MIKE GIVES A MAKEOVER: With the Clemens-beanball drama ending and his recent revitalization at the plate, it seemed as though Mike Piazza had finally put "the rumor" behind him- but then he goes and does this. On the dime of the New York Post (the same paper, oddly enough, that "outed" him), Piazza took co-catcher Vance Wilson along on a tour of spas, nail salons, and fine clothing stores in order to give him a "makeover," which included (among other things) an eyebrow wax and manicure. What was Piazza thinking? Did he not know the reaction this would cause? In a related story, much has been made of the rapper Nelly's attempts, on his new album "Nellyville," to shed the image some have of him as "soft" and adopt a more gangster-ish edge. Then how do you explain his decision to duet with 'NSync's Justin Timberlake on a song called "Work It"? Excuse me?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I mean, I knew going into the night that I was a flaming liberal. Now I know I'm still flaming, but I'm not so sure anymore about being liberal." - an audience member at last night's New School debate.
VIRTUALLY NEW SCHOOL: I had the privilege tonight of meeting Andrew Sullivan, my favorite pundit and the man who both revolutionized blogging and is the most prominent figure in the insurgent conservative faction of the gay community. I admire Sullivan for several reasons: he writes eloquently on numerous subjects, from the War on Terror to the Middle East to domestic politics to sexual issues to pop culture, and given his unique background (gay, HIV-positive, Catholic, British, and moderately conservative), he's certainly not beholden to any orthodoxies. And as a straight, HIV-negative, Jewish, American who's moderately liberal, I agree with almost everything he says.
Tonight I attended a panel at the New School called "The Great Gay Political Debate," which featured Sullivan, Richard Goldstein (the Village Voice writer, Javert to Sullivan's Valjean), conservative lesbian Norah Vincent and leftist political activist Carmen Vazquez. The panel was ostensibly about the clash between traditionally leftist gay people (like Goldstein and Vazquez) and their more conservative counterparts (Sullivan and Vincent), who represent the rising amount of right-leaners in the community (indeed, 25% of gays voted for Bush in 2000). But as several attendees pointed out, it was more a battle between leftist radicals and more traditional liberals- indeed, Sullivan and Vincent take all sorts of positions (anti-discrimination, pro-sexual freedom, abolition of sodomy laws, support for gay marriage, opposition to the Christian Right) that used to be considered liberal when discussing the question of gay rights. Sullivan is not a gay conservative in the way that, say, Clarence Thomas is a black conservative: he's merely a liberal on gay issues and a conservative on most other things- at one point he said that the goal of the gay rights movement should be to make itself irrelevent- something Thurgood Marshall once said about the civil rights movement. And as he articulated in his supurb book "Virtually Normal," Sullivan believes all of the traditional approaches to homosexuality in public life (the liberal, conservative, liberationist, and abolitionist) are wrong in their own ways, and that a new consensus must now be etched out from all four.
The highlights of the evening were several contentious exchanges between arch-enemies Sullivan and Goldstein, who appeared at many points like they were about to come to blows Bonds-Kent style. Goldstein has been on a seemingly obsessive quest to undermine Sullivan for years (especially since Sullivan became a prominent figure through his blog), writing about him constantly in the Voice and The Nation, and now Goldstein has written an anti-"gayocon" book called "The Attack Queers." Goldstein was also instrumental in the effort last year to smear Sullivan by making public personal ads he had placed on sex sites. Sullivan rightly used much of the time on the panel to refute Goldstein's numerous accusations, most of which included significant distortions of Sullivan's quotes and viewpoints. Goldstein, an incredibly dishonest and shoddy journalist, even stooped to comparing his disclosure of Sullivan's private sex life to "outing Roy Cohn," to which Andrew replied "I'm not Roy Cohn," in the evening's most passionate exchange.
I give the audience credit- they seemed fairly pro-Goldstein/Vazquez to start off, but once they realized that Sullivan wasn't the devil he was made out to be but rather shared most of their views, a substantial amount of them took his side. The event will be airing on C-SPAN at some point in the near future; look for the back of my head in the third row.
INDIANS' COLON REMOVED: I thought it was a joke when I first heard it too: the Montreal Expos (yes, those Montreal Expos, the contraction-bound Montreal Expos) acquired Bartolo Colon, the top pitcher available this year for an in-season trade, for Lee Stevens and three prospects. And it's not just the contraction business that makes this bizarre: for the past decade the Expos have made a habit of trading virtually all of their good players for prospects, and then later trading the prospects as soon as they became arbitration-eligible- Pedro Martinez and Larry Walker being only the most prominent examples. Oddly enough, the last time the Expos made a trade to acquire a frontline veteran starting pitcher for the pennant race was their 1990 deal for Mark Langston, for whom they gave up pitching prospects Brian Holman... and Randy Johnson. That's a good way to explain their behavior since, although their horrible economic conditions are a better one. But hey- if the Expos can get Bartolo Colon, could Jim Thome-to-the-Twins be far behind?
LIVIN' ON A PRAYER: Yes, I believe in separation of church and state, but yesterday's ruling by the California Circuit court that effectively bans the Pledge of Allegience is just plain insane. No reasonable person could ever suggest that the Pledge of Allegience exists for the purposes of religious indoctrination, and indeed, this is the sort of thing that makes 70% of the country stand up and say "damn, liberals are idiots." And as John Podhoretz pointed out today, it also will be like manna from heaven for the Republicans, as they can now send out fundraising letters and make commercials using their usual scare tactics about liberal bogeymen: "they're gonna raise your taxes, take your guns away, AND stop you from saying 'God!'" And finally, the ruling is intended to discourage religious belief in the schools, but actually will have the opposite effect: before, nobody thought of God while saying the Pledge. Now, everybody will.
DODGING THE DRAFT: Work obligations unfortunately prevented me from watching tonight's NBA draft, although from the sound of things it was quite an evening of excitement. I'm not so high on Yao Ming, probably because he looks not unlike an Asian Shawn Bradley, although perhaps he'll prove me wrong. The Bulls, believe it or not, have the chance to be VERY dangerous in the very near future, as do the Clippers if they manage to hang on to their talent. As for the McDyess/Camby trade, I realize McDyess is quite an effective player and the Knicks are thus a better team than they were yesterday as a result of the deal. However, you just know that either Nene Hilario or one of those picked immediately below him is going to be a superstar who "the Knicks let get away," and the fans and tabloids will repeat it like a mantra for the next 15 years. I love the Knicks as a last place team- their fans are starting to remind me of Red Sox fans.
DRAFTDUST MEMORIES: Of course, draft night for me always brings back wonderful memories, mostly from the years in which I followed the perenially-in-the-lottery Timberwolves. I even attended a "fans party" at the Target Center in 1992 to "celebrate" the drafting of Christian Laettner, the man who was supposed to lead the T-Wolves to the promised land (call him the Rick Pitino of Minnesota). This is the team that drafted Luc Longley and Felton Spencer in the top 7 in consecutive years, although when the Knicks had both Longley and Spencer for a brief period in 2001, I got the last laugh. And don't even get me started on J.R. Rider... those days were memorable, most of all, for the relentless optimism, that one of those years, we'd finally get the guy we needed. It took 'til '95 and the drafting of a guy who'd gone to his prom two weeks before, but we got it done.
Then there was the year I cut off a promising date with a summer-camp co-worker to go home and see whether the Wolves had managed to land Stephon Marbury (they had; my mother's observation on the draft: "they were all tall, they were all black, and they all had their mothers with them.") I guess it's good that the Wolves are out of the lottery now, or else the illegal Joe Smith contract would've cost me and other Wolves fans five more years of stories like this.
Back in the '93, this time at overnight camp, my cabin-mates and I attempted to listen to the draft on a barely-registering AM radio frequency, and were highly confused about the trade of the #1 pick- Chris Webber had been traded to Golden State? For Tim Hardaway? What about Anfernee Hardway? Huh? Later that night, we listened for the end-of-the-first-round pick by the home team of my camp friends, the Bulls, as they drafted... Cincinnati forward Corie Blount, leading to ten voices simultaneously screaming "who the fuck is Corie Blount?" Blount won three rings with the Bulls and another with the Lakers, but to this day I still can't hear his name without thinking "who the fuck is Corie Blount"? As a councilor at that same camp six years later, driving away from the camp grounds during a night off, I cheered the news that the Wolves had drafted Wally Szczerbiak, with the pick they'd given up in exchange for... Stephon Marbury.
Finally, The Sports Guy (fresh off his selection to the Entertainment Weekly IT List), has a column of his favorite Top 50 draft memories. Sports Guy lists as #43 last year's report by Peter Vecsey that the Knicks would not be able to trade for Chris Webber, thus drawing an immediate "Vecsey Sucks!" chant from the New York crowd. As an indicator of both the attitudes of New York fans and of Vecsey's ineptitude, I'd have put that in the top ten, easily.
SO LONG RANDALL: Quarterback Randall Cunningham announced yesterday that he plans to retire from the National Football League. Cunningham first arrived on the NFL scene as the Philadelphia Eagles' young, gunslinging QB in the late '80s, later wearing out his welcome in Philly, retiring, and then improbably making a comeback with the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings in 1998, who he led to within a chip-shot field goal (fuck you, Gary Anderson) of Super Bowl XXXIII. Cunningham's primary legacy will be that of a trailblazer: he was the first quick, mobile, African-American quarterback to prove to coaches that QB wasn't merely a white guy's position- in the early '90s Randall and Warren Moon were the NFL's only prominent black quarterbacks, and now there's at least one on almost every team.
Randall McDaniel, the future Hall of Fame lineman on that '98 team, also recently retired, meaning that of the group of four players that included three Randalls and two McDaniels (John Randle, Randall Cunningham, Randall McDaniel, and Ed McDaniel), only John Randle remains active in the league.
ATTACK ON MAC: Mark McGwire is no longer the only world-class athlete nicknamed "Mac" to be publicly accused of using steroids. John McEnroe is being accused of steroid use by his ex-wife, former actress Tatum O'Neal, who recently sat for a Barbara Waters interview, which I guess was an attempt to cash in on her ex-husband's new book, "You Cannot Be Serious." On the one hand, the accusations are believable, due to the former tennis ace's reputation for public, violent tantrums, though on the other hand they're quite unbelievable, considering McEnroe's status as the scrawniest world-class athlete of all time.
STEPHEN S ON STEVEN S: My Minority Report on "Minority Report" (I wonder if Christopher Hitchens liked it) is online at Hollywood Ticket. While I love Spielberg as much anyone, and I take "film buffs who hate Spielberg" about as seriously as I do "Jews for Jesus," I must report that contrary to what most critics are saying, "Minority Report" just plain sucks. For another view, check out Spielberg sycophant Armond White in New York Press. An ardent defender of "A.I.", White also gives high marks to the new film. After all, Spielberg is his second favorite modern-day director, behind (no, I'm not kidding) Brian DePalma.
ESPN QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I don't need to see any basketball movie with a 12-year-old rapper- if you're gonna give me a rapper give me Ludacris- "'My bizness My Bizznass!'" -Tony Kornheiser, on "Pardon the Interruption," discussing the new movie "Like Mike," starring Lil' Bow Wow. Kornheiser being a strong candidate for the Whitest Man on Television, it's not clear whether he was turned on to Luda by his teenage son or by his cohost Michael Wilbon, who loves rap but says he has never seen "Seinfeld."
MOVIE DIRECTOR QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Todd Solondz essentially puts his finger up his own ass, sticks it in your nose and laughs when you smell it." -Tom DeCillo, director of the still-unreleased film "Double Whammy," in New York Press.
SAVE THE PLANET: Had lunch today at a modest Manhattan eatery called Sandwich Planet, which I don't believe I had ever visited before despite its close proximity to my former apartment. Excellent food, and while it's not an Italian restaurant per se, the place had the most impressive list of Italian-named tribute sandwiches I'd ever seen: from artists (the Michelangelo, the DiVinci), to cars (the Lamborghini, the Ferrari), to Hollywood mob (the Sopranos, the Scorsese, the Pacino and the DeNiro), to the neo-realist directors (the Antonioni, the Visconti, the Rossellini, no DeSica though) and even sandwiches named after The Pope and obscure "Godfather" composer Nino Rota. 534 Ninth Avenue; check it out.
NO YASSER, NO PEACE: The Little Green Footballs blog is right: Yasser Arafat has turned Palestinian society into a death cult, one dedicated to the encouragement of terrorism and the murder of children, and the only hope for peace in the region is to do what President Bush wants, to eliminate Arafat from the equation completely. Bush is also right to hope for a Palestinian state "in three years' time"- a major error of all of the Clinton negotiations is that they aimed for peace right away, even at times when both sides were clearly not ready. Bush also said this week that he hopes Osama BinLaden can be killed by the one-year anniversary of September 11th; can we also hope that Arafat will be dead by next year's ten-year anniversary of the Oslo Accords?
TALKING BASEBALL: Last Thursday I attended my first Major League Baseball game of the season, as my Minnesota Twins fell to the New York Mets 3-2 at Shea Stadium, with Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo homering and the Twins just falling short for the second straight night after scoring two runs and getting two more baserunners in the top of the 9th. The game's other big story was that Mets pitcher Steve Trachsel (the same man who gave up Mark McGwire's 62nd homerun in 1998), took a perfect game into the seventh inning before giving up a one-out single to Christian Guzman. I can't say I was rooting for my team to be no-hit, of course, though it would've been neat to see the first no-hitter in Mets history live and in person. It was not to be, and neither was a Twins victory, although the Twinkies did come back and take two of three from the Phillies over the weekend. I think the best we can hope for is for the Twins to be in first place when the strike hits in September; that way, we get our first division title since '91 and don't suffer the humiliation of a playoff loss to the Yankees, Red Sox, or Mariners.
Of course, the worst baseball news of the weekend was the untimely death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. Condolences go out to his family and teammates; by all accounts he was a wonderful man who will be missed by all who knew him.
JEWISH ELITISM WATCH: I've long been on record as saying that among the greatest threats to American Jews these days is our tendency towards elitism (I am working on an article to that effect, soon to be published), and no where is that more true than here in New York. It would be a lot easier for us to counter negative stereotypes if an element among us didn't spend so much time making them look true. Case in point: I attended services last Friday night at a West Side synagogue, and in the synagogue's program was an advertisement for a promotion a local car-rental operation was running, in which congregation members were invited to rent cars and a portion of their fee would go to a charity of the synagogue's choice. The first line of the item: "Summer is the time when all New Yorkers rent cars and get out of town on weekends." All New Yorkers? Maybe "all" well-to-do Jewish Upper West Siders who use rental cars to make a beeline to the Hamptons every Friday, but I don't think those Puerto Ricans in the Bronx who sleep 12 to an apartment, or any of the numerous out-of-work ex-dotcommers throughout the Village and Brooklyn, are all renting cars every weekend. And they're certainly New Yorkers too.
PARADISE CITY NO MORE: I don't link to Matt Drudge often, but he has an item tonight that Guns 'n' Roses will finally be releasing their long-delayed album, "Chinese Democracy," on Labor Day. Now I don't see much of a chance of success for this album- I first heard about the project at least five years ago, and other than Axl none of the original band members will be involved. Maybe someday Axl and Slash can reunite a la Page & Plant (Bailey & Hudson?); but until then sorry, I just won't care. Though I must admit "Chinese Democracy" is a cool title- it wouldn't have been the in-the-works title for five years if it wasn't.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "IT’S NOT THAT Brian Williams isn’t a pretty good anchor — he is. And his seriousness is nothing to sneer at in an era when it’s getting increasingly difficult — especially on cable — to tell the difference between news programming and the World Wrestling Federation. (Which, by the way, recently changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment, or, in its promos, simply "WW." I fully expect that in 10 years it will simply be called "W," with a certain former president taking the place of Vince McMahon.)" -Dan Kennedy, in the Boston Phoenix.
POST-MORTEM: C.J. Sullivan, author of New York Press' excellent "Bronx Stroll" column, totally nails it in a devastating critique of the New York Post on NYPress' Daily Billboard. definitely worth a look.
B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. OF MAN: My review of "Undercover Brother" is online at IOFilm. I thought the film was hilarious, and I'm rather proud that as a result of living in New York for two years I've become sufficiently multicultural: not only did I as a suburban, midwestern-raised white male, get every joke in the movie, but I recognized all of the music as well. One other observation: if Houston Rockets guard Eddie Griffin isn't referred to as "Undercover Brother" from this day until the end of his career, I'll be very disapointed in ESPN. Griffin may need to take some hairstyling tips from his teammate Moochie Norris.
POLITICS > SOCCER > SEX: According to a new survey, a majority of Canadian citizens prefer politics to sex. Now I've heard all those stories about how various Europeans would willingly forego sex with their woman of choice in favor of the chance to watch World Cup games. But come on, it's politics! I know people who would prefer to watch C-SPAN over, say, the Playboy channel, but this is just a bit too much.
CREED BAD; SCREED GOOD: James Lileks with another excellent Screed, this time attacking PC and anti-Western attitudes on American college campuses.
JACK BUCK, 1925-2002: Sad news last night that legendary baseball broadcaster Jack Buck, who was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals for five decades, has passed away at the age of 77 after a long illness. The signature voice of the team in perhaps the nation's best baseball town, Buck also did national announcing work for CBS in the '80s and Fox in the '90s, announcing such landmark moments as Kirk Gibson's limping home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and Mark McGwire's record-tying 61st homer in 1998 (Buck's son Joe, now Fox's lead baseball and football announcer, did the honors for McGwire's 62nd). I couldn't help getting a little choked up last night watching SportsCenter's obituary, with Buck's calls of those historic homers and then his unforgettable final public appearance: On the Monday following September 11, when Major League Baseball returned after a week's absence, the ailing Jack Buck spoke to the St. Louis fans before the game, reminding them that yes they should be there, and that the terrorists could break neither the national spirit nor the national pastime. I guess that's the difference between New York and St. Louis— New York gives a hero's funeral to a thug like John Gotti, while the Gateway to the West will likely do the same for the great Jack Buck.
IRAQ ATTAQ: News over the weekend that President Bush has authorized the CIA to engage in covert operations aimed at toppling (or, even possibly, killing) Saddam Hussein. I say, way to go: the need for a "regime change" in Iraq is one issue where the neoconservatives are absolutely, unequivically right. Saddam's gotta go, and the sooner the better. If Hussein, or another country with a Saddam-like leader, ever gets ahold of nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities, that's the ballgame: the "mutually assured destruction" stuff doesn't apply, because the Islamo-fascists don't care if they die. Besides, anyone who followed the Gulf War (or saw the "South Park" movie) knows the guy's bad news.
"THE BODY" PACKS IT IN: The most unlikely career in American politics in the last decade appears to be over, as Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura has announced that he will not seek re-election. Despite (or perhaps because of) unpredictable behavior and a tendency towards extremely dumb public comments ("you haven't hunted 'til you've hunted man" comes to mind), Ventura was a truly unique character who governed well and always kept his constituents entertained. I was long a Ventura fan ever since his wrestling days, and to this day I can't hear his voice without being reminded of his anti-Vince McMahon insults (the same way I still can't watch "The West Wing" without thinking of Sheen in "Apocalypse Now.") Besides my family, friends, the lakes, and the Twins, the opportunity to watch the Ventura circus may be what I've missed most about Minnesota since I left.
FLIGHT 93 REVISITED, OR "H TO THE IZZO": Americans (especially New Yorkers) have been affected by 9/11 in many ways in the last nine months, but the last week has seen a welcome development: citizens are emulating Todd Beamer and co. and taking matters into their own hands when faced with the threat of crime and terror. First, on Sunday, a deranged man ran into an East Village bar and took several patrons hostage, saying he wanted to "kill some white people"— until he was subdued by two nearby women, and then taken into custody. Then yesterday, a mugger beat a woman to death in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge, and then three teenagers chased him, leading to the man's arrest. The best part: one of the three teenagers in the latter case was named James Hova. Yes, HOVA. Jay-Z would be proud.
DIRTY BOMBS AND FRAPUCCINOS: Normally crazy right-wing pundit (and popular Howard Stern guest) Debbie Schlussel has an interesting column about two of the nation's leading coffee shop chains and their relationships to terrorism. The founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz (also owner of the Seattle Supersonic-ahs) recently delived a speech in which he made pro-Israel comments, leading to threats of a boycott from a major Muslim organization. Schlussel also points out that the Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee is owned by a Saudi Arabia-based bank with tangential ties to a known terrorist. Full disclosure: my sister has worked for Caribou the last couple of summers- I wonder if she knows.
NO MAHER DRAMA: Cathy Young in the Boston Globe has a very good postmortem for "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher," which is going off the air later this month. Young considers the show a missed opportunity in that it didn't challenge all political orthodoxies, just those with which the host disagreed. I thought "Politically Incorrect" was one of the best things on TV for its first few years, when it really did cover daring subjects and actually managed to book big-name guests like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno on a fairly regular basis. Around the time of the show's move from Comedy Central to ABC in 1997 (where it was replaced by the much more entertaining and relevant "Daily Show") it suddenly lost its nerve, lost the ability to book intelligent or well-known guests, and Maher switched from his original posture as an anti-PC libertarian into a more-or-less generic Hollywood liberal, defending Bill Clinton to the nth degree, and later mercilessly attacking George W. Bush to the point of absurdity (he gave Bush the alternating nicknames "Drinky McDumbass" and "Dim Son.")
Maher's post-9/11 comments that the terrorists weren't any more cowardly than Kosovo-era US military were of course blown way out of proportion; by that point Maher had made himself into such an unlikable character (due to his constant declarations of his own womanizing, as Young points out) that nothing else he said could have made him look much worse than he did already. At the end of his run Bill Maher deserves to be commended for his honesty, but not for much else.
THIS BUD'S NOT FOR YOU: Boston Red Sox pitcher John Burkett has declared that if he's named to the AL's team for next month's All-Star Game in Milwaukee, he'll refuse to go, because of his contempt for Commissioner (and former Brewers owner) Bud Selig. While it's unlikely that Burkett will actually make the team, I do admire his resolve. What I'm looking forward to most of all about the game is that Selig will almost certainly be booed in his own home park. Like he can be expected to handle himself in a highly public labor dispute after that...
THE DON IS DEAD, OR "WHAT WOULD RUDY DO?": John Gotti was buried yesterday at a cementary in Queens that is also final resting place to Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, and countless other underworld figures. The burial makes me close my eyes and imagine what would happen if Rudy Giuliani were still mayor. Imagine if it was Rudy, the man who aggressively prosecuted the mob in the '80s, threw Yasser Arafat out of Lincoln Center, and tore up a $5 million check from a Saudi prince who blamed 9/11 on Israel, and was never shy about asserting his will when it was right, who had received the permit application for yesterday's Queens-encompassing Gotti funeral procession. If I were mayor upon Gotti's death I know I would refuse to allow his body to be buried in New York City— why should one of most vicious and violent criminals in history, who the government spent 10 years and millions of dollars putting away, have that luxury? I have a feeling Rudy, if faced with the same question, would've done the same thing.
ROCKIN' BASEBALL: It's one thing that Peter Gammons is the best baseball writer in America, but he's also got pretty good taste in music for a man his age. In this week's "Apolitical Blues" column Gammons analyzes the latest baseball stats, and each paragraph header is a song on Pete Yorn's excellent album, "Musicforthemorningafter."
STONE COLD QUITS JOB; BEATS WIFE: On the heels of this week's news that top WWE star "Stone Cold Steve Austin" has abruptly quit the organization, the "Rattlesnake" has now allegedly assaulted his wife. According to Dave Meltzer (the Peter Gammons of pro wrestling), police were called to Austin's Texas home, where they said he assaulted his wife, Debra. Austin had left the house by then, and is now supposedly missing. Debra, oddly enough, was formerly married to ex-Chicago Bear Steve McMichael, and was also employed by WWE as on-air eye candy.
MUSIC CRITIC QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "If you’re a rock fan, you’ve likely been depressed for the last decade, give or take a few years. These days rock equals clumsy rap-metal by brooding bands like Limp Bizkit or schlocky ballads by fifth-wave Pearl Jam ripoffs like Creed." —Lorraine Ali of Newsweek, in a story on the encouraging popularity of neo-garage rock such the Strokes, the Hives, the White Stripes, and Interpol (oh, you will hear of Interpol.) I always love when a critic writes something that I've been saying myself for years.
THE VILLAGE VOICE ON STRIKE: No, the NYC alternative weekly isn't headed towards a work stoppage, it just had a very well-done feature this week about the particulars of the likely baseball strike. The Voice is the last place you'd expect to find a strong sports section, but somehow its back-page "The Score" manages to deliver week after week.
MOBSTERS LOVEKEEPIN' IT REAL: Steve Dunleavy, the New York Post's crotchety old drunk of a metro columnist, usually specializes in defending the indefensible (the Louima and Diallo cops, convicted Sotheby's swindler Alfred Taubman, Michael Skakel, etc.), and today's deitification of the late John Gotti is no exception. Dunleavy calls Gotti a "man of honor," one who "rose up from nothing" to be successful in business. Basically, Dunleavy is saying that it doesn't matter that Gotti killed, robbed, and maimed scores of people throughout his life, because in doing so he was, in hip-hop parlance, "keepin' it real." It's fascinating, and appalling, to see Dunleavy defending Gotti the same way black people often defend icons with criminal records such as Huey Newton and Tupac Shakur, especially since Dunleavy on a daily basis refers to criminals of color as "animals" and "monsters" and speaks constantly of the need to get "tough on crime." But since Gotti was a "gentleman," and wore thousand-dollar suits, it's all good.
Dunleavy also makes the ridiculous assertion that Gotti is somehow honorable because he never bilked investors out of money like the Enron executives did, which is kind of like giving Osama Bin Laden a medal just because he didn't kill as many people as Hitler.
BUT WILL THEY COVER THE BRANDEIS FOOTBALL TEAM?: Pat Buchanan has apparently become the first man ever to join forces in the same week with both Taki Theodorocoupolos and Bill Press. On the heels of yesterday's announcement that Pat and Taki are starting a new magazine, the astonishing news was reported today that Buchanan has agreed to join MSNBC as co-host of a new daytime talk show, along with fellow ex-"Crossfire" host Press. With this announcement MSNBC now has two major on-air personalities (Buchanan and Alan Keyes) who are to the right of any employee of "conservative" Fox News Channel. I'm not sure who I have more contempt for, Buchanan or Press, yet Pat has always been engaging on television and the show might be worthwhile to watch, as will the new crazy-left show on the network to be hosted by Phil Donahue (balancing out the crazy-right Keyes). MSNBC has also signed another one-right-one-left-both-insane duo, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa and terrorist-defending lawyer Ron Kuby to do a simulcast of their highly entertaining NYC radio show, so perhaps now there'll be a reason to watch MSNBC other than Chris Matthews' show and Ashleigh Banfield's eyes.
TENACIOUS C: Speaking of new cable news shows, I saw a poster on the subway tonight for Connie Chung's new CNN show that almost made me laugh out loud: "Something Different in Prime Time: Tenacity." What? Has any TV news personality ever shown LESS tenacity than Connie Chung?
KERPLUNK!: Tomorrow's the big day: Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens will finally step into the batter's box in Shea Stadium against the Mets. Clemens, of course, hit Mets catcher Mike Piazza in the head during an August 2000 game, and then infamously threw a part of a broken bat at Piazza during Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Since then Clemens has carefully dodged having to pitch (and bat) in interleague games in the Mets' park, but this time he will do so, and now there's all sorts of pressure on Mets starter Shawn Estes to hit Clemens when he comes to bat. There are a million sides to this: Clemens, in a game last week, hit Barry Bonds, which caused some to accuse him of attempting to draw a suspension in order to miss the Mets game. There are questions about whether Estes should be suspended if he hits Clemens, or whether Clemens should fight back if he's hit. Some say the Mets should bring in some scrub pitcher to pitch the first couple innings, hit Clemens, get ejected, and then be replaced by Estes. Or maybe Piazza himself should do the honors. The Mets fans will of course be out for blood, and for one afternoon Shea will turn into the Flesh Fair scene from "A.I." And if Clemens doesn't get hit, there'll likely be a riot.
I won't weigh in on the moral implications of the situation, except to share one thing: the other night ESPN flashed a fascinating statistic, which listed the five active starting pitchers with the most career hit batsmen. Clemens is #1, followed by Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Curt Schilling. In other words, the five best pitchers of the past five years. That would seem to indicate a few things: in order to be a dominant pitcher, one must know how to intimidate opposing batters. In order to intimidate batters, a pitcher must throw inside. And if he throws inside, he's going to hit some batters, which is why those five pitchers are at the top of the hit-batsmen list and, say, Nelson Figueroa is not. I have no idea whether or not Clemens' two previous assaults on Piazza were pre-meditated, but there's no doubt that psyching batters out by pitching inside is part of Clemens' makeup, as well as part of the reason he has dominated for as long as he has.
I could also make a joke about how tomorrow's events will culminate in the release of two years of repressed tension between Mike Piazza and another man, but this blog is way, way too highbrow for that.
AUSTIN TAPS OUT: Huge news from the world of "sports entertainment": "Stone Cold" Steve Austin has walked out of World Wrestling Entertainment, and according to announcer/exec Jim Ross, he won't be back. Austin, for the unitiated, came into the then-WWF in the mid-'90s and quickly became the most compelling character in its history, a beer-drinkin', hellraisin' son of a bitch who lived out the fantasy of every working-stiff WWF fan: he got to beat up his boss (Vince McMahon) on live TV, week after week. Austin has stayed near the top ever since, overcoming both a neck injury that kept him out of action for nearly a year and the emergence of The Rock, who became an even bigger media figure than Austin. With Austin gone and The Rock seemingly more committed to Hollywood than the ring, it's not looking too good for the WWE right now. Of course, only one man can save them now, and his name is Goldberg.
EM-TY ANALYSIS: I already shared a feeble-minded right-wing critique of Eminem's "The Eminem Show"; now here's an equally nonsensical rant by Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice. Goldstein, who always seems to think that an anti-gay Holocaust is right around the corner, compares Eminem to Wagner, likens the album to pornography, and comes up with the inane theory that the rapper's popularity somehow portends that society isn't "ready to let go of male supremacy." Please. In all, Goldstein demonstrates again and again that he has no understanding whatsoever of Em's music: he can't see it as fiction or as art, because Eminem must really hate gays and want to kill them, or else Goldstein doesn't get to be nearly as outraged. This analysis makes Goldstein no better than the right-wing idiots who are always railing against "explicit lyrics": since he doesn't understand the context, he forfeits any credibility in analyzing its meaning. I quote Dylan again: "Don't criticize what you can't understand."
EMBARASSING JESSE VENTURA QUOTE OF THE DAY: Recently unearthed thanks to a wrestling newsgroup: In the mid-'80s, when Ventura was announcing telecasts for the WWF alongside Vince McMahon, they did a storyline in which case Mr. T (yes, Mr. T) was whipped with a belt by bad-guy wrestlers Rowdy Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton. To which Ventura said "It tooks like 'Roots 2,' McMahon!" Ouch... that's even worse than "St. Paul was designed by drunken Irishmen" and "you haven't hunted until you've hunted man."
FINALLY...: The best music/video/electronics chain in the country, Best Buy, has opened its first store in Manhattan, and right down the street from my office (on 23rd St.) no less. Best selection, best prices... with the exception of $5 street bootlegs, the row of used music stores on St. Mark's Place, and free downloads, Best Buy is the best place in New York to get new music!
SHAQ-FU III: Congratulations are in order to the 2002 NBA Champion L.A. Lakers and especially Mitch Richmond, winning his first championship after a distinguished 14-year career. I'm no big Laker fan but I certainly supported them over the Nets. So now that Wife Beater Jason Kidd has been swept out of the Finals, I promise no more posts about him for the entire off-season— unless, of course, he gets arrested again.
BYE BYE, 'BC Tonight's game marks the end of the NBA's 12-year run on NBC, as the league will shift to ABC/ESPN starting next season. While not as significant to the history of the league as the Lakers-Celtics clashes of the '80s (which aired on CBS), the run encompassed both championship cycles by the Chicago Bulls, as well as the Lakers' recent three-peat, not to mention numerous memorable playoff moments (Reggie Miller's sustained heroics and the Knicks-Heat wars come to mind). The network drew much ire for recycling the same four or five teams for all of their regular-season games, as well as for starting the games too late, but the excellent commentary and analysis (by Bob Costas, Marv Albert, and the surprisingly improved Bill Walton) more than make up for it. And finally, the only listenable piece of music John Tesh has written in his career is that catchy NBA-on-NBC theme (now, sadly, never to be heard again outside of ESPN Classic).
FORCES RE-ALIGNING: Now that the season is over, it's off-season time— and I've been one who at times has enjoyed the Hot Stove League as much as (if not more than) the season itself. While tight salary cap/luxury tax rules have all but killed the NBA's free agent market, there's another big issue up for consideration this off-season: realignment. Since the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated eastward and the Charlotte Hornets moved westward in the last two years, there's talk that perhaps the two teams should swap conferences— and my Minnesota Timberwolves have been mentioned as switching conferences as well. The nominal thinking goes that the Twin Cities has natural geographical rivalries with the Chicago, Detroit, and Wisconsin franchises in other sports, so it's only right to create an NBA "Norris Division" by putting the T-Wolves in the Central Division and Eastern Conference. Makes sense, although of course the real reason for the proposed switch is the obvious one: the Wolves want to have a chance in hell of advancing past the first round for the first time, which isn't something they can do in the West. After all, the fifth-seeded Wolves last year had the exact same record as the Detroit Pistons, who won the Central Division and were the second seed in the East. Expect the league to go along, since it's good for their ratings to have Kevin Garnett advancing further in the playoffs.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T P-T-I: After eight months in the air, it can be safely said that ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" is now the most entertaining talk show on cable television. The daily broadcast, hosted by veteran Washington Post writers Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, is both informative and hilarious, as the hosts are perfectly comfortable with both silly banter and in-depth sports analysis. While the show is clearly based on such argumentative news talk shows as "Crossfire," a real reason for PTI's success is that it's clearly personality-driven, which is of course the trend in cable news right now, with Fox News leading the way and CNN and MSNBC struggling to copy them. A big problem for ESPN in recent years has been it's lack of strong personalities: since the Olbermann/Patrick era on SportsCenter, the network has been strikingly lacking in that department (Chris Berman is an exception, though he's been known to disappear completely when it's not football season). PTI applies the "Crossfire"/"Hannity & Colmes" formula to sports, only doing it better since the two hots aren't locked into pre-conceived ideological opinions. And who could forget the talking "Mail Time!" mailbox? Let's just hope the show eventually gets shifted to a later timeslot; I'm sick of rushing home to catch it at 5:30.
TAK MAGAZINE: Unbelievable news today (courtesy of the Post's Keith Kelly) that a new conservative magazine is on the horizon— to be backed by none other than Pat Buchanan and right-wing socialite Taki Theodorocopolos. To be called "American Conservative," the new magazine (according to Buchanan) is aimed at those who think National Review and the Weekly Standard are "not conservative enough," and Taki (apparently smarting from his failed attempt last year to buy New York Press from Russ Smith) will provide a majority of the funding. "We won't be taking many ads from the Gay Pride Parade," Pat told Kelly. No, I'd imagine not.
RUDY! RUDY!: It was reported today that James Woods will be portraying former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the made-for-TV adaptation of Wayne Barrett's biography "Rudy!" I'm looking forward to seeing the film, partially because I'm curious to see if Woods can play Rudy as well as he played H.R. Haldeman in "Nixon," and also because I read the Barrett book, which portrayed Rudy as a racist, mob-connected, womanizing snake, and I'd love to see how the network handles that post-9/11 (I'm guessing Barrett won't be happy). Also, will the script make room for that story about Woods being on the plane with the terrorists on their "dry run"? Probably not.
TEFLON GONE: Legendary mafia don John Gotti died of cancer yesterday at the age of 61, and ever since I heard the news I've been looking forward to reading the coverage by the NYC tabloids. The Post and Daily News both devote large sections (13 in the Post, 15 in the NYDN) to the Dapper Don's death, and while the Daily News provides a more balanced look at Gotti's life and death, the Post treats him like some sort of hero in their coverage. Yes, the same paper that on a daily basis refers to ghetto criminals (as well as terrorists) as "animals" and "monsters" lionizes Gotti as a "gentleman" and a "man of honor." This same bizarre morality is also evident in the mythology of "The Sopranos" (especially in the Big-Pussy-as-informant story arc)— murder, assault and extortion are one thing, but there's nothing more contemptable than betrayal of loyalty. Of course, the Post even employs Gotti's daughter Victoria as a Sunday "society" columnist (who had nothing to say, curiously, about last week's indictment of several relatives on RICO charges)- and after firing legendary local columnist Jack Newfield last year, they gave her Newfield's desk.
"DOES 'ANAL RETENTIVE' HAVE A HYPHEN?:" Also in the Post (not online), there's a fluffy "lifestyle" piece about the trend towards women hyphenating their last names after marriage. Now, I appreciate many of the gains made by the womens' liberation movement of the '60s and '70s, but the hyphenization thing pretty much just sucks. Not only does it ensure that peoples' names will no longer fit on their drivers' licenses or Social Security cards, but an entire generation of children have been cursed with extra-long, extra-ugly, and hard-to-remember hyphenated monikers. I have no problem with women retaining their maiden names upon marriage, but subjecting their children to it is another matter entirely— as the last remaining male Silver (besides my father), I feel an obligation to keep the name alive. I don't ask a lot from my future wife, but I insist on that.
YOU, AND YOUR RACIST DOG: I thought I'd heard them all, but then there was this: Dolpho, the trusty drug-sniffing dog who comprises the K-9 unit for the McKees Rocks, PA, police department, is being accused of racial profiling, after multiple incidents in which he bit African-American suspects while ignoring nearby white people. So now a local councilwoman is calling for the dog to be put to sleep. Now even if the dog is racist, there's no way of knowing that for sure, and why should he die for it? Are they now calling for racist people to be put to death too? Where are the PETA people on this? I mean, my grandparents' dog once ate my mother's shoe right off of her foot— and nobody ever called him an anti-Semite.
REALITY BITES: Went to a Hoboken bar called The Quiet Woman on Saturday night to catch the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight, and I must say I'm glad that the boxing gods smiled and granted Lennox the thoroughly decisive victory. But the result is unfortunate for two reasons: Lewis is now left with no one to fight, and Tyson, as it has been demonstrated before, will never go away for as long as he's alive. If a rape conviction and the biting of two different opponents wasn't enough to end Mike's career, an ass-whooping like he got Saturday certainly won't— Tyson will always be boxing's biggest name and draw, and thus will continue to collect large purses for as long as the crooks who run boxing continue to dole them out. And no great heavyweight has ever ended his career at the right time— for exhibit A look no further than this week's disturbing news that over-50 Larry Holmes will fight Butterbean in July.
ROCK SHOW: Sunday I went up to Foxboro, Mass. for WBCN's annual River Rave concert, the inaugural event for CMGI Field, the brand-spankin'-new stadium for the World Champion New England Patriots. It's a hell of a concert venue as well, as it played host to the good (Outkast, the Strokes, Tenacious D), the middling ("The Middle" singers Jimmy Eat World) to the downright unlistenable (P.O.D., Papa Roach, and Drowning Pool). There was also a shocking, unannounced appearance by Public Enemy (!); Chuck D is looking quite old, but I'm happy to report Flava Flav looks exactly like he always did.
A BABY, NOT A PAYCHECK: Outkast's standout set (albeit delivered to an audience consisting almost entirely of Bostonian white people) reminded me of one of the funniest CNN segments of all time, which aired in March (on the eve of the Grammys). The segment on "Newsnight With Aaron Brown" focused on Outkast's hit single "Ms. Jackson," which was nominated for Record of the Year even though it had been released 18 months before. Big Boi and Andre 3000 were interviewed by Brown about the song, which is told from the viewpoint of an out-of-wedlock father wanting to see his child— first the rappers were asked about their own experience both as out-of-wedlock fathers and sons, and then Brown interviewed a support group for out-of-wedlock fathers— all of whom loved the song. Basically, the entire segment was handled with an incompetence that can only come from Ivy-educated TV producers who have never listened to hip-hop before in their lives.
AND WHILE WE SPEAK OF CLUELESS ELITE MEDIA...: The New York Times checks in with a story about blogging and, predictably gets it all wrong. The piece focuses on the feud between the "original" bloggers, the techies who actually developed the technology to create blogs, and the "war bloggers," those who have emerged since 9/11 to commentate on the war, who the techie group accuses of hogging all the credit for revolutionizing blogging. The Times piece, of course, completely neglects to state that thousands of blogs exist that have nothing to do with either the war or intricate computer stuff, or that do-it-yourself blogging is enjoying an explosion of popularity (Blogger.com is not mentioned). It's also wrong in that most of the prominent politically-oriented blogs (AndrewSullivan.com, KausFiles, Instapundit) were well-known well before 9/11.
If nothing else, the techies vs. warbloggers battle makes me wish Marshall McLuhan was still alive. Paul Levinson's "Digital McLuhan" (the most hagiographic biography I've ever read) already established that McLuhan was nothing less than a prophet when it came to foreseeing the digital age; the media/message implications here are astonishing.
SURREAL HEADLINE OF THE DAY: From (where else?) the New York Post: "ARMED JEWS TO PATROL BROOKLYN."
THE SILVER MEMO: Yea, the Phoenix memo gets all the attention, but I wrote the following to a friend on May 22, 2001:
"Did you hear that the Taliban in Afganistan is making non-Muslims wear identication now? Why the hell don't we go in there and overthrow them? We used to do that all the time in the '70s."
Now if I'd written that to the president and not to my friend...
"OUR ONE REMINDER OF ALL THAT WAS ONCE GREAT, AND ALL THAT COULD BE AGAIN": Terrance Mann was right. Tonight, the first-place Minnesota Twins hosted the first-place Atlanta Braves at the Metrodome for the first time since October 23, 1991— my greatest moment as a sports fan (with my dad and me in attendance, the Twins beat the Braves 1-0 in 10 innings in Game 7 of the World Series, to win their second world championship in five years). The Twins jumped to a 5-0 lead tonight against Greg Maddux, blew it, and the game remained 5-5 until the bottom of the 15th, when the Twins won it— do I even need to say the game ended on a play at the plate? For one night, it was October '91 in the Dome again.
I was dead-set against interleague play when it was first introduced, but I've slowly come around, partly because we get fun matchups like this, and also because it's good to introduce teams into environments where they had not previously played (Friday night was the first time in his career that Barry Bonds had played in Yankee Stadium). The Twins and Mets have existed since 1961 and 1962 (respectively), but next week they will play each other for the first time ever.
TOP 15 MALE ATHLETES WHO HAVE GIRLS' NAMES: 15. Courtney Alexander. 14. Kari Takko (MN North Stars goalie in '80s). 13. Dana Barros. 12. Minnie Mimoso. 11. Rosie Grier. 10. Jose Maria Olazabel. 9. Valeri Kaminsky. 8. Christy Matthewson. 7. Brett Butler. 6. Lynn Swann. 5. Torii Hunter. 4. Tracy McGrady. 3. Fran Tarkenton. 2. Sandy Koufax. 1. Babe Ruth.
THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT SOLVED, AT LAST!: All it took was Goldberg.
12 ANGRY LEWINSKYS: News today that Monica Lewinsky, who now lives in Manhattan's West Village, was recently called for jury duty, but due to what she deemed "negative prior experiences with the criminal justice system," the judge excused her from duty. This brings to mind a wonderful programming idea for COURTV: a reality show featuring a jury filled entirely with now-washed up Lewinsky scandal figures: Monica, Linda Tripp, Paula Jones, Matt Drudge, Sidney Blumenthal, Lucianne Goldberg, Susan Carpenter-MacMillen, Betty Currie, Juanita Broderick, Henry Hyde, Bob Livingston, and David Brock. Judge Kenneth Starr, of course, is the judge. This could be as big a hit for COURTV as "Celebrity Boxing" was for Fox.
MUSIC CRITIC QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "For her new album, Pink has utilized former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry as a co-writer on several songs- a curious move, considering 4 Non Blondes' status as one of the worst bands of all time." -Stephen Thompson, in The Onion's AV Club, on Pink's album "Missundazstood."
DISRESPECTING PEARL, CONT'D: The Boston Phoenix has made the peculiar editorial decision to both publish pictures of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's murder and to link (from its website) to a video of said murder. The newspaper's publisher attempted to explain the decision by saying that "every non-Jew hater" should view the videotape in order to truly get the essence of how evil the terrorists really are. I'm not buying this reasoning, for several reasons: 1) The Pearl family has made it clear that they do not approve of the video's dissemination, and it's only right to respect their wishes, 2) Anyone who lived through 9/11 has already seen what terrorism looks like and doesn't need to be reminded again, 3) The left-leaning Phoenix, which has been more than a little sympathethic towards Palestinian terrorism, is hardly one to talk, and 4) Isn't a "non-Jew hater" one who hates non-Jews?
Out of respect to the memory of the heroic journalist who died as a proud Jew at the hands of the same evil terrorists who gave us 9/11, I will not be providing a link in this space to the video of his murder. If you absolutely must see it, it's not hard to find on the internet.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "They fight/they bite/they fight they fight they bite/bite bite bite/fight fight fight/The Tyson and Lewis Show!" —Dalton Ross, Entertainment Weekly.
THE NEW YORK POST EDITORIALIZES ABOUT YOURS TRULY: Check it out.
POLITICAL BASKETBALL: The venerable consumer advocate Ralph Nader was so upset about the unfair officiating in Game 6 of the L.A. Lakers-Sacramento Kings series that he has written a letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern. Now I'm not the world's biggest fan of Nader (I certainly didn't even consider voting for him in the 2000 election), but I must say I'd sort of like it if he re-invented himself as an advocate for the common sports fan- God knows in this case his message would reach a lot more people than it did in the election, especially if there's a baseball strike this summer. I can't wait to see Selig and Nader go head-to-head on Larry King Live...
TWINS TO STAY: A deal has been officially reached to guarantee that the Minnesota Twins will continue to exist through at least 2003 (barring a strike, of course). The only thing shady about the agreement are the quotes by the embarassing baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, who says that said the deal signals a commitment "by all parties to seek to continue the long tradition of the Twins ball club. Major League Baseball looks forward to working with the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota and their efforts to build a new ballpark and create an operating climate for the Twins that will ensure the continuation of baseball in Minnesota." Funny- when the out-of-commission commish was trying to murder the team last winter, he didn't seem too concerned about "the long tradition."
NEW CONTRACT FOR FOX NEWS' BETA MALE: Somewhat surprising news today that Alan Colmes, co-host/sidekick of Fox News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes," has signed a new contract to continue to host that show. H&C is Exhibit A for those who call Fox a conservative network, as the dynamic, bright, and well-spoken conservative Hannity is paired with the weak, tentative, stammering Colmes, who is decisively on the defensive for about 2/3rds of each episode- clearly Fox searched long and hard for the dumbest liberal they could find and Colmes is who they found. The kangaroo court-like show was even compared by the lefty website TomPaine.com to "a Harlem Globetrotters game." This new contract only puts off the inevitable, which is that Colmes will eventually quit and/or be fired and subsequently write a Bernard Goldberg-like tell-all book about the evils of the "Fair and Balanced" network.
UNCOVERING MAXIM: This week's New York Press features a cover story by Dave Itzkoff, the former highly-placed Maxim editor who recently quit the "lad mag," and in the article he essentially trashes Maxim's entire formula and disavows the work he did in his three years there. It's a fascinating piece, made even more fascinating when one considers last year's interview, also in New York Press, in which Itzkoff and editor-in-chief Keith Blanchard defended Maxim's honor against a barrage of attacks by NYP editors Russ Smith and John Strausbaugh, who more or less called Maxim's success the death knell of American magazines. In the new piece Itzkoff, having evidently undergone a David Brock-like conversion, makes pretty much all the same points that Smith and Strausbaugh made (and he and Blanchard defended) in the earlier story. I don't agree with a lot of what Itzkoff writes (Maxim, in all its absurdity, is always an entertaining and highly humorous read and yes it has a rigid formula, but so does every magazine), yet I must admit the guy's got balls, and he makes his case quite persuasively.
TWINS 23, INDIANS 2: Ah, nothing like a blowout victory over a hated divisional rival to brighten up one's day. Good thing baseball is the only sport where it's not considered unethical to "run up the score."
LAKERS JERSEY: Reason #1657 not to root for the Nets in the NBA Finals: not even the hometown fans are behind their team. According to a man-on-the-street survey taken by the New York Post in downtown Newark (the site of the Nets' proposed new arena), 18 fans consider the Lakers their basketball favorite team, as opposed to three votes for the Bulls and one (ONE!) for the Nets. Now granted Newark is Shaq's hometown, but nonetheless... the only shocking thing about this survey is that there aren't more Knicks fans in Newark than Nets fans.
IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM...: The jury is still out in the Connecticut murder trial of tangentical Kennedy relative Michael Skakel. Now far be it from me to ascertain Skakel's innocence or guilt (though I highly enjoyed the "Law & Order" episode based on the case), but I must make one point about this: the general public has more or less accepted Skakel's guilt, and that is for no reason other than that he is an uncommonly creepy-looking individual. And that certainly can't help him with the jury. The same was true of both Gary Condit and Robert Blake, and even stretches back to the mid-'90s Eddie O'Brien case in Boston— race gets all the attention, but high-profile, creepy-looking murder defendants have never gotten a fair shake either in the criminal justice system or in the media. Contrast that with Louise Woodward, the cute, British, teenaged nanny who killed a child in Boston a few years ago, leading to a massively popular "Free Louise!" movement that secured eventual early release. No, I'm not arguing in favor of affirmative action for ugly people, but rather an open-mindedness that creepy looks don't necessarily translate into creepy acts.
"IT'S ON. OH, IT'S ON:" No, not the line from "Swingers"; rather, "It's On" is the promotional tagline for this Saturday's Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight. It's never a good sign when an entire event's ad campaign is nothing but a reminder that it hasn't yet been canceled or postponed. The potential for disaster is so high that ESPN fight analyst Max Kellerman said today on "Pardon the Interruption" that it's still only about a 50/50 shot that the fight will actually take place. Even more scary is the prospect that if Tyson wins, Evander Holyfield will have to get into the ring with him a third time. The second fight, of course, was when Tyson bit Holyfield, while the first had a Don King-derived promo gimmick even worse than "It's On": "The Sound and the Fury." Was it any wonder that the fight itself signified nothing?
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: The Postmodern Theory Generator: It's computer-generated fake psychobabble, which is of course completely indistinguishable from authentic psychobabble. Perfect for the recent college graduate in your family, or anyone who's of always sick of words like "paradigm shift" and "heterosexist."
THE BOSS RISES AGAIN: It was officially announced today: on July 30, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will release "The Rising," their first studio album as a group since "Born in the USA" in 1984. If the new album is even one-tenth as good as last year's live album (and if it will include a subsequent tour) then I will be one happy man; I feel good about it, since all three new Springsteen songs from the last three years have been excellent. See, I knew a new album was a better idea than that Senate run...
THE FINAL INSULT: Unfortunately, we won't be getting the '80s championship nostalgia series (Lakers-Celtics), nor the '90s draft lottery nostalgia series (Kings-Nets) in this year's NBA Finals. Nope, we're stuck with the New York vs. LA angle, the first time teams from our nation's two largest cities have faced off for a pro sports championship since the Yankees-Dodgers wars of the late '70s. I can't see myself getting too excited when I don't care about either team; indeed, I haven't been this uninterested in a championship pairing since the second Cowboys-Bills Super Bowl. The only entertainment I expect out of this series is Jay Leno telling Jason Kidd jokes. I can't conceive of any possible scenario (short of a catastrophic injury to Shaq or Kobe) in which the Lakers don't win; as we all know, Phil Jackson wins championships in threes. Lakers in five.
OVERHEARD IN A BAR IMMEDIATELY AFTER GAME 7 OF LAKERS-KINGS: "The only way Kidd can beat Shaq is if he marries him."
AND SPEAKING OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE INDIRECTLY RELATED TO SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: In overtime of Game 7 there was a rather vicious collision between Shaq and Kings guard/Tupac lookalike Bobby Jackson. Jackson seemed particularly determined to show up Shaq, and I think I know why: Jackson's teammate on Minnesota's since-defrocked 1997 Final Four team was forward Courtney James, who was kicked off the team the following year after assaulting a girlfriend. The assault, it was reported at the time, came about after James found out that the girlfriend had had sexual relationships with seven different NBA players, including O'Neal, and James had overheard a message on the girl's answering machine: "Yo it's Shaq, I'll call you back." My guess is that Bobby Jackson has been haunted for years by that rhyme (which was later turned into a rap remix by a local radio station), and has been bent on payback ever since. Sorry Bobby; revenge must wait one more year.
ONE RIGHT-WING GIRL GOES 'ROUND THE OUTSIDE: There are few things I enjoy more than reading reviews of popular culture by social conservatives. Not only is it fun to laugh at their comically behind-the-times taste, but (with the lone exception of film critic Michael Medved) none of them have the slightest idea what the hell they're talking about. I'm reminded of Bob Dole making a major anti-Hollywood speech during the 1996 election and later admitting he hadn't actually seen any of the movies he had ripped, or Gary Bauer's presidential-debate invocation of the subversive rock group "Machine Unto the Rage." This is what Dylan meant when he sang "don't criticize what you can't understand."
This time it's wacky columnist Michelle Malkin with a critique of Eminem. It's almost comical to imagine Malkin settling into her living room to listen to "The Eminem Show," cringing, and trying oh so hard to make it to the end without screaming— really, this could be the next great reality game show. Predictably, Malkin misses all the nuance and profundity of Shady's social commentary, harping instead on immorality of the lyrics, the whole "playing devil's advocate" thing never even dawning on her of course. It's also fun to see this anti-gay anti-feminist slamming Slim for sexism and gay-bashing. I'm telling you- if Eminem is provoking outrage from activist wackos on the left and the right, then he certainly must be doing something right.
BUT NOT ALL CONSERVATIVE PUNDITS ARE QUITE SO CRAZY: George Will with an excellent piece about how excessive litigiousness is, in many ways, crippling society. Apologies to my dad and to all of my future lawyer friends.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE: Buck Martinez was fired today as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. While the Jays' small-market status certainly has something to do with Martinez's failure, could a guy whose name rhymes with the famous (and more profane) 2 Live Crew song really have had a chance in the first place?
I'M BACK: I just returned from three days in my college hometown of Boston, helping my friend and cohort Isaac move out of town. Despite numerous car and U-HAUL problems, I'd say it was a damn good trip. Now I'm helping my new roommates move in.
CUTTING DOWN THE NETS: While on the drive from Boston back to New Jersey, oddly enough, I listened to the Nets defeat the Celtics in Game 6, and thus reach the NBA Finals for the first time in their history. The Nets' victory means that since I moved to New York two years ago, five of the nine New York franchises (and at least one in every sport) have reached the championship game/series, though only the Yankees have won a championship. As for the Western conference, I'll be rooting hard on Sunday for the Kings over the Lakers; it might take until at least Game 4 to get over the surrealism of a Nets-Kings NBA Finals, but I'd rather not be in a position to have to cheer for the Lakers.
NOW YOU CITIZENS OF BOSTON, DON'T YOU THINK IT'S A SCANDAL?: The Nets' advancing to the NBA Finals means that the Jason-Joumana Kidd drama will continue for at least another week. Boston has been in the grips of Beatermania, with fans pestering the Kidds both at FleetCenter and on talk radio- WEEI radio host Glenn Ordway commented before Friday's game that "the Sox are playing the Yankees tonight, and we haven't gotten a single call about it 'cause all you want to talk about is Joumanja." Yes, "the Jason Kidd Thing" is now just as big a deal in Boston as "the Mike Piazza Thing" is in New York. While a majority of the vitriol came simply because Kidd was the best player on the opposing team, I believe that Joumana is hated (in and out of Boston) for much the same reason that Hillary Clinton is hated— she's seen as greedy and opportunistic because she has chosen to remain married to a powerful, public man who severely mistreats her. Indeed, it's been rumored in New York media circles that the Nets will attempt to woo Mrs. Kidd with a TV gig on the YES network, thus appeasing Jason and encouraging him to stick around when he's eligible for free agency after next season (on second thought, maybe she has more in common with Donna Hanover).
Of course, the unwashed, mulleted masses who root for the Nets clearly have no problem with loudly cheering on a wife beater (although since the Nets and Devils regularly fail to sell out even late-round playoff games, I hesitate to use the word "masses"). In that way Jason Kidd is not unlike Mumia Abu-Jamal— those who support him do so not in spite of his crime but rather, at least in part, because of it.
DON'T BAN THE BOX: As I mentioned last week, my first article was recently published in The Blueprint (sorry, it's not available in non-pdf html, but I can forward a copy upon request). So, for what I hope is the first of many times, I was able to walk to the line of free newspaper boxes (in this case, on 14th St.) and pull out something I wrote. But if certain fools on New York's City Council have their way, these boxes will soon be banned. As the argument goes, these boxes block pedestrian traffic and make things more difficult for handicapped people; although it doesn't appear as though anyone was complaining until these politicians pulled the issue out of thin air. It's also a First Amendment issue, as this city-sponsored initiative would make distribution that much harder for the Voice, NYPress, the Onion, the Blueprint, and numerous other important periodicals (nope, Screw isn't free anymore, sorry). For a spirited defense of the boxes, check out the intro to the NYPress' Summer Guide.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE...: While in Boston, just for shits and giggles, I checked out the "Women Seeking Men" personal ads in the alternative newspaper The Boston Phoenix and while it may not be the world's most scientific statistical sample, I noticed a trend: unlike just about every ad I've ever read in The Village Voice or New York Press, the Phoenix's personals were completely devoid of such statements as "looking for mature, wealthy older man," "must be financially secure," and "sugar daddy wanted." Perhaps there's less elitism involved, or maybe even a smaller amount of "Sex and the City" influence— I just hope this doesn't mean I'm living in the wrong city.
SPORTS RADIO CALLER QUOTE OF THE YEAR: From WFAN: "[In a 162-game baseball season] you get 54 wins and 54 losses. It's what you do with the other 54 games that really matters." Have more profound words ever been spoken on talk radio?
TWO TRAILER PARK GIRLS GO 'ROUND THE OUTSIDE, 'ROUND THE OUTSIDE, 'ROUND THE OUTSIDE: Yes, Eminem's "Without Me" sports the best opening line to a song since Weezer's "What's With These Homies Dissin' My Girl?." And the Em video is even in the same league as "Buddy Holly."