ya'll dig that?
Now when arrows don't penetrate,
Cupid grabs the pistol,
He shoots straight for your heart,
And he won't miss you.
That's alright ya'll won't believe in me anyway but,
Ya won't believe in me but you would fancy leprechauns or ground hogs,
No thank you, Easter Bunny!
There's all this talk about Santa Claus, but see love will rule supreme.
KERRY "SCANDAL," DAY TWO: After 24 hours, the mainstream media has still all but ignored the Kerry/intern story, through Drudge and Wonkette keep dueling for scoops. Kerry denied the rumors on Don Imus' radio show (syndicated by MSNBC) this morning, but not even the denial made the news.
One interesting wrinkle- the woman mentioned by name by a British tabloid is, if Google is to be believed, an AP reporter. This nugget of info opens a whole other ethical can of worms, does it not?
In other too-much-information news, another Sullivan vomit story! (This time, it's his dog!).
E TU, BRUTUS THE BARBER?: Another former pro wrestler is in trouble with drugs, though this time the Department of Homeland Security may need to get involved as well. According to the Boston Herald, 46-year-old Ed Leslie, known in the '80s by the ring name Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, inadvertently caused a bioterror scare on Monday when he left a bag of white powder (cocaine) in the Downtown Crossing subway station in Boston- where the former wrestler now works as a fare collector. Police thought the cocaine was anthrax, causing the evacuation of the station pending the arrival of a HAZMAT team; the ex-grappler has since entered rehab.
Leslie/Beefcake was one of the WWF's biggest stars in the mid-late '80s, where he was known for knocking out opponents with his patented sleeperhold, after which he would give them "haircuts" with his barber-accented pruning shears. He was knocked out of action in 1988 when he had every bone in his face shattered in a parasailing accident, though he returned to the ring several years later, in the meantime hosting an interview segment called "The Barbershop"-where he presided over the famous moment in which Shawn Michaels kicked Marty Jannetty through a glass window.
Ironically, the week of Beefcake's arrest the #1 movie in the country is "Barbershop 2."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "During the Superbowl we were bombarded with ads featuring flatulent horses, crotch-biting dogs, a monkey making sexual advances to a woman." - Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), arguing that the Jackson nipple thing must have been a conspiracy. How does one deliver testimony like that without laughing?
(Then again, as soon as this Kerry thing explodes in the mainstream, you won't hear the name "Janet Jackson" again for months).
Thursday, February 12, 2004 THE KERRY SCANDAL: My first reaction to revelations that John Kerry may have had at least one marital infidelity? Who cares? It's no one's business but his own and his family's, and the same thing didn't keep either Clinton or Ah-nuld from winning elections. My second reaction? I knew about this years ago.
I had various friends in college who were involved with Democratic politics in Massachusetts, and I heard stories all the time about Kerry affairs- one classmate of mine met the Senator at a formal event and he spent the entire conversation staring at her cleavage. More specifically, one friend of mine in particular remembered a Boston Herald "Inside Track" gossip piece from 1998 about young women being seen leaving Kerry's residence late at night (that piece was found and blogged about today by Mickey Kaus). Funny, with Lexis-Nexis available, that no one had come across this before- this wasn't 25 years ago, it was 6 years ago.
At about 5:00 yesterday afternoon, I sent the following e-mail to my aforementioned friend:
Bush may be in trouble after all... Unless, of course, some of those Kerry womanizing stories start to come out. It's only matter of time, right?
I was only off by about 12 hours.
How is it possible that I knew about this, but none of the national press corps or opposing campaign operatives did? Now, perhaps members of the press knew and didn't reveal it, but opposing campaigns? This must be new information to them, or else it would have come out a long time ago, I'd imagine.
A couple other strange things: the existence of the story was supposedly revealed the other day by Wesley Clark, mere days before Clark dropped out- and endorsed Kerry. You've gotta think that subhuman reptilian slimeball consultant Chris Lehane, who formerly worked for Kerry and then jumped to Clark, must've had something to do with it.
And finally, Drudge ran the story in the mid-morning today, and the major blogs have all been all over it- but as of this writing (7 PM) there's nothing in the mainstream media- not on the New York Times or Washington Post websites, not on CNN- and (surprisingly) even Fox News has ignored it, as Brit Hume's panel danced around the story for 20 minutes, with Morton Kondracke even speculating that Kerry's emphasis of Bush's AWOL situation was a "preemptive strike against what's to come."
We'll likely hear more about this in the next few days, and it's unfortunate that this story will likely overshadow the historic debate over same-sex marriage going on this week in Massachusetts. But having just the other day watched the '92 election documentary "The War Room," I'm convinced this sort of thing won't hurt Kerry any more than it did Clinton. Unless, of course, Teresa Heinz goes through with her threat to "maim" her husband if he ever cheated on her.
L&O DOES IT AGAIN: Last night's "Law & Order" episode told a fascinating, even-handed story that handled the terrorism/civil liberties conundrum as well as any fictional treatment I've seen since 9/11. Using a version of the James Davis City Hall shooting as a starting point, the episode concerned a murderer who was put on trial using evidence that had been obtained by a military tribunal-like "secret court," and provoked all sorts of great questions: is it right to allow the federal government to search a man's house without telling him? But doesn't it not matter, when the man is clearly guilty of murder and the search was for the murder weapon? The episode didn't take sides, and handled everything fairly and tastefully.
Contrast that with a recent episode of the ridiculous lawyer show "The Practice," which began with a group of cops torturing an alleged cop-killer in his hospital bed and withholding treatment until he confessed- and the show, predictably, somehow shoehorned this into a particularly wrongheaded anti-Patriot Act argument, as though John Ashcroft were going into American cities and torturing people in hospitals. There's a reason "Law & Order" has lasted 14 years on the air, and "The Practice" is unlikely to run for half that time.