THE GREATEST: Another sharp satirical piece by the Greatest American Writer, Neal Pollack, in New York Press. If you only read one humor book this year, make sure it's the Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature.
TWINS SAVED AGAIN?: A tentative deal is near to keep the Minnesota Twins in business for at least another year; I agree with Tony Kornheiser on "Pardon the Interruption" today- keep the Twins, put the Expos in DC, and contract the two Florida teams. Anyone got a problem with that?
HECKLER'S VETO: As the world now knows, New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd was taunted with chants of "wife beater" by fans at FleetCenter in Boston during Tuesday's Game 4 of the Nets-Celtics series. Kidd, of course, was arrested last year for assaulting his wife Joumana, and as a result was shipped out by his former team the Phoenix Suns. While I know the chants didn't come from any sense of moral indignation by the Celtics' fans (after all, they were merely trying to get under Kidd's skin), if the player had to face "wife beater" taunts at every arena in every city for the remainder of his career, I can't say I'd be too upset. But even more disturbing are the comments by Kidd's teammates (and coach Byron Scott) decrying the fans and more or less excusing Kidd's behavior. Teammate Kenyon Martin, himself a notorious thug, even went so far as to say that the arrest was a part of Kidd's "personal life" and thus "none of anyone's business"- a very '50s-like analysis that certainly doesn't deserve to go unchallenged. But even more ludicrous is that some (such as ESPN) have compared the Kidd hecklers with the fan at last night's Game 5 who heckled Paul Pierce about Pierce's summer 2000 stabbing in a nightclub. Clearly beating one's wife is not nearly on the same moral plane as getting stabbed- though I wouldn't expect Nets fans to know the difference.
WHY I REFUSE TO SEE "THE SUM OF ALL FEARS": No, it's not the casting of Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan (though I concede Ben is a bit of a step down from Harrison Ford in the gravitas department). It's not because I don't like the action genre, it's not because I'm uncomfortable seeing a movie about terrorism post-9/11, and it's not even because I don't think it'll be a good movie. I will not be seeing "The Sum of All Fears" because, in the process of its adaptation from the Tom Clancy novel, the gutless decision was made to replace the book's fundamentalist Muslim terrorists with right-wing, neo-Nazi militia types. This shameless sacrifice to the false god of political correctness is so contemptuous towards the truth that such a film that grows out of it does not deserve our support.
As chronicled on the indispensable movie website Coming Attractions, "The Sum of All Fears" has been in the works as the next Jack Ryan movie almost since the release of "Clear and Present Danger" in 1994, so the producers' decision to change the ethnicity of the villains was not as a result of 9/11. Rather, it came partly as an attempt to appease Ford (who they were still hoping to woo at the time) and partly because the Arab-American lobby made it clear that they would protest long and loud should the project go forward in the novel's form. And for some reason Clancy, who no one ever mistook for a bleeding-heart liberal, never even lifted a finger in protest.
The event that likely caused the "Sum of All Fears" producers to blink was the release in 1999 of "The Seige," a relatively innocuous message movie starring Denzel Washington which dared to depict Islamic terrorists striking a wave of targets in New York. And even though the film was clearly more about intolerance than terrorism, and in fact contained a clear message against stereotyping and totalitarianism (and even included an Arab-American good guy!), the Arab activists missed the point, launched a highly visable boycott, and thus significantly hurt "The Seige" at the box office. These activists, of course, had their point significantly undercut when the exact events of the movie happened in real life on September 11— and I find it deeply unsettling that those activists (including the openly terror-supporting Council on American-Islamic Relations) were so much more publicly critical of the terrorism in "The Seige"'s New York than they were of the terrorism in real-life New York.
Now more than ever we must be aware of the scourge of Islamo-fascism and the threat it poses to our world, and Hollywood can and should be encouraging this awareness. But unfortunately, political correctness must always intervene. Of course it's wrong to assume that all Arabs and all Muslims are terrorists- but anyone who isn't an idiot knows that, just as all non-idiots know that terrorists killing innocent people based on their perverted interpretation of the Koran is a major problem in this world, before 9/11 and after— and as Bill Maher said, "next time there's a major terrorist attack, it's probably not gonna be the Swedes." The producers of "The Sum of All Fears" had a chance to take such a stand, but since they didn't have the guts, I will not be seeing their movie.
PETER THE GREAT: While I still can't justify his replacement of Prince Andrew as author of the TRB column, Peter Beinart checks in this week with another highly impressive New Republic piece, this one related to the recent re-election of Newark Mayor Sharpe James. Beinart's politics correspond very much with mine- he's a committed Democrat who's nonetheless unafraid to criticize his party or follow ideologues when they deserve it, which is often. Especially this week, as Beinart indicts the Democrats for caring less about racial equality than about winning elections in predominantly black areas, as evidenced by the New Jersey Democratic party support of incumbent James against reform-minded Councilman Cory Booker (also black and also a Democrat), which included a promise by Governor Jim McGreevey to build a new basketball/hockey arena in downtown Newark should James be re-elected— a proposal quickly pulled off the table days after the election. (Full disclosure: I worked for McGreevey's campaign last year, though not in Newark).
BARAK SHOW: A must-read interview with Ehud Barak in the New York Review of Books, conducted by popular Israeli historian Benny Morris. Barak comes off as quite a sympathetic figure, and has certainly handled himself better publicly in recent months than Sharon or Netanyahu has. If you want to know all you need to know about what happened at Camp David to lead to the current violence, look no further than this interview.
ANOTHER TWINS UPDATE: According to a faithful reader (my dad, actually), the Twins stadium package passed last week isn't nearly as airtight as it appears- and in fact, there's less than a 50/50 shot that anything will come of it at all. Better get crackin', guys- it may require a new owner, and even more creative financing, but please- make this thing happen!
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Memo to Jose Canseco: Before you write a book, you have to have read one." — Providence Journalist sportswriter Bill Reynolds.
AND SPEAKING OF BASEBALL AND STEROIDS...: Ken Caminiti, the San Diego Padres third baseman who won the National League MVP Award in 1998 and later fell out of baseball in a cocaine- and alcohol-induced stupor, has admitted in this week's Sports Illustrated that he was in fact on steroids throughout his MVP season, and that use of the drugs is prevalent throughout major league baseball. If nothing else, this news takes away much of the luster from one of the great baseball anecdotes of recent years: when Caminiti, prior to a game in early '98, was in the locker room with an IV in his arm, he found out the game was about to start, pulled out the IV, wolfed down a Snickers bar, and then went out and hit two home runs. Caminiti subsequently got a Snickers endorsement deal out of it, but I guess it wasn't the Snickers after all.
BLUEPRINT PIECE: My article on the "Wizards of Wit" event is online here, in pdf format, in The Blueprint. It's a Manhattan Jewish monthly, not to be confused with the Democratic Leadership Council magazine (or Jay-Z album) of the same name.
MULTIPLE CHOICE: The Bush Administration's near-nonstop pronouncements that "there will be another attack, and it's only a matter of time" are: A) a transparent attempt to deflect attention from last week's "What Bush Knew" stories; B) a transparent attempt to cover their asses if there is in fact another attack; C) a defeatist, Bud Selig-like act of self-sabotage aimed at minimizing their own successes in order to make the enemy look even worse; D) hypocritical, in saying that "there will be an attack, possibly nuclear" out of one side of the mouth while saying "we must not live in fear" out of the other; or E) all of the above.
I had nary a negative word to say about Bush, Dick and Rummy between 9/11 and May 1, but my how things change.
"CRAZIES FROM BROOKLYN": After years of PLO-sympathizing rants from awful Israel correspondent Alisa Solomon, The Village Voice has made a rare honorable editorial decision in turning the Israel beat over to Sylvana Foa, who now writes the much more balanced "Letter From Israel" column. Foa this week observes that a large segment of the West Bank settlement population (which she sees as a key impediment to the peace process) consists of Brooklyn natives, some of whom are the most militant Jews on Earth. In addition to so many of the modern-day settlers, she writes, historical figures such as Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane and Hebron mosque gunman Baruch Goldstein were also born and educated in the Borough of Churches, as it's ironically called. But Foa is even more critical of the Palestinian side, writing of their propensity to "add zeroes to their casuality totals."
"YOU'RE THE BITCH, BITCH!" Nope, it's not Jerry Springer, it's MediaBistro. The indispensible journalism job-search website runs a regular feature called the "Bitch Box," in which employees of big media companies are invited to share complaints about their employers, the NYC media culture, etc. One particularly angry Hearst Magazines staffer posted a 15-point memo berating her unbearable bosses. While the memo has been taken down from MB, it was tracked down by the Hearst bigs, and the beleaguered Editorial Assistant was summarily fired.
WIN TWINS!: I know my coverage has been a bit Twins-heavy in recent days, and for that I apologize- but first the stadium bill passes and now this: On Saturday, the first-place Twins defeated the Anaheim Angels 4-1, for their 26th victory of the season, and their first against a team with a winning record. Let me repeat that: the Twins, who are a first-place club, beat a team with a winning record for the first time this year on May 25, in the ninth week of the season. This truly says something about the unbalanced schedule, and about how much the American League Central Division sucks- and it's also gotta be some sort of record.
WALLACE GETS SHOT: This "Mike Piazza Is(n't) Gay" story is bound to be remembered as one of the most entertaining news events of the year- one of those happenings that should be a one-day story but instead continues for days and weeks. The latest drama: New York Post sports columnist Wallace Matthews tried to write a column critical of gossip colleague Neal Travis for breaking the "Mike is gay" story, had the column killed by his superiors, and thus quit/was fired. Matthews, who will continue to be employed by the MSG network and ESPN Radio, will certainly be missed in the pages of the Post, especially compared to such other section columnists as TV critic/sanctimonious blowhard Phil Mushnick and NBA beat writer Peter Vecsey, whose writing style can only be compared unfavorably to that of a bad Catskills comic. Matthews, who wrote mostly about basketball and boxing, must be admired for taking a stand, even if it's against a publication not exactly known for its journalistic integrity.
AND NOW THE MOMENT YOU'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR...: Live, in ASCII: The Death of Jar-Jar Binks!
BALLPARK FIGURES: The day I've been waiting for since 1996 has finally arrived- Gov. Jesse Ventura today signed a bill for a $330 million, outdoor ballpark for the Minnesota Twins. The battle has been underway for five years, with literally dozens of failed legislative efforts and numerous financial schemes that all failed- a whole book was even written two years ago about the effort (that blamed the entire debacle on a botched press conference held by the Twins in January of 1997 which, as an intern for my state representative, I attended). Now the question is whether the park will be built in Minneapolis or St. Paul, and whether or not the team will be sold. Memo to Minnesota lawmakers- don't mess it up! I've considered moving back to the Twin Cities when I have kids, but I can't see myself living in the area if I can't take my son to a ballgame.
IRON McCAIN: Every time I hear President Bush talk about the war, I can't help but wish John McCain was president. But alas, now that the senator has finally managed to pass his long-gestating Campaign Finance Reform bill, he's going after another special interest menace- the boxing industry. In a welcome move, McCain has introduced legislation to impose federal control over the sport, which for years has been dominated by WBC, WBA, and IBF bureaucrats, the cable networks, and Don King, the notorious crook who has bilked countless fighters out of countless fortunes. Were I a senator I would try to attach a rider to the bill stipulating that McCain gets winner of next month's Tyson-Lewis fight. We already know that the senator could kill BinLaden or Saddam with his bare hands; do you think he'd be afraid of a sociopathic man-child like Tyson?
BUT ON THE OTHER HAND...: Participating in McCain's press conference was The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali. While Ali is the sport's greatest ambassador and still commands a gravitas unlike any other athlete in history, it's clear that at this point the Champ is so ravaged by Parkinson's that he has no idea where he is, and I have a big problem with his constantly being trotted out in support of political causes which he obviously knows nothing about. I've seen this happen a half-dozen times, and every time his much-younger wife "translates" for him; it's obvious that she's the one with the agenda and she's just dragging the Greatest along for the ride. (And it's his fifth wife! Did you know Ali and George Foreman have had ten wives between them? That's more wives than Holyfield has illegitimate children...)
ACHAD, SCHTYIM, SHALOSH, ARBAH!: Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green today hit four home runs in a 16-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Hank Greenberg never did it, Rod Carew never did it, and Sandy Koufax was a pitcher, so unless "Hard Hittin'" Mark Whiten had some kind of conversion that I don't know about, Green is the first Jewish player ever to go yard four times in a game. I unfortunately was unable to draft Green to my fantasy baseball team, just as I failed to land Mike Lieberthal or Gabe Kapler (whose name appears to be a combination of "Gabe Kaplan" and "Gabe Kotter"). Though I was able to pick up Brewers pitcher and Brandeis alum Nelson Figueroa (who did not surrender any of Green's homers today).
ANOTHER EXCELLENT BLOG: If you like mine, you'll love Asparagirl. Another twenty-something New Yorker who loves Israel, check her out, and tell her I sent ya.
ON A PATH TO GREATNESS: I've been trying to think of nicknames for the PATH, the train I take to work every day (connecting New York and New Jersey, it's an acronym for Port Authority Trans-Hudson). There's "The PATH of Least Resistance," "The Shining PATH," "HaDerech" (Hebrew for "The PATH"), "Off The Beaten PATH," and of course "The PATH of the Righteous Man." I personally prefer the last one, because it's "beset on all sides by the tyranny of evil men"— The PATH was certainly beset on one side as it had a whole terminal destroyed in the World Trade Center attack. Contact me with any other ideas...
SYMPATHY FOR THE SPORTS GUY: I've never kept my admiration for ESPN.com columnist Bill "The Sports Guy" Simmons a secret. But now, it seems Simmons' influence is spreading even further than he ever could've possibly imagined. In a mailbag column last week, Simmons was asked if he had any ideas for how to incorporate the best of pro wrestling into mainstream sports. Sports Guy replied that he thinks it would be cool if one hockey player would "turn" on his team, hitting one of his teammates with his stick and thus joining the other team, as announcer Jim Ross screamed "By Gawd, that's [the other team]'s music!" Tonight on SportsCenter, anchor Rece Davis (not to be confused with John Rhys-Davis) referred to a collision between two Detroit players in the Red Wings-Avalanche game as "like a heel turn in wrestling." And upon watching "Attack of the Clones" last week, in the scene where Anakin confesses to Amidala after killing the Tusken Raiders, all I could think was "By Gawd, that's Darth Vader's music!"
"LAW & ORDER" AT ITS BEST: I just finished watching what may be the finest hour of series television from the entire, just-concluded TV season. The season finale of "Law & Order" told the story of a terrorist "sleeper" who is murdered, it turns out, by a McVeigh-like Gulf War vet who had reason to believe that the terrorist was on the verge of planning a major attack. In the trial scenes, interrogation scenes, and especially in those lawyers-conferring-in-chambers moments, the episode debated the issues of the threats of terrorism, as well as racial profiling, with a poignancy and evenhandedness unapproached by any dramatic or news program since 9/11. While L&O has too often lately fallen victim to lazy re-writings of real-life cases (the Robert Blake episode was only the most laughable), this installment truly showed what excellent television series creator Dick Wolf is capable of.
CHANDRA LEVY, 1977-2001: News that the missing intern's remains were found this morning in a Washington park; despite a weeks-long search by the DC cops last year, which at considerable taxpayer expense found nothing, the skeletal remains were found by a guy "walking his dog and looking for turtles," police said. Condolences go out to the Levy family, of course- as for soon-to-be-ex-Congressman Gary Condit, he might as well change his first name to "Guilty" right now. So first the Robert Blake case comes back into the news after a long absence, and now Chandra— let's hope last year's succession of Blake/Chandra/terrorism doesn't repeat itself now, even though we're already two-thirds of the way there.
NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT...: In the most highly publicized public declaration of heterosexuality since Kevin Spacey's a few years ago, Mets catcher Mike Piazza finally came out and admitted it yesterday: he's not gay. (in the New York Daily News, this news was deemed more worthy of the front page above the fold than yesterday's terrorist warning). The admission was reaction to an item yesterday by New York Post gossip columnist Neal Travis, who revealed that an unnamed Mets player known for cavorting with models is actually gay and was even considering coming out- Travis also wrote that Mets manager Bobby Valentine had told Details magazine that baseball is "ready for an openly gay player," and that there's probably at least one in every clubhouse (obviously, Piazza is the only Met known for cavorting with models; Mo Vaughn famously prefers strippers). This recalls last year's admission by Out Magazine editor Brendan Lemon that he was carrying on an affair with a major league player "for an East Coast franchise," who at the time was rumored around town to be Piazza. An ad-hoc "baseball roundtable" led by New York Press editor Lisa Kearns last May tried to ascertain the identity of Lemon's boyfriend and considered that it could be Piazza, for his "Christopher St./Honcho mustache and the hyperhootered Playboy Bunny beards he favors." But Kearns' group later figured out that it was another player for a non-New York team (she didn't say who).
EM-PRESSIVE: Picked up an advance copy of the new Eminem CD "The Eminem Show" yesterday ($5 bootlegs on the street in New York are the next-best thing to Napster); while I wouldn't place the new album on the level of its predecessor "The Marshall Mathers LP," Slim Shady shows that he still has the best delivery, and best lyrics in rap. While there's no obvious standout track like "Stan" or "The Way I Am" on 'Mathers,' and the first single "Without Me" is a pretty obvious rehash of "The Real Slim Shady," the album is filled with strong efforts, especially "White America" and "Cleanin' Out My Closet," both of which deal with the rapper's frustration over his lyrics being more scrutinized than those of other top rappers simply because he's blond, blue-eyed, and white. However, there's no denying that his music does indeed appeal to those who don't normally listen to rap (i.e., non-teenaged white people): for me 'Marshall Mathers' was the "gateway drug"- it was probably the first rap album I'd bought since the days of M.C. Hammer but I've since discovered the joys of Outkast, Jay-Z, Ludacris, etc. But shouldn't Eminem change his logo so it looks less like that of Enron? The same thing worked for the Houston Astros and their stadium.
DOUBLE DAVE: The Eminem CD, it has been widely reported, had its release moved up a week after widespread online piracy. Now there's news that perhaps the most famous internet-pirated album in history is finally headed towards a commercial release. The Dave Matthews Band will release "Busted Stuff" on July 16, and the new album will be largely comprised of tracks from "The Lillywhite Sessions," a set that the band recorded in early 2000 but famously shelved at the time in favor of "Everyday," which was released in February of 2001 and was a major commercial hit. The 'Lillywhite' album was leaked to the internet shortly thereafter, leading to fierce debates on DMB fansites over which CD was better, and whether 'Lillywhite' will ever see the light of day in any official manner. Yes, the general public will likely eat "Busted Stuff" up, but the question is whether Matthews' hard-core fanbase will purchase an album consisting mostly of songs which they downloaded and burned over a year ago. My guess is yes; after all, DMB has released nearly a half-dozen live albums, all of which contain alternate versions of album tracks, and Dave-heads are known for collecting tapes of different shows and comparing the various renditions. Plus, the Matthews camp has long insisted that the leaked 'Lillywhite' songs were unfinished; on "Busted Stuff" they will be, and there are two or three new songs included.
(And no, "Lillywhite" was NOT a reference to the ethnicity of most DMB fans, it rather referred to the album's producer, Steve Lillywhite.)
NEW MUSIC WATCH: Much as I have learned to love Weezer in the past six months or so (due to constant spins of last year's "Green Album" and 1996's even better "Pinkerton," which I recently discovered), I can't help but be highly disapointed in their new effort, "Maladroit." A few of the songs are catchy, but the new album is missing both the singalong-ability of the group's two self-titled CDs and the lyrical brilliance of "Pinkerton." The other rock CD I got last week, The Hives' "Veni Vedi Vicious," is much better. The Swedish group, due to their back-to-basics garage-rock sound, are bound to be cursed with the "New Strokes" label (even though the Strokes are themselves pretty new), but that's all right- I'd rather see the Strokes, Hives, White Stripes, and Andrew WK ruling the charts than tiresome, unlistenable crap like Creed, Staind, P.O.D., and Puddle of Mudd any day of the week. Standout tracks on the Hives' album are "Hate to Say I Told You So" and "Die, All Right!" and they even have cool names: Vigilante Carlstroem, Nicholaus Arson, Hawlin' Pelle Almqvist, Chris Dangerous, and Dr. Matt Destruction (he's the bass player). Take that, Fred Durst!
DOUBLE-ENTENDRE HEADLINE OF THE DAY: I feel pretty bad for New York Islanders star Michael Peca; not only was he knocked out of the playoffs with a torn ACL after a hit by Toronto's Darcy Tucker, but now his name is causing him even more embarassment. You may remember Peca (pronounced "Pecka") was subject of the infamous 2000 Boston Globe headline "Sabres' Peca is Bigger Than Ever" (try saying THAT with a Boston accent) and now, on the occasion of the player's surgery, the New York Post checks in with "Peca Goes Under the Knife," and ESPN aired a report that stated "Peca needs reconstructive surgery." You'd think sports departments would have stylebook guidelines just for stuff like that.
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: Check out What's Better, a new site which picks two random subjects and asks readers to choose which one is "better," and the subjects eventually are ranked according to their popularity. In first place is Albert Einstein, following by "Star Wars" and Natalie Portman; in last place, at #4502, is Hitler, with Osama BinLaden, the Ku Klux Klan and the Backstreet Boys next from the bottom. Einstein and Hitler- seems like the polling has a '40s bias, but other than that, good site.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Hey, try telling her that the grains of sand are rough and she’s all smooth. I hear that’s the secret Jedi Pickup Line. Personally, I think he should have gone with 'Wanna feel my light-saber?'" —Scott Keith, internet WWE reviewer, on the veritable cauldron of dating potential stemming from the love scenes in "Star Wars—Episode II: Attack of the Clones."
BEFORE 9/11: Four days have passed since the story broke that President Bush did indeed receive warnings prior to September 11 of a plot by Osama Bin Laden's terror network to hijack airliners. The general consensus since then (shared by just about everyone who's not a Democratic congressional leader) has been that there really wasn't anything the president could've done, the threat wasn't specific enough, and besides, the government gets crazy tips about attacks pretty much every other day. Perhaps, but at the same time, there's literally no doubt in my mind that if the same news had come out about President Clinton receiving such a threat, Bush's current defenders wouldn't quite be so forgiving. That says something about a political culture in which reactions to any revelations or other bit of news have nothing to do with truth or common sense and everything to do with partisanship. While I did not vote for President Bush in 2000 and don't see myself doing so next time either, I have been very impressed with his conduct thus far in the war and feel that he has, to use the cliche, "grown into the job." However, I do find it a bit disturbing that such a crucial bit of information was literally on the president's desk at the time of the attacks, and also that now, eight months later, is the first we're hearing of it.
STRIKE-OUT: I'm not looking forward to this fall's likely baseball strike, but I am looking forward to reading Peter Gammons' take on the events. With all of the lazy journalists nationwide who merely blame all of baseball's labor problems on the "greed" of both sides, Gammons is among the few who truly understand the history and complexity of each side of our national pastime, which despite possessing what I consider the best on-field product, is unquestionably the most ineptly run of any major American sport besides boxing. Here's Gammons:
"Baseball continues to be the only entertainment industry where those that run the business continually tell their consumers how bad their product is. So it is since the owners, two days after an unforgettable World Series, chose to try to contract two teams and run their business into the ground. It is amazing as they set up a labor stance that failed in 1994 — unless many owners consider it a victory that they shut down the World Series — and have spent seven months trying to vilify the product they theoretically are marketing."
Clearly the loathsome commissioner Bud Selig deserves the lion's share of the blame (indeed, after testifying about baseball's cooked books earlier this year, he should be under indictment for lying to Congress). But both the union (led by Donald Fehr, father of my old college roommate Mark) and the other owners have an obligation to get in Selig's way in order to prevent the sport's suicide. Until then, why do I have this aching feeling that the day the strike starts, the Red Sox will be in first place...
SEA OF CARTERS: Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter's Monday deadline for a new contract has passed, though there has as of yet been no announcement of his promised retirement. Interestingly enough, Cris Carter lined up as a Vikings receiver for several years in the early '90s along with Anthony Carter (no relation) and Jake Reed, who is the half-brother of current Vikings defensive back Dale Carter. Cris Carter is also the brother of Butch Carter, who as coach of the Toronto Raptors in the late '90s presided over superstars Vince Carter (no relation) and Vince's cousin, Tracy McGrady. Toronto was also the home of Joe Carter, the MVP of the 1993 World Series while with the Blue Jays, despite his having no relation to Cris, Butch, Dale, or Vince. Also no relation to any of the aforementioned Carters are former President Jimmy Carter, former Mets catcher Gary Carter, '80s sitcom star Nell Carter, "ER" character Dr. John Carter, or "X-Files" creator Chris Carter.
AND ONE MORE THING...: Another receiver for the Vikings in the late '80s, who was also a kick returner, was Buster Rhymes, who is NOT related to the rapper Busta Rhymes, nor are they the same person. Though it is possible, dare I even say highly likely, that the hip-hopper named himself after the former Oklahoma standout.
AND THEN THERE WAS 'X': To borrow all of the same lame puns from when the XFL went under last year, "The X-Files" is now X-tinct, X-pired, and X-tinguished— and to quote Monty Python, an X-television show. A mixture of the last episode of "Seinfeld" and all the "Q" episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (with a dash of Kafka's "The Trial" thrown in), I found the finale fairly satisfying, well-written, and well-filmed, while leaving plenty of room for the inevitable next feature film. My only quibble was the show's loaded, inaccurate depiction of military tribunals- a half-hearted denunciation of the War on Terror that stayed with the show's longstanding anti-government leanings without having the guts to get specific. Regardless, all of the Mulder-Scully stuff hit just the right note, as did the returns of several characters from the show's long run. As a longtime fan of both franchises, I'm much more satisfied with what "The X-Files" did this week than I am with what "Star Wars" did.
I will not be writing about tomorrow's "Ally McBeal" series finale, except to relate the following: a few years ago, the Fox affiliate in Boston, where I was then living, ran a teaser for a segment on that night's late local news, in which a reporter used that old gimmick of donning a fat suit, walking around, and recording people's reactions. The teaser: "Is there a weight bias? Tonight, after 'Ally McBeal.'"
DON'T GET CARTER: As my friend and fellow blogger Isaac Slepner pointed out last week, the "X-Files" creator isn't the only C(h)ris Carter ending his career this week. Cris Carter, the longtime wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings and one of the NFL's all-time leading receivers, has threatened to retire if he's not offered a free-agent contract by Monday. Carter was, going into last year, one of the NFL's most respected elder statesmen, but probably did more in one season to undo his pristine reputation than any NFL player since Warren Moon was arrested for spousal abuse in 1995. He whined to management, he took plays off, he ceased to be a good influence on his protege Randy Moss- basically, he did more than anyone else to ruin a Vikings season that began with the tragedy of Korey Stringer's on-field death and ended with the turmoil of Dennis Green's resignation. Now the team is under the control of coach Mike Tice (who last year was nothing but an agent for owner Red McCombs) and under threat of a move to San Antonio. So have fun in retirement Cris- and to quote Alanis Morrissette, "I'm here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away."
ISRAEL AND THE RIGHT: Excellent piece in this week's New Republic by Peter Beinart (probably the best he's done since taking over the TRB column from Andrew Sullivan) on why it might not be so wise for Jewish liberals and neocons to join hands with the Christian Right in the name of supporting Israel. He uses as Exhibit A House Majority Leader Dick Armey's embarassing appearance earlier this month on Chris Matthews' "Hardball," in which he came out in favor of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians- a position far to the right of even Ariel Sharon. Beinart illustrates that the tradition of Zionism is more based in morality than in religion, a position undercut by the religious conservatives in their current pro-Israel crusade. For another excellent take on the Israel situation, check out Boston radio personality David Brudnoy here.
BRANDEIS IN THE GLOBE: There's a well-written article in Thursday's Boston Globe on Brandeis (much better than the infamous 1998 New York Times piece "Still Young, Still Jewish, Still Not Harvard"), focusing on both the school's new "coexistence initiative" and on the recent mini-scandal related to political correctness. The brouhaha began last fall when a Stern-like campus radio show called "The Men's Room" broadcast off-color jokes about Asian and Jewish women and was subsequently yanked off the air; apparently people were still angry over five months later when a student named Yana Litovsky wrote a column in my old paper, The Justice, decrying the school's out-of-control political correctness and downplaying the "Men's Room" incident as "not a big deal," a view which the Justice's editor-in-chief says reflected how many students feel privately. A Brandeis dean, Jessie Ann Owens, chimed in with this chilling quote in the Globe piece:
''If Litovsky's viewpoint is widely held, Brandeis has a lot of work to do in educating faculty, staff and students."
Happy as I am about my Brandeis experience over all, it still gets me that it's the university's official position that anyone who doesn't fall into the orthodoxy of supporting political correctness, so-called "social justice," and repression of dissent is seen as in need of "re-education."
BORN NOT TO RUN: Well, the speculation was fun while it lasted. Bruce Springsteen's representatives have confirmed that the singer will not be running for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey this year, or any other year. While the talk got some excited, and it's perhaps the only campaign that could get me to work in NJ politics again, there was of course not much chance of it ever happening in the first place. So how about that new E Street album, huh Bruce?
WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND: I'll be off advancing my third-string career (Jewish music) out in Pennsylvania this weekend; check back on Sunday night for further updates on the Bush situation, the "X-Files" finale, "Star Wars" fallout, and whatever else may come up.
WHAT DID THE PRESIDENT KNOW? Shocking news tonight that President Bush was told by intelligence sources prior to 9/11 of a plot by Osama Bin Laden to hijack planes, yet did nothing. While it's true that the FBI and CIA get countless tips every week about terrorist activity, most of which come to nothing (the reason we get all those bogus "terror alerts"), the potential for political tumult for the president and even further erosion of faith in government resulting from this story is staggering- more on this as it develops. I guess Cynthia McKinney was right after all...
DISRESPECTING PEARL: They can make excuses and rationalizations until they're blue in the face, but there's absolutely no justification whatsoever for CBS News' decision to air parts of the videotape of Daniel Pearl's murder. As the statement by Pearl's family stated, this act played directly into the hands of the terrorists who murdered the heroic journalist, and the decision showed an alarming disrespect for the reporter's family. I didn't think anyone in journalism could do anything as disgusting in relation to the Pearl case as Ted Rall's cartoon, but Dan Rather has somehow managed it. Speaking of the Middle East, Thomas Friedman weighs in with another outstanding column.
TEARING DOWN "BIAS": Speaking of CBS News, I'm about two-thirds of the way through Bernard Goldberg's media expose "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News," and I agree 100% with the Boston Phoenix's Dan Kennedy: Goldberg is right about the prevalence in big-time media of elitist liberals, but the book is so poorly written (and clearly motivated by Goldberg's vindictive hatred of his former boss Dan Rather) that the point is largely lost. Kennedy recently left his staff position at the Phoenix, but he maintains a blog here; here's another great piece he recently wrote about the untold story of Stern figure Hank the Drunken Angry Dwarf.
POLITICAL BOSS? According to a published report, the same political consultant who masterminded Jesse Ventura's election as governor of Minnesota is trying to get Bruce Springsteen to run for the Senate from New Jersey. The story doesn't make it clear whether The Boss would be running this year or in four years against Jon Corzine (one of the few men in NJ with more money than Springsteen); the idea is that he'd run as an independent. While I find the story more than a tad implausible (given the singer's long-standing Democratic ties), Bruce would certainly have my vote, although if the choice is between the Senate bid and another tour with the E Street Band, I'd opt for the latter.
FOR PETE'S SAKE: Yesterday I shared my thoughts on what I see as the unsuitability of Jose Canseco for the Baseball Hall of Fame; that said, I'd much rather see Jose make it to Cooperstown than Pete Rose. There's once again a movement afoot to get Pete's lifetime ban from baseball lifted, primarily so he can be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Yes, most baseball fans support Rose's reinstatement, but that's because most fans don't understand Rose's crime: he bet on baseball. And not only did the all-time hits leader bet on his sport, he bet on his team. Which means that he had money on games in which he was the manager- over the course of several years, he put himself in position to make managerial decisions based on pointspreads, thus throwing the integrity of every one of those games into question.
Opposing Rose makes strange bedfellows: it's certainly the only major issue on which I agree with Commissioner Bud Selig, and I was one of the few defenders of the usually unwatchable NBC announcer Jim Gray when he grilled Pete the night of the All-Century Team introductions in 1999. Some have advocated allowing Rose into the Hall of Fame posthumously, once he passes away, thus negating his "lifetime" ban. But "Shoeless Joe" Jackson was also banned from baseball, he died 50 years ago, and he's still banned- he must've made himself ineligible when he showed up in that cornfield in Iowa in 1989.
FREE AL: And just like that, Al Goldstein is a free man.. The portly pornographer has been released on bail, pending the outcome of his appeal. However, Goldstein will be confined to his home in Florida, meaning it's not likely he'll be producing any new episodes of "Midnight Blue" anytime soon.
...IN DIFFERENT AREA CODES: Restaurant I noticed for the first time today, at 793 6th Ave. in Manhattan: Ho's Wok.
MY NBA CONFERENCE FINALS PICKS: Celtics in six; Lakers in seven. Yes, we're once again living in 1986.
HOMELESS GONE WILD: It looks like we've once again reached a new low point in American popular culture. Aided by large amounts of on-air promotion by Howard Stern, a pair of L.A.-based filmmakers claim to have sold over 100,000 copies of their videotaped compilation of homeless people fighting. According to the New York Post's Page Six the video, "Bumfights: Cause for Concern, Volume 1," contains such priceless nuggets as "homeless people breaking each other's bones, pulling their own teeth out with pliers and drinking urine-laced booze," as well as "a man impersonating Aussie zoologist Steve 'Crocodile Hunter' Irwin" and engaging in various misdeeds while screaming, "'Crikey! This one's a young buck!'" Sure to be the most highly circulated black-market video since last month's urine-fueled R. Kelly sex romp, "Bumfights" sounds rude, crude, vile, and disgusting- and I for one can't wait to get my hands on a copy.
WEST COAST ANTI-SEMITISM: Also in the New York Post, John Podhoretz checks in with the first report I've seen of the recent European anti-Semitism craze actually reaching America. A group of pro-Palestinian campus crazies surrounded a group of Israeli protesters at San Francisco State University, threatening them with physical violence while chanting anti-Semetic slurs. While I usually consider Podhoretz to be an irritating gasbag when he's writing about anything not related to Israel, I give him credit for bringing this situation to light, and I sincerely hope it's not the beginning of a nationwide trend. No, these people are not anti-Semites because they oppose Israel; they're anti-Semites because they hate Jews.
NO WAY, JOSE: Only 38 home runs short of 500 for his career, slugger Jose Canseco has announced his retirement. Best known as one-half of "the Bash Brothers" (along with Mark McGwire) with the Oakland Athletics in the late '80s and as the first player in history to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season, Canseco later fell into infamy in 1993 when a batted ball bounced off his head and landed as a home run, and despite one or two good seasons struggled with injuries and a deterioration of his skills over the last decade of his career. While some will argue that Canseco's career stats and two championship rings warrant a spot in the Hall of Fame, I think he belongs on the list (along with Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Bret Saberhagen) of 1980s superstars who for whatever reason failed to extend their early brilliance into their 30s and thus will likely miss out on Cooperstown. And besides, people who have played for the Newark Bears, as Canseco did last year, just plain don't belong in the Hall of Fame.
FIRST REICH: With the state party convention weeks away, polls place Brandeis University professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich near the top of the field of Democratic candidates for governor of Massachusetts. Reich is merely one of a gaggle of ex-Clintonites running for office this year (Janet Reno for governor of Florida, Erskine Bowles for Senate in North Carolina, Rahm Emanuel for Congress in Illinois, all following Hillary's election to the Senate from New York) though unlike the others Reich fell out with Clinton years ago, endorsing Bill Bradley for president over Al Gore. If you ask me, Reich is exactly the wrong candidate for the Massachusetts Dems to back; it's hard to imagine the party's base of working-class, union-belonging Catholics rallying around an impish, neo-socialist intellectual such as Reich. Plus, I'm reminded of those statistics showing that the shorter candidate rarely wins in national or statewide elections. If Massachusetts Democrats are intent on electing a fourth consecutive Republican governor in one of the most Democratic states in the union, Reich is their man.
AND SPEAKING OF FAMOUS BRANDEIS PROFESSORS...: I can't help but wonder if Prof. Anita Hill has read David Brock's new book, "Blinded By the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative." Brock, among other things, has repented for writing his earlier tome "The Real Anita Hill"; according to the new book he once sent a letter of apology to Hill and while she called him afterwards, he never called her back. Maybe they can get her to write a review in The Justice.
THOSE FUNNY JEWS: For an outstanding piece on the history of Jews in comedy, which is the subject of an article I have in the next issue of The Blueprint,, check out "Wizards of Wit" by Arie Kaplan, in the current issue of Reform Judaism Magazine.
WHAT I'M LISTENING TO: "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (Wilco); "Pinkerton" (Weezer); "White Blood Cells" (The White Stripes); "Come Away With Me" (Norah Jones). All are highly recommended, especially Wilco; Norah has the voice, and look, of an angel.
CUBAN EXILED: Few sports figures today inspire as much divided opinion as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. His supporters call him a business and marketing visionary who speaks the truth about the evils of the NBA when few others dare, while detractors (like the loathsome Peter Vecsey) call him an annoying, whiny, uber-nerd who lucked into billions in the tech boom and parlayed it into sports ownership. Even though the Mavs swept out my T-Wolves in the first round this year, I have a great admiration for Cuban, simply because he's an honest, honorable executive who is one of the few sports owners to truly understand and emulate the perspective of the common fan- that, and he behaves the way you or I would if we owned a sports franchise. And he's certainly worlds more likable than fellow New Economy owner Daniel Snyder or fellow Dallas owner Jerry Jones. With tonight's elimination of the Mavericks at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, we've seen the last of this guy for the year, but better luck next year Mark- you deserve it.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S "NOT A JOKE"? I received the following moments ago; it may be the most entertaining peace of e-mail spam in history:
If you are a time traveler or alien and or in possession of government or alien technology I need your help! My entire life and health has been messed with by evil beings! This is not a joke! I am serious! Please send a seperate email to me
at: Powerhouse213@aol.com if you can help! Thanks
'X' MARKS THE SPOT: For those of you preparing for Sunday's series finale of "The X-Files" after not watching the show for the last two years, there's a handy guide to the entire series right here.
"SHE'S A ROTTEN PERSON": While I agree with John Strausbaugh that Rolling Stone has been gradually sinking into irrelevance for past two decades, the magazine comes up with an outstanding cover story this week on the battle over the legacy of Nirvana, with Kurt Cobain's widow Courtney Love on one side and the surviving band members on the other. The article goes to great pains to be impartial, but there's no hiding that Love is the villain of the saga. Indeed, she reneged on a deal to split all future Nirvana revenues three ways with Cobain and Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, and is thus holding up the release of a planned Nirvana boxset which would feature several new songs, including the long-mythologized "You Know You're Right." Love, in attempting to serve her own twisted purposes, is not only screwing over the Nirvana members, but depriving legions of fans from hearing lost recordings of the best band of the 1990s. The RS article isn't online yet, but check out this Entertainment Weekly article from March for further chronicles of both the depravity and insanity of Ms. Love.
"L.A. LAW" REVISITED: Caught last night's "L.A. Law" reunion movie; while the show was one of my favorites as a kid and it was great to see the cast back together again, the reunion movie was both a colossal disapointment and a reminder of just how dated the show has become since it went off the air eight years ago. Not only was it a meticulously constructed, bleeding-heart morality play in which evil was punished and the good guys won, but it also made room for the kind of sexual frankness and plot twists that would've been shocking in 1985 but are pretty tame today (I'm reminded of a scandal ten years ago about a lesbian kiss on "L.A. Law"; also last night on "Six Feet Under" two men were in bed for an extended scene, and I expect no controversy.) The reunion movie, as well as the daily re-runs on A&E, remind one of how much the lawyer show genre has been improved and refined, mostly by "Law & Order" and it's various spinoffs, since "L.A. Law"'s '80s heyday. (Don't even talk to me about the ridiculous "The Practice"; it's more melodramatic and unconvincing than "L.A. Law" was at its worst). And why did NBC advertise it as a "Ten Year Reunion" when the show went off the air eight years ago? This may be the first case in history of a network acknowledging a show's "jumped the shark" date.
INJUSTICE OF THE DAY: How is it possible that the lead singer of Savage Garden has a successful career as a solo artist, while the lead singer of Soundgarden does not?
KIDD ROCKED: I wonder if I'm the only one who got a perverse kick out of seeing the New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd bruised and bloodied the other night after a head-to-head collision with the Hornets' David Wesley. I'm sure I'm not the first to make the joke, but now Jason knows how his wife felt. Watching that I felt the way I do watching a movie-of-the-week where the evil wife-beater finally gets what's coming to him- preferably ending up as bloody as Andrew W.K. on his album cover and with a puffy eye, like Kidd sported in today's game. Actually, you have to wonder if Kidd's arrest last year impacted his losing the MVP award to Tim Duncan.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Nets will win the series, hopefully to go down to defeat to the Celtics in the East Finals (the return of Lakers vs. Celtics- it's coming!) No team that fails to sell out home playoff games, like the Nets do, deserves to advance, but man- imagine how good the Nets would be if they still had Jayson Williams.
ALL ABOUT BLOGGING: Salon gets it right.
MORE PC LUNACY AT MY ALMA MATER: My old stomping grounds, The Justice, is finally back online (just in time for the end of the school year), and there's once again controversy because an op-ed columnist dared to write a column that criticized political correctness. This week there's all kinds of hysterical responses, including calls for "re-education" and the like (at least no one suggested the author was in need of a "paradigm shift.") Even the student body president and Dean of Arts and Sciences get in on the act. In other Brandeis news, Ted Koppel will be this year's commencement speaker; I would absolutely love it if somewhere started a protest to get David Letterman named speaker instead. Now that's what I call "activism."
MARY JANE'S LAST DANCE: I caught "Spider-man" last weekend; I thought the flick highly entertaining and expertly directed by the great Sam Raimi. I'm far from a comic book geek, so I certainly had no problems with any of the plot or costume choices that obsess some types. I do have a problem, however, with these whispers among some Spidey enthusiasts that Kirsten Dunst is somehow "not good-looking enough" for the role of Mary Jane. Now I've been known to differ with the conventional wisdom when it comes to Hollywood female beauty (Penelope Cruz comes to mind, as does Julia Roberts) but I don't know how anyone can deny either Kirsten's strong physical beauty or her acting chops, especially if they've seen "The Virgin Suicides" or the recent "The Cat's Meow." The same idiots who call Dunst "not pretty enough" were likely the same who derided her movie debut, "Interview With the Vampire," as "not gay enough." At any rate, "Spider-man" is without a doubt the best Hollywood film with a female lead named Mary Jane since "Half Baked."
JAILHOUSE BLUE: The news finally came down yesterday: Al Goldstein is off to jail. The New York-based pornographer and longtime publisher of Screw Magazine was convicted last month on charges that he harassed a female employee by insulting her both in person, in the magazine, and on his late-night cable access show, "Midnight Blue"; the sentence is 60 days. I watched 'Blue' regularly when I lived in Manhattan and it's clear Goldstein was doing Howard Stern's act years before Stern was. The highly entertaining show consists of Goldstein ranting non-stop about his various enemies (real and imagined) and punishing them with creative, scatological insults (at one point Goldstein offered, for a $250 fee, to videotape personalized "Fuck you" rants for anyone who asked.) If Goldstein was ever treated rudely by store clerks, he would mention both the store and the clerk's name on the air, as well as reveal their home phone numbers- in short, it's a wonder he wasn't convicted on harassment charges years ago. I for one can't wait to watch Goldstein's show the week he gets out: imagine the prison jokes.
F 'EM ALL: On the subject of the WWF name change, an exclusive interview with The F.
WWE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT: I think it's safe to say, finally, that the last nail has been pounded into the coffin of professional wrestling's late-'90s renaissance. In response to a court ruling on a lawsuit by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the other WWF (the World Wrestling Federation) has agreed to drop its initials and change its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), thus abandoning nearly four decades of brand recognition. For the past two years the WWF has been specializing in announcements that sound like April Fools jokes: first they spend $200 million to put minor-league football on prime time television, then they buy rival WCW without buying any of the top wrestlers along with it, then they bring back pentagenarian Hulk Hogan to be their champion and top drawing card, and now they've lost a pissing contest to a charity fronted by a panda. In an effort at damage control, Vince McMahon's federation has begun a "Get the 'F' out" campaign; fans at the first show of the WWE era were heard chanting "Get the 'F' Back." Mark your calendars folks: McMahon-Costas II- Thursday, May 16 on HBO. Bet it's better than Tyson-Lewis.
YASSIR GETS THE OL' HEAVE-HO: President Bush has finally done the right thing and declared that he will not allow the Palestinians to enter peace talks until they are represented by a leader other than Yassir Arafat. After months of wavering, Bush has finally gotten the message that anything less than full American support of Israel's war against terrorism amounts to hypocrisy. That said, I fervently believe that there can never be peace in the region as long as the sides are represented by leaders with as much blood on their hands as both Arafat and Sharon do. I don't believe it's realistic to expect a jump directly from the current situation to permanent peace, but I do believe that such a peace is possible in our lifetimes- just not in Yassir Arafat's lifetime.
WELCOME: Well, I guess now is as good a time as any to launch my blog to the world. I decided to start this blog because, as I'm sure you all know, I love to write, and I've long been looking for an outlet to get my thoughts out there on a daily basis. Inspired by sources as diverse as Andrew Sullivan, The Boston Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, and The New York Press Daily Billboard, I have decided to take my act online.
This forum will contain commentary on a wide range of issues, from current events, to movies and pop culture, to sports, to media criticism, coffee, New York, daughters, and I imagine numerous other subjects that will come up in the days and weeks ahead. I also plan to post links to other articles of mine when they are published elsewhere. As always, I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com; thoughts and suggestions are welcome.