MURDER BY NUMBERS: Tech Central Station crunches the numbers in regard to casualties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fascinating stuff, and much more in-depth than most of the simplistic analysis you usually see on the subject.
MASTERFUL: That's the only word I can think of to describe the new Bruce Springsteen album "The Rising." The first major work of American popular culture to respond conclusively to the events of September 11 does just about everything right: it's moving but not schmaltzy, serious but not depressing, honest but not self-righteous, and authoritative but not preachy or condescending. And damn, these are some beautiful songs- the Band is back and at the top of their game, contributing gorgeous melodies and musical arrangments that fit just right.
"The Rising" is a sort of concept album in which almost every song relates in some way to 9/11, and each is told from the point of a view of someone different- a fireman, a widow, someone watching the burning towers, and Bruce himself. These evocative reminders of that tragic day all lead into the crescendo at the end of "My City of Ruins": "Come on, rise up!" The very formula that has underlined Springsteen's best songwriting for 30 years ("times may be tough but hey, if you haven't got hope, what have you got?") is sensibly and brilliantly adapted to the World Trade Center tragedy.
The best songs: "Into the Fire" (best chorus of any song this year, no question); "Mary's Place," "You're Missing," the title track, and "My City of Ruins." That last track, ironically enough, was written two years ago not about September 11 but about Bruce's deserted adopted hometown of Asbury Park. That was the setting today for the Boss' performance on this morning's "Today" show, where he made clear that he has his relevance and authority back- and much like U2 two years ago, Bruce and the E-Streeters have made an album so great that it's likely to instantly return them to their deserved spot on the musical A-list. And better them than Britney Spears, right?
Unlike a way is found to pacify Courtney Love and finally give a release to those long-lost Nirvana tracks, I can't foresee any album this year better than "The Rising." Thanks, Boss.
YOU, EDITOR! I LEARNED FROM WATCHING YOU!: Sean Salley and Andre Smith, the two men convicted of murdering three people above New York's Carnegie Deli last year, were sentenced yesterday to 120 years to life (although something tells me the "life" part will kick in first). The result of a drug-deal-gone-bad, one of the victims was Jennifer Stahl, a 39-year-old sometime actress (she had a bit part in the '80s classic "Dirty Dancing") who went on to become one of Manhattan's most prominent drug dealers. What I'll never forget about this story is that a couple of weeks after the murders, an anonymous Village Voice staffer who had frequently used Stahl as her dealer was somehow allowed to pen an affectionate "farewell-to-my-dealer" piece and have it published in the newspaper. The Voice thus became the only known employer on Earth which, rather than punish drug abuse by its employees, rewards it with column space.
The other fascinating thing: It was reported at the time that Salley, one of the murderers, was a former roadie for George Clinton. Was he present for George's legendary "pussy" interview on WBRS radio in November of 1999? It was rumored at the time that at least one female Brandeis student had snuck onto Clinton's tour bus after the concert and left with a member of George's entourage- could Salley have been involved? Guess we'll never know.
NO MORE WHITE RAPPERS EMERGE?: I caught Jerry Nachman's new show tonight on MSNBC just in time to watch a highly surreal segment about racial politics and their relation to rap music. Nachman moderated a debate over whether white people should in fact be allowed to be rappers, which was between a militant black cleric (who said in the interview that white people should be "banned by law" from becoming rap artists), and Coolio, who had a more democratic attitude towards Caucasians rapping. In reality, none of the three belonged in the conversation: Nachman has likely never heard hip-hop in his life; the "cleric" didn't have much of a grasp of constitutional law and also looked like he was about 16 years old, and Coolio (whose career has been on a slide-slide-slippity-slide for the past 6 or 7 years) is hardly the most qualified public ambassador for hip-hop.
While the African-Americans who pioneered hip-hop (as well as its listeners at the time) rightly objected to embarrassing white rappers of the past like Vanilla Ice and Snow, most black people I know feel a considerable kinship with Eminem, both for his talent and for much the same reason they identify with Bill Clinton (as Toni Morrison famously said): he was raised poor, never knew his father, and is associated with a traditionally black form of music. After all, Chris Rock pointed out the greatest examples of the 21st-century American melting pot: "the best golfer in the world is black, and the best rapper in the world is white."
NACHMAN: NOT OF BRATSLAV: Watching Nachman and realizing that he's the most counterintuitive choice to host a cable news show since Mike Barnicle, I wondered whose idea it was to give him his own show- oh wait, it was Nachman's own idea!, as he is in fact the "Editor in Chief" of MSNBC. I'm glad they brought in Phil Donahue, as its nice to catch a whiff of left-wing populism as an alternative to Bill O'Reilly's tiresome right-wing version of same. And Pat Buchanan, repugnant as he may be, has always been very effective on TV and I'm glad to see him back. But Nachman? Sitting in his ill-fitting suits, on a set that looks to be his basement, and a logo in which his head takes up 95% of the screen? I mean, Fox News boss Roger Ailes is even fatter and balder than Nachman, though at least he has the good sense to remain off-camera.
MAJOR MINERS: Sunday was my birthday and as I returned from partying at around 5 AM, I saw the happy news that all nine of the miners in Western Pennsylania had been rescued successfully. There was something so comforting about that- with with all the terrorism, economic sluggishness, corporate corruption, priest-child abuse, kidnapping of little girls, and baseball labor unrest that have dominated the news lately, I think it's wonderful to finally have a national news story that's actual, you know, good news. Also, it's likely that this incident will give miners the well-deserved, long-delayed national appreciation that firemen got after September 11.
THE TOTALS ON THE BOARD ARE CORRECT: Going into tomorrow's games, the Minnesota Twins are 22 games over .500, which gives them a 15-game lead over the second-place Chicago White Sox and puts them only 4 games behind the Yankees in the race for homefield advantage in the American League playoffs. That's assuming, of course, that there are in fact American League playoffs- but if Bud Selig couldn't stop the Twins with contraction, let's hope he can't do it with a strike either.
ROLEN RIGHT OUT OF TOWN: The day after Ozzie Smith was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Cardinals have added a player to the left side of their infield who may himself be Cooperstown-bound. The Cards today traded for disgruntled Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen, a move that was anticipated for over a year in Philly but was over-shadowed in that city's press by latest Iverson gun-rampage news. In exchange for Rolen the Phils got one of the Three Tenors (Placido Polanco) as well as pitcher Bud Smith, who pitched a no-hitter last year as a rookie but has struggled this year. The move gives Philly a phalanx of promising young pitchers, as well as giving their fans the chance to boo (if not riot) when the Cardinals come to town, as St. Louis now has both Rolen and J.D. Drew.
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN', BACK: The fad of Turn Back the Clock uniforms is one I've never liked; I've never seen much point to having players wear clothes from 50 years ago, especially since they cause one to flip past the game and wonder who, exactly, is playing. The trend this year, besides the "Turn Back the Clock Day" seemingly lasting for the entire month of July, is towards '70s-era uniforms- the A's, Braves, and Phillies were among those getting into the act, with the Phils even breaking out the old blue road uniforms.It's cool for about a minute, until we remember why the teams got rid of these fashion embarassments in the first place.
The Braves' regular uniforms, however, are themselves throwback unis, as they returned to their 1950s-era red-and-black color scheme in 1987 after a couple of decades of the garish blue outfits that made their unwelcome return this week. I half-expected Dale Murphy to be announced a pitch-hitter in one of this week's games.
TWO 30-SECOND TRAILERS GO 'ROUND THE OUTSIDE: The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating look at what I do: movie trailer marketing, and specifically the campaign for the upcoming Mel Gibson movie "Signs." The article details the movie's multi-trailer campaign- all versions that my company has itself test-marketed. I don't link to the Times often, but this one is worth it.
NO RESPECT. NOOOO RESPECT: Charles Krauthamer in the Washington Post, on Rule #1 of disrespect in politics:
"To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil." I'm happy to report that this blog is neither liberal nor conservative, and neither stupid nor evil.
HE'S BACK: If it weren't for the great likelihood that Salon.com will go out of business sooner rather than later, I'd be very, very excited about their recent hiring of Keith Olbermann as a columnist. The greatest ESPN anchor of all time, Keith also wrote an excellent column on ESPN.com for years, and later did the same for Fox Sports Net when he worked there. I'd love to see Olbermann back on TV sometime, but for now, his Salon gig and occasional appearances on Aaron Brown's CNN show will have to suffice.
RIVERS CUOMO FOR GOVERNOR: Tonight I caught Weezer's show at the Jones Beach Ampitheater on Long Island- it was my first time at this excellent venue, as well as my first time seeing this standout band. I can tell you if you'd told me 18 months ago I'd be paying to see Weezer, I'd have looked at you like you had two heads- their recent comeback has been that remarkable.
Most surprising about the show was the focus on the band's older material- they played the hell out of both their debut and (surpisingly), "Pinkerton," the band's second and best album that they had until recently almost completely disavowed. They focused much less on last year's "The Green Album" ("Hashpipe" was conspicuously absent from the show) and played minimal music from this year's middling effort "Maladroit." Of 17 songs on the setlist, 11 were from Weezer's pre-breakdown period.
Frontman Rivers Cuomo, having gotten rid of his ridiculous-looking beard, exhibited a surprising amount of energy for a singer who rarely moves around or cracks any type of facial expression on stage. My only complaint was that the vast majority of the audience (I'm talking 95%-plus) was 16 years old and younger- these are people who were in third grade when The Blue Album came out. To them, Weezer's just some new band, just like underwhelming opening act Dashboard Confessional.
So how 'bout it, Rivers for governor? Those suits he favors are certainly nicer than Andrew's, he's a lot smarter and may not be a native New Yorker, but then neither is Hillary. Too bad 14-year-old girls (half-Japanese or not) can't vote.
EVIL DEAD TOO: With the consecutive deaths this week of Hamas kingpin Salah Shehada and "Turner Diaries" author William Pierce, it's sure been a rough few days for loathsome, Jew-hating dirtbags. Good riddance, I say.
As he was the longtime leader of the organization most responsible for Palestinian society's descent into a Jonestown-like death cult, the only sad thing about Shehada's death is that Israel has had to apologize for it. Because Hamas is an organization that carries out no operation that doesn't involve the suicide of its members, I believe it should be Israel's policy to round up and kill every last member of Hamas, and they shouldn't let anyone in the world let them feel the least bit guilty about it.
Pierce, on the other hand, was one of the few Americans in the 20th century who managed to be both a Nazi sympathizer and a Communist sympathizer, though he had a virulant hatred for blacks and Jews in either capacity. Pierce's novel "The Turner Diaries" of course became notorious when it inspired Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, and the author later began a second career as a producer and distributor of white power music.
I personally want to thank the Grim Reaper for grabbing these two on his most recent jaunt; hey Death- any chance you could pick up Yasser on your way back?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Worst of all, the House began talking about upping the ante on the Senate bill’s surrealist criminal penalties–25-year jail terms for certain corporate misdeeds, for instance. That’s likely to give the non-stoner population its first taste of how the War on Drugs works. Why not give ’em a million-bazillion-quillion years? That’ll show the bastards!" -The great Christopher Caldwell, in one of his first columns since returning to New York Press.
VINES- VEDI VICIOUS?: As I've written in the past, I'm as excited as anyone about the new "invasion" of neo-garage bands, and the possibility of their eventually eclipsing the scourge of Nu Metal in popularity. The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives, and Andrew WK all suffered quick, vicious backlashes after their initial splashes, although those came primarly from narcissistic New York rock snobs who are so cynical that they apparently aren't allowed to like any new music until after Joey Ramone has risen from the dead. I remain happy that all four of those acts have gotten the attention that they deserve, and I also hope that each of their next albums outsell those of Creed, Staind, and Tool by an exponential margin.
Now come The Vines, the Australian-via-LA band that has added a heavy Beatles influence to the Clash/Nirvana hybrid favored by the other groups. However, I'm sad to report, The Vines' new album, "Highly Evolved," just plain sucks. There's nothing special about it, nothing exciting, no urgency, nothing worse noticing about it except the kind of hype associated with Worldcom stock circa 1999. And unlike those critics who dismissed The Strokes before hearing a note based on a reflexive rejection of hype, I've heard the album, listened to it intently, turned it off, and put on Ben Kweller instead. Oh well, at least it only cost $6.99.
WHAT I'M LISTENING TO (OTHERWISE): Jeff Buckley, "Grace"; Uncle Tupelo, "Anthology 89/93"; Dave Matthews Band, "Busted Stuff" (and rest of catalogue, for comparative purposes); Weezer, "Maladroit" (same); Moby, "18"; Badly Drawn Boy, "Hour of the Bewilderbeast." Just six more days 'til "The Rising"...
FROM KITTY TO KARYN: To the list of wacky internet phenomena of the past like PsychoExGirlfriend and "All Your Base Are Belongs to Us," we can now add SaveKaryn.com. It's the self-produced website of a 20-something New Yorker who ran up something like $20,000 in credit card debt in just over two years, money spent almost entirely on clothes, purses, hair care, bikini waxes, and other such accessories considered "necessary" for today's young women. In a bizarre, one-woman collolary to the campaign for Third World debt relief, Karyn uses the site to solicit contributions in order to pay down her bills, and to her credit (no pun intended), she is auctioning off a lot of those items in an effort to bring the debt down.
But more disturbingly, Karyn's excuse for her predicament is that "credit cards are evil!" I wouldn't say it's necessarily credit that's the problem (really, it's Karyn's own gross irresponsibility); while the credit card companies clearly prey on irresponsible college-aged students (and have virtually their entire profit margin to thank for it), what we have most to learn from SaveKaryn.com is the damage that beauty addiction can do to young, impressionable people- and this problem isn't necessarily confined to women. Now even magazines geared towards men cater to the viewpoint that males ought to be obsessed with looks, hair care, clothes, and body image as well. The maxim (again, no pun intended) that "men are the new women" has never been more true. How long until a male Karyn copycat arrives on the scene?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Can the Celtics keep [Vin Baker] away from all the renowned bakeries in the North End?" -Sports Guy Bill Simmons, blasting Boston's nonsensical recent trade for the portly Baker, on ESPN.com.
SAME NAME, DIFFERENT GUY, PT. 2: The newly released, critically acclaimed independent film "Tadpole" was directed by a filmmaker named Gary Winick, who is not to be confused with Gary Winnick, the disgraced former CEO of bankrupt telecom firm Global Crossing. There was however no one involved with the film named Sam Waksal, Bernie Ebbers, or Kenneth Lay.
FROM THE X-FILES OF POLICE SQUAD: In the latest in a string of recent police-brutality scandals, a group of more than a dozen cops in Milwaukee were caught on tape beating down a suspect- in their own police station. There's no excuse for such stupidity- this is like that guy in the "Big Brother" house who threatened his roommate with a knife and was surprised that he got caught. But the oddest thing about the case is the suspect's name- Billy Miles. That was also the name of the evil alien "super soldier" who menaced Scully and her baby throughout the final two seasons of "The X-Files." Don't be surprised if the cops try the "X-Files" Defense, although I don't suspect it'll be too effective, since it's not likely they'll find 12 jurors anywhere who watched any of the last two seasons of "X-Files."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Deciding whether I'm rooting for the players or the owners is like choosing between 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys"- Dan LeBatard, on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption."
PICK YOUR POISON: The Milwaukee Bucks' Glenn Robinson was arrested over the weekend for threatening his wife with a gun- apparently, threatening one's wife with a gun is the thing to do these days if you're an NBA superstar. Prior to the incident, it had been reported that the Bucks had offered Robinson to the Knicks in exchange for Latrell Sprewell, which begs the natural question: is a team better off with a player who threatens to murder people while armed, or one who does so merely with his bare hands?
THE 'SEX' QUESTION: I haven't yet decided if I'm going to watch the upcoming fifth season of "Sex and the City"- I've enjoyed the show in the past, yet every time I tune in I do what most men do while watching it- that is, cringe at the evidence of just how insane women can be. And yes, I must say there's a little bit of bitterness on my part in that this is the third season of "Sex and the City" to air since the last "Sopranos" season, and I'm also a little upset that they took one of my favorite all-time actors, Kyle MacLachlan, and made him into a simpering, impotent girly-man.
Still, there's no denying that that "Sex and the City," more than Oprah, The Rules, or anything else, has become the primary arbiter of how American women (especially yuppie women) are supposed to think, act, look, dress, and date. I'm still trying to figure out whether or not that's a good thing, but I can say that tomorrow night, while millions of lonely single women nationwide will be watching the season premiere, my friend Dena will be doing something much more fun and productive- she'll be getting married.
LILLYWHITE, V. 2.0: I picked up the new Dave Matthews Band album "Busted Stuff" this week and have been listening to it for a couple of days. At first I had trepidation, since like most Dave fans I downloaded most of the album last summer when it was leaked as "The Lillywhite Sessions." However, my opinion of the finished, DMB-endorsed "Busted Stuff" product is a positive one, since they have added two excellent, non-Lillywhite tracks ("You Never Know" and "Where Are You Going," which represents the first time in DMB history where the first single isn't the worst song on the album), and included improved, spruced-up versions of most of the Lillywhite tracks. The best are "Grace is Gone," "Grey Street," and "Bartender"- which were also the three best songs on the original Lillywhite compilation.
The oddest thing- Steve Lillywhite, who produced the "Lillywhite Sessions," does not get a producer or songwriter credit on any song on "Busted Stuff." And those who deride DMB as the epitome of "white people music," remember two things: three of the five members of the Dave Matthews Band are black, and Matthews himself was born in South Africa and immigrated to America, so you know what that makes him.
hSUSPENDED ANIMATION: Seems like everybody's getting suspended this week- Torii Hunter, for three games after the recent brawl between the Twins and the Cleveland (Indians) Baseball Team. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, for throwing at a batter. Allen Iverson would be suspended if it weren't the offseason. And ESPN has suspended ESPN Radio and Pardon the Interruption host Tony Kornheiser for one week without pay for criticizing the network on the air. I gotta say I'm with Tony on this one- Kornheiser was criticizing some recent firings and, as anyone who has read Michael Freeman's ESPN: The Uncensored History can tell you that regardless of the network's exemplary on-air reputation, their record in terms of hirings and firings (especially those related to sexual harassment) has been shoddy at best. The Kornheiser/Michael Wilbon pairing is the best thing the network has had going for it since the Olbermann/Patrick SportsCenter team; let's hope they don't mess it up the way they did last time.
CAN YOU BE A LIBERAL AND A YANKEE FAN?: I don't think you can, but clearly many people disagree with me. To those truly committed to liberalism, it would seem anathema to support the team with the most money and the most power, one that takes a laissez-faire attitude towards those less fortunate, and makes a regular habit of stealing the most valuable goods (Giambi, Mondesi, Weaver) from poorer teams. And if there were no Yankees, there certainly wouldn't be a strike coming up later this season. Clearly, there's a lot of hypocrisy going on in New York, as the same state that supports the Yankees has gone Democratic for president every year since 1984. One of my old professors, indeed, broke with the Communist Party in 1949 because Jackie Robinson had just broken the color line and they wanted my prof to root for the Dodgers rather than the Yankees.
A better team to cheer for would be my very own Minnesota Twins. The Twins are the baseball equivilant of the poor inner city kid who gets a scholarship to Harvard, graduates, and becomes a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. They came into the season with the 27th-highest payroll out of 30 in the majors, moved ahead of the pack early, and are now 10 games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox. So all you liberals out there- root for the strike to be settled so the Twins-Expos World Series of Destiny may proceed.
A NEW LOW FOR THE NEW YORK POST: It was bad enough when they defended brutal cops and outed Mike Piazza. But now the New York Post is enabling a stalker. You may remember back in April when 24-year-old Jersey girl Kristielee Wilcox ran onto the field at Yankee Stadium and handed her number to shortstop Derek Jeter. Wilcox was later arrested and plead guilty, and Jeter (of course) never called. So what does the Post do? They give Wilcox a makeover, and don't even stop there- they dress her in the styles of Jeter's various ex-girlfriends, including Mariah Carey and his current squeeze, actress Jordana Brewster.
Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this? The fact that the newspaper is encouraging someone who's clearly very disturbed and delusional to pursue a public figure who has shown that he has no interest, while that public figure is in fact in a public relationship with another public figure? Are these Post editors not getting enough oxygen or something?
IDIOTIC MORAL EQUIVILANCY WATCH: "Nor will you find any sign of recognition [in the rebuilding proposals] that Ground Zero has become a tragic symbol of the troubled relationship between the United States and the rest of the world." - "Respected" New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp. No, the terrorists aren't evil- they just have a "troubled relationship" with freedom and democracy. Now do you know why I don't read the Times?
BIN CAUGHT STEALIN': Yesterday I joked about my desire to write a novel with a Jewish character with the name Benjamin Laden, and his struggles in having to live through 9/11. Well, it turns out there really is a guy out there named Ben Laden, and not only is he Jewish, but he's the leader of a klezmer band! According to klezmershack.com, the Pennsylvania-based Benny and the Vildachayas just released a new album, "Get in Trouble," which features such tracks as "What Jew Want," "Hava NaFriggin' Gilah," and "Shul Time." In response to an e-mail query, Mr. Laden himself (yes, that is his real name) says that "If you like cursing and drug references in your Jewish music, we're the
band for you." And as a longtime Jewish musician, I certainly can appreciate that. You can order "Get in Trouble" by clicking here, although you'll run the risk of the FBI coming after you for sending $15 to Ben Laden.
THE GAME'S THE THING: Brad Zellar, writing in the Minneapolis alternate weekly City Pages, says what I've been saying since at least the '94 strike: regardless of all the crap that happens off the field in regards to labor relations, it's the game that's really most important, and the combined efforts of Bud Selig and Don Fehr can't change that. And it certainly doesn't hurt when your hometown, small market team is 12 games over .500 and 10 games ahead of their nearest rival.
ESOTERIC WEBSITE OF THE DAY: The Canonical List of Weird Band Names- speaks for itself, really. My favorites: Apocalypse Hoboken, The Dancing French Liberals of 1848, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Flatatory Rape, JFKFC, Mao Tse Helen, Pabst Smear, The Testostertones, and The Well-Hungarians.
LONG MAY YOUR RUN (AND WALK): Sunday's walk inspired me to finally put my mind to a long term goal: I am going to train for (and run) the New York City Marathon in October of 2003. I figure it'll be just like Sunday, only twice the distance, and I'll be running instead of walking. And that time, I probably won't run into Alan Colmes.
My other goal for next year is to finally start (and finish) my semi-autobiographical debut novel, tentatively titled "Benjamin Laden and the Axis of Levi."
STANDING UP FOR ROBIN: I watched Robin Williams' "Live On Broadway" special on HBO on Sunday, and while it wasn't the best of what I've heard of the man, it still beat watching most of his recent movies. Williams practically invented the HBO comedy special with his classic 1986 show "Robin Williams at the Met," though the form was later refined by George Carlin and perfected by Chris Rock. Sunday's show can't be talked about in the same breath as the '86 routine or even Rock and Carlin's recent specials on the network, but it was still a laugh-a-minute affair and for that Williams deserves credit.
The return of Williams' 5-jokes-per-second style was welcome, as was the material he covered, bouncing back and forth among Bush jokes, Osama jokes, drinking jokes, and sex jokes- the best of which was his closing bit in which he simulated cunnilingus on his legendarily hairy arm. Williams maintained his fixation on making fun of Southern people (making at least four separate "Deliverance" references throughout), and made at least two jokes about Michael Jackson that I myself made last week (though since they're so obvious, I'll let him slide). And finally, Robin drank about 25 water bottles over the course of the evening, recalling his great line from the '86 special: "Little sip of Perrier here- I had to stop drinking alcohol 'cause I used to wake up nude under the hood of my car with my keys in my ass."
So I rate the show a B. Not his best work, but not "Death to Smoochy" either.
MY NECK, MY BACK, MY MOMMA?: Perhaps you have heard the new R&B single "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)," by newcomer Khia. Judging by the two times I've heard it and the lyrics, it's every bit as racy, but not nearly as sexy, as the similar "Oops! (Oh My)" by Tweet. So you could imagine my surprise last week when, while listening to the New York hip-hop station Hot 97, an 11-year-old girl called in to request "Lick It." To DJ Angie Martinez's credit, she immediately demanded that the girl put her momma on the line, and Martinez asked whether Momma had in fact heard the song. No, of course. So Martinez played the song. We didn't get to hear the rest of the saga of the girl and her momma, but the loud squeal that could be heard all throughout Brooklyn that day was most likely the result of an audible momma-daughter bitch-slap.
THE FIRST STARBUCKS: I mentioned that on Sunday's all-the-way-down-Broadway walk, we passed 23 separate Starbucks locations- and on that same day, the New York Times published an article on the northernmost of those Starbucks, the one on 138th St. The article dealt with the arrival of the coffeeshop in the West Harlem neighborhood earlier this year, as a symbol of that area's slow but growing gentrification.
YASSER SUES?: Nice to see Yasser Arafat has embraced the American spirit of litigiousness: following reports of widespread corruption in the Palestinian Authority ("who, me?"), Arafat is now threatening to sue an Israeli newspaper that claimed he personally embezzled $5 million from the PA. It's official: Yasser now ranks a perfect 100 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. Newspapers have been calling Arafat a terrorist for years, and he's never threatened to sue any of them, but this time, he's sufficiently pissed off that he's taking them to court? It's an Israeli newspaper, so does that mean the trial would be in Israel? Let's see Yasser get a fair, impartial trial, in Israel...
All I can say for the charges is the following: I'm about as surprised at hearing that Yasser Arafat is a thief as I was the first time I heard Michael Jackson was a child molester.
LAX AND INGLEWOOD: After the July 4 shooting of two Jews at L.A. International Airport- and following the gutless assurances by officials that "we're not sure" that it was terrorism/anti-Semitism- Jews, conservatives, and Jewish conservatives across the country reacted with the same outrage: how could anyone not recognize that an Arab shooting several Jews at the ticket counter of Israel's national airline not be considered an act of terror. I remember thinking at the time, "this is exactly what African Americans say when cops shoot black people."
And then, a week later, it happened- and just a few miles away no less: a black youth was caught on tape in Inglewood, Calif., slammed into a car hood and punched in the face in the process of being restrained by four different white cops. I don't have to tell you what happened next: almost every right-wing pundit who a week before had jumped to the conclusion that the LAX shooting was anti-Semitism seemed equally convinced that the police brutality incident was NOT racism.
It's not so much that I disagree with those who feel this way, and for the record I believe that the LAX shooting was almost certainly anti-Jewish-motivated while the Inglewood beating was at best gross police misconduct and at worst racist. What I do disagree with is this bizarre form of conservative identity politics which stipulate that cops are always innocent, black youths always guilty, and that it's not okay for black people to cry discrimination and victimhood, but defensible (indeed, encouraged) for Jewish people to do both. These conclusions very seldom have anything to do with the facts and everything to do with preconceived notions of ideology- and this is clearly one of the most dishonest practices in the current American political conversation.
RETURN OF THE COMMISH?: No, not Michael Chiklis (though I do love "The Shield"). It was reported in today's New York Post that former New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, the man who oversaw the revolutionary decrease in crime during Mayor Rudy Giuiliani's first term, is on the short list of candidates to take over the LAPD. Bratton, you may remember, was forced out after falling out with Rudy in '96 in a dispute over who was taking credit for the crime drop. Bratton flirted with a run for mayor last year, but Giuliani, who controlled a large block of leftover GOP soft money from his aborted 2000 Senate run, put the kibosh on that plan, forcing Bratton to align himself with losing Democratic candidate Mark Green (Bratton's promise to return as commisioner was the one and only reason to vote for Green; instead, Michael Bloomberg won and we got the return of Dinkins commish Ray Kelly). I wish Bratton luck in his pursuit of the LAPD job, but I still would love to see him come back for that mayoral run, especially if Bloomberg pulls a Ventura and steps down after one term.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Overheard today: while a group of NYU kids were attempting to shoot a student film, an elderly, homeless-looking woman who was nearby feeding birds got upset about appearing in the shot and started yelling at them. Her most clever retort: "Who the fuck do you think you are, Antonioni?"
FROM BROADWAY BRIDGE TO BATTERY PARK: Today, along with friends Ben and Joelle, I did something I've wanted to do for quite some time: walk the length of Manhattan island, from the northernmost tip (220th Street, across the Harlem River from the Bronx) to the southernmost (Battery Park, facing New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty). It took the three of us eight and a half hours, but we did it, walking appoximately 260 blocks and 13 miles, all down Broadway, through the neighborhoods of Inwood, Washington Heights, Harlem, Morningside Heights, the Upper West Side, upper midtown, Times Square, Chelsea, the Flatiron District, Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca/Chinatown, the Financial District, and finally Battery Park. All of us New York residents but none of us New York natives, the three of us saw this as an opportunity to explore our city, "connecting the dots" of all those places we've been going on the subway for all this time, and just generally getting a better idea of the character of the city we call home (show of hands- how many of you have explored YOUR entire city on foot? Hmmmm?)
Discoveries made on the journey: on the entire length of Broadway, there are more Starbucks locations (23) than churches and synagogues (14, 4 respectively) combined. When we reached 171st St., Ben was reminded of a long-ago "Sesame Street" ditty called "The George Washington Bridge Song"- not as popular, apparently, as Simon and Garfunkel''s "59th Street Bridge Song." There is a section of a park near City Hall with the somewhat disjointed but still honorable name "People With AIDS Plaza." Somewhat surprisingly, none of us ran into anyone we knew, although we did see Fox News Channel host Alan Colmes in the Hamburger Heaven restaurant on 32nd Street. And while we were further up in Manhattan than I ever thought possible, we did unfortunately did not get as far north as the 375th Street Y.
We have discussed the possibility of making this into an annual event, perhaps going down the East Side next time. But anyone who participates has only one requirement: thou shalt not complain- because if Ben, Joelle, and I can walk that far and for that long without bitching, you can too.
JEWISH DEFEATISM WATCH: One interesting nugget unearthed on today's Urban Nature Hike (and there were so many) was discovered when we arrived at a synagogue in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. On the wall was a poster commemorating the upcoming Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av (Tisha B'Av, for the Hebraically Challenged, is a holiday commerorating atrocities against the Jews throughout history, from the destruction of the two Temples to the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust- key events of which all occurred on the exact date- the 9th of Av- on the Jewish calendar.) The poster, in reference to current events, commented that nowadays, for Jews, "every day is Tisha B'Av."
Now, I realize that horrible things have been happening to Jews lately, both from the scourge of the resurgance of worldwide anti-Semitism and Islamo-fascist terrorism in the US and Israel. But the statement that "every day is Tisha B'Av" sounds like nothing more than an invitation for Jews to adopt a posture of permanent victimhood- bad idea. What Jews have worked to build through the years (and especially since the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel) are among the great accomplishments of human history. Jews would be better off recognizing that we have come a long way since all of the events commemorated on Tisha B'Av- we have power now, we have strength now, and the best thing we can do is use that strength in order to overcome those who wish to hurt us. I know some are virtually programmed to turn anything and everything into a Holocaust analogy, as well as to always foresee another Holocaust right around the corner, but this goes deeper- yes, this is a difficult time for the Jewish people. But we'll be kicked out of no country and have no holy place destroyed. A spirited resolve and strong determination are the reason we will prevail- and wallowing in victimhood is most certainly not.
GOD BLESS YOU, BILL SELBY: For a Yankee hater like me, it's always gladdening to see them go down to defeat, preferably in dramatic 9th inning fashion (just like Game 7 of last year's World Series). And if it involves a walk-off grand slam as part of six runs off of "unhittable" closer Mariano Rivera, that's just icing on the cake. Cleveland rookie Bill Selby did just that today at the Jake, and coincidentally he looks just like Barry Pepper, the actor who played heroic home run hitter Roger Maris in the great HBO film "61*."
And best of all, since the Indians (or as the Star Tribune calls them, the "Cleveland Baseball Team") are no longer a threat to my 12-games-over-.500 Twinkies, I can root for them against the Yanks with a clear conscience.
BUD MUST GO: Now, even Gammons thinks so. Here's Peter: "The perception is that this is a sport rife with self-absorbed, steroid-bloated, greedy millionaires, all led by a man who might not be able to get the Wisconsin Libertarian Party nomination."
BACK OF MY HEAD ON TV: For those interested, the recent Andrew Sullivan vs. Richard Goldstein debate/smackdown that I attended will be broadcast on C-SPAN on Saturday, July 13th at 3:50 P.M. and Sunday, July 14th at 1:35 A.M. I may be visible sitting all the way to the right in the third row (right next to the right microphone during the Q&A period), and if they leave the camera on afterwards, as C-SPAN often does, you may be able to see me onstage introducing myself to Andrew.
SPRINGTIME FOR SPRINGSTEEN?: Tickets for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's first two shows in the New York area will go on sale tomorrow morning. I want to see this tour, having never seen Bruce before, but I won't be on the phone tomorrow because I know they'll be adding more shows later on and I might have a better shot then. But even more importantly, I'm not so happy with how this process has happened. Aside from the litany of anti-Ticketmaster complaints, I find it rather upsetting that Bruce's tour was announced five days ago, the for-sale date was announced four days ago, and the tickets are on sale in one day. This leaves fans very little time to get their shit together in terms of ordering tickets- if they even hear about the for-sale date in the first place.
Even worse, the tickets are not available at in-store outlets, but rather only by phone and internet. This in fact punishes hardcore fans, like those willing to camp out overnight for tickets (as my uncle did in Michigan to see the last E Street tour, in '84), and rewards those who press "redial" enough times and are lucky enough to get through in the ten minutes before tickets sell out. Whatever; if I'm not able to get tickets for this go-around I may just until next year, when the band returns from Europe to do a spring- and summertime tour.
AI: ALLEN INDICTED: A few observations about Allen Iverson's recent gun-toting rampage and subsequent arrest and indictment: Of course when the Sixers started winning two years ago and Iverson took his place among the NBA's elite players, we all wanted to forget that the man has always been a violent thug and likely will continue to be. And what about his wife? Tawanna Iverson, I suppose, gets to join the Joumanna Kidd Association of wives who remain married to asshole NBA players and don't mind either being grossly mistreated or reading about it in the papers the next morning. She's already forgiven Allen for throwing her out of the house- naked- AND NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME??? HUH? "You went to your cousin's apartment and brandished a gun? For ME?"
The funniest part of the whole saga is one line from the New York Post story, presumably meant with no irony at all: "'He's hurting,' said 76ers coach Larry Brown, who talked to Iverson yesterday. The superstar guard told Brown he likely will not be able to practice with the team." And if it hadn't been for the attempted pistol-whipping, you're saying Iverson would've been at practice? Sure. Adrian Wojnarowski has a great take on ESPN.com- the Sixers should stop treating Iverson like a victim and start treating him like an embarrassment.
And finally, sorry Sixers fans: if Iverson spends the remainder of contract in jail, he'll still count against the salary cap.
BASHING BUD: To those who say all I do on this blog is rip on Commissioner Selig, on the level of Sullivan's anti-Paul Krugman fixation, I retort: just wait 'til the strike starts, 'cause you ain't seen nothing yet.
One thing Bud's always needed to work on is his timing. Take last year's decision to announce his doomed contraction plan a mere two days after the end of one of the greatest World Series ever. Then this week, the day after Selig's nearly universally reviled decision to call the All Star Game a tie after 11 innings, the Commish let slip in an interview that two major league teams were in "serious financial trouble," that one team was in such straights that they were in danger of not making payroll next Monday, and might even have to fold before the end of the season. The idea in saying so publicly, of course, was to scare the players' union into believing that Selig and the owners aren't bluffing, and therefore really are in the horrible financial hole that they say they are.
Sad thing is, the players (and media) called Selig's bluff, every suspect owner denied that it was them that was in trouble, and the Commish had to announce today that in fact every team will make payroll on the 15th of the month.
The most ironic thing about the looming strike is that perhaps for the first time in the history of baseball's labor relations, the owners have a pretty clear-cut case that they've got the moral high ground. There really is a need for greater competitive balance and revenue sharing, and of course it's time for baseball to introduce comprehensive testing for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. But whether its his horrible speaking style, his conflicts of interest as an owner, or his propensity towards crying wolf with regards to economic troubles, Selig's leadership has been so poor that there's no way he can be an effective spokesman for such issues. Of course, the fact that he's representing billionaires complaining about losing millions doesn't help his cause either.
MIRROR, MIRROR, YOU SUCK: London's Daily Mirror newspaper, always one of the world's left-most journals, has really gone off the deep end in the last week, proclaiming the U.S. "the world's foremost rogue state," with columnist John Pilger writing that "WE ARM ISRAEL because we don't want to upset George Bush. Which makes us pathetically UNETHICAL poodles."
Stories like this of rabid anti-Israel sentiment in Europe, diligently collected by the Little Green Footballs blog, remind me of one of the lighter moments of my visit to Israel in 1995. We had just learned in our history class all about Britain's 1947 mandate to split what was then called Palestine into two separate states, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. Then, a few days later we traveled to the Yad V'Shem Holocaust museum, and it turned out that a delegation lead by then-Prime Minister John Major was visiting the same day. As Major's entourage walked by about a hundred feet from us (visible, but clearly way out of earshot), one of my classmates lurched forward and screamed at Major, "It's all your fault! YOU AND YOUR FUCKING MANDATE!"
FIT TO BE TIED: The St. Paul Saints, owned by the aforementioned Mike Veeck, has introduced yet another clever promotion: the Bud Selig tie. Yes, the Saints will be making and selling neckties, in honor of the dubious All Star Game tie, with a rather ugly caricature of the onetime "Acting Commissioner For Life" (not that a real life photo would've looked any better.) This follows a similar stunt earlier this year in which fans of the Northern League ballgclub received two-sided seat cushions featuring the Commish and Players Association boss Donald Fehr. Now I've mentioned in the past that Fehr's son was once my roommate in college, and at the same time Selig's nephew was a Brandeis student as well. No word on whether the two ever met/sparred, although this is almost as great a coincidence as when Chelsea Clinton and Ken Starr's daughter both attended Stanford during the 1998 impeachment drama.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "There’s nothing quite like watching a major celebrity in the midst of a public meltdown—especially when the celebrity in question is Michael Jackson, and the meltdown is on a scale unseen since Caligula’s final days." -Jim Knipfel, in the New York Press Daily Billboard.
SHOPPING SPREE AT TARGET (CENTER)?: ESPN.com, in its now no-longer-free Rumor Central section, is reporting on a proposed trade in which the New York Knicks would send Latrell Sprewell to my Minnesota T-Wolves in exchange for Wally Szczerbiak and Rasho Nesterovic. Now, there are numerous reasons why this is a bad idea, not the least of which is that Spree is much older than either Wolves player, or that the New York tabloids will have trouble coming up with snappy headlines with names like "Szczerbiak" and "Nesterovic." The biggest problem is that Latrell Sprewell is a worse fit for the good-citizen, team player, Minnesota Nice sports culture of the Twin Cities than any currently active athlete, with the possible exception of Randy Moss. And you thought Wally couldn't get along with Kevin Garnett? KG and Sprewell would be at each other's throats from day one, no doubt. The only reason the trade would make sense is that it would bring Szczerbiak closer to his native Long Island and Spree nearer to his hometown of Milwaukee. Though somehow the thought of the Coach Choker returning to the Midwest doesn't conjure the same warm fuzzies as Winfield, Molitor, and Morris' Twins homecomings. And besides, isn't it in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that no team can legally take two white players in the same trade? Maybe the Knicks can try and be fined five first-round draft choices.
Want a better idea? How about Sprewell to Phoenix for Stephon Marbury? Steph's always wanted to return to the New York (because Jersey wasn't close enough), and the Knicks do need a point guard in the worst way. And while the old white retirees who root for the Suns may not take so kindly to a 6'7" guy with cornrows entering their community, they should be used to it by now: the Suns have had a long line of assholes at the guard position since they were last good (Sam Cassell, Jason Kidd, Penny Hardaway, Marbury), so Spree'd be nothing new.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Suppose it was Judy Garland's birthday and I went to my local gay bathhouse and opened fire on the fetching young men handing out the towels. How many minutes would tick by before the word "homophobia" was heard?" -Mark Steyn, putting the LAX shooting in perspective, in the National Post.
NOT LIKE MIKE AT ALL: I have a myriad of reasons for not wanting to see the new Lil' Bow Wow basketball movie "Like Mike," and here's two: One, even though Michael Jordan's name comprises half of the film's title, he does not appear in the movie and in fact has nothing to do with it at all. And two, the movie is named after the song from the classic Gatorade commercial ("Like Mike/If I Could Be Like Mike")- but the sountrack not only doesn't include the original song, but there's not even an authorized Lil' Bow Wow remix! You're killin' me guys, you're killin' me.
THERE'S NO TIES IN BASEBALL!: As I've said before, I've for months been looking forward to watching commissioner Bud Selig being booed in his hometown of Milwaukee at the All-Star Game. While Selig was conspicuously absent from the pregame festivities, we all got our wish when Selig made the nonsensical decision to call the game after the 11th inning, leading to something that's supposed to never, ever, happen in baseball- a tie. With all the horrible stuff Selig has done to the game in the past decade, this may be the most inexplicable- what's wrong with the pitchers pitching four or five innings? The two pitchers in the game at the time (Freddy Garcia and Vincente Padilla) are both starting pitchers, who normally pitch six innings or more. And worst of all, after such a big deal was made about the All-Star MVP Award being renamed for Ted Williams, the first annual Ted Williams Award was given to... no one. The history books will now record 2002 as the year there was no All-Star Game winner and no All-Star MVP- let's hope it's not also the year there was no World Series.
But until the shameful ending, it was a standout game- the "30 Greatest Moments" was outstanding and I found almost nothing to disagree with (the omission of the Pine Tar Game is the only real problem I had). And I hope the amazing catch by Torii Hunter in the 1st inning that robbed Barry Bonds of a home run is remembered as the arrival of a brand new baseball superstar.
I hope to eventually have the chance to visit Miller Park, as it looks like quite an improvement over the old Milwaukee County Stadium (which I used to visit almost annually). But if I do go, I'll definitely call ahead, just to make sure Bud's not there.
THE REV PLAYS IT SAFE: Al Sharpton's decision yesterday to back down from calling Sony boss Tommy Mottola a racist was likely done with his planned 2004 presidential run in mind- he doesn't want to upset the music industry, because it's likely many of them (especially those in the hip-hop sector) could be more likely to support his candidacy than that of whoever the other major Democratic candidate is. Indeed, I've always maintained that one reason Al Gore lost in 2000 is because he didn't have the "cool" factor going for him, and part of the problem was that he didn't have any rock stars on his side, like Clinton did in '92 (most of them either jumped on the Nader bandwagon, or sat it out altogether).
The larger problem with the Sharpton candidacy is that I believe the only reason Sharpton is running (other than, of course, his rampant egotism), is to bring the issue of slavery reparations to the forefront- preferably, for him, in a primetime convention speech. Reparations is the ultimate wedge issue- if the eventual nominee speaks against it, he'll alienate black voters and will thus be unelectable by the base; if he speaks against it, he'll alienate swing voters and be unelectable, period. Sharpton has the potential to do to the Democrats what Pat Buchanan did to the GOP in 1992 with his "culture war" speech. The Dems had better nip this one in the bud, or else it could be the shitstorm of all time.
GUESS THE DICTACTOR/CONSUMER ADVOCATE: On the heels of Sharpton's powwow last year with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, two more Americans who claim to be leaders in the fight for "social justice" are visiting this week with brutal, anti-American dictators: Ralph Nader is hangin' with Fidel Castro in Cuba, while Louis Farrakhan is spending quality time in Baghdad with Saddam Hussein (Farrakhan himself infamously visited Moammar Ghadafi a few years ago). Well, you can't really fault Farrakhan, since this is probably his last chance to see Saddam alive. With all the fun American activists have been having with such despotic criminals, could a visit by Michael Moore with the mullahs of Iran be far behind?
YOU'RE NOBODY 'TIL SOMEBODY...: Last night's "Nobody Night" promotion, in which the Class A Charleston (SC) River Dogs barred fans from the stadium until after the game became official in the fifth inning, was the latest memorable stunt from the mind of team owner Mike Veeck. The son of legendary baseball owner Bill Veeck (the man responsible for numerous stunts in his long career, most notably the major league appearance of midget Eddie Gaedel in 1951), the younger Veeck got his first shot in baseball working for the White Sox in the '70s, when they were owned by his father. His ideas included "Disco Demolition Night," as well as "Nickel Beer Night," both of which predictably led to near-riots and caused Mike Veeck's decades-long explusion from baseball. Veeck resurfaced in the early '90s as owner of the St. Paul Saints, a team in the independent Northern League that sought to act as a cheaper, more fun, and outdoor alternative to the dome-bound, then-losing Minnesota Twins. The Saints experience included such beauties as a pig who delivered balls to the umpire, a tuba-playing public address announcer, and the "Designated K Man," a player on the opposing team who, if he were to strike out during the game, would entitle every fan in the stadium to a free cheeseburger. The team was also a sort of baseball halfway-house for such former and future major leaguers as Darryl Strawberry, Jack Morris, JD Drew, and Leon "Bull" Durham.
I think, in this time of great peril for the national pastime, the best thing Bud Selig could do is get Mike Veeck in as an owner (hmm, I hear the Twins are for sale...). He could do for baseball what Mark Cuban has done for basketball; after all, Bill Veeck was Mark Cuban before Mark Cuban was.
"CHOMSKY FOR CHILDREN": The New Republic's Alan Wolfe with a devastating critique of Michael Moore's loathsome book "Stupid White Men"- from the left, no less.
SECURITY WAS VERY LAX: A pseudonymous LAPD cop with his take on the July 4 LAX shooting, from National Review Online.
SHARPTON VS. JACKSON: No, Al's not feuding with Jesse again; this time it's Michael Jackson he's mixed up with. As reported yesterday, Sharpton joined Jackson at a rally on Saturday in which they called Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola a "mean racist"- but yesterday, Sharpton did a 180, saying that "I have known Tommy for 15 or 20 years, and never once have I known him to say or do anything that would be considered racist." (Mottola's only sin, that I know of, is that he once married Mariah Carey). The statement marked the first time in Sharpton's long public career in which he has publicly declared that someone or something is not racist.
Meanwhile, Jackson's anti-Mottola campaign is clearly off to an inauspicious start- after all, it's kind of hard for a performer to blame the failure of his album on an anti-black record exec when the performer isn't actually racist and the artist isn't actually black. How long before Michael turns to Jesse Jackson? Jesse will certainly want to undermine Sharpton and besides, as evidenced by his hiring two years ago of former Congressman Mel Reynolds, Jesse's proven friendly in the past to accused child molesters.
MOST DISTURBING HEADLINE OF THE WEEK: In the New York Post, for an article about Gov. George Pataki's struggles in winning Jewish votes:
"George faces 'Jewish Problem.'"
WORST SON EVER: If you thought John Henry Williams was a bad guy when he made an ass of himself by playing minor league baseball, or by hatching various schemes to make money off of his father Ted's legacy, that was nothing: The younger Williams, who must be a big fan of the film "Vanilla Sky," has hatched a plan to have the Splendid Splinter cryogenically frozen, with the intention of either selling Williams' DNA, or perhaps attempting to bring him back to life sometime next century. Williams' other children, understandably, have taken legal action in order to stop the freezing, although reports today indicate Ted's head is already on ice. In light of these events, I really hope the Red Sox owner (also named, oddly enough, John Henry), has enough sense to release young Williams from his minor league contract.
IN THE LAND OF OZ: "In a recent interview, the liberal novelist Amos Oz confessed he's haunted by his father's observation that, before the Holocaust, European graffiti read, 'JEWS TO PALESTINE,' only to be transformed in our time into, 'JEWS OUT OF PALESTINE.' The message to Jews, noted Oz: 'Don't be here and don't be there. That is, don't be.'" - Yossi Klein Halevi, in an excellent peace in The New Republic on the deep cultural divisions within Israel.
LINKAGE: In case you didn't notice, I just added a list of links at left. Enjoy, and feel free to write in with suggestions.
BLACK OR WHITE?: Memo to Michael Jackson, who over the weekend joined with the Rev. Al Sharpton at a rally at which they referred to Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola as a racist: before you play the race card, it might be a good idea to pick a race. Because of all the reasons there are to hate Michael Jackson, his "blackness" certainly doesn't make the list (though oddly enough, his skin color does.) Besides, it's kind of a stretch for Jackson to call the Sony boss racist, when as an Italian-American, he actually has darker skin than Jackson.
GAMMONS ON YANKEES: I hate the Yankees, and I've got a hunch ESPN's Peter Gammons, a longtime Boston resident, does too. But he makes an excellent point in today's column: the Yankees may be baseball's richest team, but they're also the smartest, and that's why they've been in the World Series five of the last six years. Not only do they use their revenues in a smart way (as Gammons points out, they've got almost no bad contracts), but they trade intelligently as well. Notice the Yankees' "top prospects" of the last few years that they didn't trade: Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson, Jorge Posada. And look at the "top prospects" that they did trade: Ruben Rivera, Ricky Ledee, Ed Yarnall, Jake Westbrook. Notice that all of the players they kept became core members of their championship teams, while the ones they didn't keep became nothing.
FAREWELL TO A GREAT DIRECTOR: Director John Frankenheimer died yesterday at the age of 72. Best known as the director of the 1962 classic "The Manchurian Candidate," Frankenheimer had a career that spanned six decades and also included such pictures as "Seven Days in May," "The Birdman of Alcatraz," and such TV movies as the recent HBO picture "Path to War." And while the other major celebrity who died over the weekend, Ted Williams, had an infamously evil son, Frankenheimer took a blood test recently that conclusively disproved the rumor that "Pearl Harbor" director Michael Bay is his illegitimate son. So John Frankenheimer's legacy is safe: the conception of the Worst Director on Earth is NOT his fault.
BEST ALBUMS OF THE HALF-YEAR: Norah Jones, "Come Away With Me"; Wilco, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"; Eminem, "The Eminem Show"; Andrew WK, "I Get Wet"; Weezer, "Maladroit."
THERE GOES THE GREATEST HITTER WHO EVER LIVED: Ted Williams, the last player to hit .400 in a season and the most notable player in the history of the Boston Red Sox franchise, passed away on Friday at the age of 83. Born in August of 1918, Williams played for the Sox from 1939 until 1960, taking time off in the process to fight in both World War II and Korea. The Splendid Splinter was a three-time MVP, played in one World Series, hit .406 in 1941, and hit a home run in his final major league at-bat in 1960. While a majority of today's fans never saw Williams play (indeed, his retirement even predates the perview of ESPN Classic), "Teddy Ballgame" is indeed generally considered the greatest hitter of the 20th century. And unfortunately, the only Red Sox championship of his lifetime was the one they won when he was two months old.
TERROR ON THE AIRLINE?: Was Thursday's LAX shooting terrorism, a hate crime, or neither? Really, who cares? It was a tragedy in which a crazy man shot and killed two innocent people. Yes, it appears that since the shooter was a man of Middle Eastern descent who both slammed Israel to co-workers and demanded that a neighbor take down their American flag after 9/11, it can't quite be a coincidence that he chose El Al employees to shoot at. The killer apparently has no known links to either Al-Qaida or any of the Palestininian terrorist organizations, bringing up the question of whether it was simply an anti-Semitic killing. But is this shooting a bigger tragedy because the killer was allegedly motivated by anti-Semitism, as opposed to something else? This is the fallacy of thinking related to "hate crimes"- no hate crimes law would've prevented this double-murder, because since the killer was clearly not deterred by the fact that murder is illegal, why would he be deterred by a hate crimes law? Of course, the killer was thankfully shot by security guards, so the idea of punishment is now superfluous.
SOCCER SUCKS: The Village Voice sports page (so called because it's literally one page) has the best indictment I've ever seen of "soccer snobs" and their constant guilt trip towards America for not liking soccer enough. Writer Allen Barra's best point:
"To them, soccer is 'democratic' because it eliminates the swiftest and the most powerful and takes for its physical standard the average European male. In other words, the average soccer nerd's own height and weight."
With that, and Sports Guy's suggestion that the President warn other World Cup teams that "hey- these aren't our best athletes," I don't think I'll ever be able to take soccer seriously again. WARNING: This week's issue of the Voice also includes the usual nonsense, including a defense of pedophilia, so as usual read at your own risk.
YOU DA MONSTER: I finally got around to renting the DVD of "Monster's Ball" over the weekend. I thought it was an excellent film that was worthy of both its critical acclaim and Halle Berry's Best Actress Oscar- I'd put it the sixth-best of 2001's films, after "A.I.," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Mulholland Drive," "Lord of the Rings," and "Memento," and just ahead of "Donnie Darko" and "Black Hawk Down." What I liked most (in addition to Berry's performance) was that the script never took the obvious route- it never suddenly turned into a story about race or about the death penalty, but rather remained a character study, which is what it was meant to be. I also loved the scene in which Hank (Billy Bob Thornton), after sex with Berry's character, walks into Berry's bathroom, sees a picture on the wall of Berry's late ex-husband (played by P. Diddy) and promptly vomits. If I walked into a woman's bathroom, post coitas, and saw a picture of Diddy on the wall, I'd probably vomit too. I bet J.Lo's boyfriends have that same problem.
THE BLUEPRINT (NOT JAY-Z): My profile of New York musician Jason Shain is online in The Blueprint here; Shain's CD can be purchased here. Shain's music is very consistant with the Ryan Adams/Pete Yorn sound, so if that's what you're into, I highly recommend checking it out.
Also in The Blueprint this month is one of the most mind-boggling articles I've ever seen- it's a piece about a New York charity aimed at helping out Jewish homeless people, many of whom wish to keep Kosher. Yes, you read that correctly, Jewish homeless people. Let me try to wrap my head around this one: how many Jewish homeless people can there possibly be? Are those that are starving expected to refuse non-Kosher food? Does the organization turn people away who happen to not be Jewish? And most of all, are Jewish homeless somehow more worthy of help than non-Jewish? Or do they just have more to be ashamed of? There are a lot more black homeless people in New York than Jewish ones, yet I've never heard of any African-American organization aimed at only helping black homeless. Either help all the homeless, or don't- there's no reason to make religious or other demographic distinctions.
HE SPEAKS SO WELL!: Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK), the Chairman of the GOP Conference and the highest ranking black Republican in the history of the House of Representatives, announced today that he is retiring from Congress after four terms. When the story was leaked last night, anchors on all three major cable news channels gave Watts the common backhanded compliment that he is "well-spoken," "articulate," and "speaks so well." This insulting condescension toward an educated black man like Watts is such a well-established phenomenon that Chris Rock has joked about it, and it was parodied in the recent "Undercover Brother." Watts, meanwhile, is a former quarterback at Oklahoma who was a teammate of the legendary receiver Buster Rhymes (namesake of the rapper). Rhymes would be a candidate to run for Watts' seat, but he's in jail, convicted last year on the charge of carjacking a 66-year-old woman. Looks like he won't be passin' the Courvesiour anytime soon.
I DON'T WANT NO SNUBS: Time for the dumbest sports story of the year (like it is every year)- the teams have been announced for baseball's All-Star Game, and the sports media is going crazy over which players were "snubbed." (For the record, snubbees include Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Ryan Klesko, and Larry Walker). First of all, it's only the All-Star Game. Second of all, numerous All-Stars have been gotten injured every year since the dawn of time, meaning that virtually every player who gets snubbed upon the initial announcement eventually gets picked for the game anyway. Every year this happens, and every year the sportswriters forget it. But I remembered.